News Articles

Shame & family dysfunction need ‘mid-course correction,’ speaker says

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Shame, the feeling people have that something is intrinsically wrong with them, is at the root of family dysfunction passed down from one generation to the next, according to a consultant in family life and relationship issues.
Participants in Discipleship and Family Week at Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center learned family dynamics can emerge in settings outside the family, including church.
“Many people who leave the ministry do not understand how hurtful family patterns can impact them as adults,” said Kay Moore, a writer, editor and conference leader from Richmond, Va., during the July 18-24 sessions.
Moore, who conducts support-group training for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, said examining family dynamics is not an exercise in family bashing or parent-bashing.
“We examine our family of origin to gain insights,” she observed. “Most everyone, if they are honest with themselves, will say they have traits from previous generations that they would like to change.”
Moore said some people confuse shame with guilt, but “shame is about who we are; guilt is about what we have done.”
And the sources of shame can be varied.
“A child may feel shame for a parent’s behavior, such as alcoholism,” she said. They may be emotionally enmeshed with a parent to the point of almost being one person.
“Family secrets can create shame,” Moore noted.
Other sources are child abuse, inability to resolve traumatic events, having feelings that are not validated by family and friends or shame from direct verbal statements. Those statements, Moore said, can include taunts, such as “dummy,” “Is that the best you can do?” or “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?”
Shame, she said, tells people to hide themselves, that they do not have the same rights as others, they should apologize for hurting, work to gain acceptability, not get close to others, settle for destructive relationships or do shameful things, including inappropriate sexual behavior or substance abuse.
Running from shame takes the form of acting shameless by being even more disgraceful, living by rigid rules as stern-faced moralists, transferring bad feelings about themselves by making others feel bad about themselves, refusing to feel anything, engaging in compulsive behavior or engaging in denial.
“Dysfunctional family roles are a very subtle thing,” Moore observed. “Children do not usually know consciously what role they have. In a healthy family, members are free to choose the roles they have. In a dysfunctional family, roles are assigned, and then the person is blamed for their behavior.”
Dysfunctional family roles include:
— the Scapegoat, always to blame no matter what goes on.
— the Lost Child, whose needs are not met because family attention is elsewhere.
— the Clown, dissolving conflict through humor.
— the Placater, fixes others’ feelings at the expense of his own.
— the Hero, who believes if he is good enough, his actions will bring order to family chaos.
— the Rebel, whose actions are designed to get attention or to draw attention away from a parent.
— the Surrogate Spouse, a role that can set the stage for inappropriate relationship with a parent.
— the Little Parent, not allowed to be a child but instead takes care of siblings.
— the Little Princess/Prince, showcase member of the family who is a high achiever. Their achievements divert attention from the real family problems.
“Even though the pain from the past can’t be erased,” Moore said, “out of those unhealthy patterns, strengths can develop, and we can become channels of blessing for other people.
“We are all sinners. We always have things we can improve. We can make a mid-course correction.”
Discipleship and Family Week was sponsored by LifeWay’s discipleship and family division.

A list of LIFE Support resources is posted in the SBCNet News Room under the filename Life.txt.

    About the Author

  • Charles Willis