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Healing Dysfunctional Families

A timeless manual written for families who want to see their relationships healed and stabilized.

Visser's book, Olive Shoots Around Your Table, "is a comprehensive examination of the factors that contribute to family dysfunction and how, by God's grace, we can break free from them—first in our own lives, and then in the lives of our children. In this way, we can learn to raise truly healthy kids in an increasingly unhealthy world."

Breaking the cycle of dysfunction...becoming more alert and sensitive to the needs of others.

Minister of the Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Belleville, Ontario, John Visser has written out of his extensive experience in pastoral counselling and as a husband and father of three sons and a daughter.

In the first part of the book, he describes some of the primary characteristics of family dysfunction. One factor is "denial," denying feelings of pain due to unsatisfactory relationships or past traumas, or denying serious problems within the family. He tells of a deeply frustrated wife who "dragged" her husband to counselling sessions. He claimed he was not aware of any problems in their marriage and was oblivious to his wife's despair. Visser shows that this denial arose out of flawed perceptions of reality and lack of sensitivity to the needs and struggles of other family members. Breaking the cycle of dysfunction involves coming to a more realistic perception of how the family is or is not working, and becoming more alert and sensitive to the needs of others.

In contrast, the dysfunctional individual is concerned more about his or her own needs, and sees his family members as serving his dreams.

Visser also explores co-dependency—"a disease in which one becomes so concerned about other people's well-being that one doesn't properly take care of one's own legitimate needs. The wife of the alcoholic husband, in allowing herself to become the martyr who upholds the whole family, may be said to be co-dependent. Some of her own unresolved needs are being met by the role she plays. While she may complain about her husband's alcoholism and want him to change, part of her wouldn't know what to do if he did!" Visser says that this kind of relationship, whatever the root cause, leads to anger and resentment and eventually to a numbing of one's own feelings, unless the problems are faced and resolved.

As well, Visser has helpful insights on "religiously dysfunctional" families who tend to be, on average, coloured by many, or all of the following characteristics and parental conditions associated with family dysfunction: " e.g., extreme rigidity, punitive or punishment oriented; judgmental; non-loving; perfectionists; having a sense of inadequacy."

Visser includes practical insights on breaking the cycle of dysfunction. He identifies four core issues: "conflicts or problems which occur repeatedly in our lives, consciously or unconsciously. They originate from unresolved areas in our past that need to be addressed and worked through." Finally Visser deals with the kind of parenting that is most likely to produce "functional" kids.

While those who read this book will likely identify some aspects of dysfunction in their lives, or the lives of others close to them, they will also find instruction for overcoming these dysfunctions, for the glory of God.

Olive Shoots Around Your Table, by John Visser; Essence Publishing, Belleville, ON, 1996.

Rev. Don McCallum is minister of Arkona & Ravenswood United Churches, Arkona, Ontario.

Originally published in Fellowship Magazine, September 1997.




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