dysfunction (\(ˌ)dis-ˈfəŋ(k)-shən\) n. Abnormal or impaired functioning, especially of a bodily system or social group.

One of my personal pet peeves is when people beat themselves up for being who they are.

I was just reading a post about someone complaining about their dysfunctional behavior and the implication of judgment and failure subtly buried in the word “dysfunction” just screamed out at me.

We spend so much of our time beating ourselves up over our perceived failures and end up just making ourselves feel worse, when what we should be doing is wondering over our amazing abilities to ensure our own survival.

To take this person (who I will simply call “you”) is as an example, she was complaining about all her dysfunctional views of herself. There is a faulty premise here that this is DYSFUNCTION. It is not.

It is, in fact, a perfectly reasonable method and level of functionality based on the experience and environment that you were enveloped within.

Having now escaped the negativity of the situation you were in at the time, you now look at your current behavior as a form of dysfunction, as a flaw in yourself that you must struggle to overcome, with all the negative self-esteem issues that go into fighting against yourself over a perceived personal flaw.

Let’s spin this around and look at it a little differently: Your behavior, which served your survival needs at the time the behaviors were ingrained, WORKED. You survived. That, by definition, means that the behavior was, in fact, FUNCTIONAL, not DYSfunctional.

The difference is that you now are no longer in that situation, so the FUNCTIONAL behavior that was used in the past to ensure the survival of body and psyche is no longer needed.

However, at this point, the behavior has been ingrained as HABIT and REFLEX. It is a reaction made without the need to think about it, or without the new neural pathways yet constructed to facilitate thinking about it in new ways.

This makes the behavior MISfunctional. It is not a wrong behavior, it is just a behavior that is being MISapplied to a situation it was not created for.

It is not that you are using the tool incorrectly, you are simply not using the “best” tool for the job, simply because you haven’t learned how to use it yet, or possibly you aren’t even aware a better tool exists that you can use here.

This is simply a period where you need to explore what other behavioral tools are available and learn to use them. You aren’t going to be a great master at them any more than I’m going to carve our a Venus de Milo the first time I pick up a chisel. Like learning to use any tool, it takes time and practice to develop the skill you are working on learning.

Would you become angry at yourself and frustrated that your first attempts at ice carving with a chainsaw (or, if you prefer, basketweaving) do not come out looking like what you’d see on the front cover of a magazine? No, probably not. Because you understand the learning process that goes into developing these talents.

Modifying your behavioral patterns is the process of 1) seeing things differently, 2) responding to them differently and 3) dealing with the results of the new and different responses. This is a big complicated tool to master, much harder than weaving a basket or savaging blocks of ice.

It will take a long time for you to learn your new behavioral skills, learn which ones to apply and when, and refine these skills over time after you have gotten comfortable with them.

So, relish the fact that you possess FUNCTIONAL skills that have allowed you to survive this long, and enjoy the process of learning when to apply them, and when to use and develop new FUNCTIONAL skills to make your new life more enjoyable.

And if you use a sandpaper when you could have used a belt sander, don’t get mad at yourself and say “This tool is DYSFUNCTIONAL! Bad Tool! Bad Me!”. Just say, “Hey, the more experience I get with these other tools, the easier my life will be! I can’t wait to learn them all!”