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Inherited dysfunction: What does it look like?

We take a look at how previous generations influence present behaviours
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As children, we are born to parents not out of choice, but out of nature. The environment, social status, wealth and even health status we take from our parents when we’re conceived, is the ultimate lottery.

How we feel about ourselves is very dependent on our earliest experiences and influences, it’s particularly important to note how positive our parents feel about themselves, as this reflects back on us, defining if we are ok or not. Unhappy parents displaying dysfunctional behaviour can create unhappy, dysfunctional children. The main reason for dysfunction in any family, is often a lack of empowerment. Poverty, sickness (both often inherited through generations) and a feeling of a lack of a part to play in the world, are all contributing factors and dysfunctional behaviour is a response to this.

Throughout the lifetime of each generation, humanity often becomes wealthy or poor, becomes ill, gets better and then becomes ill again. During these transitory periods, emotions, feelings anxieties and a myriad of other experiences are felt by those involved. The reactions to those experiences will be determined in a similar way by how parents dealt with similar situations. If a small concern is exaggerated to a constant anxiety, this will become the normal way of behaving as a family.

These overreactions stems from the want to gain control, and as individuals feel increasingly disempowered they can react in vindictive and destructive ways. This behaviour becomes the norm, creating feelings and spoken responses that can be reactionary and out of proportion (by other people’s standards) to the original issue. These seem perfectly sound to the ‘dysfunctional’ person as they surround themselves with family displaying the same behaviour. Friends and colleagues will often not accommodate this behaviour and the person will feel alienated and even repelled from the group.

It’s common that dysfunctional people who feel out of their depth, gain power back by underhand means often making another person feel guilty and uncomfortable, and making themselves feel powerful again. Thus, having a relationship or friendship with a dysfunctional person can be a rollercoaster of guilt and confusion.

How does a person with dysfunctional characteristics affect you?

  • Spending time with dysfunctional characteristics can cause self-doubt and confusion.
  • You may feel you have considered a situation well, but after being with said person you become unsure about your approach.
  • You feel blame for their unfortunate situation.
  • You make choices on the basis of how the other person will react to keep them happy.
  • You are made to feel responsible for putting right a situation that is the result of the other person's choice.
  • You are often made to feel like a terrible person if you don't help them or are pressured to help
  • You are made to feel responsible for their situation despite the fact that they make the same damaging choices over and over again.
  • You feel smothered and time in their company is draining and energy sapping.

Common to female dysfunctional behaviour is the external portrayal of kindness, with a hidden agenda. These people are nice and often smiley, but can be untrustworthy and tend to seek sympathy, with sadly few true friends.

Male external dysfunctional behaviour traits include alcohol abuse, drug abuse, aggression, violence and argumentative behaviour. Power is not gained by ‘winning’ over as is often the case with females, but by being coercive, demanding and often threatening.

When seeking therapy for the above characteristics, it isn't easy to have everything you’ve believed or held precious undermined, questioned and dissected, but therapy is the first step to moving forwards and healing.

Counselling does offer a path of exploration into our behaviour, understanding the issues and discovering how and where these patterns of behaviour evolved. By understanding, we are able to make changes and see for the first time how previous generations have affected the way we are today. This reflection enables us to leave a positive legacy to the generations that follow.

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