By Mike Rice
Have you ever sat down with your TV remote control and flipped through each channel looking for a movie that catches your interest? Most people have. Perhaps I should say most men do. It tends to be a guy trait. However, this is not a gender specific behavior. Everyone does it at one time or another.
So you find something that catches your attention and you get comfortable and begin watching. Then, in twenty minutes or less, the words, “The End” flashes upon the screen. One’s automatic response may be, “What the heck was THAT all about?” The reason it didn’t make much sense is because you missed the beginning and the middle. That’s the way our lives play out in our families of origin.
In each of our lives, a lot of drama occurred before we were born. If you don’t know the beginning or the first several acts, the family drama can be quite confusing as we observe and it not make much sense. By trial and error, as we mature, we watch the drama all around us unfold and efforts or made to figure out what role we will play that will allow the drama to continue. This is where creativity comes in. Different roles that result in certain behaviors are tested to see if they will maintain the family homeostasis or upset it. Upstaging or taking over another family member’s role will lead to resentment and conflict. Demanding directors will also play an integral part in the roles played by new cast members and tell a member what role they will play.
The role one chooses is also designed to satisfy whatever basic needs a cast member feels may be missing in his/her life. The greater the unmet need, the more the role or behavior is chosen to satisfy or, at least, ease the frustration, of not having the need satisfied . . . regardless of it disrupting the story line. In such an example, a whole new story line is created by the new character’s role and more drama is added causing other family members to modify or change their roles.
Older family members don’t like changing roles. They worked hard to create the role they’ve been playing for years. So any of the senior cast members may often strut and fret their hour upon the stage, signifying their power by trying to control the new cast member in the family drama.
The late noted conjoint family therapist, Virginia Satir, once stated that 95% of all families are dysfunctional. If so, then I contend the other 5% are in denial. We are not perfect parents anymore than we are perfect humans. We learned to parent based upon how we were parented. We all come with our roles that we developed in our own families in order to get our basic needs met and the methods used to acquire these needs are often passed along to each generation. The roles that are created to maintain the family drama are retained by the actors to seek others in their personal relationships that will allow them to continue to perform the roles they’ve been playing for years in their family of origin.
In a balanced family, all members are allowed to be what they are innately meant to be. They are supported for their interests and goals and assisted towards moving in a positive direction. They are recognized as individuals with different interests, dreams, and needs separate from other members.
In a toxic family, members are told what they are going to be, when they will be it, what they will do, and how they will do it. Strict rigid rules are prevalent in the toxic family and they may even have rules for those who break the rules. The toxicity tends to permeate the entire family structure. It is quite common to see many family members fare much better in life when they are not around those whose thoughts, words, and attitudes keep them stuck and prohibit their happiness. This is a sad scenario to be sure. Parents don’t have children with designs of purposely setting them up for a life of misery and sadness. What a parent has learned and developed to deal with their own life is not a one size fits all approach to their children’s lives. Thus the words of Dr. William Glasser ring loud and clear: “If everyone could learn that what is right for me does not make it right for everyone else, the world would be a much happier place.”