Why & How Toxic Rules Exist
Toxic family rules are often the glue that keep a dysfunctional family system bonded. Rigid rules are designed to keep secrets, enable abuse and avoid personal responsibility. And they prevent safety, authentic connection, and emotional well-being.
Children endure these rules because they don’t want to lose the attachment to their parents; remember, emotional attachment is necessary for a child’s survival. Therefore, following family rules initially feels safe. Still, the cost is HIGH over time, creating confusion, distorted beliefs, and deep shame.
When Rules Get Broken
Toxic family rules are usually unspoken, but everyone in the family knows when they’re broken because you feel the stress and tension in the air. Children who expose unhealthy truths often become family scapegoats, blamed for everything (think about terms like “black sheep” or “problem child”). In psychological terms, this child is the “identified patient” of the family. The child that gets sent to therapy to get “fixed.” Yet, they are the actual heroes.
From Scapegoat to Real G.O.A.T.
Unless someone becomes aware of toxic family laws and dares to challenge them, dysfunctional patterns get passed on to the next generation. However, you can identify and intentionally change these problematic patterns. You can progress from being the scapegoat to your family’s G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). Here’s how:
- Make a List
Take your time making a list of the toxic rules in your family of origin. Write down as many as you can and add to the list whenever you uncover a new one. (See examples below.)
- Reflect and Process
Reflecting on toxic rules and what they’ve cost you will usually bring up feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety or shame. This is a healthy response to have! Anxiety means you weren’t allowed to express certain emotions (usually because it’s threatening to the parent and in toxic families, children place their parents’ needs above their own). So be with those emotions and allow yourself to feel them all. Take some time to care for yourself as you process.
- Make a New List
When you’re ready, make a new list. This time, rewrite the old rules into new ones that match up to your healthy and powerful values, beliefs and emotions. Put these new rules somewhere you can see them and be reminded daily. Share them with trusted loved ones. And surround yourself with people who will encourage you to keep your new rules and let go of the old ones. (See examples below.)
When Old Rules Return
Opportunities will present themselves to make a new choice. Whenever an old family rule gets played, remind yourself of the new one. If you’re comfortable and it’s safe, speak up. Otherwise, adjust, limit or eliminate the relationships that force you to stick by old rules. The one constant in life is CHANGE; it is inevitable. And personal growth requires an environment that is open, adaptive, and flexible. Notice what changes in your life as you incorporate more authentic ways of being.
Also, traditions were made to be broken so, don’t be afraid to establish new, healthy, and joyful holiday traditions for yourself. Wishing you and yours a safe, peaceful, and cheery month as we enter into the holiday season.