I was reading Philip Chard's article in the Milwaukee Journal, Out of My Mind, and was happy to see an assessment of family situations. Depending on what kind of family you grew up in, that experience pretty much defines you. There are, thankfully in my case, exceptions.
Chard speaks about healthy and unhealthy families. He goes on to say:
"Healthy families demonstrate an attribute called 'beneficial cohesiveness'. From an interpersonal standpoint, people in such families stick together in a good way. Cohesive families demonstrate largely harmonious interactions, and when they do have conficts, they are addressed openly and respectfully. Family members exhibit emotional warmth, empathy and caring. Finally, a healthy family is a flexible one; in other words, it is not like boot camp."
I have very little experience with this kind of family, except as an outside observer.
What does Chard say about dysfunctional families?
Unhealthy families come in two variations, enmeshed or disengaged.
In an enmeshed family, relationships with parents and siblings were characterized by considerable hostility, lots of meddling in each other's affairs, and 'harmful cohesiveness' -- meaning they stuck together in a damaging way. While these families sometimes share affection, it is usually short-lived and often abruptly replaced by anger and accusations.
I experience my family as emotionally dangerous and unpredictable. I've learned to keep my head down and avoid interacting because of the negative behaviors associated with all of the relationships between my siblings.
Chard goes on to say that the other kind of unhealthy family (disengaged) is "typified by relationships that are emotionally cold, controlling and distant. It tends to crank out children who are angry, aggressive, alienated and basically who feel unloved."
No matter what kind of family you came from, you are part of that psychological inheritance.
This Thanksgiving I will sit at the table and give thanks for the family I married into and the children and grandchildren I was blessed with.
I will offer a prayer for the family I came from that they will someday know peace and harmony in their lives on a daily basis.
I am so very thankful that I chose not to be a part of the misery my family embodies any longer, and I wish I could tell my siblings how to rearrange their thought processes and leave that wretched childhood experience in the past. But it's one of those things we have to figure out for ourselves, and I pray they do.