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Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right- Even in a Dysfunctional Family

screaming child

I am so often asked about family obligations within dysfunctional family settings and I can tell you a one size fits all response does not exist. There are many intervening factors like:

  • mental illness

  • cognitive impairment

  • addiction

  • or other conditions that may be out of the individual's control

Other factors may include cultural or religious restrictions and obligations. Aside from any of these issues we can safely say three wrongs don't make a right.

OK so the title is Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right- Even in a Dysfunctional Family so where are we going here?

Well, lets look at family dynamics from the perspective of childhood pain first before we start counting wrongs. If an individual suffered the same abuse many children endure, the offender would be arrested and tried. Yet how often does this happen when the offender is the parent, caretaker or family member? Not often enough!

If the offender had been a stranger the child would never be expected to have any form of a relationship with them. Yet when the offender is a family member that same child is expected to maintain a relationship.

How does this make sense?

Fast forward to adulthood. So more than likely that child didn't have an option or say in the decision to maintain a relationship with the person who caused their emotional or physical pain. But once they reach adulthood those rules no longer apply. Or do they?

I recently had a conversation with a client about this very topic and we came to the conclusion that three wrongs don't make a right and therefore that adult child can finally break free from the imposed obligations of the relationship.

We reasoned that yes two wrongs don't make a right. If a parent for example inflicted any level of pain on their child yet was remorseful and open to healing, is the adult child right to walk away from the relationship? Would they experience guilt, emotional conflict or remorse if that parent were to die? Probably yes. But here is where the third action comes in.

What if the offending family member continues to engage in the same dysfunctional behavior? What if they continue to cause pain to not only the adult child but now to the children of that adult child? From my personal experience I can say with clear conscience – three wrongs don't make a right so end it!

End it for yourself, end it for your children and for theirs.

How often do we gift to the next generation the same dysfunction we endured? How often do we allow ourselves to remain in unhealthy and abusive relationships out of a distorted sense of obligation or fear of isolation and alienation?

I think it's time we rethink and reevaluate our relationships of obligation; we are not bound by blood ties. We can create bonds of genuine connection and caring without the bond of blood. These relationships are typically not only healthier but more meaningful, genuinely cherished and less dysfunctional. In making this shift painful cycles of abuse are broken, no longer a threat to the generations to follow.

I not only share this perspective with my clients, I have utilized this perspective for myself. Although painful on so many levels, the outcome is healthier and happier!

So take a look at those relationships of obligation. It might be time to break the cycle by breaking the connection.

Wishing you peace and fulfillment in all of your relationships!


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