Saturday, February 13, 2021

Dysfunctional Families

 Many, perhaps most of us grew up in a dysfunctional home. The situation often continues in schools, businesses, government, any situation where people interact. As we explore dysfunctional families try to think of where these attributes play out for you and others in all manner of situations. Feel free to stop and consider any thoughts or emotions that come up. Dysfunctional families (and organizations) are known for regular conflict, bad behavior, abuse, and neglect among parents and family members. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness may affect members and problems can become so common they seem normal.

One parent is often abusive with the other enabling or ignoring their actions, so leaving the child to assume blame. This dynamic may be holding the family together but is sometimes unstable and the family may crumble due to loss of a job, home, physical or mental illness. Dysfunctional families pervade all classes regardless of status. Historically family problems were ignored or kept secret until just a few decades ago as children were forced to cope alone. Experiences with dysfunction cause family members to acquire common features and behaviors that enable and reinforce the situation.

Some features of the dysfunction are nearly universal such as: denying neglectful or abusive behavior, poor boundaries, extreme conflicts, unfair treatment, and lack of empathy towards some family members. Other common but less universal aspects are jealousy and controlling behaviors, lack of family time, disowning or avoiding family members, adultery, promiscuity, or incest. Other examples are family members holding grudges, lack of contact with extended family, parents not speaking up or helping to resolve conflicts, and immigrants having difficulty with changing cultures and times. Also many children are afraid of their parents or talking about family problems, especially outside the home.

The Adult Children of Alcoholics and dysfunctional families program (ACA) lists common traits such as: becoming approval seekers and losing our identity, being frightened by angry people and personal criticism, becoming alcoholics, marrying them or both, or finding other compulsive personalities, living as a victim, having an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, getting guilt feelings for standing up for themselves, confusing love and pity, stuffing feelings from traumatic childhoods, losing the ability to feel or express feelings, judging themselves harshly, very low self-esteem, becoming dependent personalities terrified of abandonment, becoming para-alcoholics who take on the characteristics of the disease, and being reactors rather than actors.

There are many signs of dysfunctional families and unhealthy parenting such as: unrealistic expectations, ridicule, conditional love, disrespect, intolerance for emotions, isolation, stifling speech, being under or overprotective, apathy, belittling, shame, bitterness, hypocrisy, lack of forgiveness, judgment, criticism, double standards, mixed messages, absentee parents, broken promises, gender prejudice, under or over exposure to sexuality, faulty discipline, unpredictable emotions, blaming, and excessive or unfair arguing.

Beyond these features, traits, and signs of family dysfunction are parenting styles and dynamics such as: manipulating kids as messengers, pawns, and spies between warring parents (triangulation), ruling by fear and conditional love, using children to get their own needs met, abusing verbally, physically, mentally, and sexually, insisting on perfectionism, forcing harsh and inflexible discipline and values, favoritism, and withholding love, support, necessities, sympathy, praise, attention, and supervision.

This continues with abuse between siblings, extended family and others, abandonment, micro-managing, secretive and false fronting (highly regarded and functional in community but dysfunctional at home), paranoia (irrational and persistent fears, anger, accusations), isolating (can't go out and others can't come over), expecting children to take care of themselves, siblings and parents attacking others, babying older children, ignoring sexuality (puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, curiosity, anatomy, romance, etc), and Munchausen syndrome.

The effects on children are many, but we feel listing them may help you to learn when, where, why, how, and by who you were affected. Children may grow up too slowly or too quickly ("little adults" or "big kids"), suffer from mental illness (depression, anxiety, rage, etc.), become addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, gambling, spending, food, entertainment, pornography, etc, become a bully, victim, or sex offender, deny their situation, have difficulty forming and keeping healthy relationships, become overly shy, introverted, and isolated, develop speech, sleep, and eating disorders, become a criminal, and have low self esteem and self image.

These children also may have trouble in school, lack good self care and hygiene, self harm or attempt suicide, be disorganized, rebel against parents and other authority figures, abuse their parents (particularly when older), be selfish, uncaring, and reckless, run away from home, partner, marry, or have children too young and with other abusive, neglectful, dysfunctional persons, become homeless, poverty stricken, uneducated, join cults, gangs, and fundamentalists, move far from family or cut off contact, and perpetuate these behaviors in marriages, work situations, friendships, and especially with their own children.

Truly not a pretty picture, yet there is hope, help, healing, and happiness on the other side. The first step is awareness, as we must face it and feel it to heal it, so this is a necessary step on the road to recovery and resolution. We must honestly and deeply acknowledge what has happened and how it has affected us. However, it is imperative this is done in a safe situation, with safe people, and in a proper way. For instance, it is said we must have an inner loving parent ready to take the inner child into our arms as it may have been carrying intense pain, confusion, and sorrow for years or decades and lash out when tending festering mental, emotional, sexual, and spiritual wounds.

As hard as it may have for you to read and imagine this inventory it may have been nothing compared to the pain and suffering you have lived with for years or decades with these issues. We at Cowboy Dharma applaud you for making it this far, yet this is only be the beginning. Read on and see if you can find the people, tools, and environments to realize the hope, help, healing, and happiness that we and countless others have. We are sure you will be amazed at what is possible. To continue on, simply click the back arrow to take you back to where you were in the Inner Child Sanity File or click here to return to the beginning of that post.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Humanity & Community

 So far we have talked about our elemental nature beginning with stars and planets, then the basics of life with the life forms of plants, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals and so forth. Next we explored the nature of God, or Higher Power, our spiritual nature. This is followed by the various aspects of our human nature of child, adult, and parent, or leader. Each one of these is an amazing and glorious story in itself, a smaller universe of intelligence, wonder, and beauty. 

Yet if we group them together and explore them in the light of their relation to each other and as a whole they become an ever more incredible and fantastic story. For instance, if we look at basic nature in all the life forms across the earth and time in it's diversity, abundance, tenaciousness, and beauty we can't help but be awestruck. So too our human nature, not only as we grow from child to adult and parent, but as tribes, communities, societies, cultures, races, and nations. 

Mankind has done so many wonderful things, we have a multitude of reasons to be proud of our accomplishments. If we look to the arts of architecture, sculpture, literature, painting, music, performing, and film, or the sciences of astronomy, biology, ecology, chemistry, geology, psychology, and physics we find even more worlds of amazement to be explored and appreciated. These are the realm of human nature, and help us understand our relationship to each other and the world. 

The Sanity Files are structured to deal with these in two parts. The first part is organized first as creation of the universe, then life, and then our various human natures. The Higher Power that came first and created everything is placed in the middle, as the center and source of all else.The second part of the Sanity Files that follow are also aspects of human nature, but these are activities such as art, music, and science. These are our toolbox of what we use to express ourselves to celebrate and share this wondrous gift that is humanity.

The story of humanity is long and complicated, and although there have been innumerable wonderful achievements, unfortunately our history has a large number of things to be ashamed of as well. Hopefully as our world shrinks due to the transportation, information, and communication revolutions we will summon our better angels to carry us forward. That is what Cowboy Dharma is all about, and in the second half of the Sanity Files we hope to find more ways to do just that. All aboard!


Monday, September 14, 2020

Do Plants, Insects, Reptiles, and Fish Think?

An article in Science magazine by Elizabeth Pennisi entitled: "Once considered outlandish, the idea that plants help their relatives is taking root" states that for people and many other animals, family matters. "Look at how an ant will ruthlessly attack competing ants but rescue an injured nest mate. Family feelings may stir in plants as well. Plants lack the nervous system that enable animals to recognize kin, so how can they know their relatives?

The notion that plants really do care for their peers in a quiet plant-y way is taking root. Some species constrain how far their roots spread, others change how many flowers they produce, and a few tilt or shift their leaves to minimize shading of neighboring plants, favoring related individuals. Plants not only sense light or dark, but also with whom they are interacting with.  One practical application is a Chinese study that reported that rice planted with kin grows better and improves crop yields".

Another researcher found fir trees feed kin and warn them about insect attacks. Researchers proved that plants distinguish their roots from others, and then found they could also pick out and favor kin. With strangers the plants greatly expanded their root system to maximize using resources, but with relatives, they held competitive urges in check to leave more room for kin to get nutrients and water.

Injured sagebrush was found to release volatile chemicals that stimulate neighbor bushes to make chemicals that are toxic to their shared enemies. Ecologist Richard Karban says "We are learning that plants are capable of so much more sophisticated behavior than we had thought, it's really cool stuff!" Forestry researcher Suzanne Simard found Birch and fir trees communicating underground in the language of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, water, defense signals, and other chemicals and hormones.

An article in Greater Good Magazine by Alex Dixon and Jeremy Smith shows how cooperation is very often a stronger influence than competition.  In the article Danny Grunbaum, an oceanographer and pioneer in revealing the ways that ocean life cooperates in order to survive stated: "Violence in evolution is greatly overestimated. We see animals fighting with each other in lots of nature documentaries, but we are really only seeing a small sliver of time. Much more of the time they're cooperating with each other and respecting boundaries. Cooperation doesn't mean the absence of conflict. It means rules for negotiating conflicts in a way that resolves them."

The article further states there is a tremendous amount of cooperation in nature. In fact cooperation is part of our nature, and right down to the cellular level. The reason being that it is one of the most important and beneficial behaviors on earth. From biological building blocks, cooperation goes to every level of the animal kingdom.

For instance, ants have evolved a three lane two-way traffic system. Two lanes going out and one returning in the middle so they don't have to cross oncoming traffic. They can move faster and thus forage much better this way. These ants inspire robotic scientists in their designs, including extra-terrestrial probes, cleaning floors, and moving products in a warehouse.

Birds help each other by calling when predators are near. This makes them a more vulnerable target so other birds come and mob the predator. Those birds who try and cheat the system are eventually ignored. Bats must feed every two days to survive but hunger is rare because they share - but only if the favor is returned. By sharing only one in four bats die each year (rather than four out of five).

Research suggests that even for humans our first instinct is to cooperate, not compete. In the 21st century, our need to cooperate is more critical than ever. That is because our society is becoming so much more integrated communication is happening much more quickly all over the world.

An article in Nature magazine by Alison Abbott entitled "Animal Behavior: Inside the Cunning, Caring and Greedy Minds of Fish", she reveals that fish cooperate, cheat and punish.  In the article she describes how Redouan Bshary has challenged ideas about brain evolution:

Fish cooperate by smaller fish cleaning larger ones. Sometimes the small fish will take a bite of their hosts mucus skin and the hosts will chase the cleaner to teach him a lesson. But if reprimanded for bad behavior they will massage the backs of their host with their fins to regain favor. Cleaner fish would also have better behavior if they are being watched by other potential hosts. He also found the cleaner fish would work much more fairly in mated pairs as the male will chase the female if she slacks off.

He also found grouper fish will entice eels from their lairs to swim together. The eel will flush fish out of the reef so they both can catch more fish. He tried a test for primates that presents food on differently colored plates, one of which was permanent and the other temporary. The challenge was to eat the food on the temporary plate before it disappeared. A big surprise came when he switched which plate was temporary and the fish actually learned more quickly than the primates which one was best.

Following this revelation, primate scientist Frans de Waal of Emory University was compelled to say, "Primate chauvinism has declined somewhat as we now have to recognize that many species have smart intelligence". 

What is the lesson here? That yes, plants, insects, fish, perhaps all life cooperate with each other. So instead of "Survival of the fittest" we can also see life as "Survival of the kindest".  Charles Darwin came to this conclusion later in life as he watched his children grow up and saw cooperation become apparent in nature. This is good news for all of us, a good reason to believe love does conquer all.

The Adult State

 The adult part of our human nature has executive powers to "put plans, actions, or laws into effect." The ideal is for the adult to be and act intelligently, rationally, and reasonably, in a word wisely. This is also the ideal of the parent state but it is influenced significantly by the parenting received as a child so  thinks and acts from past learning and experience. The adult is anchored in the present so decisions and actions are unprejudiced by the past.

For example the parental part of us might look upon co-workers in the middle of a project amidst a sea of clutter and think "This is outrageous, these people need to clean up this mess and or they won't get anything done! The adult (and wise parent/leader) focuses on results so has less concern about the process used as long as progress is made and goals are achieved.

We use our adult abilities to reason, organize, evaluate experiences, and gather information to help us be adaptable to situations, make the best decisions, and take appropriate actions. The adult deals objectively with life based on education and experience to avoid problems and mistakes and achieve success. It's never too late to add to our education and seek meaningful and useful experiences.

We need to take care our best choices aren't contaminated by our parent, child, or "lower" life form (lizard brain etc.) energies, but also keep open to valuable input from these energies as well. Here an inner child might cause problems by being selfish or withdrawn, or conversely give us extra energy and enthusiasm to lighten our load and keep a lighthearted perspective. The downside of the adult state could be that it lacks these positive attributes, so can act overly rational and under emotional like Spock from Star Trek.

The key is to recognize these varying aspects of our True Self and welcome them to be an active part of us whenever they are needed. We are wise to hold each one gently but firmly so none of them takes over and denies the others, or jump from one to another wildly and uncontrollably. For each there is a time and place. There is no guideline or rule, but a balance of head and heart with a deep knowing which is right and true in each moment to allow appropriate expression of the total personality.

One of the great benefits of a strong adult state is to act as a go between or referee between our various selves and pull from the best of each while avoiding their downsides. We then find we can be as natural as an animal, playful as a child, smart as an adult, and nurturing as a parent all at the same time. The key is as always to first be aware, then come to really know and love the different parts we play, and know they are all a part of us in an ancient, deep, and real way.