Think you are dysfunctional? Think again.
I promise you, dysfunction will take all of the fun out of your life
As a counselor, I am usually the one who asks the questions. In fact, I often joke with people that I get paid for each question that I ask… so that’s why I ask so many good questions.
Recently I was asked a question by a client that I had no answer for.
It’s a perplexingly simple question.
My client said to me that she believes her family is “dysfunctional.” We then talked about the word dysfunctional and how it is one of those words that feels like a psycho babble cuss-word. As in, when you are mad at someone, you call them dysfunctional. The word has come to mean many things in our culture:
- Unable to handle life
- Poor at relationships and intimacy
- Being an emotional mess
- Not normal
- Not like the rest of us
As a therapist, I confront this concept every time it comes up in conversation. It is a word that creates a wasteland of comparison, judgment, shame and the conclusion that we are a messed up and abnormal person.
My client is only 15, but she is wise beyond her years.
So here is the question…
“What is a functioning member of society, anyway?”
I told her that it was a good question. Then I changed the subject.
Over time, we explored how no one is normal and how THAT is normal. I supported to think about her life, her substance use and her family relationships and what she can do to become more of the person that she wants to be.
Recovery and how responsibility will set you free
Recovery should help us to becoming better functioning in our relationships and our work-lives. It is about learning to be a better human being. Sigmund Freud is known for a lot of things, but one thing he did was try to simplify what it means to be a functioning human. He boiled it down to the core:
Love and work are the cornerstone of our humanness.
You are responsible for yourself, for how you love and for your work. That’s pretty simple. Being functional should be about learning to be free to be who you are. Taking time to identify what you are responsible for can set you free. That may sound counter intuitive in our commitment-averse culture. Sometimes we get the message that freedom is cutting loose and having few responsibilities.
In my practice as an Addiction Therapist, I often see the wreckage that results from throwing off all of our limits and following our impulses. Happiness is never found in a bottle, a pill bottle or at the end of a needle. We find our way back to happiness when we reach the point that we admit that doing whatever we want is not enough.
Take a moment and consider a question: What are each of us responsible for… things that lead to our happiness, our ability to love and find our way through the world?
You may have your own ideas, you might make it simple like Freud or you may have a few more items to add to the list. Here is what I have come up with:
1.I alone am responsible to breathe. No one else can breathe for me. Breathing is how I slow my heart rate and my thinking. Breathing is one way that I slow my mind and connect with my spirit.
2.I alone am responsible for my recovery. My well being is my responsibility. My mental health, physical health, relationships and my emotions.
3.I alone am responsible for my own happiness: Not my family, not my spouse or my partner, not my family, not my work and not my dreams. Being “Liked” on Facebook and Twitter won’t make me happy. If I can’t be happy right here and right now, I will never be happy. And only I can decide to be happy.
4.I alone am responsible to understand myself. In understanding and being intimate with myself, only then can I be intimate with those I care about. I am not perfect and accepting myself means that I accept that I have both weaknesses AND strengths.
5.I alone am responsible for my attitude during both successful times and more importantly when life is hard and everything feels like it is a challenge. I am responsible for how I respond to my circumstances.
6.I alone am responsible to learn from the past, but not let it dominate my thinking. I cannot change the past, but I can use the past to change me.
7.I alone am responsible to love. In loving, I find happiness. It’s that simple. I am also responsible to be loved. Opening up to be loved can change me.
8.I am responsible for my possessions. I may share my home, my vehicles and the contents of my home… my finances and my future investments. But I am responsible to earn money, spend it wisely and take care of what I own. I am responsible to ensure that what I own does not own me.
Definitely Freud’s idea is easier to remember in our sound-bite culture. However you define it, knowing what you alone are responsible for can set you free.
Dysfunction and our addiction to avoidance
Dysfunctional may be a label, but it ultimately is a way that you and I can avoid. When you settle for the idea that you (or someone you care about) is dysfunctional, it will keep you immature and unhappy. Deciding that you are dysfunctional is safe. It makes other people, or circumstances, or our past responsible for our happiness. Owning your responsibility is difficult, but it will lead to lasting happiness and show you the way to living the life that you want to live.
Recovery and being a healthy human being is not about fitting in or being like everyone else. It is more about accepting yourself for who you are and striving to love yourself and other people anyways. It is about working and making a contribution whether or not your work is fulfilling or your ‘calling.’
One way that you can re-write your future is to answer the question for yourself: What are you alone responsible for? No one else can answer the question for you. I am curious how you would answer the question. I would love to hear from you in the comments.
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Keep it Real
Photo by Thomas Leuthard