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The Dysfunctional Family & American Politics

After observing the political atmosphere in America, it seems that American politics can be compared to a dysfunctional family. The Democrats typically present themselves in the role of the codependent, the one that needs to take care of everyone and everything. The Republicans tend to present themselves in the role of the addict with their staunch positions, insuring their needs are more important than those of others.

In this scenario, the children in the family are represented by the American public. Some children—the Democratic constituents—cling to the codependent parent at all costs. Other children in the family—the Republican constituents—cling to the addict parent at all costs. Still other children are interested in supporting both parents by not showing favoritism. This last group could be seen as the swing vote that all the political campaigning attempts to influence.

While some interpret the terms “dysfunctional,” “codependent,” and “addict” as negative, this analogy is not intended to be either positive or negative. Rather, it is a way of framing behaviors that mirror family dynamics which are familiar to many people. While many people recognize these types of behaviors, most have been taught to hide them in some fashion in order to look “perfect” to those outside the family.

Since politics continue to get uglier, it is becoming more apparent that the dysfunctional family roles are being played out on the political scene more intently.  For example, many of us were ridiculed and put down when we were growing up. The same attitudes appear in much of our political rhetoric, from ridicule and dismissal of “tea party” advocates to contempt and dismissal of “bleeding heart liberals.” Many of us resented this type of treatment when growing up. We would attempt to do just the opposite of what we were being told to do. Others would just comply, with resentment, in hopes that their parents would notice them.

When the Democrats won in 2008, they claimed the voters were mandating change, and to some degree they were. Since the 2010 election, the Republicans are also claiming the voters are mandating change. The question is what change is being mandated. This is like the family when children present their needs and wants to parents who can’t or won’t listen. The parents ultimately do what they want or what they believe is right for their child.

When families function in this fashion, no one is heard or respected. In the same sense, no one is being heard in the political arena when issues are presented about how the opposing candidates and political parties are wrong, bad, and incapable of representing the American public. Negative ad campaigns work because, as a society, most of us are used to being treated disrespectfully and not heard. Being heard and treated with respect is foreign to most of us and so, as a society, we revert to what is familiar.

Whether it’s a political party or a member of a dysfunctional family, each one periodically promises that they intend to do things differently and better. Yet change rarely occurs, because the underlying feelings and patterns are so firmly established. For true change to occur in the family or political environment, help is necessary.

As long as members of a dysfunctional family attempt to figure out and modify their problems on their own, they have little success because the feelings and patterns are too entrenched to create any positive change. When family members recognize their problems and are ready to work on creating true change, they recognize they require outside assistance, and they seek help. Help typically comes from a third party like a counselor/psychologist for psychological issues and a financial planner for financial problems.

In the same way, changing our political environment is going to require outside help. The question is what form that help might take. Perhaps the first step toward change will come when enough of the “children”—the American people—become frustrated with both the “addict” Republican Party and the “codependent” Democratic Party and start looking outside the family for a third choice. When more options become available, the entrenched emotional patterns lose some of their power to block positive change.

There are at least three options to every solution. As long as only two strong parties exist, not all options can be explored to create the synergy necessary for positive change in America. When more options are available, the emotional limitations have less power and opportunities for positive change become greater.