Children who grew up in dysfunctional families often feel their experiences were unique, and that no one else can identify with what they went through. What you come to realize, however, is that many other people had similar situations and had similar feelings.
Science proves it, too. The Adult Children of Alcoholics movement led to much study of families where there is dysfunction and inadequate parenting. These works found that many of these families had characteristics, behaviors, and family rules in common.
These rules can be found in many different types of dysfunctional families. They were often developed before the child was old enough to “vote” for the adoption of these rules. They remain powerful directives in our lives well into adulthood.
Becoming aware of our own rules for life is half of winning the battle to reclaiming ourselves. How many of these rules can you see in your family?
- Don’t feel. Feelings are dangerous and will only lead to problems.
- Don’t think. You aren’t allowed to have opinions or make decisions.
- Don’t talk. What happens in the family stays in the family, and is never to be revealed.
- Don’t identify problems, because you are the only problem. Don’t solve problems.
- Don’t have a self. Be what the family wants you to be. Be good, strong, right, and perfect.
- Don’t have any wants or needs. If you do, you will be a problem and bad.
- Don’t have fun. Don’t be happy or enjoy life; it is not necessary. Your time and energy needs to be used to save others.
- Don’t trust yourself or others. To trust is to let your guard down, and to become vulnerable. It is dangerous.
- Don’t tell the truth. The truth about what is going on in the family is to remain hidden. Hint at what you want and need. Manipulate others to talk and act on your behalf. Stay hidden and safe.
- Don’t get close to others. Push them away by judging and criticizing them. Be distant by being the caretaker. Put a false self out to impress and wow them.
- Don’t grow or change. Be the person the family wants and needs you to be. What is appropriate for you and is in your best interest will threaten and hurt the family.
When you live by these rules, you are unable to find your true self and live a life you feel good about. It is living out of the false self that causes depression, loneliness, emptiness, and dissatisfaction.
It does not have to continue. You can find and develop a true self, and live a life of satisfaction. Next week, we will look at how these rules manifest themselves in your adult life, and ways you can begin to change.