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A Way Out of Madness
By Daniel Mackler and Matthew Morrissey
.... sometimes people are diagnosed with mental disorders because their all-too-true perception of reality is too painful for the norm to accept.
Our boundaries are inherent in our rights as human beings. When others cross our boundaries they violate our humanity
|Table of Contents
1. The Nature of Family Conflict
2. The Power of the Family
3. When Your Perceptions of Reality Differ from Those of Your Parents
4. Understanding Your Role in the Family
5. Dealing with Feelings of Shame and Stigma
6. Your Relationship with the Mental Health System
7. Boundaries: The Basis for Respect
8. Dealing with Anger, Frustration, and Grief
10. Practicing a Healthy Lifestyle
11. Dealing With Money
12. Getting Help Through Psychotherapy
13. Distance Versus Closeness with Your Family
Section II - Contributor's chapters
14. Points of No Return-Turning Points with Family
Annie G. Rogers (with Mary M. Rogers.
The Nature of Family Conflict
Families can be wonderful-and also difficult. Some degree of conflict with your family, and particularly your parents, is a normal and expected part of development into independent adulthood. Yet when you experience severe emotional problems, particularly those that get diagnosed as mental disorders or lead to psychiatric hospitalizations, these conflicts are often heightened. This can disrupt your process of developing into the unique person you were meant to become. This disruption, if not resolved properly, can so easily leave you stuck and frustrated in your life.
This can throw your entire family into further turmoil, worsening your dilemma. Frustrations that were previously buried can rise to the surface, and old wounds, dormant sometimes for decades, can erupt. This can be an extremely painful time, both for you and your family. This is a time when the most support is needed-and yet a time when it is most difficult for family members to support one another.
Regrettably, people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders often find few available resources to guide them. Although good therapy and good peer support can be immensely helpful, they are not always available-and in many cases are rare. It is all too common that well-meaning peers and professionals simply cannot relate to what goes on behind the closed doors of your family home-and in your mind. They have never experienced it, perhaps have never even considered it, which makes it difficult for them to translate their experience into something useful and healing for you.
The same is often true with your parents and family. Although they may love you, and have a desperate urge to help you, this love may not be the love you need-and may actually hinder your forward progress, despite their best intentions. They may think they understand what is going on in your life and in your thoughts, but that does not always mean they do. Sometimes your inner world is just too painful for them to comprehend, especially if they feel partially responsible. This, however, may not stop them from thinking they know what is best for you. This can leave you feeling controlled, judged, and even stigmatized, which at the very least can be frustrating, and at the worst disempowering and alienating. This not only impedes your recovery but can also heighten the intensity of family conflict.
We aim to provide you with a measure of understanding and support-and new ideas. We wish to share the best of our experience on what it takes to achieve a life of increased balance with your family, and ultimately a wider life of inner tranquility. We have seen firsthand just how family conflict can wreak havoc on recovery, and by the same token we have witnessed again and again how family support-strong, loving, respectful family support-can, if you can develop it, be a wonderfully healing asset. Although we recognize that not every family situation will ultimately develop into an optimally supportive situation, we strongly believe that the resolution of serious family conflict is possible for everyone, and that you, through your increased understanding and actions, can steer your life in this direction.
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Questions for Self-Reflection
1) What is the nature of my conflict with my family?
2) How long has this conflict been going on?
3) How does my family conflict affect me?
4) What kind of a relationship would I prefer with my family members?
5) Can I acknowledge that there is some hope for me to improve my relationship with my family members?
When Your Perceptions of Reality Differ from Those of Your Parents
Each of us has his or her own unique perception of reality. That is part of being human. Although we may enjoy the challenge of interacting with people with alternate points of view, we usually tend to gravitate toward those with whom we share things in common. Many people are uncomfortable around others whose perspectives are radically different from their own. For this reason, some people avoid interacting with people of foreign cultures, avoid speaking in foreign languages, even avoid eating foreign foods. Likewise, many people are uncomfortable with a person diagnosed with a mental disorder, because he or she experiences reality differently.
This does not mean, however, that your perception of reality is necessarily wrong or inaccurate. Any study of the "mad" geniuses throughout history should be enough to dispel that myth. Also, sometimes people are diagnosed with mental disorders because their all-too-true perception of reality is too painful for the norm to accept. Our world has a long history of pathologizing-and marginalizing, stigmatizing, even medicating-truth-tellers. We, as therapists, have even witnessed people being labeled "delusional" or "paranoid," on top of whatever other disorders with which they might be diagnosed, for resisting being medicated!
Families may become uncomfortable when one of their members sees things differently than they do. This is part of the reason teenagers clash with their parents. The parent says "I know what is right and best for you," and the teenager does not agree. This family clash can be even more heightened when a person, now an adult, is diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Perhaps you hear things that other people cannot hear. Perhaps you see or feel things that others do not consider to exist. Perhaps you understand things or perceive things or think things out in a way that others cannot conceptualize. Perhaps you have fears or beliefs that others do not share. Perhaps you speak in ways or on levels that others cannot understand. And perhaps you tell the truth in a way that frightens them.
Often others will want to squelch, rather than embrace, your differences. Maybe they are not as tolerant as you would like them to be, and it can seem that you always have to be the one who adjusts to their perceptions. Perhaps you have learned to keep quiet about what you perceive, because if you express your point of view they only take more distance from you, which makes your life even more alienating and isolating, not to mention painful. It's hard enough to see the world through different eyes than those of everyone else, let alone to be marginalized further if you talk about it, much less argue it. Others would much prefer if you just "quit being so different" and lived life their way. If only it were so easy!
So how do you deal with your family when your perceptions differ from theirs? Shutting yourself down and going silent generally only makes things worse, yet so too can opening up. This is like living between a rock and a hard place, and not surprisingly can produce much anxiety, which clouds your judgment and leads to feelings of desperation and pressure.
Yet it is possible for your family to appreciate-and not pathologize-some of your perceptions. And maybe it is possible for you first to share not your perceptions, but your feelings of alienation and isolation around your perceptions. For instance, if you thought the room was bugged with microphones and you knew your family would react negatively to this ("oh c'mon, you're paranoid!"), instead of talking about microphones you might instead tell them, "I don't exactly feel comfortable sharing my perceptions, but I will say that I feel very alone and frightened with my ideas, and that is hard." Many times this works in eliciting empathy from people who are otherwise closed off to giving it.
Likewise, perhaps you can be more respectful of their alternate perceptions of reality, and their feelings of alienation from you. If they could have their magic wish they would probably want you to adopt their point of view, but isn't it true that if you could have your wish you would probably have them see things your way? Unfortunately this rarely happens. Perhaps instead you and they can both learn to become more tolerant of your mutual differences. Accomplishing this inherently improves family relationships-and your overall life. This takes time, and hard work on your part, but the good news is that it is possible. In subsequent chapters we will address various ways to accomplish it.
Also, there may be things you can learn from them. Maybe some of their ideas, even if they do not express them well or express them in the most loving way, have some relevance for you. Perhaps, as a possible example, they are able to see, in ways that you might miss, the negative impact of isolation on your life. Or perhaps they have ideas for things you might do or try-support groups, for instance-that you have not considered. Here it is vital for you to embrace the message-without getting lost in the style of the messenger. Perhaps your family has hounded you to change your ways for so long and with such intensity that you defend yourself and your perspective by ignoring everything they say. You wouldn't be the first to do this! We all do this to some degree or other, and it forms the basis of whatever rigidity or inflexibility we might have.
Your challenge is to be flexible-and humble. Others might not be, but we cannot control them. We can only control ourselves. Ideally we can strive to look within ourselves, trust our hearts and souls enough to listen deeply to what others have to tell us-and struggle to learn from them. You may not agree with their ideas, and their ideas might in fact be dead wrong, but we can even learn from that. We often learn the most from those who have a radically alternate perspective to ours. This is not easy, though if we can find it within ourselves to trust others, even for a single solitary moment, we do ourselves a great service.
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Questions for Self-Reflection
1) How do my perceptions of reality differ from the perceptions of my family members?
2) In what ways do my family members and I pressure each other to adopt each other's viewpoints?
3) In what ways might I be more accepting of their differing versions of reality? What might I be able to learn from them?
4) In what ways do these points of differing perceptions of reality cause friction in my family?
5) In what ways might I be able to share my feelings of hurt or loneliness with my family without causing a fight or conflict?
6) What, if anything, might I be doing to contribute to family conflict?
7) Are there ways I talk to my family members that prevent better communication?
Understanding Your Role in the Family
We all grow up playing roles in our families, and more
intensely and rigidly so in more troubled families.
Family roles and family dynamics are generally unspoken
and unconscious, especially in families with a higher
degree of conflict. Sometimes these roles can be somewhat
healthy and prepare us for a strong, independent adult
life. Yet other times they can literally cripple us.
Understanding your own historical role or roles in your
family offers you the key to make more informed choices
about your present life, to modify the way you interact
with the world, and ultimately to unfold your life and
your future. As the saying goes, "The truth will set