Everyone always hears that advice that talking about problems can help. However, most people really believe that it might be best to say as little as possible about most things. As a result, coming to see a psychologist to “talk about issues” is something that many people resist doing until they absolutely have to. Understanding a few issues can help with this important task.
Dysfunctional Family Rules
There are several common Dysfunctional Family Rules that end up causing us more problems than they solve.
This is the primary rule that many people hold as “the rule” that avoids upsets, problems and difficulties. There is a concern that talking about issues only makes things worse. Some people are worried that “talking about things will only give people too many ideas.” This only puts things off until they are ready to explode. By that time it is much more difficult to deal with things. Further, the longer we don’t talk about things the more we have problems with knowing how to name, find the “right words,” or explain things. There is a belief that “Real Men Don’t Talk about things.”
We also feel that the best way to handle problems is to “not think about them.” We have been told since we were young that we just shouldn’t think about things. Thinking is apparently suppose to “give you too many ideas” and might “lead you away from the family in some way.”
We are told from a very young age that “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “stop feeling like that.” We also feel that if one “feels something” that also opens one up to “new ideas and directions.” Though feelings are not right or wrong – they just happen – we just want others to avoid getting trapped in their feelings. Men in particular believe that “women’s feelings cause too many problems and are best avoided.
Don’t Try to Solve It
The final, and fourth, dysfunctional rule is to avoid doing anything about whatever issue as long as possible. We hope that with time that things will just go away on their own. There is also a hope that with time, the lack of talking about it, and by not thinking about it, that the other person will just forget and go on with their lives as though nothing has happened. Though this works for a while, ultimately it will blow up in one’s face. There is a hope that it will all “just go away” when it will actually “get worse!” We end up believing that we should be able to handle it on our own and that seeking help is for “weak people”.
Don’t be Vulnerable
What is rarely discussed is that the way we handle conflicts, and why we employ the four dysfunctional rules of relating, is that we are really fearful and easily embarrassed. We feel that we should handle things on our own and be strong enough to face difficulties. “Real Men Don’t Have Problems” is the myth that many of us live by in life. The longer we avoid talking and dealing with the more intimate, relationship issues, the more difficult it becomes to do so.
Part of the reason has to do with the fact that we do not know how to use words to describe what we are experiencing. When faced by others who talk more, bring up issues and new ideas, while discussing feelings, we feel very vulnerable and out of control. We become fearful that talking will only cause more problems and that others may leave us if we discuss issues of upsets, hurts, feelings, and problems of any type. As a result, we rigidly hold to ideas and beliefs that we must be strong and unmovable when others want us to “violate the rules.”
Solutions to Dysfunction
A good partnership really requires making sure that all issues are open for discussion. it is important to know that one is more vulnerable if “the rules” are rigidly held to. Others leave us more because issues are not dealt with or discussed than when they are openly talked about. Know that at first you will feel uncomfortable, uneasy, feel vulnerable, and out of control. In the long run though others will come to respect you for taking the risks to learn how to get comfortable in the “world of talking and feelings.”
It takes courage to share you feelings with another person, especially a psychologist who is not part of the “natural relationship.” The more you start to deal with issues the easier it will get and the more comfortable you will feel in your relationship. Remember that you learned many ways of relating from your family/parents as you were growing up. These ways of relating may have, or have not, worked for your parents. However, the world is now different and our mates require more in a relationship than did our parents.
What Functional Families Really Know
When researchers have studied “strong functional families” they have found several characteristics that they have in common. The most important one is that strong families have problems! The difference is that they admit to them, examine them, work to find solutions, and seek out help when it is appropriate to solving them.
Dysfunctional families can have a “large pile of problems in front of them” which they will deny, avoid, not acknowledge, and, in fact, walk around while thinking how good they have things even when the problems are major obstacles to families and their individual members.
Strong families also spend time together, communicate, allow for individual differences among family members, seek out a higher spiritual meaning in life, show open verbal and physical appreciation for each other, and work to help each person in the family reach their full potential.
It is not that anyone is without problems. The only difference is that strong families are open to seeing and dealing with their problems and most importantly finding solutions! They “have a shovel, see the pile of ‘junk,’ and dig!” They admit it openly and talk about it with others rather than “holding it in.” Others just want to “pretend” that everything is okay until it is “too late.” Then they can tell others that “they never really knew there was a problem!” This allows them to avoid any responsibility for dealing with, or changing, things in positive growth producing ways.
Functional families do things to make improvements realizing that solutions may take time, involve emotional upsets, and be difficult for everyone to handle. How are WE going to solve it! Everyone thinks that other families have better situations, children, outcomes, whatever. The truth is that everyone has problems of one sort or another, at one time or another, and in different degrees. The goal in life is not to be without problems. The goal is to “love one another” and work to better ourselves and achieve our best potential in life.