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Aleksandra Pietryga talks with PhD Grzegorz Polok about dysfunctional families, emotional phantoms and a new book.

Aleksandra Pietryga: Who did you write “On the road to yourself” for?

Grzegorze Polok: Mostly for those who experienced unhappy childhood what was connected with a dysfunctional family, lack of the sense of security or abuse of alcohol by the parents.

The book is also for anyone who wants to understand himself or the others better.

When the family is dysfunctional?

-When it restricts the possibility of normal psychological or physical development of its members, mostly children. It may be connected with the addiction of parents to alcohol, with violence, inadequate requirements towards children, divorce, death of one of the parents or his permanent absence at home. In this case, a specific dysfunction stems from the behavior of a given parent and affects every member of this family.

What happens to a child, and then an adult, who grows up in such a family?

-The biggest problem is often a very low self-esteem. Besides, the inability to find your own place in the society, inability to understand the surrounding world, strong fears, the fear of showing emotions. It may cause the retreat from reality, the withdrawal or conversely an excessive activism. It happens almost every time when such people have difficulties in building healthy relations or relationships.

Where does this sensitivity of yours to these matters come from?

-Being an academic Father, during the first retreat organized for students, I noticed that 1/3 of the young people who dared to come and talk, struggled with the problems typical for people coming from dysfunctional families, including mostly those connected with the parents’ addiction to alcohol. I thought they couldn’t be left alone. I started to look for the possibilities to help them. Thanks to the support of the city of Katowice as well as a therapist Teresa Adamczyk, the therapeutic group was created. A one-year long work for students from dysfunctional families and adult children of alcoholics started. The need to write a book arose from listening to these people, conversations with them or confessions. At the beginning, the book “To spread the wings” was directed at young people and then “On the road to yourself” was intended for all the readers. On the one hand to show the scale of the problem, but on the other hand, to give other people with such difficulties the possibility to find help.

What is this group therapy based on?

-The way of therapy is dependent on how strong dysfunctions affected development of a given person, on his openness, honesty and involvement. This therapy may be individual, however the experience shows that work in a group of people sharing the same problem brings the best results. During the therapy, people learn to find out the roots of their problems, to name feelings, they discover new possibilities of expressing themselves. They “dig out” the fears buried in the subconscious to finally work them out and get rid of them. We call it throwing out the rocks from a backpack that burdens our daily life.

Isn’t this confrontation, in a way, rubbing salt into the wound?

-It is. However, only in this way it is possible to start the process of healing a man. It is like a running sore- it has to be cleaned. It is difficult, I know it. I can remember the students that started this therapy several times, always at some point they got scared of the pain, but finally they got through it. It is also breaking the rules that apply in dysfunctional families- do not trust, do not tell, do not feel. If it is possible to break it, there is a chance to work out own emotions, pains and then, the road to being healed is open. Sometimes one needs to break something to build it anew. Even if it hurts.

But who builds this broken interior of a man from scratch?

-A psychologist or therapist gives the tools, helps to deal with the emotional phantoms of the past. The rest has to be worked out by yourself. It is possible with the help of God’s grace and of another man. We pay much attention to the spiritual aspect of therapy- the Eucharist, the anointing of the sick, the possibility of conversation. We do not impose anything. The group is open for anyone; for a believer, non-believer, rebellious, a searching one. Sometimes people find God here.

What is the awareness of Church when it comes to the scale of the problem in Poland nowadays?

It is much bigger than it used to be. In our archdiocese, there are centers built that help the co-addicted ones or adults coming from dysfunctional families. The Fathers eagerly involve themselves in helping people with such a burden.

The Father, PhD. Grzegorz Polok is an assistant professor at the University of Economics in Katowice and an academic Father in Katowice Zawodzie.

Translated by Justyna Gałuch