Dysfunctional Family “Rules”
Adapted from J. Bradshaw, Healing the Shame that Binds You. From: http://www.thewellspring.com/flex/professional-integration/2455/dysfunctional-family-rules.cfm
Control—One must be in control of all interactions, feelings and personal behavior at all times—control is the major defense strategy for shame. Yes, I’m still caught up in this one. I have only rarely simply let a day happen, let a feeling happen. I can’t simply let thoughts happen – too many of them are full of darkness and lies. The feelings may be flashbacks. I don’t think giving up control is an option for me.
Perfectionism—Always be right in everything you do. The perfectionist rule always involves a measurement that is being imposed. Fear and avoidance of the negative is the organizing principle of life. Members live according to an externalized image. No one ever measures up. Yes this ruled my life for 20 years. Perfect grades, perfect body, perfect job, perfect dreams, perfect smile. This is easing up. a little.
Blame—Whenever things don’t turn out as planned, blame yourself or others. Blame is a defensive cover-up for shame…Blame maintains the balance in a dysfunctional family when control has broken down. Me, blame me.
Denial of the Five Freedoms*—Each freedom has to do with a basic human power—the power to perceive; the power to think and interpret; to feel; to want and choose; and the power to imagine. In shame-based families, the perfectionist rule prohibits full expression of these powers. Wow. Yes I was denied each of those freedoms.
The No-Talk Rule—This prohibits the full expression of a feeling, need or want. In shame-based families, members want to hide their true feelings, needs or wants. Therefore, no one speaks of the loneliness and sense of self-rupture. Shut up and smile.
Don’t Make Mistakes—Mistakes reveal the flawed vulnerable self. To acknowledge a mistake is to open oneself to scrutiny. Cover up your own mistakes and if someone else makes a mistake, shame him. Yes. Mistakes prove your as bad as they say you are. I’ve gotten so much better at this. I won’t say mistakes don’t bother me and i don’t torture myself with them a bit, but it is no longer so serious and passes quickly. I have accepted i am human and treat my own mistakes as i would someone else’s, with forgiveness and understanding.
Unreliability—Don’t expect reliability in relationships. Don’t trust anyone and you will never be disappointed. How sad that I lived there. I trust in my marriage now. I trust my children. I have some trust for my inlaws and some for a few friends. That is huge progress. I’ll take it.
These rules are still there, deep inside me – where I turn first, driving my underlying motives, thoughts, fears, actions, etc.
I’d like to say otherwise, but it would be a lie. What I can say, is that I am aware of it, and gently trying to approach the world – and myself – differently.