We Grow Up Thinking It’s Normal

It happens to all of us. We all grow up in a household, our family of origin. Every family has different strengths and weaknesses. Even if our brains know better, how we grew up is all our hearts know. Good or bad, how we grew up is what our hearts think is normal.

There are no perfect parents, though some are more wounded and deceived than others. That’s not the child’s fault. It‘s not your fault (or your credit) how you were raised.

“Good” parents and “bad” parents are a myth. All parents did something right. They at least conceived you, and yes, that was a good thing! Many parents love their children but don’t know how to express it, thinking their child knows when the child doesn’t and desperately needs that overt affirmation.

Being a parent is not a binary “good” or “bad” thing. It’s a continuous gradient. All parents could’ve done some things better and could’ve done some things a lot worse. I’m not making excuses for our parents, but it’s not about blaming them either.

Common Does Not Mean Normal

The point is we all have things in our upbringing we accept as normal without even thinking to question them. But they aren’t normal. For example:

  • Maybe we weren’t loved unless we performed, so we think our value comes from what we do.
  • Maybe the family’s image was more important than we were, so we believe how we look on the outside is more important than our heart motivation on the inside.
  • Maybe our family members all lied so we think that’s normal. It’s just want you do.
  • Maybe there wasn’t proper respect in the home, so we don’t respect authority and have a hard time taking direction from our employer.
  • Maybe our parents were emotionally disconnected from us out of their own wounding, so we vowed we’d take care of ourselves. We don’t let anyone come close.
  • Maybe we were abused, physically, emotionally, and/or verbally, and now we’re the abusers. We hate it but don’t know any other way to act.
  • Maybe in your family children were possessions to be managed, rather than blessings to be stewarded. Many millennials raise their families in this trap.

We may not have liked it, but we grew up this way. Doesn’t everyone?

Our family’s abnormal dysfunction becomes our plumb line for what’s “normal.” It’s what we gravitate to in our relationships. We gravitate to others who meet our expectation. We think everyone’s this way. We confuse “common” with “normal.” But something being common does not make it normal.

So often we hate aspects of how we were raised, but we don’t know any other way to live. So we continue the cycle with our own kids, handing down the dysfunction generation after generation.

Is there a way to break out of the cycle? Yes! The good news is Jesus died on a cross so we could break out of this cycle. He came to set us free, reconciling us to God and to each other. There is another way to live.

So how do we break out of the mold? Here are five practical steps to escape the abnormal normal we grew up with.

5 Steps to Break the Cycle

1) Want more. We have to be dissatisfied with our current situation. We have to hate our own sin enough to want to change. Sometimes God’s greatest gift to us is a life-crash. Something happens in our life where we can no longer deny that (a) a problem exists, and (b) it’s our problem.

You do not have to live stuck. That’s a choice you make. I absolutely hate it when I hear people say, “Oh, well, that’s just the way I am.”

  • “I’m overweight and always will be. I’m just big-boned.” (There’s no such thing, BTW.)
  • “I smoke/drink/dope. That’s just what I do.”
  • “I’m just not a patient person.” (And they say it like it’s a badge.)

No, that’s not just the way you are! That’s the way you’re choosing to be. You can make another choice if you decide you want to.

2) Renounce the benefit. The problem is, the dysfunction is giving us a benefit. We have to come to the place where we hate our sin more than we love the benefit. Sometimes our life getting worse and worse is actually God, in his great love and mercy for us, turning up the heat to bring us to that point.

A man came for prayer ministry because he couldn’t control his anger directed at his family. The prayer minister asked him what the benefit was. The conversation went like this:

“There’s no benefit to my behavior! I’m destroying my family!”

“There is a benefit you’re reaping, or you wouldn’t be acting like this. Let’s pray and ask the Holy Spirit what the benefit is. Then listen to your heart.”

After they prayed and waited, the man said, “You know what? There is a benefit. When I’m angry, I don’t feel the pain. And it prevents people from getting close enough to hurt me.” Bingo.

3) Be teachable. This means owning the problem. We do not have to be a slave to how we were raised. We can make a different choice.

That’s what grace is all about. Grace is not just about covering our sins. Yes, it does that, and that’s wonderful. Our past no longer haunts us. But if we still live in the muck Jesus died to set us free from, we’re wasting his grace.

Grace does so much more than take away our sins. It empowers us to live without them. It empowers us to live free. But living in freedom is a learned skill. We have to learn another way of living. We have to learn to not default to the old, comfortable dysfunction.

Positive change happens when we stop blaming everyone else and decide to change ourselves. The change other people need is on them. Be the change you want to see in your own life. The only way to learn to do that is to be willing to learn.

4) Find a healthy coach. Whether it’s a counselor, a pastor, or a best friend, go through the journey with someone else to encourage you onward with wisdom and unconditional acceptance when it gets hard. And it will get hard. Everything worthwhile does.

A healthy coach will not try to fix you. And that’s what you want, a coach not a rescuer. A healthy coach gives wise advice, but their sense of well-being is not threatened if you don’t take it. They leave that on you.

For example, youth today are yearning to be mentored by the older generation without being controlled. They want to be healed, not fixed.

5) Don’t give up. If you don’t give up, you win. Eventually. You didn’t get into this situation overnight; you won’t get out overnight. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

In our microwave culture, we want it fast and we want it now. But real, lasting, fulfilling, life-change often doesn’t happen that way. It’s a slow, simmering process. God, in his great love and mercy for us, only gives us as much healing as we can handle at a time. So we have to be in this for the long haul.


Visit Dave at IdentityInwholeness.com and read more of his work here

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