Blood Is Thicker than Water?
It’s the holiday season, and a time for family gatherings. Unfortunately for many, it is a sad period because they will spend time with their close relatives.
Recent Canadian statistics indicate that 12% (40, 200 cases) of reported violent crimes are committed against a spouse, of which 83% of the victims are women. These same statistics reveal that parents are the perpetrators of nearly 6/10th of family violence against their children. Sadly, since broken bones are not the only proof that violence has taken place, these statistics reflect only a small percentage of the violence that is experienced in Canadian families. From my own observation, dysfunctional families are very common, and the victims may be unaware of the subtle forms of abuse.
Abuse can be defined as “any behavior or action taken against someone that in any way devalues the person.” A dysfunctional family is “a family in which conflict, misbehaviour, and often abuse on the part of individual members occur continually and regularly, leading other members to accommodate such actions.” Base on these definitions, threats, intimidation, coercion, mental, emotional and verbal abuse are an integral part of dysfunctional families.
Families are usually formed when a couple (i.e., a man and a woman) deciding to have children of their own. These individuals have rarely resolved their own issues, and are unskilled partners and parents. Their combined dysfunction creates an environment exponentially more damaging than if they remained apart.
Children born in this environment often learn very questionable values, morals and behaviours. One of these values is that abuse equals to love. In other words, someone can repetitively be harmful to you, but you still believe that deep down s/he truly loves you.
One common trait of dysfunctional families is denial. Presenting a good image to the outside world is crucial. If any family member points out problematic areas at home, s/he will be shut down or made to believe that s/he is the problem.
Dysfunctional parents usually promote a warped sense of family loyalty to their children. They teach their youngsters that no offence is severe enough to break family bonds. This belief enables many siblings to treat each other in the most appalling ways – behaviours that they would never have towards a stranger.
People in dysfunctional families often take each other for granted and mistake being “real” with being abusive. Having unconsciously learnt that there is a socially acceptable way to interact with family members versus strangers, this may lead to difficulty creating healthy intimacy. I have noticed that many individuals start showing a much darker side of themselves when they begin to consider a close friend or partner like “family”.
The other major misconception about families is that because someone happens to be your sibling, you automatically should feel close. Although some may disagree, genetic lottery resulted in having a particular individual as your brother or sister. There are no guarantees that you will even like each other or share similar interests. Many people would not even have some siblings as acquaintances if they didn’t have the same biological parents.
I think that a family should be an emotionally/physically/spiritually safe place. Members of a healthy family share the same intellectual, emotional and spiritual world. These individuals choose to be with each other because their interactions help them reach their full potential as human beings. Consequently, close friends may be closer than many families.
Believing that “blood is thicker than water” can be a double edge sword. On one hand it gives the individual a sense of emotional security necessary for healthy family relationships to blossom. On the other hand, it often gives free rein to unchallenged toxic interactions. It is important to re-examine commonly accepted concepts, and family may be one of the most critical ones.
Here are some commons behaviours observed in dysfunctional families:
- Rewriting history: whenever it is convenient, essential elements or entire events are “deleted” by some family members. The abuse is experienced twice – the initial injury and again by not acknowledging its occurrence.
- Extreme subjectivity: there’s only one reality, and wherever the dysfunctional individual is positioned, s/he is right. Different facts or environmental factors have no impact on their perception of always being right.
- Extreme emotionality: it is virtually impossible to calmly discuss an issue. These individuals scream and yell at the slightest hint that a problem needs to be discussed.
- No genuine communication: family members literally talk over each other. They are unable to hear, listen or understand what someone else is trying to communicate. An issue that should take 5 minutes to resolve will degenerate into an intense 30-year quarrel.
- Invasion of privacy: dysfunctional family members need to know everything about everybody in the family. They may at times open each other’s mail, check cell phone voice messages, or look through other members' personal items.
- Downplaying abuse: when someone points out their disrespectful ways, the dysfunctional members pretend that it’s the other person who is hypersensitive. Paradoxically, when someone treats them the exact same way, they become enraged.
- No apologies: by not even recognizing the damage they have caused, dysfunction individuals almost never apologize. Also, they do not empathize with others by putting themselves in other people’s shoes.
- Emotional blackmail: some family members will use guilt or threaten to cut ties with the uncooperative member.
What are the main characteristics of a healthy family?
According to the American Clinical Psychologist Arthur L. Robin Ph.D., healthy families are solution-focused units. These families are able to disagree without verbal attacks, shouting or other force-oriented techniques. Members of these families are very good communicators because they can “read” the emotional content hidden behind words. Also, these individuals understand that using force in human interactions will only provoke anger in the recipient.