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Breaking the Dysfunctional

Family Patterns


It is one of the most difficult things you will ever do and it is one of the most rewarding things.  At some point, you will decide that what you are experiencing is not what you want for your children.  You will want to raise them differently from how you were raised but you probably will not have a clue how to make that happen.  What has to happen is rather simple, but takes such amazing commitment, that you will think you must be doing it wrong.


I am going to use the example of physical violence as the pattern of family dysfunction to be avoided, but you could just as easily replace it with sexual abuse, verbal abuse, drugs, drinking, pathological liars, narcissism, or any number of incredibly destructive family patterns.  As you read through this, understand that the process of breaking free of this dynamic is the same regardless of which particular flavor of hell your family specializes in.  This is not about simple annoying traits, like obsessive housecleaning, sloppy organization skills, or too much butter in the diet.  This is about those big ugly patterns that destroy the heart and soul of the individuals within the family.  For simplicity’s sake, I will just use physical violence because it is easy for everyone to wrap their minds around it and it does not require a lot of explanation, but feel free to insert your family’s nightmare into the formula and you will still get the basic understanding that you need.


The first thing that happens is that you will come to realize that how you were raised was wrong.  You analyze alone or in therapy just how much the physical violence in your family has affected you personally and how it affected those that you grew up with.  Look at your children and make a decision right then and there, are you going to raise them the same way?  Yes or no?  You will decide NOT to raise your children the way that you were raised because if you were the type who has no problem with raising your children in a violent home, you would NOT be reading this type of article.  Many times over, you will come back to this commitment that you are making to your children.  For their sake, you will be the one who stops the cycle of abuse.


Studies have shown over and over again that children who grow up being violently beaten by their caregivers repeat the abusive behavior toward their own children.  Generation after generation of children is beaten because that is all the parents know.  It is a painful horrible pattern that never ends.  You are making a commitment to your children to not carry on the family tradition.  Imagine a wheel that has an incredible force behind it, spinning spinning spinning… that is your family’s history with violence.  As each parent deals with stress and problems they find themselves hitting their children while on autopilot, just the same way that they were hit.  You are making a decision to stop that wheel from spinning and you have a huge task in front of you.  It is going to take so much more than just a one-time decision that you would prefer not to be like your parents.


Educate yourself about the inner workings of physical abuse.  Become an expert on the topic because you need to have a thorough understanding of what you are up against.  You will want to educate your family members and to help them all come to the same conclusion that you have come to.  You will naturally want your entire extended family to make this commitment to future generations that you are making.  It will not happen.  I have never ever heard of an entire family of child beaters all suddenly deciding together that all of them are going to go through this process at the same time.  The truth is that you will be lucky if anyone in your family supports your decision.  The nature of these sorts of things dictates that everyone is going to deny that it is even a problem.  “Why do you have to get everyone all worked up anyway?  Why can’t you just leave well enough alone?  What’s wrong with you that you have to meddle in everyone else’s business?”  That is what you are up against.  It is part of what you will come to learn as you study the dysfunctional patterns of denial and unity that weaves through families with this secret in their lives.


You will have to separate yourself from your family.  I am not saying that you emotionally distance yourself.  I am telling you to pack up your children and move away.  Do not live anywhere near them.  If you yourself make the decision to go through the process of breaking the cycle of violence but your children grow up watching Uncle Joe beat up their cousins, or Grandpa beats up Grandma whenever they get into big fights, then they will still be witness to the abuse and to the psychology of the abuse.  They will become desensitized and will grow to just blow it off as what families do even though you personally do not do it to them.  You run the risk that rather than actually stopping the family cycle for your children and future grandchildren that all your hard work and effort to make positive change only causes the violence to skip a generation.  How will you feel when you find out that your child is beating your grandchild even though you never did it?  You have to get your kids away from the dynamic so that it is never role modeled to them by anyone ever.


This means that you will be alone without a support system.  You might be lucky enough to have a loving spouse, but the truth is that most people who come from these sorts of families have a hard time maintaining positive loving marriages.  It is a piece of what you are trying to change.  People who are raised in violence often unknowingly pick partners who are of the same background.  On a subconscious level, like attracts like.  You do not want to beat your wife and you do not want to be beaten by your husband.  So most likely, you are a single parent by the time you are making this commitment to your children.  By changing the patterns of your life, you are preparing yourself for the day when you will no longer be attracted to violent people.  You will most likely be all alone while moving away to a safe location to raise your children.  It is very difficult to find a support system of friends and acquaintances.  When a crisis shows itself people will immediately assume that you have family to help bail you out.  Most people will be too busy with their own extended families to really offer you much assistance.  Do not be fooled into thinking that you will have a lot of loving coworkers or neighbors like on television to help you through your problems.  It is rare at best and you need to understand that you will have to work hard by yourself during most of the normal highs and lows of life.  You have to remind yourself when tempted to move back to your hometown why it is that you are not going back there.  It is better to be lonely than it is to have your children raised in violence.


You would think that if you have made the decision to not become a violent parent and you have removed your children from the environment, that you would have pretty much accomplished your goal, but that is just the beginning.  How many of us have told ourselves that when we grow up we will not do what our parents do?  I swore that I would never say to my children, “Because I said so.”  Yet, it happened.  I swore that I would not say and do all sorts of annoying little things that my parents said and did.  Most of these things are silly and not too important.  We can laugh and joke about it, “Look at me, I’ve become my mother!”  Unfortunately, in the same way that you cannot believe it when you find yourself quoting your father, you also will be standing there in shock when you raise a hand to hit your child and you had no idea that you were about to do that.  It is as if you are running on autopilot and you will freak out when you find that reaction is within you.  It will take everything in your being to stop yourself.  Your children have been raised in a kind loving home and when you do lose your mind and strike one of them, they will be absolutely shattered.  They are not acclimatized to that sort of reaction from you.  It makes them more easily frightened and confused when it happens to them.  You have to become extremely diligent about monitoring yourself so that you never slip up and become like the very people that you are trying to get away from.  It is the hardest part of the process and it is a personal battle that nobody can really help you with.  


You can see a therapist, join a church, and make friends with your new neighbors and coworkers.  You can even get married to a wonderful loving partner, but nobody can really help you with the deep dark piece of you that would strike another when angry or in pain.  It is not your fault that it is there, but it is your fault if you allow it to take over.  You have to self-monitor, self-monitor, self-monitor so much more than others have to.  You cannot get drunk because it raises the risk of you losing control and hitting your kids.  You have to work extra hard at monitoring everything you do watching for the first sign that the violence will break out of you and take over.  Do not let anybody fool you into thinking that with a few positive affirmations and some feel good conversations that you will not be seriously challenged.  This is the part where you seriously have to move against that wheel that is spinning out of control.  


Eventually, you will come to see that it gets easier.  As the years go on, you will find positive tools to handle angry situations.  You will find inner peace.  You will learn how to parent your children without physically hurting them and without simply allowing them to do whatever they want.  It is not unusual for people who are trying to keep from hitting their kids to go overboard in the opposite direction and to never ever discipline their children.  This harms your children in other ways.  You will address these things.  You will find ways to be a good parent, disciplining, role modeling, and loving your family without the dysfunctional patterns of your childhood controlling you.  You will heal your own wounds as best you can while creating a new life for your children.


At some point, you will see that your children do not have your hang ups.  They do not hit each other.  When they hear of friends at school being mistreated, they are shocked and outraged by the stories.  Your teenage daughter will not date someone abusive.  Your teenage son would never use his physical strength as a way of controlling those around him.  They discuss problems and solutions rather than resorting to violence.  When you finally decide to take them to visit your family over Christmas, they will be offended at the dysfunctional nightmare that your family sweeps under the rug.  This is when you will realize that you have broken the cycle.  You have given your children a chance at a completely different reality then what you have had to undergo.  They will not harm your grandchildren.  You have held back the power of the family rage and you have broken the cycle for your children’s sake.  You will be moved to tears when you see that they will not be living your nightmare.  It is the most beautiful reward, knowing that the future generations are safe.


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