Family Systems

The individual common denominators of someone who was sexually abused are:

  • People pleasing
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive need to control
  • Obsessive compulsive behavior patterns
  • Needy
  • Low self esteem
  • Suicidal
  • Weak boundaries
  • Unhealthy choices in members of the opposite sex
  • Neurotic tendencies
  • Addictions
  • Eating disorders
  • Chronic illness
  • Emotional extremes
  • Severe depression

Now we will look at the family systems that are contained in a child who was sexually abused. This is the forest that your trees, the individual common denominators grew under.

They are: patriarchal (or matriarchal) family system, obedient/co-dependent mother (father), religiously regimented household, eldest daughter (or son), alcoholic (or other addiction) parent and a family history of sexual boundary violators. If any of these fit your family systems you might want to take a closer look at the others. Sometimes it is difficult to define some of these as a negative factor in your life. But they are all unhealthy if not criminal. When I first started recovery I had to admit that my family was built on a patriarchal system. But I didn’t think that was a bad thing. Having lived in a codependent/obedient family system also didn’t seem like a bad thing. Every group needs a leader. What’s wrong with that?

Being from a religiously regimented household was a good thing in my mind. I loved being part of a Catholic family, saying prayers in a semi-circle around my mother as a nightly ritual, midnight Mass at Christmas time and all of the other trappings of my religion. I had even asked my father when I turned thirteen if I could go to a convent. Being a nun was something I had a fervent wish for. When he responded with rage saying I could not do that I was devastated. That was the only thing I wanted with my life. It turned out that he had other plans for me.   A religiously regimented household has rules. It is built on a patriarchal system and being obedient is the first quality required. Child sexual abuse perpetrators look for the most obedient child in the schoolyard. That alone chills me.

Being the eldest daughter was a source of pride to me. My parents put me in charge of my baby sister when she was born. I was the first one to learn how to iron, how to clean the house, how to do dishes and so on.  I became a housekeeper at the age of eight, a parent at the age of nine and my father’s mistress at the age of thirteen.

Neither of my parents had any addictions so that was easy to rule out. A family history of sexual boundary violators was definitely not one of my factors, at least that’s what I believed. In time, while in recovery, I delved deeply into my family history. I found out from family members I met at the funeral of my Uncle Vic, that they had a saying about my paternal grandfather. No woman is safe with George Leick. I was stunned and yet my inner voices had warned me years earlier when I was in the same room with this man I had rarely seen that he was evil. My father had been raised by a womanizer. What kind of messages had he received?

As I went deeper and deeper into my family system I began to see the dark side to all of these denominators. The first one to slay was being a part of a patriarchal system. My father had definitely been the ruler and not always a fair one but we knew better than to call him on any of his rulings.  He governed what we wore, how much food we could eat, what our opinions were (he once punished my brother Brain for saying he preferred Chevrolets over Fords – my father was a Ford enthusiast), what kind of books we read and what kind of music we listened to, who was allowed to be our friend and so on. Once I took a strong look at the patriarchal qualities he had in view of how they affected me as an adult I reluctantly had to admit it hadn’t been a good thing. It almost looked like someone squashing a bug.

At first I didn’t  understand what the word “codependent” meant. Then I attended my first Codependents Anonymous meeting with my best friend Peggy. When we left two hours later her first comment was that she thought being a codependent was noble. My comment? How did they find me? So much for it being a good thing to be a codependent.

A healthy family system allows freedom of thought. It encourages you to set your own boundaries. It doesn’t give orders, it makes suggestions. A healthy family system protects the children, provides wise guidance as they travel from birth to leaving home. It prepares their children for the world outside and how to make healthy choices. It provides love and care in a non-judgmental environment. Did your family system do this for you?


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