Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why it takes so long to leave as dysfunctional group.

Contrary to the first thought, the person who contemplates leaving a dysfunctional group and yet remains in it is not brain-dead nor did they suddenly receive a blinding bolt of insight to leave the group. There are three main factors that cause one in such an environment to remain for usually a very long period of time once they are assimilated into the group.

1> The Dysfunction Factor – Basically, those who come from a dysfunctional background do not trust their instincts. They have been conditioned over time that their ability to make the right choices is questionable. Being a part of a group like this only reinforces this tendency of indecision. It is not that the person does not sense something is not right, they usually do, but to leave a group that has become a replacement for their family is very difficult to do. This kind of person has learned to live in the dysfunction and so they suffer through the abuse because they have learned to cope with it in their lives. In many cases, these persons can compartmentalize their lives so that hurt from abuse does not cascade through the total person. On the flip-side, in many dysfunctional groups self-denial is tantamount. This is seen as a virtue in this type of group and since the person is already conditioned for this type of behavior, they adapt readily to an environment that allows them to live in the limbo of indecision – yet see it as a virtue. They are just ‘waiting on God’. This combination is a very good explanation for the fact that some will not leave at any cost. The question that one must ask in this type of lifestyle is "Is this what Jesus promised concerning us having an abundant life?”
2> The Equity Factor – This can be explained that one that has been in a system for so long, that they have an investment. Moreover, it is a question of pride. By even pondering leaving, the person must ask themselves a very profound question: “Have I been wrong about making the decision becoming a member?” In addition to this, more than likely if it has been a long period of time since they entered the group, there are other people that would be impacted by the decision to leave. Mostly children and if they have been in the group long enough, grandchildren. Some will endure just about anything in order to remain in good relationship with immediate family. The very threat of being cut-off (see my post ‘What is a Dysfunctional Group’) is to say the least too horrific to entertain for very long. So the person trudges along through decades because of the ‘learned helplessness’ of dysfunction and the amount they have invested. In the book, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” (authored by D. Johnson and J. vanVonderen), the authors pose a very important question that anyone suffering from the Equity Factor must ask themselves “If you came today for the first time, knowing what you now know about the system, would you stay?”
3> The ‘Donut’ Factor – This can be explained as the following: Picture a donut rolling down a steep hill. As the donut rolls, an object fastened to the outside of the donut experiences a sensation of ‘going up’ as much as it does ‘going down’. Moreover, the ‘up’ is quite exhilarating because a large vista may be offered and the ‘down’ is something that they have learned how to cope with in their interaction with the leadership. Unfortunately the ‘up’ is only an illusion – all the while the progression is down. Let me apply this to a dysfunctional group. In the throes of life there are times where the leadership gives attention to the person. In this very moment the past hurt and disappointment is forgotten and at that time the person is held above the fray. In a broader sense, the leader may offer graciousness to the group that they have been hammering about some other issue that has brought them self-loathing. This is usually in the area of not measuring up to the system’s code of conduct and expectations. These are times when hope that things are changing for the better is underway and this might be the turn-around that they have hoped for over a period of time. The question one must ask at this time is: “How many times have you been in this situation—hoping for positive change as you would measure it yet in the end being disappointed?” If the answer is several and over many years, you are a victim of the ‘Donut’.

It is hard enough to deal with one of the above, yet in almost all cases, the person has to deal with all three at the same time. It is easy to get in, all one has to do is allow others to make the decisions for you. Once in, the way out is not always apparent and there is much against them. Usually once you are in, you stay in and the only way out is brutal and the loss is in some cases above measuring. It is only the Lord Himself that can make up for such loss and this might not be apparent for a significant period of time: just hang in there!

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