For those lucky enough to equate the feelings of familiality to the many absolute blisses of life will perhaps never comprehend an idea as oxymoronic as a dysfunctional family. Family comes first, or rather family should come first is an adage that has long instilled a belief in each one of us that come what may out lives are all the more better off or worse off with or without a family to fall back on. And indeed, in many cases it does seem like it. As we recollect fond memories of childhood when our entire world revolved around our mother and father and the siblings, we rested forever in a peace that has seemed to allude us as we grow big enough to face the realities of life. Maturing then to have our own families- the spouse, children et al once again reinstates this importance of cherishing the loving folks in our life who makes the living experience worthwhile. In this maze of relationships, whether it be connected by blood or grow out of love, we have forever learnt that no bond can ever be as strong and the love as unconditional than what we discover in them whom we celebrate as family.
And yet life experiences have rarely been the same for everyone, have they? Even as we and almost all people we know sparkle in a joy stemming exclusively from the warmth of loving families, there exist such souls for whom the emotion of a family does not manifest itself in the same intensity as it does to us. Or perhaps it does, but in an extent that dwells in a realm quite differentiated from what we know as the norm. For folks coming from dysfunctional families, they cannot help but harbouring a love hate relationship with them, that stems innately as a response to the many conflicting emotions they experience within the functioning of their unit of life. Often a time it becomes also difficult to exactly pinpoint whether a family is dysfunctional or not. That perhaps make the children brought up in such families more susceptible to the array of conflicting emotions they have to face, sometimes even for life. As they fluctuate between loving their parents to hating themselves and vice versa, and a horde of such other inconsistencies in feeling and perception, they tend to grow up believing that there’s something wrong with them. This in turn affects their entire life path, rendering them a host of things, from being underconfident and remorse to even developing malicious attitudes that can lead them to be bearers of dysfunctional families themselves.
It’s however not easy to define a dysfunctional family. Which explains why our personal encounter with such persons hailing from such families is a lesser encountered phenomena even when dysfunctionalities continue to be rampantly present in society. The dysfunctionality also can manifest itself in different types with different characteristics. From having at least one parent who is emotionally unavailable or detached to belonging to a family where conflict is the order of a traumatic coexistence, the haphazard emotional aspects of a family very often comes to our mind when we utter the word dysfunctional. But there also exists such forms of dysfunctional families where the dysfunction is the cause of some concrete behaviour like substance abuse. Even violence, whether stemming as an after effect of substance abuse or otherwise, is as crucial a marker that can make families to dysfunction. Likewise, sexual abuse and religious rigidity can also be as core features of a dysfunctional family, of course in varying degrees and also in varying manifestations. In either case though, the functionings of a life the world views as normal is impaired so much that there descends disillusionment on the person pertaining to such a mode of familial existence. Disillusionment not just in terms of being averse to the mechanism of life but also in spirit that goads them into an emotional future even darker than what the abuse and detachment might have spelled for them.
Indeed, for people growing up in dysfunctional families, the reality that they once considered the story of their lives becomes easier to break away from when they come to realise that they aren’t at fault every time for whatever happens. At the same time however, this break up with mostly parents despairs them as much as it would any other person born and brought up in happy households. That is indeed the emotion of familial ties, that manifests its strength even in moments of adversity and in face of lifelong ridicule. The decision to separate from their family can therefore transcend from being a possible catharsis to even engulfing them in an ocean of guilt and despair, dwelling sometimes also on their conditioning that might have led them to always decipher some bad in themselves as a way of life. This might weaken their resolve to break free from a family where they are not valued, rather where they are not even treated as an individual with their own needs and desires. Needless to say, this conflict in the mind leads many such folks to never leave their families at all, continuing to exist instead in the viciousness of toxicity that have snarled away at their entire lives.
To this extent, dysfunctional families are another form of toxic relationship, less explored but no less potent a means of destruction. Living in a familial setup where you are not loved and your needs not valued, where your worth as an individual earns you nor respect and where you are constantly feeling sorry for and about yourself is akin to living without a family. Or even worse than not having a family. This might sound a bit too harsh, especially since we are seemingly compensating the many losses of being without a family by trading it off as better with something that exists nonetheless. But given the repurcussions of having to live with a dysfunctional family not by choice but under compulsion, the cruelty of the dynamics are worth forsaking for a life that at least preserves your worth as an individual, if not compliments it.
As an element of life that is supposed to hold you in good stead, reaffirming your belief in the world that you have been made a part of, families are a cherished part of life. Specially in cultures like ours that attaches so much importance to the sanctity of the family and the respect of the parents, having to dwell in the war zone of a dysfunctional family comes across as even more maladaptive an effort. With much stigma attached to getting detached from the family, where the child or the younger generation is always chided for their irresponsibility towards the parents that breathed life into them, ours is a society where escaping a dysfunctional family system is no less warring a consequence than what one begets of living in it. The only way here seems to be existing in the rigidities of the life our family chooses for us, irrespective of whether they conform to our own views about living or not.
Unlike how we seemingly romanticise everything that does not conform to norms as a marker of identity, being a dysfunctional family is not a quirk of life. It might sound fun as hell to have a family that looks wacky and that has so much ‘drama’ going on in its every moment. But living that part is no filmy experience, and the notion of crazy fun that permeates the existence of these non functional families can drive anyone insane. With every single thing tended to be blown out of proportion even as basically everyone blows hot and cold in the same breath, either as their basic nature or acquired from the core dysfunctional member, living in a dysfunctional family is a matter of dwelling in constant exertion. Not surprisingly therefore, many of those who grow up in dysfunctional families never fully come to accept that they can have an understanding of life that is not necessarily incorrect even when it is different. In being conditioned to submit to such dictums that have harmed their inner spirit more than their person, children of dysfunctional families constantly dwell in a certain kind of guilt. The guilt of not being true to themselves, the guilt of not being able to love their parents as they are expected to, as well as the guilt of not being able to unburden themselves by proper expressing of what they feel because they have come to be emotionally incapacitated by years of trauma. At their attempts at reconciling over choosing to come out of this toxicity, many end up falling deeper into this trap, that which is but a humongous underestimation of the worth of life itself. In not living to their hearts content, they may end up developing a skewed view of life that lets them to not appreciate life as much as they should. The few who manage to evolve beyond their breakings, might still live with the regret of not having been among the fortunate ones to being able to sing paeans of true familial life. It indeed is a veritable clash of emotions, that they feel as intensely even in the many misgivings they have been a part of. With such yearnings that go unfulfilled, their hearts develop a bitterness unknown to them. Additionally, in the face of scorn and ridicule, folks hailing from dysfunctional families may come to resent their existence. But even in all its malicious stemmings, whether or not that is something intended, dysfunctional families at least end up imparting an important life lesson to children born in it- they also become as aware of the need to have a loved up existence leading them to grow as more supportive parents or more empathetic individuals in the future. That however is no reason to uphold the integrity of such families that cease to perform well, even for the sake of its children. All we need is more compassionate individuals and loving parents for every child to live the life they deserve and make the world a better place with their value added as an individual. After all, that’s what the economics of life is all about.