Friday, August 27, 2010

Falling Off the Wagon

When it comes to assessing one's personal role in family dysfunction or even domestic violence...

Blaming oneself or others in a moralistic sense is toxic for problem solving and makes problem resolution impossible.  It almost always leads to fight, flight or freeze reactions, rather than useful communication.  In order to resolve and stop repetitive dysfunctional family interactional patterns, one should focus on only three questions:  What are the patterns, what are they for, and how do we put a stop to them?  Leave questions of guilt and innocence to the justice system.  If a family member (or even you yourself) has been abusive, ask yourself this:  What is more important?   Is it punishing the guilty and making them eat crow, or putting a stop to the abuse and reconciling?

It pays to remember that it is impossible to forgive someone else who refuses to acknowledge what they did, denies ever having done it at, or puts all the blame for their own bad behavior on you.  Step up to the plate and look at your own role in problematic interactions.  You'll be glad you did.


  1. Amen to this, David. I have learned to see in terms of responsibility -- our ability to respond, and the choices we make in response to another's actions ...

    Another aspect of messy dynamics I look at is a question: "What's reaction and what's response?"

    "Stepping up to the plate" is often difficult to do ... There tends to be a factor of shame involved in both our refusal to be responsive / responsible, and our choice to step up (or not). Seems to me that often the shame is churning deepest just before we choose to own up to however we've contributed to a mess ... Speaking up and speaking out can be such a relief! I'm amazed at how much heaviness can be released just by showing up and admitting, "Yes, my actions have added to this situation." We're all in this together ...

  2. Jaliya,

    You are so right about shame. I wrote about the central role of shame in the intergenerational transmission of dysfunctional family patterns in "A Family Systems Approach to Individual Psychotherapy."

    Thanks for your comments.