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Why do siblings respond differently to a dysfunctional home?
While dysfunctional homes cause many similar effects for children, not all respond/react the same way to those effects. My experience has led me to identify four main kinds of reactions to dysfunctional homes.
Although children from a troubled upbringing will likely identify with elements from each, it’s not uncommon for them to display one in a more emphasized way. Differences in a child’s personality and temperament usually play a role in shaping his or her reaction to a painful upbringing.
Let me introduce you to the four kinds of children in relation to differences in reaction. The additional description (or nickname) in brackets would be from the dysfunctional parent’s perspective.
1. The angry rebel (aka “our black sheep”)
2. The peacemaking mediator (aka “our good girl”)
3. The fleeing perfectionist (aka “our trophy”)
4. The depressed defeatist (aka “our emotional one”)
Let’s look closely at these four reactions and consider the potential long-term effects of each.
See chapter 9 of my book. Purchase a copy here
Children growing up in dysfunctional homes sometimes accept responsibility for the hurtful actions of parents and other adults. They place themselves at fault for being victimized.
They misread what happens to them as an indication of something wrong with them.
A woman in her early forties acknowledged that she finally began to overcome the effects of growing up in a violent home when she realized that what happened to her as a child was not her fault.
It’s essential to help these children (or the adults who had this experience) distinguish between being a victim and accepting a victim’s mentality. I outline the difference carefully in my book.
Whether this has been your experience, or you know someone affected by it, my book will provide helpful guidance and conversational points. I’ve written the 18_Year Factor partly for equipping people to be discerning helpers of those who struggle.
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- Download a free copy of the discussion questions from my website for more accessible note taking here
- A free supplemental for Church groups will soon be available (since the book is intentionally written as non-religious).
Purchase a copy of the book here https://www.amazon.com/dp/1798227959/ref=sr_1_2…
Are there truths about us and God that apply to all people in all places at all times?
- We are all sinners who receive the penalty of death (Romans 3:10, 23; 5:12).
- God demonstrated His love for all (John 3:16;Romans 5:8).
- God desires salvation for all (I Timothy 2:3-4;II Peter 3:9).
- God made provision for salvation for all (I Timothy 2:5-6;4:9-10; Titus 2:11; I John 2:2).
- God commands all people to repent (Acts 17:30).
- God holds all accountable for their response to His provision (Romans 2:4-11;14:11;Acts 17:31).
- God takes no pleasure in rejection of His provision (Ezekiel 18:23,32).
- God saves all who place faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16;11:26; Romans 10:13).
A needed warning for parents is found in the story of a mother whose negative influence controlled her daughter’s thinking and habits well past childhood years. Cindy had to overcome the effects of her mother’s extreme resentment toward her father before she could trust a man enough to marry him. Cindy’s parents divorced when she was about twelve years old. Though her father was a good man, her mother’s bitterness toward him profoundly shaped Cindy’s heart regarding all men. When Cindy and her siblings spent weekends with their father, her mother programmed them, even required them, to send a nonverbal message to him by getting out of his car quickly when he dropped them off.
When Cindy was twenty-five years old, she met Bill, a good man who became her husband five years later. It took Bill five years of patient love to overcome Cindy’s damaged view of men. Bill recounted to me that when he and Cindy were first dating, he had to ask her to allow him to stop his car completely before she got out of it. At twenty-five years of age, Cindy was unaware of how and why she got out of the car quickly. Bill simply understood her action as unsafe. He didn’t know the history behind it until later.
It’s hard to imagine parents using children as tools for expressing their bitterness, but it happens more often than most realize. Parents must understand the power they have to set templates for their children—damaging templates that usually stay with them for years.
Painful childhood experiences (and protective mechanisms used to survive them) tend to cause children to adopt irrational large-scale generalizations about all of life and all people. Although their suffering occurs in a specific context involving a small number of people, the magnitude of the pain at this vulnerable time of life is more significant than most understand. Specific adverse childhood experiences form a template that shapes a child’s expectations of other people and circumstances. A young girl’s withdrawn or violent father leads her to believe that all men are like him. Her mother’s resentment toward her father further supports a large-scale generalization about “all” men. Though such large-scale generalizations are irrational, we can understand how the rational part of life is damaged by past experiences.
Fear and control
Fear and control also play a significant role in the adult lives of those who suffered childhood abuses. Significantly disrupted and severely dysfunctional homes are unsafe and unstable places that make children feel insecure or afraid. It’s not uncommon for those with a painful past to use the protective mechanism of control to minimize the fears in their troubled upbringing. These children often become adults who continue to try to control life and people to afford them a feeling of safety and security—to keep fear at bay.
Fear and control function as a kind of glue that cements past and present with a strong potential of ruining the future. Fear of what happened in the past ignites unnecessary and excessive efforts to control the present. One woman recalls how her verbally abusive mother caused her to form a habit of running from situations she could not control.
Like most protective mechanisms, fear and control especially hurt adult relationships. Fear of damage caused by someone from the past becomes redirected at someone in the present, who is then placed (unfairly) under control lest he or she does similar things. The use of control becomes a payment that a person must pay for the pain caused by others. The tendency to control other adults conveys distrust and disrupts otherwise positive relationships. It also exposes an unhealthy attachment to a painful past.
A person who allows fear and control to dominate his life places unnecessary and suffocating demands on others. Those who are held hostage by fear of the past approach relationships with self-serving expectations. They fight off fear by approaching relationships on a kind of contractual arrangement. “I need you to____________. I expect you to_____________. I demand you to__________. If you fail, I will punish you by exploding or withdrawing.”
A mate dealing with fear and control in a spouse often finds himself saying:
- “I am not your father,” or “I am not your mother.”
- “Please stop projecting onto me what they did to you.”
- “I understand that your father rejected you, but I won’t reject you.”
- “You don’t need to hedge around me, I won’t lash out the way your father did.”
Large-scale generalizations partner with fear and control as enemies of true love because such love flourishes only in a relationship of trust and freedom. A couple can build a healthier future free from bondage to the past when the dynamics of fear and control are understood and responded to with patience and mercy.
Protective and suspicious dispositions
Traumatized children learn to withdraw into protective and suspicious dispositions because the risks of vulnerability, transparency, and trust are too frightening. Highly protective and suspicious adults must look back to ask if there is a story behind their approach to life and to people. My new book, “The 18-Year Factor: How our upbringing affects our lives and relationships,” offers a guided tour back to understand and resolve the ways our past invades and hurts the future. Purchase a copy here
“You were placed in this beautiful theatre to act out your part as stewards of the earth and worshipers of God. And your great failing, the one that century after century raises up walls between the Loving one and His creatures, is the yearning to worship someone else, something else, anything else but the One who merits worship.
And some worship their past and their pain, paying hourly homage to it, kneeling before it, offering up their fractured heart on it, singing hymns to their hurt. Their pain becomes a temple ‘round itself, and they become devotees of anguish. They forget that some of the sweetest anthems ever sung have poured out of those whose hearts were spent. They forget that joy comes sometimes slowly, but eventually, inevitably, for those who love Almighty God more than their all-consuming afflictions.” Stephen Lang