Category: Dysfunctional Families

What is a dysfunctional relationship?

What is a dysfunctional relationship
Dysfunctional relationships do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth

No relationship is perfect, but some are more functional than others. If that is a fair reflection of reality, what makes certain relationships less healthy or more dysfunctional than others? The answer lies on the quantity, intensity and frequency of the dysfunctional behaviours that shape and define relationships as such.

As a first and universal principle, dysfunctional relationships do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth. One’s needs, wants, vulnerabilities and negative feelings are not expressed clearly and with confidence for a fear of rejection and abandonment. Therefore, the authentic self does not flourish in the presence of the other, but it is hidden behind a facade of togetherness created to comply with his or her expectations.

Even though such expectations have a major influence on the dynamic and health of any relationship, in the dysfunctional modality they tend to be high and unrealistic. As they are not openly talked about, negotiated democratically and with reasonable compromise, they do not correspond to individual differences, needs and limitations of the authentic self. Failure to live up to one’s own idealised standards or the other’s expectations culminates in feelings of not being good enough, incompetent (fear of making mistakes/not pleasing the other or “getting it right”) and unlovable. The permeating inadequacy brings about a tendency to fault finding, blaming and holding grudges.

Due to emotional neglect, dependency and immaturity, emotions are not processed autonomously or through the empathic presence of the other.  As a result, behaviour is largely motivated by unconscious feelings of fear, shame, anger and anxiety that have great negative impact both on an individual and relationship level. Lack of adequate emotional support, validation or willingness to listen and change one’s behaviour leads to a building resentment that makes one seem to explode over “nothing” from time to time.

In dysfunctional relationships, boundaries are not clear or respected, as well as one’s wishes, likes and dislikes. As values and personal roles are rigid, the dynamic is highly uneven and favours a dominant/active and submissive/passive dyad, which is frequently kept through denial and in an unconscious fashion. In such scenarios, the relationship is used as a weapon of manipulation and control. Refusal to conform with the dysfunctional dynamic and play its rigid roles is followed by threats of abandonment, be them overt/verbal or covert, through emotional distancing and passive aggression.

In cases where there are attempts to address problems and solve them, motivation is weak and tends to wither over time. For that reason, the trajectory of dysfunctional relationships is marked by ups and downs. While one takes on the responsibility of the relationship wellbeing, the other refuses to fully acknowledge the effects of his/her attitude and quickly reverts to a habit of denial, neglect or resistance to change. Because dysfunctional relationships are made of two highly independent units that do not work cooperatively, they are also filled by feelings of powerlessness, shame, discontent and isolation.

If you would like to refrain from feeding a dysfunctional relationship dynamic, be it with your partner, relative, friend, colleague or boss, self-awareness is key. While it should not be anyone’s responsibility to carry the wellbeing of any relationship solely on their shoulders, by addressing and changing your own behaviour you can become a model of self-esteem and emotional maturity.

3 developmental trauma beliefs and the problems they cause

3 developmental trauma beliefs and the problems they cause
Dysfunctional beliefs lead to dysfunctional coping strategies

Traumatic events change our perception of ourselves, the world and others. Because our sense of safety and trust are shaken and sometimes even shattered by trauma, we “learn” from the pain we feel by changing our views and adapting, cognitively and emotionally, to our circumstances. In developmental trauma – a series of adverse experiences in childhood which affect one’s development –  that change is quite dramatic and it tends to transcend time. Imagine an adult who, as a child, was repeatedly criticised and attacked verbally by an abusive mother and/or father. His rigid and negative beliefs, formed as a result of trauma, would probably prevent him from holding a coherent view of himself as a competent and lovable adult. These beliefs would also serve as to warn him of the dangers of love and intimacy that, supposedly and for him, would apply to all close relationships. Living in a world in where safety cannot be felt even in the family home, this trauma victim would feel empty and lost, as if his existential wound could never be healed.

As dysfunctional beliefs lead to dysfunctional coping strategies, and those, in turn, to mental health and relationship problems, it is worth being conscious of how your thinking could be affecting your happiness. If you suspect to have suffered developmental trauma and would like to become more conscious of its effects, here are 3 developmental trauma beliefs and the problems they cause:

1- “I cannot trust others”

Developmental trauma victims struggle to believe in and rely on other people. That is because they had their trust broken very early in life and at a time of intense vulnerability. Since they were betrayed by those who were close to them – namely their primary caregiver(s), such as their mother and/or father – the damage caused by such loss is far greater. Their fear of rejection and abandonment, even when completely unjustified and unrelated to their current circumstances, often results in obsessive self-reliance. Their lack of faith in people’s good intentions and ability to become a positive influence on their lives make it impossible for them to ask and even accept help, when needed. That tendency gives rise to codependent behaviours and loneliness, as well as it increases their probability of becoming depressed, due to their need to isolate or neglect their own feelings when things get tough. A healthy, intimate relationship with oneself and others is seldom achieved without conscious effort and dedication.

2- “I am unlovable”

When a child does not have her feelings validated or is constantly attacked or ignored, he is not able to separate his parents’ anger and neglectful attitude from his own sense of self-worth. Because children do not have the intellectual sophistication of an adult, they immediately associate their parents’ attitude with something to do with themselves, as if they were intrinsically related (“If my mum is not interested in me/is angry at me, it is because I am boring/not good enough”). Naturally, that feeling of unworthiness is also frequently present in children who are physically and/or psychologically/emotionally abused. In order to deal with the torturing feeling of inadequateness that comes from believing that “There is something wrong with me”, these trauma victims work hard to be noticed and feel worthy of love and acceptance. Self-esteem is low and “built” from the outside in through conditional love. They become perfectionists, codependents, approval junkies and people pleasers, who find it hard to say no. All of which are driven by a powerful fear of rejection.

3- “The world is a dangerous place”

Living in fear creates a state of alertness that shapes the way the brain develops and processes information about the environment. A child that is raised by emotionally unstable, anxious, extremely inconsistent or unpredictable parents, sees the world as a dangerous place filled with threats to his well-being. Guided by the thinking that “something bad is about to happen” and “I am weak/helpless”, as well as the anxiety that follows, his behaviour becomes dictated by fear. The trauma victim’s biased negative thinking and low self-confidence turns everything into a challenge. Making changes, creating new habits, taking risks, standing up for oneself and meeting new people, as other similar behaviours that require self-confidence, are a source of unease, and, in some cases, even panic. Because high anxiety crushes motivation, it gets in the way of personal, academic and professional achievement. It also affects sleep and physical health. Relationships suffer as a result. Anxiety, as a powerful mood killer, makes a person seem inaccessible, indifferent, distant and even difficult, which are traits not usually seen as attractive for those who feel whole and are emotionally intelligent.

As depressing as all of the above may seem, those trauma beliefs that may be causing you so much pain can be restructured. If you identify with the above, start actively challenging negative thinking that is stopping you from trusting yourself and others. Be objective when you catch yourself catastrophizing and stop taking everything personally. Bear in mind that our subjective reality is built from background knowledge, which is organised and categorised through core beliefs. That knowledge – highly subjective and loaded with emotional significance – does not equate, necessarily, to fact.

Were you raised by a narcissistic mother?

If you believe you were raised by narcissistic mother, the following questionnaire will help you gain insight into the issue.

To find out the probability of your mother being a narcissist, answer “yes” or “no” to the questions below. Once you have completed the questionnaire, count your “yes” answers and read the score interpretation comments at the bottom of the page.

1- Do you struggle to feel like an adult and a competent woman in your mother’s company?

were raised by a narcissistic mother
Find out if you were raised by a narcissistic mother

2- Do you feel under pressure to live up to your mother’s expectations and standards in order to be accepted and/or valued by her?

3- When in your mother’s company, do you often feel responsible for how she feels?

4- Does your mother treat you differently (e.g., politely, affectionately) in front of other people?

5- Is your mother jealous of you?

6- Does your mother have a habit of questioning and/or discarding and/or invalidating and/or ignoring your skills and achievements?

7- Do you feel you cannot count on your mother for emotional support?

8- Do you struggle to make your mother understand your feelings?

9- Is your mother hard – if not impossible – to please?

10- Does your mother ever show genuine regret and apologize for treating you inappropriately?

11- Do you believe that your mother does not know the real you?

12- Do you feel false and/or insecure and/or inadequate in your mother’s company?

13- Do your mother’s moods tend to fluctuate with great intensity and frequency?

14- When taken over by antagonistic feelings such as anger, shame and insecurity, does your mother abuse you verbally?

15- Does your mother use emotional blackmail to get what she wants from you on most occasions?

16- Does your mother make you feel responsible for her happiness?

17- Do your mother’s attitude and values seem not to evolve with time?

18- Do you often feel forced to meet only the needs and wants of your mother?

19- Do you find it hard to associate the image of your mother with that of an emotionally stable and secure adult?

20- Do you struggle to see yourself as an independent entity from your mother?

21- Does your mother reject or ignore your interests when they do not reflect her own?

22- Do you find it difficult to connect affectionately and emotionally with your mother?

23- Does your mother only accept your skills and achievements when recognized by somebody else?

24- Does your mother use your skills and/or natural talents and/or important moments of your life for self-aggrandisement?

25- When involved in family disagreements, does your mother always come out as the victim of some great injustice?

26- Does your mother not value you for whom you are, but for what you have to offer?

27- Are you embarrassed by your mother’s attitude and behaviour in front of other people?

28- Is your mother disappointed and/or makes you feel guilty for not doing what she wants?

29- Does your mother consciously ignore your feelings?

30- Does your mother expose and/or humiliate you in front of other people?

 

Score analysis:

1 – 5: It is unlikely that you were raised by a narcissistic mother.

6 – 9: It is somewhat likely that you were raised by a narcissistic mother.

10 – 19: It is very likely that you were raised by a narcissistic mother.

20 – 30: It is extremely likely that you were raised by a narcissistic mother.