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The Recovering Dysfuntionals

Art Linkletter, a once famous television personality, coined the phrase “Kids say the darndest things!” I have found this also to be true of friends.We all have friends, from mere acquaintances to intimate relationships, with social friends being somewhere in the middle of the span. We meet them at work, church, and, sometimes, at meetings of various types of recovery groups.To protect the innocent (and the not so innocent), I’ll refrain from naming the recovery group I attended as well as any individuals involved; let’s just call these individuals recovering dysfunctionals. I had the pleasant misfortune of making friends with three very different types of people whom I’ll call the dominators, the dependers, and the equalizers.

Thedominators are those “know-it-all” types that have to be the center of attention in nearly every situation. They seem to have knowledge covering every subject known to mankind, but especially that of recovering dysfunctionals. They proudly display their knowledge in each and every meeting by speaking with self-appointed authority about the topic under discussion. Being courteous, they wait to be the last person to share in a meeting (or until the internal pressure is about to cause spontaneous combustion) before gracing the group with their vast wisdom. They then go through a series of “one-upmanship” comments about previous speakers to prove how much more knowledge they have than their peers. In or out of the meetings they are always ready to tell others the right way (their way) to manage their lives. One friend, I’ll call her Lynda, constantly seeks to tell others how she has found the answers. She’ll pry her way into a conversation, probing a person to reveal a personal dilemma, all in the name of helping a fellow human being. Then Lynda will fill the next 15 minutes with a non-stop harangue of what to do to fix the problem. Another example of this type is Fred. He always tells others how “he thought that he knew he knew.” Of course, that was before he really knew anything, but now he knows. Dominators also seek to be the center of attention. They accomplish this feat by quite literally dominating conversations. One way they do this is by speaking as frequently and as long as present company will permit. Frequently, they speak and act outside the “norm.” That is, the normal speech volume for them is usually twice as loud as most people. They will also act with an over-exuberant amount of compassion for their point, as they speak down from their Olympian heights.

The next group, the dependers, are on the other end of the spectrum. They are always seeking help but seem to share a similar need with the dominators—to be at the center of attention. Their grand purpose in life appears to be draining the life out of others. Easily recognizable, they speak with a chronic neediness and will beg for help from nearly anyone. Seldom will they try to seek answers for their problems in any manner other than to act on what others tell them to do. Being considerate of others is not usually part of their character. If they need to call at 3 a.m. to cry out their blues to a sleepy sponsor, that is perfectly acceptable to dependers. Or if they need to spill their guts for two hours over coffee, well that’s all right too. Dependers have a dire need for attention, but they display it with a whine that any three-year-old wouldn’t be caught using. They operate on the opposite extreme from dominators, usually as emotional wrecks. They are easy to spot because of their tear-soaked faces and tissues. Speech for them is usually interrupted by gasps for breath between their broken sentences. What causes further amazement is their repeated tales of woe. These can be told ten different times in a day and never lose an ounce of intensity. Ninety percent of these tales are about broken relationships. If these dependers are lucky, someone from the next group of friends will be there for them.

Somewhere in the middle between the dominators and the dependers are the equalizers, those who are knowledgeable yet open-minded, and helpful rather than self-seeking. First are the “knowledgeable yet open-minded.” These equalizers have a firm grasp of the entire program for recovering dysfunctionals. They have gained this knowledge through diligent study of the program’s text. In addition, they have practical knowledge from working through all the various stages of recovery.Although knowledgeable, they maintain a significant degree of humility. They don’t pretend to offer advice they are not qualified to give, such as a psychologist or marriage counselor might give. They also know there is always more to learn, never claiming to have reached any saintly status. Second, unlike the other two groups, equalizers tend to be more helpful than self-seeking.They accomplish this by being attentive listeners. They will read between the lines to see what a person may not be saying. Visually they will watch to see if another person's body language matches his verbal message. Finally, they have a sincere desire to help others. Their point is never more important than the person they are helping; what motivates equalizers is the satisfaction they gain from giving freely of themselves.

In conclusion, recovering dysfunctionals share a common behavioral problem in their pasts. However, the first, the dominators, are loud, pompous, know-it-all types. The second, the dependers, are the over-dependent whiners who live off other people's advice. Finally, the equalizers are the stable and compassionate glue that holds the whole group together. Although these types can be found in recovery groups, they can also be found among friends in general. We all probably have friends like these somewhere; wouldn’t life be boring without them?

--Steven W. Warman

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