A Dysfunctional Family

Years ago, I asked my family doctor how many of his patients were dysfunctional. “They’re all dysfunctional.” Was his reply. I was stunned. But now I understand. Almost everyone I know has a family secret. Most of them are about sex. On the outside we are a warm, mature, caring, responsible and healthy family (most of us). But when you look at the underbelly every family has had problems, some more than others. Alcoholism, incest, mental instability, dictatorship, codependent behavior, addictions, eating disorders, suicidal, manic-depressive behavior and severe depression are only a few. It is a sad testimony to the human kind. And yet it has always been there and always will be.

In my family, my father was a patriarch, not a good thing. He controlled what we ate, what we thought, what our opinions were supposed to be, our interests, what we wore, who our friends could be and anything else that he thought should be under his control. My mom was codependent and her motto about him was, “even when he’s wrong, he’s right.” It’s difficult to blame him as he came from a family with the same dynamic. He simply didn’t know any different. But once he started raping me in the middle of the night when I was thirteen he became so dysfunctional that it changed everyone in the family. My mother, once she found out, took to her bed and lay there hour after hour crying. It was as if someone had taken my mother and left someone else in her stead. She would have me bathe her, shave her legs, comb her hair, wash her face, all as she lay there and apathetic, more a large lifeless doll than a human being. I knew I must have down something terribly bad to have lost my mother this way. Shame entered my life, covered my body, my mind, my spirit and I didn’t know where it came from. I had no idea what my father was doing in the middle of the night. I thought babies were bought at hospitals and the only thing I knew about sex was that one was male and one was female.

My oldest brother, age 15 began drinking secretly. He worked three jobs in town and the local farm boys convinced him to use his money to buy their liquor and of course taught him how to drink. My 2nd oldest brother, age 14 hardly ever spoke, was afraid to step out of line in any way lest he be punished. My 14-year-old sister, who had been sleeping in the bunk bed above me (and later claimed she witnessed the rapes) became sullen and frightened trying everything she could to be a shadow so no one would notice her. My baby sister who had been three and sleeping in a crib next to my bed when the rapes began couldn’t talk except in a babyish prattle that only I understood, until the age of ten. She wet the bed till she was ten.

This is the picture of a dysfunctional family. One was to die of alcoholism, aged before his time, a rambling, confused but sweet man who couldn’t quite remember if he had ever been married or had children. One was divorced twice and became an obsessive, judgmental Catholic trying to control everyone’s life until he had almost no family or friends left; one became neurotic, controlling, afraid of everything; one died at the age of 25 and knew months ahead that she had little time left in life even though she was happily married and had a promising career as an author. She welcomed death, calling it the last great adventure. My mother would die of cancer at the age of 47 knowing at the end that she had failed her children by not protecting them from their father. She had died, probably unnecessarily as when she first discovered a lump in her breast my father told her that all doctors were quacks and convinced her not to get any medical attention. At the end he tried to take her to The City of Hope, but it was too late. He was, after all, right even when he was wrong.

When I was 45 I entered a period of five years of recovery from incest. I was the only survivor as today I am happily married (after 3 domestic violence marriages) to a healthy man and am a very happy woman. I am the matriarch of a family that includes 4 grown children (four of the finest people I know), 13 grandchildren and expecting my 15th great-grandchild. I have 18 books on amazon (six of them published by Loving Healing Press) and am the founder of The Lamplighter Movement, an international movement for survivors of child sexual abuse that emphasizes the importance of REPAIRing the damage. I developed the REPAIR program for recovering from child sexual abuse, REPAIR Your Life is in it’s 2nd edition, The REPAIR Your Life Workbook, REPAIR For Children, REPAIR For Teens, REPAIR For Toddlers and It’s Your Choice! Decisions That Will Change Your Life, a post recovery book. I took my dysfunctional family and my dysfunctional life and used everything I learned to help others.

There are so many more out there, souls who wander through the darkness, not knowing how to come into the light. We must all reach out and help them to REPAIR their lives.


  1. Hi Marjorie, my birthday twin 🙂
    May I swipe your article and post it on our recovery website, http://www.tsawso.org ? I will also add your books to our reading list. I hope all continues to be well with you,
    Many Blessings,
    Dawn Obrecht, MD

  2. You are an inspiration. Thank you.

    • Marjorie McKinnon

      Hi Meg,

      What a great surprise. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I miss you. I have you and your family in my morning prayers so hope God and his Blessed Mother is listening and all is well in your life. Love and hugs, Margie PS Give my love to Paul and Maria

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