Monday, April 5, 2010

Word Power: Dysfunction

In this five-part series, we'll be looking at the power that certain words have to color our realities and change our perceptions. Words matter! Choose them carefully.

Question: What is a functional family? I ask because it seems as if every family is dysfunctional. There are some legitimately dysfunctional families: families with histories of abuse (emotional, sexual, physical), families dealing with addiction, and families dealing with extreme traumas and tragedies. However, I also think that this is one of those words that is overused.

Families are made of people and people are not perfect. Mistakes will be made. There will be bad decisions. There will be a number of regrets and hindsight will make clear all of the things that we could have, would have and should have done differently. But does that make us all dysfunctional?

From the Cleavers to the Cosbys and beyond, we have set some seriously high and absolutely unrealistic definitions of family. How can real life families complete with fictional families whose every problem could be wrapped up in a half hour (or an hour for the occasional ‘very special’ episode).

I choose to believe that mine was a functional family. I was raised by two imperfect people who raised an imperfect daughter and my childhood reflected that. Yet, it was functional. There was more laughter than tears and there was much more that went right than went wrong. Could things have been done differently? Yes. Were mistakes made? Certainly. If I had a family of my own, I would make mistakes, have regrets and wish for a ton of do-overs. However, I think I would still be functional.
If you and your family don't see eye to eye, if you have different opinions about the direction your life should take, if your family is just prone to run-of-the-mill selfishness, shortsightedness and/or awkwardness, but otherwise, you came out of there more or less unscatched, then you have a family. You have a real family, made up of real people with real flaws and not some televised fiction.
The point of this series is to show you the power that words have. I started the paragraph before last with the words, “I choose to believe…” and I did that on purpose. I made a choice. I could look back and focus on the imperfections and mistakes or I could focus on what went well. It’s a choice.

I’m not advocating that we whitewash our own personal histories but to see them in a new context. Don’t ignore the reality but recognize who is in control of the perception and the definition.

Find a way to look at your past that leaves you feeling inspired or content or, at worst, leaves you feeling neutral or at least not caught in a mire of dysfunction and victimhood.

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