Dysfunction

Okay. So we’ve talked a little bit about personal boundaries and how they might affect our lives.

Previously I was describing the life of someone with poor personal boundaries as feeling a little like a smash up derby. In the first picture the person hasn’t really drawn a line between themselves and others. The needs and responsibilities of themselves and others can become confused and they might not know when or how to say no.

This person has little in the way of emotional buffers. They may be either a domineering, angry, control freak who tries to run the lives of others, or someone who seems to get taken advantage of by their boss, Pastor, family or partner.

This next diagram is an example of someone who is drawing the line, so to speak. They have some emotional buffers. They have an idea where their self-control begins and ends. They have some sense of personal responsibility and are able to let other people be responsible for their own lives.

They may know how to say “I” and “no”. The lines in the picture show where some people are closer than others. For instance, there might be some things you’d tell your partner but not your mum or your children. Some friends know you better than others. Differences like that.

Another important thing to realise about these “boundaries” is that each person decides for themselves where to draw the lines and can move them at any time, for any reason. Say you are getting to know a new friend and they tell a lie. You might understand it, given the circumstances, but decide not to trust them too much too quickly because of it. You might have a really close friend who is having a bad breakup, so you spend more time talking to them. These are examples of times when you might want to adjust your boundaries. When children grow up and leave home is another example, when they tell their parents less about their private lives and perhaps become involved with a life partner who becomes their close companion.

At this point I’ll refer you to a Bibliography being compiled on another page. There are some fabulous books out there by people with sound experience and qualifications, and no need for me to reinvent the wheel!

It is, however, really important to understand personal boundaries since Western Anglo culture has very, very bad boundaries. If you’ve spent any time adjusting your own boundaries, you’ve probably had many experiences seeing or hearing of stories about people or events and thinking “Wow, that’s really screwed up!” You’ve probably also encountered “New Age” thinking that doesn’t seem to have adequate personal boundaries. This can be a real problem if you’re looking around for ways to make changes in your life. This is why I’ve started with boundaries. You need a good grasp of what they are and how they work, particularly if you’re going to start importing ideas and tools from other cultures to help you make changes.

There’s another important reason for understanding boundaries and their influence in dysfunction. When a person starts to try and live a sane life, they invariably begin to feel like they’re swimming upstream. It can sometimes seem as if they’re the only sane person in the place and everyone else seems hell bent on destructive, stupid living. This is partially the fault of the commercial media, who use images in advertising and stories with complete disregard for the health or wellbeing of anyone involved. It’s also because dysfunction and poor boundaries are entrenched in Western Anglo culture. This is one of the reasons why we have the biggest problems with depression, suicide, family violence, addictions and youth suicide.

We’re probably all familiar with a “black sheep”. A person who has suffered from addiction, alcoholism or criminal behaviour they just can’t seem to shake off. What can come as a surprise is that there are many other aspects to the life patterns of these dysfunctions. For instance, when Alcoholics Anonymous first started out, they had great success helping people stop drinking. But they found that about a year after someone went sober, their family would fall apart. They learned that the family was oriented around the alcoholic and ‘enabled’ or supported their behaviour, to the point where the enabler needed the alcoholic in their life. We’ve all heard the stories about someone who grows up with an alcoholic parent and swears they won’t become like that, but they do. Or they swear they won’t be like the partner who puts up with it, then they find themselves married to an addict or alcoholic.

What’s important is to see all the different facets. The different roles that all fit together like pieces in a puzzle. This is why apparently “good” families have “black sheep”. Often on looking back through the family tree, there shows up in every generation, in every branch of the family, this black sheep.

Partly because of the influence of puritan religion, workaholism and religious excess have been socially sanctioned. People who work too much or get carried away with church seem to be “good” in Anglo culture. Spending too much on shopping can also fall into this category nowdays with the focus on consumerism and keeping up with the Jones’. If someone has a beautiful house and flash car and wardrobe, it doesn’t matter so much if they’re in hock to the eyeballs and neglect their kids. What looks like success is actually another facet of this family dysfunction. Consider how often drugs, alcohol and anger issues overlap with workaholism.

For a while there, co-dependency was a popular topic for discussion in “pop-psychology”. Be careful with shallow understandings of “tough love” and “playing the victim”!

Let’s have a closer look at this whole “success” thing. In many governments and corporations people get promoted for working hard. It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that much of the Western Anglo world is run by workaholics. Does it make a bit more sense now, why some nutty decisions are made? Why governments seem to rule in the interest of corporations and economies rather than human beings and the community? Does it make more sense now, why you feel like you’re swimming upstream against the flow of a dysfunctional, screwed up culture?

When you have your head in your hands, thinking, “this society is really insane!” You’re right. It is dysfunctional. What a laugh.

Put like that, all of a sudden the insistence on consumerism, capitalism, over production, waste and the so-called free market economy makes more sense. Because it is nuts. It’s largely run by people who define themselves as successful by society’s standards, but are mentally ill. What’s defined in mainstream media as success, the money, car, big house, flash rags, are all the by-products of this dysfunction.

It’s defined as success because the people with the power are suffering from an addiction that’s every bit as bad as heroin or ice… but society has pictured it as success because the people “at the top” are addicted and like heroin addicts or alcoholics, don’t want to admit that they have a problem. And why indeed, would you think it a problem to have too much money? Again, consider the overlap with drug use and family breakdown, to see where the nature of the problem.

This is not to say that money is bad. Money is merely a tool. But like the famous saying goes, “the love of money is the root of all evil”. The trick is to see the dysfunction behind the supposed success and screwed up values of Anglo society. The suggested response is to draw yourself some good boundaries and have a long, hard look at your personal beliefs and values.

At this point I was going to review some of the bad influences in conservative and charismatic religion, but it might be more appropriate to have a look at trauma in culture.

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