Dysfunctional Family Law and Family Belief Systems


dysfunctional family“All children are born to grow, to develop, to live, to love, and to articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection” ~ Alice Miller

We all grow up with laws and we learn what the laws of the land are and we learn to abide by the law or face certain consequences. We are taught that if we speed, we will get a speeding ticket which includes a fine. We learn that killing another person is wrong and it will land you to prison. We learn that stealing is also an offence punishable by the law. We are taught that punching someone in the face is assault and that threatening another person with any kind of harm is illegal. We learn these laws and are taught to abide by them from various sources such as our families, media, books, news and school.  Laws of the land are for our own good. They are meant to protect us and to sustain an at least somewhat civilized society.  The law of the land is set in place to give each human being equal rights as a human being.

But some of the things we learn are NOT for our own good. Sometimes we learn to live by a dysfunctional law. Sometimes we learn that we don’t have a right to what IS best for us, but that others have rights to use us and own us and do what they wish as though we don’t have any rights.  To these children, it is somehow communicated that for some reason they do not have equal rights as a human being and that they do not deserve protection.

I am talking about “the family law”.  “Family laws” are the laws and rules that we learn to live by in our own homes in childhood.  The family “law” might not abide by the state or provincial laws, but we are children; we only know what we are taught and what is modeled for us by the caregivers and adults around us.

Sometimes we are taught rules and ways of living in a dysfunctional family system that are not good for us. Sometimes we are taught to accept ways of living that are even illegal but we accept these dysfunctional teachings as truth.  If our parents communicated that they have a “right” to abuse us, then we accept that as their right. Some parents assault their children. Some parents sexually violate their children. Some parents neglect their children. (ALL of which is illegal) Some parents verbally destroy the self esteem of their children.  It is really hard to come to terms with the fact that these family laws are dysfunctional and that these family belief systems are not actually healthy when we have lived with them since birth. We learn to incorporate these mixed messages and we have come to accept that the law of the land is different than the law of the family.

Family loyalty is also part of the family law. Family loyalty is the notion that I must stay loyal to the family “or else.” There were rules within the family system and I learned by verbal and non verbal communication that it was dangerous to go against them. I didn’t know as a child that it was a dysfunctional system or that the law of the land still applied within the family system. I learned that there were different rules for different situations.  If someone assaulted me outside the home it was assault. If it was inside the home it was their right. I was an innocent little sponge absorbing the rules the way they were communicated to me. I didn’t think about it at all. I just accepted it. It was the family law.

We are not born knowing right from wrong; we are taught right from wrong.  If we are taught by our mentors, caregivers and teachers, that something wrong is actually right, then we believe it is right. It matters not if this dysfunction is communicated innocently or not.  It makes no difference if our parents “meant” to transfer their own dysfunctional family upbringing on to us, OR if they knew they were doing something wrong.  When I actually found the answers to my dilemma, understanding my parents and their past lives did not contribute to my emotional healing.  The damage has been done regardless of if they “meant” to do it or not. My freedom and recovery has its foundation in understanding that damage and in realizing that I had been raised with some funky ideas about life and how it works.

My value was defined by these dysfunctional family laws in a false way so much so that I didn’t know I had value. The way that love is taught and expressed in a dysfunctional home, is the wrong definition of love. Love does not cause harm and distress in children. Love doesn’t damage people emotionally. Love does not OWN someone as a possession. It was when I sorted that stuff out that I was able to embrace the real truth about what was right and wrong and when it came to my value and what I believed about myself, I had a lot of misunderstanding about the truth.

Many of us as adults know that we had (or still have) manipulative and controlling parents but because of this “family law, we don’t consider standing up to it.  We learned loyalty very young. We learned consequences very young.  For a very long time I couldn’t get past the “don’t blame” issue in order to see the truth. I was still afraid I was taught to be as a child (false definition of respect) to actually stand up to the dysfunctional family system and take my life back simply because the “family law” and fear of the consequences of going against it were still in place.

The law of the land is right and I agree that it is wrong to break those laws.

But the family law that I lived under was wrong.

Please share your thoughts with me. Please remember that only a first name (or screen name) is required in the comment form.

Exposing Truth, one snapshot at a time

Darlene Ouimet

The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing

Click here for more about Family Dysfunction

Click here for more about Mother Daughter Dysfunction

Click here for the Definition of Neglect

55 response to "Dysfunctional Family Law and Family Belief Systems"

  1. By: Breaking out Posted: 9th June

    I’m slowly realizing these false rules and it took me until last year (thanks to my church).
    I have always felt like family loyalty (not telling anyone) was a good thing. Now I’ve found it’s just total dysfunction. The lie of “family will always care more” is just a cop out for family to be involved because of “concern.” Dysfunction of confronting when concerned (even when a boundary is put up) and disrespecting me on the process. I find myself more close to my friends and church family because my church believes that advice requires permission (love is not rude). I just assumed before that I had to sit back and listen because concern is the most important thing ever (next to loyalty). Of course standing up has come with negativity, but I’m still getting more inner peace than when I just was “nice” and listened politely. Not to mention the fact the concerns were seeped in huge assumptions and judgments (along with “helpful criticism.”)

    I’m glad I found this website while googling subjects that I needed to find. I realized I’m not alone and that what I grew up with (being the black sheep, mom with narcissistic characteristics, dad who didn’t affirm and disciplined in anger, middle sister who decided she was my mom as well and youngest sister who was the golden child.) others had experienced as well.

  2. By: annette Posted: 3rd April

    I married when I was 17 & pregnant. that son was born mentally challenged. my husband blames me for his disability. I am still married to him, but there is no Love on my part at all. my husband disrespects me, my oldest son, my daughter-in-laws, my family ,friends, people he works with. the list goes on. I want to leave him, I am so scared. just talking to you is a help. thankyou.

  3. By: Ruth Posted: 16th January

    Yes, it’s sad to think that there are so many children in the world today living in the same terror and anguish.

    However, it’s great to see so many people like yourself and those who have posted comments gradually changing that, one person at a time. By taking steps to validate ourselves, educate ourselves, heal ourselves and express ourselves, we can stop it being perpetuated to the next generation.

    Hopefully we are just the pioneers and gradually the majority of the population will follow.

    To Dianne (43 & 44), thank you for sharing your experience with your brother. I’d often wondered why my brother watched my parents hurt me over and over again yet did nothing. This helped me see how it must have been for him. My heart goes out to you and your brother… What a horrible position for you to have been in, I’m glad you’ve found peace.

  4. By: Ruth Posted: 15th January

    Beautifully written Darlene.

    I really enjoyed hearing someone else write about my life in such a simple, insightful manner… I swear we must have grown up in the same home!

    Thank you for the perspective.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th January

      Hi Ruth
      Thank you! ~ about the same home; you, me and several million other people!
      Thanks for your comment!
      Hugs, Darlene

  5. By: Melody Posted: 7th November

    I missed this post prior. But again Darlene has said what I needed to hear. There is a family law in my FOO and I have indeed broken it. The silence since my last blowout with the Rents is deafening. With the holidays approaching I am still to stay no contact with my family, my choice. I was supposed to yet again forgive and forget, but this time I will not. So I am breaking the code of behavior. I was supposed to let them say disgusting hurtful things to me yet again and then remain silent. This is my job in life! I do think now that I am NC it angers mother because it proves a lock of control over me this time. Why else would this whole thing have caused such a huge war and everyone not
    contacting me? Even my one sister, who always stays out of things and does everything to please the Nmom, has stayed out of it. Having said that, if this sister chose to contact me I would be very skeptical. I would say to her, Why are you contacting me now if you had no interest before? How do you go back and trust people that have all collectively finally showed their true colors to you? I never wanted to be the child that they didn’t love, and did not choose this. But in a way I guess I need to look at it as I am actually stronger than all of them since they all stay in a line for the Rents. (Out of fear I think.) I’m taking one foot in front of the other in another direction, to feel safe.
    Diane I am so sorry to hear of your brothers’ abuse and also yours. Such a sad story. Peace all…

  6. By: sylvia Posted: 2nd August

    Hi all,
    Pam, your post #7 resonated with me on so many levels. What you said about having to choose between your family or the outside world was also my experience. I wasnt allowed to play with other kids after school and I was discouraged from making friends. On the rare occasion that I did make a friend, my mother would find fault with them and I would be forbidden to see them again. I was told that our family was special and different, that we were ‘better’ than other people and it was best to keep a polite distance. However, inside our family system, I was last in the pecking order. As the youngest child, I was taught that I was nothing special, that there was something fundementally ‘bad’ about me, and I had to make up for this by taking responsibility for the feelings of everyone else. This was drummed into me from being about 5 years old. Another topsy-turvy ‘family law’, was that I should put the needs of everyone else before my own, and should willingly sacrifice my own happiness in order to prioritise that of others. Yet, paradoxically, I was trained not to expect, or think that I deserved, even the most basic kindness and courtesy from others. How do they manage to do this to us? I internalised the belief that I had to give and give, but expect nothing in return. Of course, I grew up severely codependant. Who would want to do this to their child? Why would they want to? I have come a long, long way, yet I still struggle with over-giving. I still find myself doing it subconciously, but the good thing is that now, I start to feel sad for myself when I do it and I stop – in the past it made me feel good and worthy, but not now. I know how bad for me this approval-seeking behaviour is. I think I am much more in touch with my feelings now. Something thats not easy when you have had parents like most of us here have, Sylvia x

  7. By: diane Posted: 23rd May

    I cried extremely hard when I was writing the above…and after..and I started really thinking about it after I calmed down…the WHY ia am so eaten up inside. Two things came to mind…one is that I never told my brother how much I valued him and adored him and how terribly sorry I was for what happened to him…and secondly, I realized that I had not forgiven myself ….I couldnt help him! For not helping him, for not sticking up for him…for even contributing to the abuse anytime I blamed him for anything. As kids, we do things to push buttons with our siblings and we were like that to each other, but my brother would “get it” if /when I were to complain about him. I also felt so guilty for the way we stopped connecting as well as adults as we were growing in our own separate ways. I look back and there really isnt anything at all that I deliberately ever did to hurt him or try to manipulate or control him, but I wasnt aware of everything like I am today. So….I wrote him a letter and sent it . I did it right away and I also pondered my relationship with him and realized that I had not forgiven myself….even though these things were beyond my control..and beyond my understanding. So I sent the letter to him and I forgave myself. I now feel peaceful and completely drained. I feel comforted and like I did the right thing …and the best that I could give my brother, I gave to him. I hope that he will choose to read the letter and that a measure of comfort and peace help to heal him as well, but I am not waiting on any reply and I dont feel responsible any longer. The little girl who was tormented by her brother’s torment is now free of all of that false responsibility and guilt that I carried all of these years. I may do something like the Freedom Rocks ceremony to bring a tangible closure to this. I cant express how traumatic this was in my life, and how torn up and how many tears and sleepless nights all of this caused. But I am not to blame for his abuse.

  8. By: diane Posted: 23rd May

    The “family Law” is spot on! We were not allowed to discuss the family secrets..which were abusive ones…with anyone! “Different rules for different situations” was exactly the way it was in my home for sure! I wasnt even allowed to discuss that my own real mother had died or anything about her at all. That crap about loyalty to the family is sickening because that is how we were expected to be. When an accident happened to something that was given to me by a member of the family, it was looked at as criminal and I was given the cold shoulder. I want to write about my older brother. The events that took place in our home were so traumatizing to me that I still tear up as I think about him as a little boy. My parents putting a plastic bag over his head so he was suffocating and only removing it when he was in agony…all of the beatings he received at the hands of my father …often on a daily basis for so long that it became “normal”. It was horrific hearing him cry! The making fun of him for the way he walked, for the way he talked and sniffed and looked. The utter disregard for the fact that he made straight A’s..they treated him like an idiot child! He was absolutely the perfect example of what I have read about the “scapegoat” in a family. All of the rage and disappointments for my parents childhoods and adult lives and dysfunctions were dumped on my brother. My “mom” actually said to me one time that before she married my dad she purposely tried to separate them because they were “too close”. I didnt understand that then..but I thought it was weird…but now I fully get it. He was forced to eat and drink things that they would never feed an animal…to “punish” him. He ran away for three months and lived alone in a park and my parents never even tried to find him. They didnt look one time. When he was injured mowing the lawn and his toe was cut off at the top, he was screaming in agony but they didnt take him to the doctors. Doctors were only to fix his annoying health issues, not to treat him when he was actually injured. There were several times he needed a doctors care. The yelling and verbal and emotional abuse he suffered was horrific. The neglect was worse than mine. It was all even worse than my own. There was 0 praise, encouragement or help …not voluntary. He used to sing and starred in musicals at school…no praise. He sang a solo at church for a huge event..they never attended. He is an artist and can play nearly any instrument…no help or encouragemnet. He was treated worse than a dog..it was HELL. I think my deep pain that never seems to heal is because I didnt understand…I was trying to survive. I tried to help him and love him , but I didnt see what abuse was in those years. I now have such guilt because we dont have any contact….my choice…because he turned against me. I know I trigger off the worst of the memories because we went through it together and he has not healed, and he pushed me away emotionally after he got married. I now see things so clearly and I wish I could have been or done things differently…I wish I had KNOWN HOW to help him or comfort him better than I did. I did try, but I didnt know enough! It is agonizing sometimes and I blame my parents for ALL of it. I blame them for us being apart. They absolutely hated my brother and I dont care what their excuses or words are now ….or were….their actions showed the hatred. In many many ways they tortured him. I cannot understand how no adult outside the family ever came to the rescue of my brother , if not for both of us…but noone ever did. Surely someone suspected? Those damnable family laws hid it all? I feel very emotional while writing this, but I have held it in for too long. I can be happy about one thing….my brother broke away and is no longer in contact with any of them…and my daughter never has had ANY family laws or secrets to keep in our household.

  9. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 4th January

    Hi Bipolar Bear
    I can totally relate to what you are saying. One of the reasons that I do this work is because of those kids; Those bright and well deserving kids that really need to know their value. I wonder how I would have been had I known my value. I decided a long time ago that I was not going to be the bad example. YAY Thank you for being here.
    Hugs, Darlene

  10. By: Bipolar Bear Posted: 4th January

    Right now I am struggling to come to some understanding about this past Christmas and the events that happened. I am easily goaded into anger especially by people who know that when I am not doing well I am easily teased into action.
    My family is sick. They fool themselves into believing that they are intelligent, thoughtful and peaceful people. Denial helps them to maintain this sham. Bullying also assists the members into keeping other members in line.
    The rule that my father put in place about anything that happened in the house that we lived in (because I do not claim it as my home and it still isn’t,) was that he was “King of the Castle” implying that we were his servants. As children my siblings enforced a “weakling” rule: if you couldn’t put up with bullying that was masked as “well meant teasing” but was actually mobbing, you were additionally harassed as a “cry-baby” or whatever name that was invented to get under a person’s skin. I wasn’t innocent and whenever I was able to would participate in the harassment of one of the other siblings. They had done it to me with just as much intolerance as the could muster. It was a way to strong arm someone else when we all felt particularly helpless.
    Lately I have called a stop to it. I won’t be going to any family events. I can not change someone else’s behavior but I can decide not to participate in any more dysfunctionalism. I have decided that I don’t want to “pay my siblings back” for past bad feelings. It’s got to stop somewhere. And there are little children at these events with just as bright minds as mine was back then. They are not my children but I don’t want to be the bad example anymore. Maybe that is my new year’s resolution: Don’t be the bad example.

  11. By: Zoe Zimmermann Posted: 27th September

    Growing up under these abusive “family laws” is tragic, and it’s heartbreaking to hear the story of someone who did. I hear a lot of these stories in my private practice–I’ve been a psychotherapist for almost 25 years now. For some time now, I’ve been helping people using EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), a way of working with dysfunctional childhood family pain that is extremely effective.

  12. By: Renee Posted: 9th August

    My daughter and I did. They just kept asking what is her dad doing to protect her. He gets her every other week.He is scared to death because he was accused of putting bruses on her. Unfortunately we beleive “H” was put up to accuse him.

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