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Dysfunctional Family: How To Recognize The Signs And What To Do Next


From the TV shows Married with Children to King of Queens to even Rick and Morty, it’s hard to not escape the trope of the dysfunctional family in the media.

While no families are as murderous as the ones in Game of Thrones, no family is perfect.

We absorb lessons about relationships with our own families and intergenerational norms – some of which are positive traditions and some can be destructive communication patterns.

A dysfunctional family is generally characterized as “conflict, misbehavior, or abuse” Relationships with family members are strained and may be fraught with neglect, tears, and childhood abuse. You may have felt you had no open space to share your opinions and emotions.

Even more recognizable causes of family dysfunction exist.

Common Causes of a Dysfunctional Family

The roots of a dysfunctional family come from various stresses and learned behaviors. Parent-child role reversal is a significant source of tension, for example, by not maintaining consistent boundaries between parent and child. Other causes include unreasonable belief systems, perfectionism, unresolved grief, depression, fear of intimacy, fear of losing a loved one, antipathy, and a lack of regard for the emotions or desires of others.

Other family interactions and circumstances can lead to dysfunction such as mental disorder, drug or alcohol addictions, obsessive religious views, physical disabilities, emotional issues, or is violent. An elderly parent, baby, toddler, teenager, or adult child can also be stressful for any family.

Signs of a Dysfunctional Family

Dysfunctional households families often keep their issues to themselves and close off themselves when it comes to family therapy and marriage counseling. There could be no strict boundaries between parent and infant. Family rules may not entirely exist, or there may be strict rules and the familial expectation of compliance and conformity from all.

Dysfunctional families cannot handle stress well. They may cope or hide their stress with alcohol or drugs. A family may become depressed at the complexity of an issue. In a dysfunctional family, resentment abounds. Rather than dealing with the stress that is causing problems, dysfunctional families lash out at each other.

The Effects of Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family

Adults are so concerned about their own problems and pain in dysfunctional families that they do not understand their children’s needs and cannot provide them with a consistent, safe environment filled with unconditional love. Children then become highly stressed, fearful, and may feel unlovable. As these children grow older and are not with their parents as much, they may question some of their long-held negative beliefs and sayings.

To start, the emotional pain of hurtful comments and negative words can stay with them even though they know deep inside that we are not dumb. When they seek to sustain a broken and dysfunctional relationship with their family, they may feel a certain heaviness that may have taken over every part of your life. This carries internal tension: doubt, anxiety, depression.

As adults, part of the recovery from growing up in a dysfunctional family is releasing the sense of guilt and acknowledging that the mistakes of our parents is not our responsibility, which does not mean that we are incompetent or worthless.

Do not let your past mistakes disrupt your present and focus on creating a future for you. You can get through the pain. Leading your own rewarding life is the most powerful path to recovering from a dysfunctional family life. You will remember your past misery, but you have the chance to take charge of your success and happiness.

Next Steps for Healing

When you are prepared to break this loop, seek family therapy and continue your path of healing with us by calling us at 919-647-4600 or visit A qualified therapist will help you recognize unhealthy family dynamics, and help you develop strategies for creating safe boundaries and healing your inner life.

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