Dysfunction: failing to perform the function that is normally expected; unable to function normally in social situations; displaying abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior.
Dysfunctional personalities cause a great deal of unhappiness, leading to depression for them and for those around them. Unfortunately, dysfunctional people often think their behavior is normal, usually because they've grown up in a family with dysfunctional members. The only way to change things is to learn to recognize dysfunction. Here are some of its manifestations:
Frequent displays of temper
A two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum is pretty normal. An adult doing the same thing is demonstrating dysfunctional behavior. People around this person find themselves walking on eggs to avoid explosions. Of course, anyone might lose control under extreme circumstances, but if you or someone around you frequently loses control when things go wrong, you are looking at dysfunction. Such people can become dangerous under enough stress. Hitting, throwing things and breaking things are signs that you need to remove yourself from the situation.
This behavior should have disappeared in elementary school. I was once present when a woman started calling her daughter all sorts of names. I asked, "How can you speak to your daughter that way?" The woman shrugged. "Oh, she knows I don't mean it." That is not true. Words hurt. You can apologize, and say you didn't mean what you said, but you can't erase the memory. Too many people think that the words, "I'm sorry" automatically make everything all right again, but they are not magic! They are important words, but can only heal when followed by lasting change in behavior.
Often, blaming others is simply a failure to take responsibility for one's actions. A great example of this is the man who hits his wife and then seems to apologize by saying, "I'm sorry I hit you, but it's your fault! You made me mad!" Sadly, the abused wife often believes him.
A less obvious version of blaming is simple defensiveness. Tom says, "Julie, you forgot to pick up my suit from the cleaners as I asked you to." She replies, "Well if you hadn't done such and such, I would have remembered to do it."
Parents who feel tired, angry or overwhelmed often resort to yelling at their children. If you grew up in a home where yelling was considered a normal means of communication, you probably felt scared and insecure. Under these conditions, some children become anxious and withdrawn, trying to avoid triggering more parental yelling. As adults they become people-pleasers, sacrificing their own needs and desires in an effort to "keep the peace." Other children will accept their parents' behavior as a model and yell at their siblings or playmates, thinking it normal. Aggressive behavior may develop at the same time. As adults, they frequently become controlling, making everyone around them miserable.
Lack of common courtesies
I was once watching a little boy who demanded that his sibling do something for him. "You should say, 'please'" I said. The boy relied in all candor, "She's family. You don't have to be polite to family!" I have since seen adults order other family members around with no thought as to how those members felt, and I wondered whether they grew up in a family like that little boy's.
If you grew up in or are living in a home where any of these behaviors exist as a pattern of life, you may well be experiencing depression. In my next blog, I want to talk about setting boundaries to take control of bad situations.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.