As we are learning this week, some of the television shows, both past and present, can seem dysfunctional in obvious-- and not so obvious ways! This week, Imagine Hope's blog topic is discussing dysfunctional families in television. One of my favorite shows that portrays an enmeshed family system better than any other is "Everybody Loves Raymond". Their family has bad boundaries, clear family roles that show favoritism and can be quite shaming, and a passive-aggressive tone to their communication.
At Imagine Hope we help many blended families. I am currently in a blended family and I come from a blended family. Perhaps that is why my sister Natalie (who I never refer to as my step sister) and I loved to watch the reruns of The Brady Bunch. Since our “group had somehow formed a family”, Natalie and I would pretend to be Marcia and Jan when we were little. We probably watched every episode multiple times. I am sure we wondered, “why can’t our older brother be as nice as Greg?” or “why can’t we have a live-in maid as nice as Alice?”
So far this week we have discussed the natural states of children. We have discussed that a child naturally feels valuable and vulnerable. Today we explore how the natural state of being imperfect can be used against a child in dysfunctional families. Healthy parents expect our children to be imperfect. We know our children will learn and grow and make mistakes along the way. That is how children learn!
Dysfunctional families are every where. Most often the family is caught up in all the drama around them that they don't notice how much it can impact the kids. This week we will break down some specific ways that kids are impacted by dysfunction from Pia Mellody's book Facing Codependence. A child naturally feels valuable. This instinct is built in from infancy.
Now that you have a good idea of what shame is, its distinction between guilt and shame, and where it comes from, let's talk about the Shame-Based Family. A Shame-Based Family is just basically a family where everyone comes from and communicates from a framework of shame. Usually the parents had parents who spoke to them with shame and/or they didn't get their needs met as children. Usually their parent's parents had the same framework.
When people operate from a shame base, their communication is dysfunctional. They hear things in a different way than the person communicating is actually saying. They often unnecessarily feel defensive when someone is trying to share with them or explain something to them. Therefore, they are more reactive instead of really hearing what the person is saying.
Sometimes, although not always, Shame-Based Families hold a secret. The family feels like they cannot communicate freely with others because they have to protect the secret. The child may feel like something is "wrong" with the family, otherwise they could speak freely. Kids aren't able to psychologically separate themselves from their family, so they begin to feel like something is wrong with them.
In Shame-Based Families, the boundaries are very fluid. Relationships need to be flexible, open, and allow individuals within the family to still be who they are. Shame-Based Families think everyone should think, act, and feel the same or there is something wrong with them. The relationships within the family are usually closed, rigid, and discouraging of individuality.
When someone from an unhealthy family leaves to try to create new relationships, they usually attract other shame-based people or the relationships don't work out with healthy people because they communicate in a dysfunctional way. Therefore, most shame-based people find other shame-based people to be with in a relationship. Guess what they do. You got it- they have shame-based kids.
Is There a Way Out?
Yes! But we cannot and shouldn't handle our shame alone. We actually need healthy people to help us on our journey to healing our shame. It's important to have some safe, willing people to share our story with and help us make connections with our family and how it effects us today as adults. Listening to others will help us feel less shame about our stories and will help us show unconditional love for someone else struggling with shame. This can happen with a willing friend, a support group, self-help group, Bible Study (related to shame), or individual therapy.
I know I keep saying "willing". You want to be careful not to discover this issue and then start dumping it on people. That can feel bad to the person being dumped on. Unfortunately, if individuals weren't taught good boundaries this can happen. Make sure you have asked this person if they would be willing to hear about this and do they have the time. You want to create a safe environment for you to share.
In my opinion, individual therapy is the best place to work on shame. You can say what you want to say and have an objective person with unconditional positive regard hear you and validate your experiences. A therapist well-trained in shame will be able to help you identify it AND give you tools to heal from your shame.
I hope this weeks blog has been helpful. Honesty, as a therapist, I believe shame is the most important issue to shed light on. It effects every area when it is alive in us.
Tomorrow Joleen will share some blocks to healing shame.
Thank you for reading and have a great week.
* Source: Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families by Charles Whitfield
Natalie Chandler, MA, LMHC is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. Natalie enjoys doing marriage counseling, individual counseling, and couples counseling. We also specialize in family counseling, child, and adolescent counseling. Imagine Hope serves the Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Westfield, and Zionsville