I do not know how to introduce this topic so that readers on the left and the right won’t immediately react by rejecting or embracing it as political. I would rather us take a deep breath and ponder on it as a family issue – a community and national issue even.
In my career as an ordained minister, I have entered into congregations that were indelibly marked by the presence of an alcoholic priest in their past. It was never the immediate predecessor either, rather, someone years before with a long tenure. But regardless, the telltale traits of a dysfunctional family reveal themselves over the generations as if tattooed upon all those who become part of the church. Such individual members in their lives outside the congregation may not show the signs of dysfunction, but group behavior within the congregation takes on the issues and behaviors of Co-dependency.
As Mental Health America describes on its website, Co-dependency no longer refers to families or systems with an alcoholic at the center, but can also “include people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals.” What happens is that a system led or centered around such an individual – be it a family, a congregation, or even an entire institution – begins to embody all the peculiar behaviors adopted to deal with that person. The illness of the individual and all the bizarre and erratic actions required for dealing with him or her eventually become embedded behaviors throughout the system. The ill person may be removed or die, but the behaviors go on and on like the ghost pain of an amputated limb. Dysfunctions sink deep roots.
“Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They become ‘survivors’ (Mental Health America).”
To my way of thinking, that fairly describes today’s Republican party on the one hand, and the nation more generally on the other. Both have been under the leadership of someone with an obvious mental illness. Mr. Trump is a near teetotaler, so it is not the dysfunctions of alcoholism with which we are contending.
It may be more like this: “Borderline personality disorder is an illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior…People with borderline personality disorder may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety…(and) also tend to view things in extremes, such as all good or all bad. Their opinions of other people can also change quickly. An individual who is seen as a friend one day may be considered an enemy or traitor the next…” (NIH: Mental Health).
Whatever the underlining diagnosis, we have a national co-dependency problem. All of us have been effected, and the dysfunctions are echoing into our citizenship behaviors on local and national levels. Generalized fear, shame, mistrust, anger, rage, and blame are heard and felt everywhere, and probably on some level by almost everyone. Unfortunately, a plurality of the network, digital, and print media are commercializing our sickness rather than seeking to be a source of its healing. So too many political leaders. I wonder if it is possible to have a mass movement of healing?
Postscript: This was not the column that appeared in the Finger Lakes Times this week.