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Family dynamics and dysfunction 
Started by NatR
21 Jun 2012, 6:59 PM

Hi everyone,

I decided upon encouragement from our Moderator, Colleen - to begin a new chapter of discussions.  It appears from the stories we all share that most of us feel misunderstood - and alone.  As a result we look online for help, support, encouragement, insight and ideas on how to cope.

I am just like each of you who reads this message.  I am part of a family, a family with mental illness, religious views, family members who don't like each other and don't get along.  Does this sound anything like any of your families?

I do admit that some people have grown up in wonderful enveloping warmth and love - and if you did, then you might not be interested in this discussion. I do believe that there are a number of us who can share and understand issues that some may find hard to believe or understand. When someone in the family is dying, strained and complicated family relationships can make things really tough. 

I have been grateful to have found many good supportive and kind friends through connecting on social media, support groups, chat forums...and I am throwing this topic out there to you all.  

I personally was raised in a very religious home by a father who was mentally ill.  None of us realized that he had bi-polar disorder until his mid 70s.  Looking back over my childhood I realized a lot of things that never made sense then, now made sense to me...or maybe sense is not the right word...but I was able to understand and forgive a lot of things because I now had an answer of sorts.

I have learned that sharing, having input, and learning from the wisdom of others has improved my life and has lightened my load.

I encourage you to bring your topics here, your personal stories, your feelings and your hurts - and air them.  Sometimes we are the hardest on ourselves.  This is a great place to learn that we need to like ourselves, understand ourselves a bit better.  I am no expert but I have a few miles on me.  Years of interacting with family - and being cut off from the outside world in many ways...created a lot of difficult issues for me.  

Even now in my retirement years - I am still learning. This forum is one of those learning places.  

What difficult family dynamics have you had to face?

Best wishes,


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Reply by Cath1
22 Jun 2012, 3:32 PM

I think the concept of dysfunction in terms of family dynamics is sometimes overblown and misunderstood. In all families there is bound to be disagreements and disputes, clashes of wills and personality conflicts, power imbalances and unresolved issues. All of these family dynamics serve a function and compel families to either work through them, accept or ignore them. Among these difficult dynamics, most families also play host to an array of mutually supportive and connecting elements that include, lasting love and loyalty, companionship, camaraderie and closeness, shared history that bonds them with memories both happy and sad.

While some families experience more than their fair share of challenges it is natural, in my opinion, during times of immense stress for families of all varieties to react to the experience with heightened and sometimes ugly emotions when oneself or a loved one is faced with serious illness and/or end of life.  When people are feeling insecure and frightened, alone or misunderstood, they are not always able in every moment to display their loftiest feelings, their good nature or goodwill.

All the family’s emotional baggage that was present before a health or life crisis suddenly resurfaces and at times is dramatically magnified when confronted with a perceived threat of illness and/or death. It is never easy for any family to work through the end of life experience as unsettling sensitivities, old wounds and painful feelings are often triggered.

Depending upon the people and the situation, some family members will avoid at all costs open discussion that could promote healing while others will engage actively in communicating to try to resolve any lingering hurts. Some people may hope that making peace will replace anger where others may unleash their feelings in a fury unmasked. In my view, the past dynamics that existed between family members often dictate how things will be handled during illness and/or at end of life.

When I think of anyone involved in these tense and anxious situations, I try to think of how all sides view the situation in the circumstance. It’s so easy to place blame or take sides, but there is so rarely a clearly defined right or wrong way to see and experience life or death and we all respond so differently. It is useful if we can try to walk just a few steps in the shoes of the other, especially those that we don’t so naturally relate to or understand and perhaps never will. Genuine acceptance of our differences can sometimes make the most meaningful difference of all.

Feeling empathy for those less able to meet our needs or communicate kindly and compassionately helps us to accept their limitations just as we hope others will accept ours. There is always another perspective to consider and yet most people get trapped into thinking only their way makes sense. Families are as complex as the people within them and at no time is this truth more evident than during times of sorrow.

I wish everyone the courage to embrace their families with compassion when life is coming to a close. It can make all the difference to the person who is dying and whose needs ultimately must matter most. It can also provide great comfort in difficult moments now, and in the future, to those left to live on with the memory of how life ended for their loved one and may actually serve to lighten the load of the family’s baggage, the weight of which we all carry with us.  In my view it can’t hurt to try.


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Reply by NatR
22 Jun 2012, 4:47 PM

Thank you Cath1 for your great input.  You have a way of explaining things that is very helpful.

I am sure there will be more comments on this subject...wishing you a great day..

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Reply by Cath1
22 Jun 2012, 5:11 PM

Thanks NatR! Kudos to you for starting this important thread as I think many people wrongly feel that their family dynamics are oddities when in fact everyone must contend with some degree of difficulty in family relationships, and especially at end of life.

I hope your thread attracts a lot discussion so that people will feel less alone, less isolated with painful feelings, and so they will have a place to give and receive advice on how to best cope with certain circumstances where family dynamics rise to complicate the experience of life's ending.

Our goal here is to help make the end of life experience as comforting as is possible and this thread will provide a healthy outlet for expression of the unsettling and upsetting feelings that people may not feel comfortable expressing directly with their nearest and dearest.

NatR, your own post is amazing and the conversation you have started here has the potential to help many people to share their own family dynamics where they can leave behind their heavy baggage and therefore feel less burdened. Thank you!

With affection,
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Reply by Em-PSW Student
13 Dec 2012, 3:48 PM

it is nice to see disfunction and family are being spoke in the same sentence, many times people try to hide/ or act like it is not happening.
I know with my family, disfunctional was a norm. I would look at other kids and wonder why my life wasnt so "perfect" ..but now 22 I thank my family for making me into the person i am today and the way i am. I went through ups and downs and everything in between. And for that I am a strong willful woman ready to take on a life of happiness and fufilment.
I can not express how happy I am to find this site.
- you'll be hearing from me soon :)
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Reply by RebekahVE
13 Dec 2012, 4:33 PM

My childhood was great, there were normal arguments and such but it was a normal happy childhood. it wasn't until i hit the age of seventeen when I had my own child that things started to fall out of place. At this point my older brother (and friend) had abandoned us for his wife, this had cut deep but I could handle it. Just before the birth of my child my grandmother, who had been fighting various cancers for five years, had passed. This sent my mom into a small depression. After my son was born my father had lost his job which put my mother and my father into a deeper depression. They began to play online video games, pretending to be younger than they really were, my mother went as far as to have online relationships. Me, my child and my two younger siblings were left on our own to cook dinner and clean. Me being the oldest in the house at that point was trying to cook and clean while maintaining highschool. I fought to keep out of depression but it wasn't working, I began to date my boyfriend (now been together three and a half years) and he helped any way he could. I began to stay at his house all weekend, weekends turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. When I came home to visit at Christmas my house was empty, my dogs and cats were gone, my furniture was few and far between. My parents had moved away without telling me. I had found them a few days later living at my older sister's house three hours away from me, they had taken my younger siblings and their things and moved without saying a word to me.
I coped slowly out of depression and began to function again. It took two years for me to even speak to my parents again, and another year to go visit them. We are now on speaking terms and doing allright. i had moved on from the past and bettered myself. However it's still a hurtful emmory. Now none of my older siblings are speaking to me or my parents, this is affecting the younger ones greatly as they are in need of an older siblings guidance.
It's a frusterating long struggle with a family that is so out of whack.
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Reply by NatR
13 Dec 2012, 5:11 PM

Hello Em-PSWStudent,
Thank you for writing in this thread.
I believe that there are plenty of people who have something they can add to this conversation.

I agree with you Em, that we grow from our experiences.  I believe that people who have a perfect life with no stress, no adversity are few and far between.  I like you am grateful to have come through adversity and struggles...it makes us the people that we are now.

As a PSW student you are going to learn a lot about supporting others.  I am glad you found this forum and the conversation threads.   Please feel free to add your comments and insights.  As PSWs we become the support system for so many - but some days we also need a place that we can find support and a listening ear.

Welcome and I look forward to your future posts.
Good luck, best wishes, and Happy Holidays.

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Reply by NatR
13 Dec 2012, 5:19 PM

Dear RebekahVE,

Thank you for finding this thread and commenting with your personal point of view.

May I ask how you found us?  Thank goodness for internet searches, friends who share links, and manage to put us all together talking about similar things in our lives.

I am glad you wrote.
Your early years sound wonderful...and then along came health challenges, as with your grandmother...and other family members moving off in their own direction.

To find that your parents have moved without saying a word, basically abandoning you - must have been the most awful feeling.

I admire your stick with it attitude, your endurance to keep going, and despite siblings and parents not speaking you are continuing on with your life.

I can understand so well.  I often feel like an island myself, alone, not understood by the people closest to me.  I have also learned that despite let downs, family break ups and break downs...that we can be whole, that we can make a difference, that we can be a useful member of society.

I admire your concern for your siblings and what seems like your efforts to keep connections...even though they are fragile.

At this time of year when so many are focused on family togetherness, buying gifts, planning big festive dinners....many of us...understand the empty place in our hearts, our minds...wishing things were better, wishing things were easier...wishing just for easy conversation without drama, yelling, being misunderstood.

Thank you for sharing your heart today...and I hope that your week will go well.
If you have any other thoughts to share, please do.  The forum, the conversations are for everyone...if you dont find the perfect conversation...start another thread that is just about your point of view, your concern.  Likely there will be others who will add their feelings and be glad you shared.

Virtual Hospice is for anyone and everyone...feel free to recommend us to your friends or family.  It is one way to begin conversations, open doors and heal.
Best wishes,

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Reply by Brayden
21 Dec 2012, 2:02 AM

Dear NatR,
For the past week I have been torn between responding to you or just letting my feelings go by the wayside.  In June you gave us some background to your difficulties experienced in a dysfunctional family and I read into one of your statements that if someone came from a more wholesome environment they would not be interested in your view (and maybe not understanding). Well I have gained too much respect for your opions by now to not be interested in both your ups and downs, and have at least some understanding gained from years of giving support to dysfunctional families. Even today I heard such painful stories as I volunteered at our Hospice Memory Tree in the Shopping Mall. I feel that one can give hope to another, both from a position of strength or weakness. 
I just hope and pray that this Christmas you will be able to draw on the positives in your family relationships and let the negatives go by. Easier said than done but possible. 
My very best to you,
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Reply by NatR
13 Feb 2013, 9:36 PM

Dear Brayden, RebekahVE and Em-PSWstudent,

looking at this thread I am wondering how you all are doing.  Somehow I do not get notifications or perhaps they get sent to my junk mail.

but here I am to say - hope that you are all getting through this long and cold wiNotre.

there has been a lot of talk lately on the news, on Facebook and on Twitter and more places as well, discussing the stIrma of mental illness. ( releted to our discussion about family dysfunctiom.

I participated in a chat on Twitter about this subject a day or so ago.

i was more than willing to share my personal experience, and bravely said to the group that stigma is alive and well when it comes to mental illness.

I just wanted to say thank you for participating in this thread - and sharing your feelings
open conversation helps people I overcome and understand better - that we all have different lives.
Wishing you each a peaceful week, and Brayden your words spoke to me and were appreciated.

Have a good evening all and best wishes,
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