According to Mosby's Medical Dictionary published in 2009, family dynamics is defined as the forces at work within a family that produce particular behaviours or symptoms. It is the way in which a family lives and interacts with one another that creates the dynamic. And that dynamic, whether good or bad, changes who people are, it burrows into their psyche, ultimately influencing how they view and interact with the world outside of their family.
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There are many different influencing factors (or combinations thereof) that can alter the family dynamic--for better or for worse--beginning with the relationship between the parents. Influences can also include the number of children a family has, an absent parent, alcoholism, chronic illness, disability, substance abuse, physical abuse, death, social-economical status, divorce, unemployment, family values, parenting practices and the list goes on.
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Just as in any other situation where people are expected to coexist, family members, most especially children, begin to take on particular roles within the family. These roles could very well be the due result of their family dynamics, and have little to do with conscience choice. Depending upon their position within the family, including their birth order, the roles quickly become an indelible part of the given dynamic. In many dysfunctional families, especially those experiencing serious issues such as alcoholism, you will find the perennial peacekeeper, the scapegoat/ irresponsible child, the family hero/the responsible child, the caretaker and the mascot. Each role has a very specific duty to its family, and it is nearly impossible for a child to separate himself from it.
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Merriam-Webster defines codependency as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (as an addiction to alcohol or heroin); broadly: dependence on the needs of or control by another. Codependency is by definition a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving developed in childhood by family dynamics. It is a source of great emotional stress and pain that can lead to chronic mental and physical illness.
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Negative patterns and behaviours are naturally passed down from generation to generation if nothing is done to remedy those patterns and behaviours. So they tend to repeat themselves like a worn-out voice recording, mostly due to the fact that people are carrying their childhood pain, anger and shame around like carry-on luggage. They are stowing that pain away in the proverbial overhead compartment throughout their life, never really dealing with it as effectively as they could. It's called denial. This is why you tend to see the same patterns passed along in families. People aren't dealing with their childhood pain.
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When to Seek Help
There are many families whose dynamic is suffering in this country, families who are having a difficult time dealing with the serious issues in their life. When that happens, even the simpler problems seem more dramatic than they really are, and often times go unresolved. When a family becomes overwhelmed, unable to cope with life's everyday stress, and their relationships are falling apart, then it is a good time to get help. There are many resources for families in crisis, beginning with therapists who specialise in the family relationships. There is no shame in seeking professional help, only the hope for a better tomorrow.