Forgive and forget; that’s the line we are all taught as kids, and as adults we try to be sure not to hold grudges against those who have slighted us or who have exhibited behavior that lessened our own sense of self worth. Well, the forgiving part is easy because we forgive for ourselves and saying I forgive you is easy enough but, unless a person gets amnesia they will never forget the past hurts that have been inflicted upon them by their parents, peers, siblings, or maybe even employers. We all are only a compilation of what people have said to us or done to us, and those past hurts can wreak havoc on future relationships and can produce in families what I call The Haunted House.
This house is not the brick and mortar variety and the residents are not harassed by the likes of some specter in the movie Poltergeist. It is a place where the experiences of the past have created an environment where the members of this family accept the abnormal behavior almost as a new normal, and this is where many children are raised. The dysfunction that occurs within the walls of this house is a direct result of the past hurts of the parents of the children that have been inflicted upon them by their parents or other significant others. Remember, people never forget, and if anger and bitterness remain because of past hurts during a person’s upbringing the children will suffer at the hands of a parent who lacks the ability to love, discipline, and communicate and by all measures is a parental bully; a bully who lacks the requisite skills to form a lifelong relationship with his/her children. But, that’s not all; this parental bully will create schisms in the house that pit the family members against each other and an example will be set that I get what I want through fear and intimidation.
What are some of the problems that this haunted house produces? Well read on and you will discover some of the reasons why dysfunction exists in so many homes, schools, and society.
The Haunted House produces a poor perception of life. Things don’t happen to us they just happen. Our reaction or our response to what happens will determine the tone that gets produced in a home. Those that live in a haunted house are always blaming circumstance or upbringing as the reason why they act as they do. They believe that they are determined. In other words, it came down through the DNA molecules or the learned behavior is so ingrained that they just can’t change. They don’t believe in the power of change or that they can change their response to the negative influences that have plagued them over the years. They are irresponsible in their thoughts, words, actions, attitudes, and motives and these negative traits just leak out into the atmosphere of the home where they are absorbed almost by osmosis by the children.
The Haunted House produces disrespectful attitudes. Ah, yes respect; having a high regard for the rights and privileges of another person. Respect is hard to give if you are not receiving it yourself and in a haunted house respect is tough to find. Parents who have multiple children and who are disrespectful can almost unwittingly create such sibling rivalry that the children begin to bully one another. Mom and dad fight all the time so it must be okay for us to fight as well. The problems really start though when mom or dad starts to draw some unfavorable comparisons between the children. This by default produces a sense of favoritism with children becoming jealous and envious of each other with one of the children gaining an upper hand; the upper hand that was given to them by one of the parents. Once the attitude of superiority develops in one of the children they then begin to believe that they can say and do what they want to their sibling(s). This behavior can be so unforgiving that it can produce scars that last a lifetime and it all started in the dysfunctional haunted house.
The Haunted House produces a lack of cooperation and non-compliance. Why are kids rude and disrespectful to one another? Is it a condition or is it learned behavior? I am not going to get into whether or not ADHD or ODD is the cause of the problem. All I can say is that 40 years ago the problems with blatant disrespect were few and far between possibly because these conditions weren’t invented yet. Bullying is a learned behavior and it is learned intergenerationally. What parents do in moderation the children will do in excess. Adult children who have left home in rebellion and have strained relationship with their parents have lost their ability to cooperate with family, school, and employment systems. They no longer know how to cooperate even though they might not agree nor do they have the ability to disagree with the right attitude. Moreover, the kids suffer because this attitude is brought into schools across the country where the children of these parents bring that same learned behavior with them and will con mom/dad to fight to the end against a discipline policy that that they believe has treated them unfairly. Parents accept this challenge only because they believe that they can win the battle with the school but will ultimately loss the battle with their child at home. This lack of cooperation and non-compliance has imputed the idea in our children that they are more academically adept than they really are, and that behavior is relative to a situation. It communicates that everyone has reasons for their behavior, but rapidly these reasons are becoming excuses. Self esteem is important but because of the failure to see the forest for the trees today kids feel good about themselves for no apparent reason. This failure of a society to go to the mat with this type of behavior has produced entitlement in our children and has allowed the bullying epidemic to escalate across the country.
So What Can We Do? We can’t change the way a parent was raised, but we can work to change the attitudes of children today, so going forward the next generation will develop more kind and caring behavior towards each other. Permanent help comes when we address the root problem and it is eradicated almost like the vaccine eradicated polio. Temporary relief comes when we work along the way and treat the symptoms we see and hold individuals more accountable for their actions. Awareness is the key and parents must be aware of their own upbringing and how the past can truly remind them of what they are not now. So here are some ideas on how we can overcome the dysfunction of the haunted house.
Knowledge of where we came from can at first be frightening but then it can help us gain insight into our own behavior. I am not talking about genetics here but more how we can understand the lifestyle and behavior of our ancestors. Do a family tree or visit the homeland of your grandparents if possible. It can help to understand the origin of some of the dysfunction that plagues you today.
Build a value system in your home. Know what is important to you and understand why you are teaching it to your kids.
Set boundaries long before they are violated. Boundaries set in anger only make situations worse. Teach your children how to set boundaries as well especially if they are the victim of bullying. Teaching a child at a young age to say “Stop, Knock It Off” can go along way in building their confidence.
Know your own discipline style. Are you autocratic or permissive? Do you best to balance your rules with a sense of love and understanding.
Don’t hold grudges especially against your spouse or your children. Once consequences have been imposed by you or even someone else realize that the deed was done and the price was paid.
Ask for forgiveness when needed and keep the emotional bank account from becoming overdrawn. This helps build trust and allows for mistakes.
Talk to your parents. Get things straightened out if the relationship with your parents has been strained over the years. Understand that you don’t have to do what your parents say, but always work to respect their opinion.
Understand that change at times can be frightening and that it is a step of faith. Accept the incremental process of change and be aware that you will revisit old behaviors from time to time.
Accept confrontations as a part of life and be courageous. Fearing someone can be paralyzing especially if it is your own child that you fear. Realize for yourself and for your children that courage is like a muscle and we only have to be brave for 2 minutes at a time.
Realize that this process is a marathon not a sprint. Stay the course, don’t give up. If necessary seek the help of a mental health professional to gain greater understanding into your own behavior.