When I was growing up, my household looked different from the idyllic families that were portrayed on the television shows I enjoyed.
I often wondered if I was the only child who had a family life that had so much tension, anger, and unhappiness.
As a highly sensitive child, I often believed it was my fault. If I could just be easier, funnier, more pleasing to my family, then everything would be OK.
These feelings, along with the stress I was experiencing at home, wreaked havoc on my mental health and self-esteem. If this is something you can relate to, I am here to tell you that you are not alone.
Why is my family dysfunctional?
My family is dysfunctional because we regularly experience conflict, misbehavior, or abuse in a way that causes some members of the family to accommodate such inappropriate actions.
Dysfunctional families are often the result of one overtly abusive parent and one codependent parent who turns a blind eye to the misbehavior. Dysfunctional parents may learn their behavior from their own parents.
In some cases, when one parent does not object to the dominant parent’s abuse, the children will be misled into believing the dysfunction is their own fault. In my case, we grew up into this family believing that the situation is normal.
Dysfunctional Family Characteristics
Although dysfunctional families are all different, they often share some principal characteristics. Some defining traits of my dysfunctional family include:
~Lack of empathy
~Emotional or physical abuse
~Drug or alcohol abuse
~Fear and unpredictability
~Disrespect of boundaries
Dysfunctional Family Roles
Each member my dysfunctional family has a role that keeps the cycle going.
The enabler (or caretaker) protects and takes care of the problem parent in order to keep the family going.
He or she takes on the burden and responsibilities of the problem parent to prevent them from going into a crisis.
The hero takes on the role of making the family look good. This over-achieving person is good at making everything on the outside look normal.
(me)The scapegoat is often the child who exhibits negative behaviors that take the attention off of the main problem in the family.
(me)The lost child is the quiet one who tries to escape the situation. This child often avoids interactions with other family members, leading to a lack of social development in the long run.
The mascot works to lighten the mood and break up the tension within the family. They often use humor to distract from their problems instead of facing them.
If you are living in a dysfunctional family, you can probably identify the people who are in these roles in your household. Here are some common unhealthy signs of a dysfunctional family, first hand.
~You think about how you will do things differently.
If you already know as a child that you will parent children one day differently than the way you are being parented, this is a red flag.
~There is enmeshment.
If one member of my family spends an extreme amount of time dealing with the problems of another family member, or they take personal responsibility for another family member’s emotions, this is enmeshment.
Boundaries exist in healthy families where everyone is responsible for dealing with their own problems.
This doesn’t mean people don’t ask for help, but it also doesn’t mean family members blame each other for their personal problems. smfh…
It does mean that a family member doesn’t feel personally responsible for the solution.
~You never stand up for yourself. (me)
If you find yourself in situations that are clearly not your fault but default to thinking that you could have done something differently, it may be a sign that you are living in a dysfunctional family.
For example, let’s say there’s a big fight at my family dinner table between my parents or a parent and a sibling.
While a healthy reaction to this would be to know you didn’t cause the fight, you may assume it was your fault for not preventing it.
~You are a people pleaser.
This is a survival trait that may develop as a result of being abandoned or experiencing neglect on a regular basis.
Pleasing other people is an attempt to win them over when you fear their criticism. You hold onto the belief that if you’re nice enough, this person will not abandon you.
You probably developed this trait to be able to detect the mood of the adults around you so you could respond appropriately.
~The holidays are not joyful.
No matter what types of holidays your family celebrates, there are sure to be times where the whole family gets together to try to enjoy a special meal or exchange gifts.
If you dread these occasions and never find joy in them, it may be due to a dysfunctional family situation.
Holidays tend to add stress and unmet expectations for everyone, but a dysfunctional family can be thrown into a tailspin as a result.
~They alter the truth.
Dysfunctional families often twist their intentions, experiences, and even the memories that they recall to avoid being held accountable.
This behavior is also known as “gaslighting.”
There are a lot of ways that someone in your family can distort you, what you want, and your life experiences both with and without them.
No matter how they distort the truth, if someone is doing it, they’re a toxic person.
~There is constant conflict.
Of course, all families have conflict sometimes, but if there is never a break from the conflict in the family, and people are always at odds with each other, this is a sign of dysfunction.
This conflict could be verbal, physical, or even silent — but with tension so thick you could cut it.
It often occurs between the parents, whether they are divorced or married, and is witnessed by the children. Even after marriage, seems to happen 15+ years divorced….
~Allowing teasing to go too far.
Families should not have a bully. Humor and teasing can be a healthy mode of interaction in families, but the key to this is whether or not it feels loving and comfortable for everyone involved.
In dysfunctional families, emotional abuse can be disguised as “I was just kidding, don’t be so sensitive.”
This not only allows the original criticism to stand, but it also adds an additional criticism of someone displaying an “incorrect” reaction to a situation.
Also, this person is essentially being told that they don’t have the right to their own feelings, which is a classic sign of dysfunction.
Some people in my family, if they are reading this can point this person out no problem..
This blog has taken me weeks to months to complete as I gather my thoughts and feelings to have the courage to spill them, knowing my family will eventually see it.
but at the same time, they will also realize how true and correct it is. Trying to put my personal experience into a third person view was somewhat difficult. While recognizing all the negative aspects, I have figured ways that have kept me afloat all this time.
How I have learn to deal with my dysfunctional family:
~Don’t Try to Change the Past
It’s important to remember that you can’t change the past and the dysfunction at the core of the family will likely always exist.
You can’t change people and sometimes you need to just allow yourself to have a healthy distance.
Don’t try to make up for the past or recoup lost time by trying to salvage relationships that are past the point of repair.
Instead, protect your well-being and move forward by creating a family of your own that has healthy and thriving relationships.
~Avoid the Victim Mentality
You may have been cheated out of a healthy childhood, but don’t allow this victim mentality to continue on into your adulthood.
Don’t let your past control your present by failing to become a well-adjusted adult.
Create a new identity that does not focus on the pain you endured in the past.
If possible, try to find the strength to forgive.
If you are able to do this, do it on your own terms and just allow these feelings of forgiveness to help you let go of the past.
~Define Who You Want To Be
Make a conscious effort to know who you want to be and to work toward becoming that person. This may take some time depending on the severity of your family dysfunction.
Learn more about emotional maturity and how to communicate effectively in relationships.
Just understanding the emotional abuse and dysfunction in your primary family can help you define what you don’t want to be.
Become the parent that you wish you had had so your own children grow up in a loving and secure environment.
Become the partner or spouse you wish you’d witnessed in your parents so your relationship is strong and healthy.
Did you grow up in a dysfunctional family?
If you’re reading this post, it’s likely you experienced some of the behaviors and situations described here.
I’d like to commend you for taking action and learning more about the difficulties you experienced in your family.
Don’t allow your past to infect your current and future happiness. You can move past the pain.
Ultimately, the most effective way to heal from a dysfunctional family is to live your own fulfilling life.
You’ll always be connected to the dysfunction you have endured, but your long-term success and happiness are in your own hands.
When you understand this, you’re already on your way to healing.