Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light

Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life

Chapter 10: Normal Families are Dysfunctional

"One of the reasons that I have been giving specific examples of the type of things that codependent parents say and do to try to control their children, is because it is so important for us as recovering codependents to start seeing more clearly that normal in society is codependent.  We were wounded by behavior that is considered normal in the dysfunctional civilizations we were born into.  The environment where we were first wounded was in our families.  Our parents were our first abusers.  They were / are not bad people, they were / are wounded codependents.  The way they normally related to us in our childhood was codependent - is still codependent unless they are in recovery healing their wounds. "

"It is only in recent history that human beings have acquired the ability, the knowledge, and access to Spiritual guidance, that is allowing us to change the human condition.  We are no more than a generation or two removed from societal beliefs that allowed children - and women - to be treated as property.  Most of us grew up in societies that did not include such things as:  healthy parenting classes;  wide spread knowledge and information about alcoholism and child abuse;  the concept of personal boundaries and information about the grief process;  etc., etc.  Most of us grew up in societies where we were taught that the choices are between right and wrong, and wrong is shameful."

"We need to let go of old beliefs in order to heal our relationship with self, in order to find our Self.  As a young child I had no discernment, no perspective, that would allow me to realize that my parents weren't healthy.  I thought the pain I felt was my fault.  I thought that the reason I felt so bad was because I was abnormal - that something was wrong with me.  My family was normal to me, and part of feeling good about myself was to see my family as better than other families - because I was taught to look outside in comparison.  I developed my own personal myth about my family.  When I got into recovery at age 35, I would tell people that I came from a pretty good family and it was just me that was messed up.  When I first started going to Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings as I was opening up to the possibility that my family - though not alcoholic - was dysfunctional, I did not speak for weeks because my family had not been as overtly, blatantly dysfunctional as all those other people's families had been.

My families dysfunction was not as overt, so my wounding was of a more subtle nature than people who had been beaten by drunken fathers and mothers.  As I got further into recovery and learned more about codependency, I saw that the dysfunction in my family wasn't really subtle at all, that it was actually quite blatant - but that it was normal in a dysfunctional culture..  I started to realize that it was my view of it as normal, as better when compared to other families - my childhood investment in my myth about my family - that was causing me to discount and minimize my own wounding."

"I have no idea what Hillary Clinton's book is about, but the concept that it "takes a village" to raise a child contains some fundamental Truth in my opinion.  I do not believe that children are meant to be raised by two adults separate from community - and certainly not by a mother alone most of the time.  The American Dream, a nuclear family living in isolation in the suburbs - with the father gone most of the day - is a dysfunctional ideal in my belief.  Our normal societal model for what constitutes an ideal family is dysfunctional in its impact on the emotional, mental, and spiritual health of children raised in those families."

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Included on this page are quotes from both Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls and from other copyrighted work by Robert Burney.  Online pages quoted within this chapter will be linked so that they open in a separate browser window - with the exception of any web articles referenced which are quite long, or for some other reason not conducive to internal linking.  Links will be provided at the bottom of this page to any such web pages.

This is Chapter 10 of a book being published online as it is written.  To find out more about the genesis of this work you can go to Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light  Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life: Author's Foreword

Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light

Book 2: A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life

Chapter 10: Normal Families are Dysfunctional

By Robert Burney

In chapter 8, when talking about aging parents, I used examples that were about situations where a single parent was alive.  This can certainly increase the magnitude of the focus of the parents manipulation on their children - and the degree of desperation the parent is feeling compelled to act out of.  That doesn't mean that abuse and manipulation don't go on when both parents are still alive.  What is normal codependent behavior in this situation is for one parent to be abusive and manipulative, and claim they are doing it for the sake of the other parent. 

Normal kind of messages in these situations are:  "Can't you see this is killing your father."  "Why do you insist on breaking your mother's heart."   These are the kind of messages that codependent parents will use to try to stop a child of theirs from having healthy boundaries, saying no, speaking their Truth, being a healthy independent adult. 

The codependent parent will not take responsibility for, or be honest about, their own feelings - they will maintain they are doing it for their spouse.  They are victims being forced to abuse and attempt to manipulate you because you are not behaving "correctly", are not doing the "right" things - i.e. not doing what they want you to do, not being who they want you to be so that they can feel good about themselves.  They do not know how to separate their self worth from their emotional relationship with you, or from their ego's image of themselves as parents. 

The irony and paradox of this is that a person in a relationship, who has been abusing their spouse for years, sometimes reacts with outrage when someone else appears to be abusing their spouse in the same manner they do.  In other words, a parent who has been treating their spouse abusively and disrespectfully for decades will chastise a son or daughter for being "disrespectful" of the other parent.  This happens not because someone they love is being abused (although there are levels of this involved in their motivation - nothing is black and white, there is some caring involved), but primarily because they see it as an assault on their ego image, as demeaning of their worth.   The "I can treat my family like dirt, but you better not say anything bad about them because that is showing disrespect to me" kind of behavior. . . . . .

This page is no longer available on the regular web site.  To view this page, it is now necessary to pay a fee for access to the Dancing in Light section of  On this page are quotes from, and section headings of, the original article.  The page with information on how to subscribe is Dancing in Light.

Normal is Codependent

Cause and Effect

Dysfunctional Concept of Family

. . . . . I believe that the concept of the nuclear family as a separate, isolated entity is dysfunctional in it's essence.  I don't believe it is healthy to raise children in an environment separate from a sense of close knit community / clan / tribal identity.  I don't believe that two parents as a cultural entity separate from community can possibly provide healthy, balanced parenting.  Certainly one cannot.  But children are wounded and traumatized by parents inability to separate their self worth from their emotional reactions to external forces rather there is one parent or two.  Parents who were taught to take their ego strength from external comparison cannot avoid having an unhealthy emotional investment in children whom they - and society - see as an extension, a possession, that reflects their worth as individuals. . . . .

The Baby Otter: A Mother's Day Story (an excerpt from the Joy2MeU Journal)

"I often look to aboriginal cultures who were more in touch with nature to see examples of more balance behavior.  (The Native American culture that I am most familiar with, is that of the Plains Indians.  There can be some big differences between different regions, but when I cite Native American culture it is the Plains Indians I am talking about.)  The cultural norms that came to mind while writing this were two specific ones. One was that, it was not the father who taught the son to be a man - it was an uncle.  The tribes knew better than to have the father's ego involved with the son's training.  The other has to do with mothers and sons.  When a boy was around 5 or 6 there came a point where he and his mother could no longer speak directly to each other - they would communicate through a third person - and they could not look into each others eyes.  The effect of this tribal wisdom was to prevent emotional incest. When the boy became a man, they could once again communicate directly.  (There were also restrictions in terms of the relationships between father and daughter.) . . . . .

. . . . . . Now, I am not saying that aboriginal societies were completely healthy or balanced cultures. But they did have a healthier balance than modern societies because they had to in order to survive. The had more respect for nature and natural cycles because it was necessary to live. They had a sense of community because without it they would perish.""

I believe that historically there has been a direct correlation between the level of advancement - of "progress" - and the level of dysfunction in terms of the individual being's level of fulfillment and happiness.  In other words, the more "advanced" the society became (that is, the farther it removed itself from respect for, and alignment with, natural laws and cycles), the more dysfunctional it became in terms of the individual being's feelings of self-respect and fulfillment.

[The historical inverse relationship between progress and individual emotional health was somewhat altered in accordance with the Divine Script so that we could reach this Age of Healing and Joy that we have now entered.  This alteration was accomplished through the efforts of a series of mystical messengers who taught the importance of individual rights.  These messengers laid the groundwork for a group of mystics, with names like Jefferson and Franklin, to create a society where individuals could pursue Spiritual Truth despite the disapproval of the government and the majority of the society.  (Of course, because of the dysfunctional nature of the society, that right was honored in theory rather than practice much of the time - but the right was inherent in the framework of the society.)  This inherent right is what made it possible for the United States to became the spawning ground for the Transformational Healing Movement that has begun on the planet.  A great acceleration of this process took place with the national trauma/gift that was the sixties and Viet Nam.  This period forced individuals to start questioning the traditional value systems, the traditional perspectives, on a massive scale.  All of the pieces of the puzzle fit together perfectly when we look at them in a large enough perspective.]

Another reason that some of these so-called "primitive" cultures were more functional is that they also had a much more benevolent idea about a Higher Power.  They actually believed that the God-Force had a Loving purpose for putting us here instead of it being some kind of punishment which was shameful.

So the more advanced, the more civilized, a society became, the more dysfunctional it became in terms of serving the emotional, mental, and Spiritual needs of the individual members of the society.   Sounds kind of backwards doesn't it?

I will be discussing different levels of this dysfunction, the normal codependency of civilization in coming chapters.  First however I am going to address an area where we were set up to be abused because of our experiences in childhood.  Our experiences with our parents set us up to expect abuse from authority figures.  The  dysfunctional school systems reinforced this set up.  It is no wonder that we end up being abused by medical and mental health authorities that are part of dysfunctional cultural systems.

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November 20, 2002:  My November Update took so long to write, that I am not going to be able to get the next chapter done as I had hoped before the end of this week when I am going out of town for Thanksgiving.  It will probably be posted towards the end of the first week in December.  When it is published I will activate the link here, and announce it on my New PageJanuary 2, 2003 December was not a good month for me in terms of writing, so I am just getting Chapter 11 posted.

Codependency Recovery: Wounded Souls Dancing in the Light
Book 2 A Dysfunctional Relationship with Life:
Go to Chapter 11 Codependent Counselors / Therapists - Published online January 2, 2003

September 2005 - Chapters 3 through 15 of this work are now exclusively available in the Dancing in Light pay to view component of

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