"We can change patterns of dysfunction in the family by exposing secrets and healing emotional pain." ~Albert Clayton Gaulden in his book "You're Not Who You Think You Are"

Anyone who's done work on themselves knows the effort and pain it takes to heal from their psychological wounds. And anyone who has ever felt the blow of finding out a painful secret, knows that in order to become psychologically healthy, you have to face the skeletons in the family's closet. In facing any emotional pain or secret, you face your deepest fears, but you learn that all along you have been there, strong and waiting to be set free. When you face your deepest pain, you find yourself.

When we find ourselves, we inevitably affect those around us; we can't help it. We don't want to be living in dysfunction anymore. Some people will like our authentic selves; maybe we can even be a role model for them; a light showing them the way. Others will not like us and rail against the change. They want the old person back; they feel threatened. If people do not have the right tools to express their dissatisfaction with the whole process of us changing, they may act out or withdraw. This may be hard, but allow them to have their reactions. It is not about you; it is about their way of relating that doesn't work anymore. It's probably really frustrating for them. It means that they might have to change to a healthier way of relating to you and maybe they aren't ready for that. That's okay. Set up boundaries and allow them their process. It may mean that they don't fit in your life anymore. It is a loss, but on so many levels it is also positive. When you are psychologically healthy, you won't be able to tolerate dysfunction anymore.

Dysfunction shows itself in so many ways. One of the things I like about marriage and family therapy is that it is built around the premise that the family is a system. If one part of the family is not working, the whole system is affected. Often, when a child is acting out, it is a symptom of one or both of the parents' dysfunction. Children who act out are a distraction for the parent so that they do not have to focus on their own issues. If your child is acting out, ask yourself how you are contributing to your child's behavior. If you don't want to perpetuate your issues, it is imperative to get the help you need so that your children will not be creating their own pain now and in the future because of your own inability to deal with your "stuff."

Marriage and family therapists also suggest healing family-of-origin (the family you grew up in) issues before practicing in the field. What a great idea for laypeople, too, especially before the arduous but pleasurable task of raising children. Instead of avoiding the alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, or other dysfunction in your family, why not address it instead of unconsciously repeating the cycle? So many people recreate their family's history without even being aware of it. Generation after generation perpetuate dysfunction without addressing the issues at hand. Like ostriches, we can pretend it isn't there, but we see glimpses of it living on in our children.

Parental alienation is a red flag for unresolved psychological issues. I've written before about PA and cannot stress enough the damage it does to our children. With the high rate of divorces, it is imperative that people are aware of the consequences and the toll it takes on the target parents and more importantly, on the children. If a child is aligning with a parent, that is a sign of dysfunction. That child may be protecting who they perceive as "weak" as a child protecting their mother because she has portrayed herself as a victim. Or a child may be fearful of the loss of love from a father they perceive as the stronger one. Alienated kids can take on a hero or a victim role when caught up in PA. This behavior will also be a part of their psychological repertoire as they grow older. Alignment of a child is symbolic of the dysfunction inherent in the alienating parent. In healthy families and healthy adults, alignment of this sort does not occur. Alignment of a child with an adult in many cases signifies a child taking on an adult role of best friend or spousal substitute. Instead of being a child during their childhood, they miss out on that aspect and project themselves into the adult's world in a false sense of importance as they are swept up in the adult's dysfunction. Their pathological view of the world is perpetuated into their own adult life. Parents don't want that for their children, but alienating parents can be so self-focused they lose sight of their kid's emotional and psychological selves.

Secrets. I am willing to bet that a majority of people know a secret right now. Secrets are not bad if they are not potentially harmful. Secrets are bad if they are unspoken for the wrong reasons, have the potential to hurt others, or there is a misunderstanding because the truth has not been said. Secrets are lies of omission. Asking others to keep secrets is wrong. There is so much energy spent on trying to keep a secret, that in the end it isn't worth it anyway. It is always better to be truthful and honest in one's words and actions. Wouldn't it be better to live in integrity than in secrecy? It just feels better. Eventually people find out the truth. The secret-holders have all kinds of reactions when the secrets are found out. Blaming or deflecting the blame are usually the way it is handled. Getting secrets out in the open is a healthy way to start to begin to heal. Healing takes place when, like an onion, the layers and layers of hurt, betrayal, lies, and all that other junk is cleared away revealing your authentic self. No masks, no drama, no more hurt, no more denial or repression. Underneath it all is your light. All of this stuff—the emotional baggage, the secrets, the blame, the shame, the revenge, the guilt, the ego's need to keep it all alive for the sake of...well, for the sake of what? Perpetuating dysfunction? It keeps you from shining your light on the world. Dimmed from dysfunction, we never show others what we are truly made of because we are too busy expending energy trying to suppress our hurt and our true selves.

When you heal yourself you bring forward healing to the next generation and to those around you who are open to it. When you heal yourself, you feel free, authentic, and happy; genuinely happy. It's a journey, no doubt about that, but there is no other way; there are no shortcuts. And, ironically, there is no "secret." You just plow through the pain, the sooner the better, instead of putting off the inevitable. You can avoid it. You can deny it exists. I honor and accept your process, but there's a better way. Instead of infecting those around you with your pain, why not affect them with your light's brilliance?

Author's Bio: 

Nicole Nenninger is the author of "Transforming Divorce-How to Get Back on Track and Create a Life You Love" and the companion workbook, "Transforming Divorce Workbook - How to Make Divorce the Best Thing that Ever Happened to You." She is currently finishing her advanced degree in psychology and spends her day writing and researching topics such as parenting, divorce, relationships, depression, and motivation. She is a also a competitive runner. Nicole is the founder of nicolenenninger.com and co-founder of mydailymotivator.com. She also contributes to donnenninger.com and runninglongisland.com. She and her new husband live in New York with their 4 children, 2 dogs, and cat.