Question: What is the cycle of dysfunction?
Answer: A negative pattern of behaviour passed on from parent to child, which will continue indefinitely unless the person at the end of the cycle actively breaks it.
My mother had a rotten childhood. Her father was killed in a road accident when she was small. He left behind my pregnant Grandma who was carrying their sixth baby, along with five kids aged between one and ten.
They were living in the United States at the time and she came back to London where she raised her family alone. She worked six days a week to provide a roof over their heads and food on the table, yet her kids all resented her for it.
They would have preferred to have had a mum who was home more, but she thought she was doing the best thing by working. While Grandma grieved for her husband and threw herself into her job, the six of them were largely left to their own devices and brought each other up.
My mother and her siblings are classic examples of a dysfunctional childhood. As adults, the four women chose their men badly and suffered affairs, violence, emotional abuse and loneliness. Although the men chose their partners well, they both had their fair share of issues.
All six had two or three children each, and the last time I saw any of my cousins it was clear that we were all (in some way or other) still reeling from what we had gone through. None of us were spared our parents’ dysfunctions.
My mother was deeply affected by her childhood and she emerged from it knowing she wanted a better start for her own children. There was no way she would go out to work all hours leaving her family behind once she was a mum. She wanted a family desperately and felt that constantly being present would be enough to ensure her kids grew up happy. Unfortunately, the reality couldn’t have been further from what she had intended.
Rather than dealing with the past, healing herself and gaining some life experience, she rushed into having a baby with my biological father when she was 18. A man who abandoned her to marry the woman he was engaged to throughout their brief affair.
She then did the exact same thing less than two years later with my step-father. She’d only known him for a few months before falling pregnant with my half-brother. My half-sister came along three years later even though they were not a proper couple.
From my earliest memories I knew my path was straightforward. I would not just talk about how my kids would have a better childhood than the one I had yet still rush into having babies anyway.
I knew I had to do everything in my power to become emotionally stable before bringing children into the world
Once they were here I would ensure I did not repeat history. In my early twenties I honestly didn’t think I had a maternal instinct. I was far too busy experiencing as much of what life had to offer to be getting broody.
For me, breaking the cycle of dysfunction meant finding true happiness within myself. I then had to settle down with a suitable partner before even entertaining the idea of starting a family. I found my husband long before I found inner peace, but both were firmly in place before falling pregnant with our eldest daughter.
Now as a mum of three, one diagnosed autistic, I know with absolute certainty that I did the right thing. I would have never been able to cope with the trials and tribulations of motherhood had I not fully dealt with my demons and put the past to rest before having my children. I also know that I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without the support of my wonderful husband and amazing friends.
This is a chicken and egg situation, because without becoming the best me I would not have kept hold of the fantastic people I have in my life
I believe most negative behaviour patterns lead back to a cycle of dysfunction, and you can apply the rule to almost any negative situation. The hardest part can be realising the cycle exists in the first place. Once you are able to recognise the cycle and are committed to breaking it, you’re half way there.
You have to be willing to unlearn things that have been passed down from your family, and shun deeply ingrained thought processes. It’s time to start truly thinking for yourself.
If you have a cycle of dysfunction to break yet do nothing to actively break it, you will almost certainly pass your dysfunctions on to your children one day. The cycle has to stop with you to ensure they are given the very best start to life that you can possibly offer them. If you are already a parent then please do not feel the opportunity has been lost. As long as you are 100% committed to the cause, the cycle can be broken at any time.
Today is a good day to start your journey.
More examples of the cycle of dysfunction
Emotional and physical abuse
– Growing up in a violent environment, then going on to become violent yourself or having a partner who is violent towards you.
– Growing up watching one parent always putting the other one down, destroying their self-confidence with every comment. You may do the same as an adult or have a partner who is derogatory towards you but feel you do not deserve any better.
– Watching a parent be cheated on and generally treated badly by the other, then going on to treat your own partners badly or being treated badly yourself.
– Growing up around alcoholics or drug addicts and developing addictions yourself. It’s imperative that you wake up to these addictions and seek help as soon as possible.
– Having a bad diet as a child which has led to weight and/or psychological problems as a result. If you were never taught how to cook and are still eating badly you are likely to be struggling with these issues well into adulthood.
– Some minor health complaints can be completely fixed and avoidable in the future through eating well and looking after our bodies.
– You may have felt you were a disappointment to your parents when you were growing up which has led to having low self-esteem. If your parents expected too much from you as a child, this could lead to feeling that nothing you ever do is enough.
– Not being good with money and getting into debt while you are young is a curse. If your parents were bad with their cash then you have never known any other way of life.
What separates the cycle breakers from the cycle repeaters?
This is of course the million pound question. What is the fundamental difference between a person capable of breaking the cycle of dysfunction, and a person who goes on to repeat history and continue it?
The answer is of course complex, with too many variables to pinpoint any one defining factor. I believe there are three core steps we need to go through to break the cycle. We will look at each of them in depth throughout the book.
Step One: Awareness
It can seem so much easier to just ignore our problems in the hope that they disappear, but they never do. In fact they become harder to deal with as time goes on. To break the cycle you have to acknowledge the cycle exists in the first place. Self-reflection can be a bitter pill to swallow but it is absolutely necessary during this process. There will be lots of looking long and hard at yourself, and the company you keep, to assess the changes that need to be made so you get to become the best you. No matter how bad your earlier life has been or how messed up you think you are, it is down to you and you alone to secure your future happiness. No-one else can do this for you.
Step Two: Determination
Breaking the cycle of dysfunction is hard work. Some people convince themselves that they don’t possess the tenacity to do the job. It is much easier to just follow in the footsteps of our parents because it’s all we have ever known, but if you want to have a different life you will need to do things differently. Waking up to wanting more is a massive step in the right direction, but you’ll have to surround yourself with the very best people in order for it to happen. A supportive partner, real friends or loving family will want to help you, not try and sabotage your efforts. People who genuinely love you would only ever want to encourage your success. You have to be strong and not let anyone take advantage of you. If certain people are bringing you down then you’ll need to be prepared to get some distance from them.
Step Three: Courage
You will have to get to know yourself, and always be true to who you really are. This means not getting swept up with the crowd, and never living your life according to anyone else’s timetable. You will need to be a ‘what you see is what you get’ type of person, not someone who changes their personality based on who they happen to be. Anyone can put on a brave face but a cycle breaker will have a truly positive attitude towards life. Once we are thinking positively we start acting positively and after a short while it becomes our natural default setting. Cycle breakers do not sit around waiting for a lottery win or dream job to fall at their feet, they make stuff happen. Ultimately it’s one thing talking about change, but actually changing is a huge challenge. You must always have the courage of your own convictions, stay focused and believe without doubt you are doing the right thing.
I hope you found this useful. Please pop back next weekend when I’ll be sharing the second chapter.