Dysfunction Is Absolutely Normal
Written By: Mark Smith
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Have you ever wondered why relationships have to be so complicated and so painful? I do just that each and every day as I sit in my fancy leather therapist chair. You would think that I of all people would be happy with the dark and dysfunctional state of affairs (pardon the pun). After all I get the really big bucks for listening, interpreting and otherwise trying my best to bring some order to all the chaos and the madness. Still, when (I should say if) I gain admittance through the pearly gates and I get ushered into the very presence of the All Mighty the first question that I will have is "Why did it have to be so complicated and so painful?". I'm quite sure that there are some very caring and very sound reasons for all the pain and drama in relationships but it does make you wonder. Am I the only one who has ever wondered that?
I have a theory that I made up. Geez, that didn't sound very scholarly or impressive did it? Oh well, it's the truth, I made it up. Here goes : on a scale of 1 to 10 that measures emotional health I truly believe that there are no 10's (obviously), no 9's, no 8's and maybe, just maybe only a few 7's walking the earth. In our work at Family Tree Counseling Associates we always complete a full Genogram or family tree during the first two or three visits. It is our way of getting to know our clients and their multi-generational issues. I've said the following statement more than a thousand times through the years, "If you were to fill out a family tree for anybody that you know you would agree with my assessment that most of us are in the neighborhood of being 3's!" Does that seem dark and harsh? I don't think so. If there isn't dirt with the parents there is with the siblings, if there isn't with the siblings there is with the grandparents, and if there isn't with the grandparents there most certainly is with the spouse. If there is no dirt with the spouse even then somebody's lying to me out their teeth.
Many years ago I saw a family who came in that almost disproved my theory. They had three teenaged boys who each had some rather obvious dysfunction. However, in the first session Mom and Dad were sprinkling sunshine and roses all throughout the family tree. It was wonderful. I was early in my career and I was sort of discouraged. Maybe I'm just totally full of crap I thought. This couple was so believable and Mom seemed like a saint on the earth. I was sincerely questioning my little 3's beget 3's theory. Then came the second session and as it turned out, dear old Dad actually had a whole boat load of issues that finally came out in the sessions. And let me tell you this : I don't believe in saints. I don't think that they exist. As it turned out Mom's being so overly good and so overly spiritual and so overly involved actually had a lot more to do with the boys' issues that Dad's boatload of squirrelly stuff. Saints are so busy being so unselfish and so overly supportive and therefore enabling that they are actually the source of a great deal of dysfunction. Families who believe in saints also believe in sinners : the bad guys who they think really are the source of their family's problems. What I've discovered is that there aren't any sinners and there aren't any saints when it comes to dysfunctional families. There are only good, mostly well meaning hurting, wounded, addicted folks who live somewhere between the extremes of saint and sinner.
So, know that you are completely normal if you have an alcoholic in the family (We actually don't have one but there is still time.), or a rager (check), or a gambler (yep), or a food addict (Huh, this would be the entire family : you should see us hit a buffet, it's quite ugly!), workaholic (top of the charts), sex addict (yep), a control freak (check), depressed (of course), cross dresser (No, but I was looking at a picture the other day where my Mother dressed my 4 year old brother up like a little man and my 3 year old self up like a little woman, but that's a column for another day.), ADHD (several), etc. I used to think that my bunch was the most dysfunctional family on the planet. What I found out is that we actually are completely normal. I learned, in fact that my merry bunch of 3's actually possessed a great many positives traits and strengths that I could actually be proud of.
It is about figuring your stuff out and making it work as well as possible in spite of your particular colorful or not so colorful dysfunctional stuff. That's all for now : see you next week.
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