What does it mean to defend dysfunction?

Sometimes we can find ourselves in a dysfunctional situation. Then, rather than recognising the situation is not working and taking steps to change it, we will instead justify why it’s actually ok and not that bad, whether to ourselves or others. We defend dysfunction.

“It’s better than it used to be!” or “It’s really no big deal,” or “I’m fine with it!” we might say when other people express concerns about the situation we’re describing, which is clearly causing us discomfort, pain, inconvenience, pressure or unhappiness, or simply doesn’t add up or sound healthy.

Here’s how I learnt about this for myself.

I did a lot of healing work in 2014 after the end of a major relationship, including some with a guy in New Zealand, who, like everyone I chose to work with at that time, had an excellent understanding of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

As we tracked through some previous relationships and talked about how I’d felt in my early 20s, it was obvious that I hadn’t valued myself to the extent I might have, being more inclined to go with the flow, accommodate and flex for other people.

“You thought you were worthless,” he reflected back to me.

“Oh no, I wouldn’t say that. I knew I had some worth. Maybe just not as much as I could have,” I replied, seeing this response as measured; kind to myself even.

He laughed.


“We often defend our dysfunctions,” he told me.

I thought I was just being balanced. But I was actually discounting reality. I WAS defending dysfunction.

In comparison with high levels of self-worth and how that would show up in an incredibly beautiful, deep, loving, completely healthy relationship with great boundaries, high expectations and clear communication of wants and needs, I DID see myself as worthless.

This did not improve with successive relationships, it actually worsened, as I moved on to attracting a reformed bad guy, and then a charismatic charmer (both with highly narcissistic tendencies in completely different ways).

No amount of justifying, nuance, or playing with semantics could change that fact, and I’d just been called on it.

It wasn’t an unkind laugh. It was the laugh of someone who knew he was talking with someone who used this kind of “sophisticated” justification to explain away and tolerate situations rather than being clear cut, honest with self, and able to see the truth.


I see this kind of thing with clients quite often.

Let me give you some examples which are indicative of the kinds of things I’ve heard, and have all been expressed to me multiple times with slight variations:

  • Yes my partner was communicating with that woman behind my back and it only came out by chance and he had no intention to tell me, but it was actually her. She initiated it. I don’t trust her. (Huh?)
  • Yes my partner neglected to tell me about that addiction, or debt issue, or cheating incident with his ex or (insert other major oversight) until after I’d fallen in love with him. Oh well, everyone has a past! (Never mind then!)
  • Yes my partner is not working/under-working/created a big debt problem for us and this is putting me under tons of stress. But he’s really supportive of me working hard in my business and doesn’t mind me earning more than him, so I’m actually really lucky because some women don’t have that from their partners. (#blessed #retiringmyhusband See also: #nokidding)
  • Yes my partner puts me down, or criticises my ambition, or digs at me for not earning as much money as I used to even though I do all the child care and life admin, but he’s really under pressure and stressed at work. (Sounds like an appropriate coping strategy.)
  • Yes my partner is actually already in a relationship but it’s totally over and he’s going to let her know soon. He’s just staying for the kids/financial reasons/something totally legit. He says I just need to be patient. It’s a bit complicated but I know he really loves me and we’re destined to be together! (Do these guys get a script?)
  • Yes my partner flirts with other women in front of me and I’ve asked him to stop but you know what guys are like/ at least he doesn’t cheat on me like X’s husband/ it’s probably better he does it in front of me, it’s all out in the open! (Sounds like a keeper!)

You’ll see in each there may be an element of truth and some aspect which could be ok. There has to be – or we wouldn’t justify it. The grain of truth does NOT outweigh the dysfunction.

And it totally doesn’t have to be relationship related – defending dysfunction comes up in all areas of life. Recognise: you may not have done any of THESE specific things, but you may well have your own blind spot where dysfunction creeps in. What is easy to see in another can be hard to see in the self.

What is my role in these kinds of situations?

As a Kinesiologist, it is not my role to give you advice. I am always taking it back to muscle testing so we can get clear information about what your body has to say about it all.

And if we’re finding emotions like: betrayed, not-heard, unlovable, furious, terror, panic, deserted or other big emotions? I’m not going to let you explain or justify them away without giving them due attention because I want what is truly best for you and if that involves a slightly uncomfortable (but always loving) conversation where we unpack the truths of the situation and why your body may be experiencing that emotion?

I will go there.

It’s up to you what you do with the information we uncover, but you will see more clearly what’s really going on, and that is the beauty of Kinesiology. It helps us see what’s really going on, not just what we have decided is going on.

So why do we defend dysfunction?

Here are some of the reasons:

  • Facing the truth and holding someone else accountable feels overwhelming and uncomfortable
  • We’re scared of the consequences
  • For reasons of perceived security, stability, children or future plans, we really don’t want to think about the alternative to being in this relationship
  • We genuinely believe that everyone is making major compromises in their relationships and this is just our lot
  • We mix in circles or grew up in a family where the brand of dysfunction we’re tolerating is also tolerated by others, and it has been normalised
  • We’ve had worse and we’re not sure if we could have better anyway
  • We have a blind spot around this issue and don’t yet realise it is actually a problem

Are you defending dysfunction?

Pro-tip: when you find yourself inserting the words, “Oh you know what it’s like …” <— a defence of dysfunction is about to arrive.

If you want to stop defending dysfunction, here’s your starting point:

Know this:

You always have a choice (yes, even now).

You are always free (yes, even now).

If you're an entrepreneur and would love to learn how to align your energy and attract more clients, check out Kerry's group program: Align + Attract

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