Every time I think my family has the corner on dysfunction I learn that other families I know have it even worse. From publicly throwing each other under the bus to sexual abuse and elder abuse, some families are all about darkness.
I used to think about my crazy family dynamic more than I do now. When I did, I saw clearly how this happened in my own generation. More puzzling was how my parents got so damaged. Because trust me: parents only damage their kids because they, too, were damaged.
My father was a middle child. His brothers didn’t seem to suffer from the abuse he described he faced as a child and I wonder if my father was the only target or if they just weren’t impacted by it. Or did it even happen the way he described to us?
My mother was close with her father, and he was a beautiful man. But it was only a few years ago at breakfast with my favorite aunt that I realized that he had had a lifelong gambling problem. My aunt confirmed it. Reluctantly. Because she didn’t like to talk badly about anyone, especially the dead. But by the next year she, too, was gone, the last person who could’ve shed any light on that dynamic.
Besides emotional and physical abuse, my family specialized in enabling of bad behavior –and that impacted how we grew up (or didn’t). Fear. Entitlement. Blame. Excuses. There was an amazing amount of delusion.
But in a recent conversation with a longtime acquaintance I saw that their family had their own version of dysfunction. It’s all relative, I suppose. (So to speak.)
I do think it’s helpful to our own personal growth to have some level of understanding about how it all came to be. It helps us avoid making the same mistakes and helps us catch some of our own dysfunctional behavior that might be happening without our even realizing it.
You may not wonder now about the roots of your family’s particular brand of dysfunction, but I recommend you ask questions of people who can tell you while they are still alive.
The decades pass quickly and one day, like me, you may find yourself still wondering…with no one to ask.
I’m reading a stunningly good memoir about family by the Scottish actor Alan Cummings, called Not My Father’s Son. Besides being a really good actor, Cummings is an exceptional memoirist. It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring. I highly recommend it. You can find it at this affiliate link.