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Monday, October 26, 2009

Cleaning Up Your Side of the Street

For most of my adult life as a public servant, I helped people sort out their personal lives. Solve problems as "Sully" used to say on "Third Watch." Problems like domestic violence, child abuse, runaway kids.

It's hard to do that sort of thing without witnessing a couple of common denominators over and over again in thousands of dysfunctional relationships. Here then are my observations.

The vast majority of people I know are simply unconscious. They adhere to a belief system and an ego that believes it is right and rarely do they re-think their positions, if ever. Thus they are willing to engage in judgmental and one up behavior as they try to impose those beliefs on others. I was one of those minions.

Family dysfunction can only be lessened when one of the parties in a dysfunctional relationship terminate their role. This usually occurred after some major catalyst. Outside intervention by counseling, family, or the police/legal system rarely did the trick by itself.

The degree or severity of the problem was usually always proportionate to the degree of dysfunction existing among the parties (usually adult) involved. Children of dysfunctional adults tend to cope in several ways ranging from- withdrawing (perhaps completely) and becoming submissive or lacking self esteem; to anger, rebelling, or running away; to getting involved in premature relationships (looking for replacement love) and/or failing to complete school. Many choose the one catch all solution-alcohol or drug abuse.

The children of dysfunctional adults are hostages. They are powerless to intervene and they don't know the solution. They cope somehow.

The beautiful part of policing is that you see these manifestations in all of their emotional glory or aftermath. You are not a licensed counselor espousing theory with two calm and rational adults in some controlled office environment with a few textbooks and a degree hanging on the wall.

I was one of the lucky ones. I figured all of this out. My working with dysfunctional people helped me figure out my own dysfunction. I know where it comes from and why. The problem, just like my problem on the street, was that you cannot get the unconscious participants to self examine. You have no control over your exterior world. And if by some miracle, you sort it out, all that you can do is take responsibility for your role in all of those relationships. Make amends or as some of us call it, "clean up your side of the street."

I've been putting the finishing touches on that this past month. My journey and my healing process are just about over. I am going through my most difficult relationships, and one by one, I am taking responsibility for my role in those and "putting them to sleep."

This is the most operative thing I can say here. Under no circumstances, can you attach culpability for those dysfunctional acts committed by those you are making amends with. You will run into a wall of unconscious denial. This is a lonely path. Your purpose is not to re-ignite the same old dysfunctional behavior. To do so, would be complete failure. Your purpose is to recognize that part of your behavior that was wrong, make no excuses for it or point out someone elses's role, and accept responsibility for it.

This is an undeniable part of attaining real emotional healing. It is not easy. Some of the people we hurt or damaged will not be responding with open arms. And that's ok. In fact, that is a part of the reason we had dysfunctional relationships with them to begin with.

Cleaning up your side of the street is completely selfish. It has nothing to do with healing those we damaged as much as it has everything to do with healing ourselves.

The epilogue on all of this is that we must be realistic. People can harbor and ultimately die clinging to all of those faulty beliefs. They may not have an ounce of forgiveness in them and that too, is ok. Sometimes the best we can do is try not to engage in any more dysfunctional behavior. Often I find myself simply withdrawing from a relationship when I have tried communication and it has failed. That has occurred several times. You simply can't expect conscious behavior, open communication, or instant credibility in a relationship that you have helped damage. Credibility in those situations is often beyond repair and irretrievable.

Manage your expectations and do the deal. Clean up your side of the street.