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Fri Mar 27, 2020, 03:30 PM

We, Ourselves




“When I was a kid, I wanted to be John Lennon.” – Carl; The Breakfast Club


In conversations with a variety of family and friends, I've noticed an increase of stress resulting directly from the synergy of a national health crisis and an idiot pretending to be president. There are several politicians, such as Andrew Cuomo, who are certainly stepping up to provide leadership. Still, a growing number of people appear to be experiencing some of the early signs of prolonged stress.

Now, there is no such thing as a “stress-free” life. Indeed, in small amounts, stress is one of the emotional engines that has helped insure the survival of our species in tough times. It can help humans avoid dangerous situations. But in extended periods, with no identifiable end in sight, it generally leads to fear, frustration, exhaustion, anger, and eventually feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. This, of course, is not helpful for the promotion of clear thinking.

Allow me to provide a personal example. In 2003, I had extensive surgery to repair my lower spine after a violent auto-wreck. This wreck was due to a gentleman texting while driving, darned him! My life had been changed, through no fault of my own. I was facing what would be more than two years of physical therapy to be able to safely walk, something I had very little patience for.

In such circumstances, I knew it was common for people to try to exercise control over little things around them. Yet I didn't see this in my own (mis-)behavior until one evening, when to my horror I found that someone had put silverware into a drawer in a sloppy fashion. I was furious, and began whining about the how thoughtless this crime against humanity was. My four children, who were doing school homework at the table, listened to me while attempting to hide the grins growing on their faces. Finally, my oldest son said, “um, Dad, you seem really tired. Why don't you lay down and take a nap, and we'll talk about the silverware drawer when you're feeling better.” His siblings all agreed that was the best option, nodding their heads and smiling at me.

I remember laying down, wondering if my children were conspiring against me, or if there might be something else going on? I knew that if any of my siblings had said anything like that to my father when he was furious – which was his most common mood at home – my oldest brother or I would have taken a beating. He and I took the most severe ass-kickings when one of our two sisters anger the paternal unit. That made me laugh for the first time in too long, realizing my children felt safe in telling me to take a nap!

Now, what were called “dysfunctional families” when I was employed in social work in the 1980s provide perhaps the best example of a system where people feel the impact of prolonged stress. Now, to be clear, a family system can experience relatively brief episodes of dysfunction, rooted in events such as serious illness and/or death in the family (including extended family), the loss of a job, and a host of other things that by no coincidence are similar to what individuals and families are experiencing today.

But for now, let's focus on what is the most easily identified toxin to infect a family system: an angry father, often intoxicated, who presents within that system as an angry, threatening, lying, unpredictable head of household. You might even think of him as a Donald Trump of sorts. This isn't to suggest that dysfunction cannot result from a Mommy Dearest. But since Ivanka isn't president, let's focus on Dad.

In our model, we must recognize that Dad is a product of both biology and environment, just as green is a result of yellow and blue. He, too, was raised in a dysfunctional family. He learned to get his needs met by behaving in ways that fit snugly into his family system, but do not translate well into the larger society. In cases that cause discomfort for that individual – or for others – in the larger society, these ingrained behaviors, rooted in the individual's adult attempts to get their needs met, are often known as “personality disorders.” We have likely all encountered people, in school, college, the workplace, or even while shopping, who behave in a manner that causes us to question what went horribly wrong in their childhood that resulted in such unattractive behaviors.

Yet growing up in a dysfunctional family does not equal getting a life sentence of dysfunction. We know, from the popular model of the 1980s, which was illustrated on the big screen in the 1985 John Hughes film “The Breakfast Club,” not only the different roles that most children are forced to take in a dysfunctional family, but the potential good that can result from the self-awareness those young people found together in the movie. One can learn the positive options life holds for those who can identify as having been forced into the roles of family hero, lost child, scapegoat, or mascot while growing up. As Rubin used to tell me, we are all born into the exact circumstances we must overcome in life.

It is easy for people who are now forced to inhabit a small space to get on each other's nerves. It is natural for that to happen. Family dynamics are always curious things. They can mimic the roles in what on the surface was a popular teen movie. But just as those characters, after initially experiencing tension, can reject the pathology of the principal, their parents, and the institutions of society, and become happier and well-adjusted. And that's an option for us today, even if it doesn't seem visible to us as individuals at this moment. It is up to us. We, ourselves.

Peace,
H2O Man

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Arrow 9 replies Author Time Post
Reply We, Ourselves (Original post)
H2O Man Mar 2020 OP
saidsimplesimon Mar 2020 #1
H2O Man Mar 2020 #4
coeur_de_lion Mar 2020 #2
H2O Man Mar 2020 #5
coeur_de_lion Mar 2020 #8
H2O Man Mar 2020 #9
CaliforniaPeggy Mar 2020 #3
H2O Man Mar 2020 #6
CaliforniaPeggy Mar 2020 #7

Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 03:34 PM

1. You give me hope for humanity, thank you.

I read, rarely comment, unless...

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Response to saidsimplesimon (Reply #1)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 05:03 PM

4. Oh, thank you!

I've also been seeing a large number of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. There is a lot of good out there!

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 04:47 PM

2. Always a beacon of light

Thank you for reminding us to mind our mental health.

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Response to coeur_de_lion (Reply #2)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 05:07 PM

5. Thanks!

An old friend contacted me about 20 minutes ago, and said she thought I could teach accredited university course on social isolation. I said I would be glad to, so long as all the students who signed up for it knew to skip every class. I don't want to waste their time, because I sure as heck would show up.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #5)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 06:18 PM

8. You funny.

I'm glad you live far from the epicenter in the country. Tell the boys I said to stay home.

And the girls same -- praying for you all.

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Response to coeur_de_lion (Reply #8)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 08:30 PM

9. Thank you!

are doing well here. The girls are, too. I talk with them most days.

There are some less pacific dynamics going on outside of my home, though.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 04:52 PM

3. This is the lesson we all need today, my dear H20 Man.

Thank you so much!



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Response to CaliforniaPeggy (Reply #3)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 05:09 PM

6. Thank you, Peggy!

I guess these are the things that run through my mind when I'm outside looking up to the stars. (And howling at the moon, of course.)

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #6)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 05:15 PM

7. The things that occupy your mind are endlessly interesting, my dear H20 Man! n/t

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