Dysfunctional Family Rules

John Bradshaw identifies a list of rules that dysfunctional families have. His book ‘Healing the shame that binds you’ explores how the history in a person’s life affects them later.

  • Control or Chaos. One must be in control of all interactions, feelings, and personal behaviour at all times – control is the major dense strategy for shame. In the less-than-human shameless marriage, both parents may be addicted in different ways. They may be dishonest. The children experience chaos, as well as secrecy rules that guard their family’s behaviour.
  • Perfection or Anomie. Always be right in everything you do. The perfectionist rule always involves an imposed measurement. The fear and avoidance of the negative is the organising principle of life. The members live according to an externalising image. No one ever measures up. In the less-than-human family, there are no rules – the children have no structure to guide them.
  • Blame. Whenever things don’t turn out as planned, blame yourself or others. Blame is another defensive cover up for shame. Blame maintains the balance in a dysfunctional system when control has broken down.
  • Denial of the 5 freedoms. As enunciated by Virginia Satir, they describe full personal functionality. Each freedom has to do with a basic power. In shame-based families, the perfectionist rule prohibits the full expression of these powers. It says you shouldn’t perceive, think, feel, desire or imagine the way you do. You should do these the way the perfectionist ideal demands. The five powers are:
    1. The ‘No talk’ rule. This rule prohibits the full expression of any feeling, need or want. In shame-based families, the members want to hide their true feelings, needs, or wants. Therefore, no one speaks of his loneliness and senses of self-rupture.
    2. The ‘No listen’ rule. Everyone is so busy using their energy to defend themselves or play their rigid roles. No one really hears anything from the other’s true self.
    3. Don’t make mistakes. Mistakes reveal the flawed, vulnerable self. To acknowledge a mistake is to open oneself up to scrutiny. Cover up your own mistakes, and if someone else makes a mistake, shamethem.
    4. Unreliability Don’t expect reliability in relationships. Don’t trust anyone, and you will never be disappointed. The parents didn’t get their developmental dependency needs met and will into be there for their children to depend on. The distrust cycle goes on.
    5. Don’t Trust. Since no one feels validated or listened to, and there is unpredictability and unreliability on the part of the source figures, no one develops basic trust in themselves or others.

John Bradshaw explains how many get people get cut off from this world “Children growing up in dysfunctional families are taught to inhibit the expression of emotion in three ways:

  • By not being responded to or mirrored -literally not being seen’
  • By having no healthy models for naming and expressing emotion
  • By actually being shamed or punished for expressing emotions

Often to survive the emotional barrenness of emotionally absent parents or an early environment that did not feel welcoming. We turn inside. So, to build closeness, we need to extend.

The life of parents is the book that children read

St AUgustine