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Sep 162013
 

Many of us can look at other people’s problems and see the solution very clearly, this is called “outsight” but we have trouble seeing the problems in our own families and lives, which is “insight.” One of the things that therapists will tell people in troubled intimate relationships is that we must own our own part in the family dynamics.  Parents tend to “blame themselves” if their children become offenders and say “What did I do wrong? I tried to be a good parent and now my child is in prison for X. Why couldn’t I have prevented this? What can I do to fix it?” Sometimes spouses do the same.

The above “what did I do wrong?” and “self blame” is not what I am referring to, but to own our own responsibility for our part in the family dysfunction. Accepting responsibility is not the same as accepting “blame” or “shame.” It is acknowledging that we have contributed to the situation by any number of ways, enabling being only one.

If there is a “problem” in the “family” it is a problem for every member of that family. Sometimes it is an unconscious hold over of a script from previous generations, written for us by a combination of genetics and family customs. Looking back at my own family I can see the patterns from generation to generation. “family role theory” explains a lot of it, because it assigns us parts to play in the family script. If X happens then we must do Y or Z. We must behave in a manner that goes along with the family drama-rama script/plot and assume our assigned role in that play which we call life or family.

In my work with abused women, I have seen that they frequently marry or “hook up with” a man who is abusive, and then if and when they break free of him entirely, will find another man who is also abusive, rinse and repeat. Why do these women pick abuser after abuser? What is it about them that makes them vulnerable to this type of man? When I can look at the men they chose and almost immediately determine that this man could very likely be abusive in a relationship. This is called (on my part) “outsight” in other words, I can see a problem in someone else’s life and yet, I may have little “insight” into my own family dynamics.

In the case of the women who repeatedly find abusive men time after time, they lack “insight” into why they continue to find this type of partner. Until they find insight they will repeat this pattern. Unfortunately, many times the good advice of a therapist may not be enough for them to gain the insight they need because it goes counter to everything they know and believe and have been trained to do and think. They fall for the “pity ploy” and the lies of “I will change” that the offender gives them, and they go back, or they fail to realize that a man who has been in prison three times for multiple felonies is not a good relationship risk.

In my particular case in my family, my maternal grandmother had been assigned the role of “family peace maker” of “peace at any price. “ Protect the family bad boy at all costs”. Each generation had a male who was that family “bad boy” who acted irresponsibly or violently…my grandmother’s father was his family bad boy and a violent alcoholic, my grandmother’s brother was the family bad boy, acting irresponsibly, but a grave physical injury , that left him essentially a quadriplegic, cut shot his irresponsible behavior. When my grandmother’s mother, who was the family enabler/peace maker, died my grandmother assumed the role in that family, and had already assumed the role of enabler with her own son who was violent by the time he was six or seven. She protected him until her death, at which time my own mother assumed the role of family enabler/peace maker and protected her violent brother. My mother had already assumed the role of family protector when my son was about 15 and was committing crimes and becoming violent. She is still living that drama-Rama and I imagine will until her death.

When she was setting me up to become her successor in that role and I rebelled at taking on that role, she looked for another person to assume that role and chose my daughter-in-law (at the time) but that didn’t work out when the daughter-in-law was arrested and went to jail after stealing $24,000 from my mother and apparently being involved in an attempt on her husband’s life by her boy-friend who had a gun that she had bought for him, who was trying to push his way into my son’s home.

In looking back over my life, I can see that the pattern in generations of dysfunction in my family has extended on down to my two biological sons as well as myself. The woman my son Andrew married that I had the outsight to see from the start that she was “trouble,” but Andrew did not have the insight to see that meeting someone on the Internet and spending only a few dozen hours with  them  did  not necessarily mean it was a good idea to get married under those circumstances before getting to know them.  Though I was polite when I met her, the woman intuited that I was not a big fan of hers and she pressured him to get married “before your mother breaks us up.” Which they did, running away and not telling anyone, and the family found out when the license was published. The marriage was a disaster from the start to the end seven years later when she went to jail. We had walked on eggshells around her and tried to “help” them financially so we enabled the relationship in our misguided attempts at “helping.”

I realize that in spite of me thinking I was not enabling my son Patrick, in truth I was enabling him. I was pretending that there “was no elephant in the room” when I wrote and visited him in prison, knowing he had killed Jessica Witt, yet never speaking of his crime, never confronting him about the fact I knew he was guilty. It took me two decades to break free of my family dynamics and drama role and to realize the truth, to get out of denial, which was necessary for me to continue that role. I was part and parcel of that relationship. I conspired with my mother to protect Patrick, to “get him to go straight” when there was no way in Hades that he had any intention of letting go of his role as “family bad boy.” Now I also realize that there is the genetic aspect in psychopathy, as well as the assigned family roles, and also free will. Patrick was not destined by his DNA to be a psychopath, he had some free will as well as his genetics and his assigned role in the family.

I accept my part in playing my scripted role for most of my life, and things might have been different if I hadn’t played that role, but we can’t change the past and we can’t beat ourselves up over the past or the part we played in the family dynamics.  What we do need to do is to develop some insight into our own part in the drama-Rama and then move on with our lives, not playing that role any longer, but forging new ways of acting and interacting.

Some families or family members are so dysfunctional and toxic that we may have to cut ties with this person or even the entire family completely  in order to get our own lives together. Or we may set strict boundaries for how and when we will interact with  these people in our lives. In forging new relationships we need to develop the insight to see if that person is trustworthy. We need to let people earn our trust, not give it away at first and then take it back when they abuse us. As for “regaining” trust, that must be done under long-term good behavior and strict boundaries. Giving people a hundred “second chances” is not going to foster an improved relationship.

The basic boundaries that I set are that I do not want to have a person who is dishonest in ANY way be a trusted person within my inner circle. If someone has committed serious crimes at any time in their lives, I will keep them at arm’s length from me and not give them the chance to hurt me. If the person treats others poorly, but me nicely, I still can not trust them or allow them close, as they will eventually treat me poorly as well. If a person is not responsible and doesn’t keep their word, always having some excuse why they didn’t do what they said they would do, then again, I can’t trust this person.

We are always going to be around some folks who are less than stellar people, but the “trick” is that those people should not be allowed into our “inner circle” of trusted loved ones. No matter what  DNA  we share or what our friends think of them, we must gain insight into ourselves and how we relate to others, or we will continue the dysfunctional relationships over and over.

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  21 Responses to “Insight and Outsight Assuming responsibility for our part in dysfunctional family dynamics

  1. Joyce, thank you for this powerful article. It resonates with me at a time when I am needing this discussion.

    In opening up my old wounds and examining my lifetime of traumas, I have an option to speak truthfully about my choices and behaviors, or not. If I choose to examine myself, truthfully and honestly, I will have the opportunity to put a whole lot of shame to rest and to continue rebuilding myself. If I do NOT choose an honest and truthful examination, then, I’m going to be wallowing in shame and lose the opportunity for healing and recovery.

    No, I am NOT squeaky-clean, by any stretch of the imagination. And, I accept this fact, at face value. Certainly, I was coerced and terrorized as means to “go with the program,” but even in my situation(s), there were always options, EVEN if none of them were pleasant or painless.

    So, this is an important discussion for recovery, Joyce, and I very much appreciate it at this specific time.

    ((((HUGS))))

  2. Dear Truthy, you are absolutely right on when you say

    No, I am NOT squeaky-clean, by any stretch of the imagination. And, I accept this fact, at face value. Certainly, I was coerced and terrorized as means to “go with the program,” but even in my situation(s), there were always options, EVEN if none of them were pleasant or painless.

    I was reminded yesterday of something a therapist said to me once about “positive aging” and what it entailed/ The three things he mentioned were:

    Forgiveness–of self and others, in other words, getting the bitterness for wrongs done to you out of your heart, letting go of the hurts, and no longer being bitter at yourself for your own failings in life.

    Altruism– doing positive things for others

    Gratitude for the blessings we have….however many or however few they may be.

    When we let go of these three things we become depressed and unhappy.

    And again, I repeat…achieving these things is an ON GOING process…not something we reach and then just stay there without any continual work on our own parts. Sometimes something will come up in our lives that may knock us down, but we CAN get back up and come to PEACE again.

    I “fell off the wagon” this past year due to my son’s upcoming parole hearing, I ALLOWED MYSELF TO FALL…but I’m working very hard now to find that PEACE again, and being grateful for the many many blessings I do have. To live in the moment, to enjoy and appreciate the blessings I do have, and not pine over things I might want but don’t have.

    • Joyce, yes – it is an ongoing process and I love, love, LOVE your description of recovery: it’s a journey, not a destination.

      It can be very tempting (if that’s the right word) to give in to the bitterness, forego the altruism, and refuse to feel gratitude. Someone has harmed me – MANY “someones.” But, I have a part in all of it, too – and,these are the things that I’m working on, daily. Sometimes, I’m successful, and other times, I drop the proverbial ball.

      These days, I’m getting it that I’m a human being and that our species is “allowed” to make mistakes – the world isn’t going to stop spinning on her axis if I make a mistake, and that’s how I tend to learn.

      I appreciate the discussion of personal accountability! :-) It makes the next step on my Healing Path a bit more stronger.

  3. I will be passing the link to this post along to a friend of mine, She has been dealing with a very difficult person in her family and maybe she can gain something from this as to what is really going on there.

  4. Phoenix, I hope your friend can find some support, here or with her friends or family.

  5. She has plenty of support systems in place, but we all know how it can be, trying to make sense of things when you are alone with your thoughts.

    We have known each other long enough that I know how this person is and my friend has tried her damnedest to make ammends… The difficult person asked for NC and she’s getting it all right. Probably won’t be happy with that either, but yeah. Sometimes there’s nothing left to do but hit the lights, close the door and walk away.

  6. Phoenix, your friend is better off with NC with this person and the devalue and discard that the difficult person did to your friend was really a gift.

    Trying to appease them is IMPOSSIBLE….they are big time into drama and winning so you can’t appease them. I’ve got an article here on FA about appeasement — an impossible task.

  7. Phoenix, I sure hope your friend drops by the blog site, here.

    I like your description of turning off the light, shutting the door, and walking away – it creates a visual for me that actually makes sense.

    Years of literally reading and researching how to “get over it” with someone who has inflicted tremendous harm has always gone to the first step of “No Contact.” I’m grateful that I had that information when my second marriage collapsed. I knew, academically, that any conversation or attempts to let the exspath know what he had done to me would be fruitless and that it would NOT end well.

    I have mentioned my friend who has issues with her son, and she insists upon contacting him and “checking in” to see how he’s doing. Well, he never calls her – she’s the one that initiates any contact. And, I have tried to explain to her why her contacting this selfish and seemingly disordered offspring is harmful to her. “But, he’s my SON….” is the typical response. She doesn’t “get it.” And, she’s asking other parents about THEIR children and their behavior, and she’s getting the answers that she wants, “They’re ALL selfish at this age.” And, that simply is not true. It’s not, especially when you’re talking about someone who was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder at a very early age.

    NC is the most powerful and difficult step onto anyone’s personal Healing Path. For me, I always wanted to let whomever it was know precisely what they had done and how I had been harmed by their actions. Well, people who intentionally harm DO NOT CARE. So, it’s a waste of time, energy, and effort.

    • Actually the ‘visual’ of hitting the lights and closing the door was a nicer way of putting it compared to another way I have heard it said.

      Another visual I have used is stone walls. All the stones that have been cast at me have been put to good use. Each stone, large and small, the hateful words, the spite, anger, malicious actions each carried some weight. I put those stones to good use. I stacked them up carefully and built a wall between me and the _______ (spath, abuser, user). Have they ever once attempted to tear down the wall? Climb over it? Build a door in it? Go around it? If not, well then the wall has effectively been built and they are on the other side, unable to hurt me anymore.

  8. Truthy, you are soooooo right on!!! No contact is the first of the “victim’s” 12 step recovery program. And you are also right that “telling them off” is a WASTE OF TIME, and in my case, telling him off was the worst thing I ever did because I let him know what cards I had to play and all my trumps. Like the parole protest….and worse yet, he has all these CRAZY and BITTER letters I wrote him. What an idiot I was to do such a thing.

    I know for people like your friend, Truthy, “Oh, he’s my sonnnnnnn!” it is difficult for them to let go, and to go NC. BUT until they DO go NC, they can never heal. Yea you may have given birth to him but he is NOT YOUR SON, he purposely QUIT BEING your son, he’s as good as dead as far as she is concerned, but like Patrick, his body is still mobile, but they are like ZOMBIES–they are the undead that won’t quit attacking.

    I know several women in the same rut your friend is in, with sons in and out of prison, and still they refuse to give up hope year after year after year. Any advice I have for them falls on deaf ears, but you know, you and I both held on to the malignant hope for a LONG TIME with our sons who are psychopathic. So while I feel great empathy for these parents, I know that until THEY are ready to accept reality, not to blame the bad acts on drugs, or this or that, and put the blame squarely on the heads of their offspring, they can never heal. And some people NEVER reach that stage.

    You know there are a great many “hits” on this site from people who never register or post, and a few who did register and post but have fallen by the way side, and it makes me wonder if I am doing any good at all with the web site, but there are people who come back, 10, 20, 50 or more times and read, but never register or post so I guess there is at least a few people who find my posts here worth reading. I wish I could talk personally to these people who lurk, but Ii also understand how hard it is to “talk” about the situation, but it is only since I finally came “out of the closet” and started posting and writing under my own name that I have I think pretty well put most of the demons to rest, It is a journey to heal and we must constantly keep those demons knocked down so they don’t reappear in our lives, but it is very doable and makes life so much better.

  9. My friend has gone NC and is/has been dealing with the range of emotions it entails. When it is a relative that is older, one you should respect and all that goes with that… It’s not always easy to do what must be done.

    Another ‘friend’ of mine from years gone by, stayed too long with her abusive husband because “He’s the father of my son…” It got old and exhausting, listening to whyyyyyy me, but also why she could never leave. One day in the heat of discussion I told her he was no more than a sperm donor. Her son could also see what a c-r-o-c-k of crrrrrap his dad was, and was willing to go the route of supporting his mother, but yet she stayed.

    At one point I had offered to get her a prepaid phone, but after considering things, I retracted the offer in a way. I never had the extra income to cover it, so it just never happened. After some thought, why the H-E-L-L was I the one who had to get it for her? She has other enablers, besides her son- why couldn’t any of them get her the phone? I have been NC ever since. If she ever got the phone, I don’t know, because she has my number, knows how to reach me, where to find me, etc. but still my phone does not ring. Hmmmm, am I supposed to be surprised?

  10. Phoenix, you feel into the trap with that woman, the abused wife, in trying to rescue her when she did not want to be rescued. She was using the “he’s the father of my sonnnnn” as an EXCUSE for why she stayed, it was an excuse you couldn’t argue with because it was TRUE…but you rightly pointed out he was simply a sperm donor…but she stayed because either she was trauma bonded to him (likely) and/or she enjoyed the drama-rama (possible).

    That’s the trap for most of us, we see someone, something, in distress and we rush to rescue it. I’m as bad as the next enabler, because Ii genuinely want to HELP PEOPLE, but I’ve got to set boundaries on MYSELF as well as boundaries on how others treat me, and to realize that I can NOT SAVE THE WORLD and I sure can’t save someone who does NOT want to be saved.

    Yet, of course I tried and tried to save Patrick…I tried and tried to save my mother from the psychopaths that I knew were psychopaths, until FINALLY I realized finally that they did not want to be saved. Then I fled to protect myself and my other son, leaving them to the fate that they had chosen for themselves, and of course Andrew nearly died because they decided to kill him. That is his wife and her lover, the psychopath Patrick had sent to try to kill me.

    In the meantime, my mother still enables Patrick, but I cannot save her from herself, and she is so enmeshed in her enabling that at 84 she is not likely to see the light.

    I’m glad your other friend has gone NC and Ii am glad that she has you for support…support, NOT enabling. We must support each other, but we do not enable each other. Sometimes there’s a fine line there, but we need to make sure we are not enabling or attempting to “save” them. Just support them in saving themselves. She may fall off the wagon and contact him again, but if that happens, just be there to support her and hopefully she will disconnect. It takes time, work and patience to emotionally disconnect from them. The closer we are (like to a child or parent) the longer that may take.

  11. The abused wife is looking for someone to be her “Saviour’. I’m sorry but it won’t be me. I have enough on my plate to deal with.

    I have tried over the years to help her out, help her find a job, help her get mobile, help her get on her feet. I have offered to take her and her belongings to a womans shelter. There has always been some excuse (won’t even call them reasons) why she can’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t or wouldn’t. I finally gave up.

    It’s been almost a year since I last spoke to her and I doubt anything has changed. I will still offer her emotional support, but even that has it’s limitations.

    • Phoenix, as a survivor of domestic violence and abuse, I have to say, TOWANDA to you for taking a stand and setting boundaries.

      It happens all too often that a victim is waiting – waiting for someone to either “fix” it or “rescue” just like OxD mentioned. Nobody can “fix” an environment of domestic violence, and the victim must rescue themselves in order to affect healing and recovery.

      Now, having typed that doesn’t mean that I believe that victims who remain with their abusers “deserve” what they experience. No, they don’t. But, when the veil is lifted and the victim finally accepts that they are, indeed, a victim of domestic violence and abuse, it is then their decision and choice as to whether or not they REMAIN a victim.

      It is a trap, as OxD mentioned. Sometimes, the victim has no idea that they’ve even set a trap, let alone that one exists. Other times, the victim is well aware that they are setting an emotional and financial trap, and THOSE are the people who are “professional victims.”

      So, good for you for setting those boundaries and closing the door on that dysfunction!!!!

  12. Phoenix, that is what we must do is to QUIT being enablers, we cannot and SHOULD not do something for someone that they are capable of doing for themselves. We cannot save someone from themselves.

    A therapist told me nearly 40 years ago, the ONLY LEGITIMATE RESCUE IS PULLING AN UNCONSCIOUS PERSON FROM A BURNING BUILDING. I wish I had truly taken that statement to heart and lived by it before now.

    I am a REFORMED enabler, but I still have that knee jerk desire to save someone. Can’t do it, have to set boundaries. I’m glad that you are seeing the hand writing on the wall and ACTING on it. I hope your friend whose son is abandoning her does well, just keep on encouraging her, but in the end she has to heal herself, all you can do is hold her hand.

  13. Truthy, you mentioning “professional victims” brings to mind MANY cases I have seen. Sometimes the Professional Victim (PV) is actually an abuser of others whose victim escapes them and they are left financially or otherwise “broke” and they turn to a convenient rescuer to “fix” the problem, let them move into their enabler’s home, or otherwise SPONGE on someone else.

    I have been taken in by SEVERAL of this type of creeps…only to find out later that this person is a mooch and wants ME to take responsibility for letting them have a free ride on my coat tails, or my money. Either way, they do not want to take responsibility for themselves. Sometimes these people are actually psychopaths, and other times they are just lazy. I no longer fall for this (well most of the time at least LOL) but instead, set reasonable boundaries.

    I finally learned to begin to spot this kind of pseudo-victim and distinguish them from REAL victims who need a helping hand. It is not an easy task to distinguish these people from REAL victims. When our KNEE JERK response is to immediately rush in when we spot someone being abused, it sets us up to be a patsy to this kind of offender, and offender is what those PVs are. It is especially difficult if these PVs pose as our “friends.” or if they are “family.” We must accept that we do NOT have an obligation to “rescue” anyone whether they are “friend” or “family”

  14. Blogger Skylar wrote to me on her blog http://www.180rule.com this response to my post that I have a “PhD” in psychopaths because I flunked the lessons over and over and had to retake the “classes” until I got it.

    Here is her response to me, I thought it was profound enough to repost here:

    Joyce,
    it seems like the only way to really get your PhD on psychopathy IS to flunk the classes!!! You gotta flunk them and do them over and over again before the truth sticks.

    If you’ve read Dr. Hervey Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity, you might have noticed that he flunked his classes, over and over, too. Each of the case studies he wrote about, were psychopaths who fooled him over and over. They would convince him that they were “right in the head” so he’d release them, and within days they were dragged back in. Rinse and repeat.

    Psychopathic behavior isn’t something that can be understood by reading about it. Only exposure to all those WTF? moments can really “teach” us about spaths. Repeated offensive behavior is evidence of intentional malice. Then we finally “get” it, that the spath does what he does because he likes it.

    • Joyce, I “get this” about flunking the classes over, and over. I really do! LOL

      I’m one of “Those People” who can only learn the hardest way possible. If you tell me that the red, glowing element on a stove is “hot,” I have to (am compelled to) determine what “hot” really means by placing my hand on the element. “OH…..so, THAT’S what they meant!”

      And, I finally “got it” that spaths don’t care. I didn’t understand this concept, at first. How can another human being NOT care about what they do to others? Well, it’s a matter of recognizing that spaths live in a completely different dimension that empathetic people do.

      I like what Skylar wrote: “Repeated offensive behaviors is evidence of intentional malice.” It’s down to the brass tacks and makes absolute sense to me. Yes…….intentional malice. They don’t care. And, they DO like what they do.

  15. Truthy that is why I copied her statement to me from 180, it is simple, but yet profound, yep, they do not care that they hurt you, and they repeat what they do because they get some kind of reward for doing it, else they would quit doing it.

    Attention, even NEGATIVE attention, is a reward as well…else why would we stay with an abuser? So we must recognize what it is that is our “reward” for being abused? Are we fulfilling some early “script” that making others happy or helping them or appeasing them is what makes us a “nice person?” and we desire to be a “nice person” universally liked by others. It doesn’t matter what our twisted emotional reward was, we have now broken the cycle and are learning new ways to function and to reward ourselves for our changed behaviors and thinking.

  16. Joyce, you’re spot-on. ANY attention is attention, and I understand this, finally.

    They simply do not care. It’s beyond my ability to comprehend that one human being does not care for another, but I cannot argue a better fact. It just IS, whether I understand it, or not.

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