As adult children we must face the reality that we have no idea what “normal” really is in life. Our alcoholic family had functioned abnormally as a means of coping with alcoholism. Our past was often chaotic and unpredictable at home. As a result, we have no idea what is a normal family life and what is appropriate. We may have created fantasies of a perfect family or perfect life as a way to cope with our unhappy environment. My actions during the early stages of my marriage were learned from wholesome television families like the Cosby’s. A normal husband, I thought, provides for his family. A normal husband sacrifices for his family, helps around the house, mows the lawn, etc. These actions were all I had to do to have a happy marriage because that was my fantasy of a normal marriage. My divorce would soon shatter that fantasy.
The truth is that there is no such thing as normal. In life, there is only what is functional or dysfunctional for each of us, and what serves our best interest. Learning to trust basic instincts about proper behavior is important for us in learning to trust ourselves. We must confront reality and learn ways to manage conflict in our personal life instead of avoiding it. We must learn to face problems as they arise. By doing this, we develop confidence in our problem-solving ability and no longer use fantasy as an unrealistic standard or coping method. How do we learn to do these things?
Please reread the above paragraph until it sinks into your mind. Remember, there is no such thing as normal. Dysfunctional behavior was and still is present in our daily life. We may live an isolated life because our family discouraged relationships with outsiders. We learned to live in a state of constant denial by refusing to acknowledge our parent(s) alcoholism. We may lack empathy towards our family or other people. We may lack clear boundaries. We may give mixed messages to others and may misinterpret the messages they are giving us. We may experience extremes in conflict by fighting too much or too little with family or other people. These are all examples of dysfunctional behavior in life. Do you exhibit these behaviors in your daily life? Admitting we have these behaviors is the first step in learning to develop functional behaviors. I find it also helps to become aware of the moment these dysfunctional behaviors appear.
One thing I have learned from my ex-wife is the ability to place myself in the other person’s shoes. This has become an important lesson for me while dealing with my dysfunctional behaviors. I now take a few extra seconds before I react (or overreact) when a problem arises with another individual. I can not avoid the conflict or deny there is a problem. I must deal with the issue appropriately. How would you want someone to react when they have a problem that involves you? Try to see the situation from their perspective. How can you reach a solution that would benefit both of you? How can you work together at solving this particular conflict? Remember, avoiding conflict or handling it inappropriately can perpetuate anger or even hatred between individuals. As we work with others at resolving conflict, we will be developing the confidence in our problem-solving ability that I mentioned earlier in this article. We will learn to trust our inner voice and develop functional behavior patterns.
Joining a support group may give you the proper tools to develop proper coping skills. There are numerous ACOA support groups online and, possibly, in your hometown. These groups may include a twelve step program to assist you in the healing process. Also, consider joining some type of group that includes non-dysfunctional adults. This could be a group of people that meet to discuss business ideas, solutions to common (non-ACOA) problems, or even a “think” tank. By interacting with functional adults, you will receive invaluable feedback and increase your chances of developing functional behavior patterns.
Learning functional behavior patterns is an ongoing process that we must approach slowly. Some of us have lived dysfunctional lives for decades, we will not heal overnight. I also recommend working with a private counselor. A counselor that specializes in ACOA recovery or cognitive behavioral therapy can teach us methods to overcome dysfunctional behavior. It is a strong man or woman who seeks out counseling, rather than the weak one. I hope some of the ideas presented in this article help you overcome the first characteristic and change your life for the better.