9 tell-tale signs of a dysfunctional family

A healthy family should be a safe haven for all individuals within the family system.

Individuals should feel comfortable expressing their needs and anticipate that their needs will be appropriately met by the family.

Family members should feel as though everyone in the family has their best interest at heart and will be willing to grow and change to meet future needs, hardships, and expansion of the family.

What is a dysfunctional family?

Dysfunctional families are the opposite of healthy families. They often struggle to meet the needs of all family members, are rigid, and often lack the ability or desire to grow and change. Family members often do not feel safe to express themselves and needs are often viewed as weaknesses. In these families, people often seek to hide their most vulnerable parts and minimize and avoid close interactions as these are more likely to result in emotional pain or disappointment.

  1. Members often deny responsibility for hurtful behavior – Some members are utterly unwilling to accept responsibility for their hurtful or unhealthy behaviors. Therefore members carry around long-standing hurt as little has been done to ever try to heal hurt or pain from the past.
  2. Members use intimidation to maintain power in the family – in healthy families, each member is valued equally. However, in dysfunctional families, certain members are more valued than others. The valued members may use intimidation and fear to keep their powerful status in the family.
  3. Certain family member’s needs are expendable – Individuals in the family with less power often have their needs neglected and ignored.
  4. Reality is difficult to discern – Individuals in dysfunctional families have been taught that their emotions and experiences are wrong and therefore cannot trust their own perceptions. These feelings of doubt allow dysfunctional behaviors to continue without much push back or challenge.
  5. Victims are made responsible for abusive behavior – Certain family members are made responsible for another’s anger, aggression, addiction, or poor decisions. Certain family members may be required to meet unrealistic expectations or unhealthy needs of another member.
  6. Family appearance is deceptive – Many dysfunctional families try to keep their dysfunction hidden from the outside world. Therefore, there is often a strict code of silence that allows these families to look healthy to outsiders, but behind closed doors, there is great pain and suffering.
  7. There is no straightforward healthy communication – Communication is very difficult and often does not accomplish change, empathy, or increased understanding. Verbal messages may be contradictory or confusing resulting in more shame, doubt, and hopelessness.
  8. Healthy emotions are not valued – Dysfunctional families only value happiness and compliance to others needs and demands. Feelings of sadness, regret, disappointment, embarrassment, or fear are not valued or discussed.
  9. They exhibit poor boundaries – Family members may be rigid and reluctant to flex as the family grows, develops, and transforms over time. Other family members may be overly involved in the lives of their children giving them little room to make mistakes or formulate their own opinions. Some lack boundaries at all and do not enforce any healthy rules or guidance. Lastly, some are unpredictable leading to the members feeling unsure and worried that they are going to “mess up” at any moment.

Leave a Reply