The word “dysfunctional” means, literally, unable to function properly. Applied to people, it means they’re unable to effectively grow, solve problems, take care of routine business, and maintain a general state of equilibrium. When people are not “dysfunctional,” we sometimes say they’re “well balanced” or “well adjusted.”
Functional people are fairly predictable and dependable. Dysfunctional people are not.
Functional people have a good grip on reality and tell the truth. Dysfunctional people may be delusional and/or lie a lot.
Functional people experience the full range of human emotions—including negative emotions such as anger, guilt, or anxiety. For them, though, these emotions are transitory; they get past those negative feelings quickly and then take action to correct whatever problem may have caused them to feel anger, guilt, or anxiety. Dysfunctional people, on the other hand, live in a constant state of emotional turmoil; they tend to wallow in negative feelings, day in and day out, without doing anything about them.
Functional people make short- and long-term goals; they analyze the steps necessary for success and reach many of their goals. Dysfunctional people fool themselves and others into believing they’re making positive changes, but nothing ever really changes.
Dysfunctional people play games. Functional people have honest, adult-adult relationships based on mutual respect, fairness, and honesty.
One dysfunctional person in a family can make the entire family dysfunctional—unless the others work very hard to work around the obstacles presented by that person. Like a spoiled child, the dysfunctional person can suck up all the energy and attention that should be directed at solving problems and moving forward. That’s not right, and it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.
Let’s say, for example, that in an otherwise fairly productive family, one person chooses to be continually negative, angry, and spiteful. Odds are that the others will probably spend a good bit of time trying to reason with the disaffected member, offer unnecessary compromises, and generally go overboard trying to please. When none of that works, however, the family must find ways to prevent the dysfunctional person from impeding progress and making everyone else miserable.
So it has been in America in the past few months. There are those who want to set goals, make improvements, and get things done. Then there’s a minority who want to play games, wallow in anger and resentment, and generally impede progress of any kind.
Sometimes there are those who can have a positive influence on a dysfunctional family member, persuading him or her to be less petty, obstinate, and argumentative—to cooperate for the sake of everyone, if only for a while.
In America, perhaps Bob Dole is one of those people.
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