The Raphael Remedy

Dysfunctional Is As Dysfunctional Does

by | Jan 27, 2011 | Counseling

There’s no arguing that we live in a dysfunctional world.  Nearly everyone, conservative or liberal, Christian or not, can agree.  The world is in trouble.  Families are in trouble.  People are in trouble.

But what does dysfunctional actually mean?  Simply put, we’re not functioning properly…we’re not living the abundant life that Jesus died to give us.  In short we keep trying the same things over and over and getting the same bad results because the ways we’ve learned to deal with things growing up simply don’t work very well.

Sometimes it is simply stated as an adjective… “Well, you just have to understand he’s (or she’s or I’m) dysfunctional.”

Well, after over 25 years sitting opposite the couch, so to speak, I’ve come to this conclusion:
Dysfunctional is as dysfunctional does.

Yes, it’s really that simple.

If you don’t want to be dysfunctional, learn behaviors that are more functional.   What really strikes me is that most people are a lot more normal than they think.  They feel what most people feel but they haven’t learned how to deal with the feelings in a way that helps them solve problems and resolve conflicts.

Don’t misunderstand me, we’re wounded and we need inner healing.  Millions of people today carry the scars of abusive and neglectful childhoods and their emotions have been crushed, repressed and twisted in the process. Because those hurts have never been healed and in many cases, not even acknowledged, they act in ways that are just never going to lead them to true happiness.  Instead of dealing with problems in constructive ways by guiding their emotions by reason, their defense mechanisms and repressed emotions reign and their true happiness is the casualty. And it gets passed on – generation after generation…..after generation…..

The good news is there is hope.  There is so much hope.  As Franklin Roosevelt said:  “There is nothing to fear but fear itself”.

Those words are very true. Fear is an emotion God gave us to defend ourselves from real dangers: a charging bull, a gang with switchblades, losing our souls through mortal sin.  In those cases fear is our friend and protects us from danger…we fight or we flee.  But fear can also be a tyrant who oversteps his bounds.  When we are hurt emotionally, naturally we fear being hurt again…but too often we learn to fear the very emotions that hurt. Perhaps as children we saw anger expressed in violent or destructive ways.  Well, we may have made a decision early on to never be like that. Or maybe when we expressed anger it was met with fury or disapproval and rejection.  We then began to fear that emotion and pushed it away.  But buried emotions don’t really go away. They get buried alive without the benefit of reason to guide them constructively to positive outcomes, and may come out in passive aggressive ways or self sabotaging behaviors.

Feeling and understanding our emotions is not enough.
We need to learn better ways of dealing with them, with others and with conflicts.

Just like our physical feelings, our emotional feelings give us needed information.  If my hand is too close to a flame, the feeling of increasing heat alerts me that I need to move my hand.  But imagine if I wasn’t aware of the sensation of heat or I ignored it?  What if my reason wasn’t informed enough to know to move my hand when it feels that hot?  You can see what disastrous consequences could ensue.

It’s no different with our emotions.  They are feelings that move us interiorly and give us needed information with which reason can make decisions.  If someone is violating a boundary of mine, say stopping by unannounced at midnight to chat and staying ‘til 3 am, I would likely become rather annoyed or downright angry.  The sooner I acknowledge that feeling and start thinking of how I can to get them to leave and never do that again, the better.  If I wait or allow that behavior, it’s likely they’ll get the message that their behavior is okay with me.  So, they may begin to make a habit of such intrusions.  I can rationalize it away and excuse it, rather than deal with the anger or confront them, but at some point, I may just blow up at them…or someone else.  Or maybe I’ll punish them more subtly by doing things they don’t like or disappointing them when I make a promise.  The net result is usually increasing strife and broken relationships.

True and lasting healing is the work of God and therapy that recognizes that
and calls upon the love of Jesus to heal those memories and damaged emotions,
combined with learning and implementing new behaviors, leads to lasting freedom and true joy.

True and lasting healing is the work of God and therapy that recognizes that and calls upon the love of Jesus to heal those memories and damaged emotions, combined with learning and implementing new behaviors, leads to lasting freedom and true joy. The work of therapy is to be able to feel and resolve all of our emotions and find more “functional” ways of dealing with them and with our relationships with others.  Feeling and understanding our emotions is not enough.  We need to learn better ways of dealing with them, with others and with conflicts.

Just as dysfunctional is as dysfunctional does — functional is as functional does.

caring Catholic therapist can be very helpful in resolving emotional conflict and finding better ways of interacting with others. It can be scary to get started but the rewards are big!  There are also some great books that can get you started on the road of healing, or enhance your therapy.

 

We highly recommend these two great selections:

Feeling and Healing Your Emotions  by Dr. Conrad Baars

Life Skills for Adult Children  by Janet Woititz and Alan Garner

 

In my opinion, Feeling and Healing Your Emotions  is unparalleled in helping you to better understand how God made your emotions to work and what to do to heal them if they’re not working.  Life Skills for Adult Children  (from the Adult Children of Alcoholics series) offers some great practical advice to dealing with relationships and putting new, more functional behaviors into practice.

We pray that God will lead you and heal you so that you may live His abundant life of joy and inner peace.

Allison Ricciardi, LMHC
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