8 Common Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family

8 Common Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family

Families are generally known to be the people you can lean on during tough times and have open disagreements without feeling attacked or judged. At the end of the day, they are the ones you can rely on and you know that you will always love each other through thick and thin.

But, what about those of us who come from dysfunctional families? And are the signs always clear and obvious, or can they be subtle and deceiving?

Here are 8 common signs of a dysfunctional family, and if you came from one, then you will recognize more than a few:

1. Addiction

According to American Addiction Centers, roughly 45% of the U.S. population has been exposed to some form of alcoholism or alcoholic behavior within their family. That translates to as many as 76 million people and approximately 26 million of those individuals are children. The addiction can be drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both. Parents with an addiction can have a negative impact on the family, whether that pertains to financial problems, communication difficulties, or a poor establishment of trust and bonding that affects every family member’s ability to form close, healthy relationships with others.

2. Perfectionism

This one can be difficult to spot, especially if a family looks picture perfect on the outside. But behind closed doors, it’s a different story. When perfectionism is highly regarded and parents place unrealistic expectations on their kids to succeed, the children may grow up with self-image and self-esteem issues, believing that they will never be good enough. The kids may have a hard time going to their parents when they are in need of emotional support. As a result, they may learn to close themselves up and have difficulty trusting people. When parents prioritize their kids’ performances, they leave little to no room where mistakes are allowed and nurtured.

3. Abuse

Abuse is another common characteristic of a dysfunctional family. It can be physical, emotional, and/or sexual. Abuse can occur between two spouses, from a parent to a child, or between two sibling children. Abuse is a method families use to punish their members for unwanted behavior. It’s also a way for members to be in control when they feel as though they’ve been betrayed or wronged.

4. Unpredictability and Fear

Unpredictability and fear often go hand in hand. They are a pattern often produced from abuse as mentioned in the previous point, but can also exist from a parent’s or spouse’s financial handling or emotional and reactive behavior. Typically, children who come from an unstable household, whether it be financially or emotionally, may suffer from low self-esteem issues and can either grow up to be super responsible people pleasers or the exact opposite and mirror their parents’ toxic behaviors. Fear and unpredictability are characteristics influenced from strict and overly religious upbringings or when a family does not allow diversity for members to form their own beliefs, aspirations, and interests.

5. Conditional Love

Unconditional love is something that healthy families demonstrate. But in dysfunctional families, conditional love is often exercised from members’ manipulative tendencies. When a parent or spouse gives a family member love only when they want something, it can either come from a place of insecurity or selfishness. For instance, a mother may only show love and support to her child, hoping that when the child reaches adulthood, they will take care of her. But when that child grows into what she considers a moody or inconsiderate teenager, she may not readily show the same love and support she originally did. When conditional love is exercised, it can make family members feel used or cheated.

6. Lack of Boundaries

When a family doesn’t establish healthy boundaries, members will often feel as though they have no privacy or that they aren’t being respected. Parents who see their children as trophies or an extension of themselves can teeter on narcissistic behavior, which can often cause children to feel confused about their own identities that aren’t nurtured properly or encouraged. A lack of boundaries often occurs when one parent tries to be controlling and dominant through anger. When children feel as though they have no choice but to act or behave in certain ways they do not upset their parent, they usually grow up feeling alienated and lost, and may be overly self-critical.

7. Lack of Intimacy

Dysfunctional families can often mistake codependency as intimacy. In healthy families, parents teach their children how to be self-sufficient. But if a parent fears letting go of their kids, they may express not being able to live without them if they grow up and leave. The same applies for a spouse who may show excessive clinginess to their partner. It’s important for family members to provide the choice of being with one another because they want to, not because they have to. Ultimately, love is a selfless act and should never be pressured nor forced.

8. Poor Communication

A lot of conflict in families typically stem from poor communication. When members can’t fully express themselves due to strained or nonexistent communication, they may end up feeling unheard, invisible, or misunderstood. Overall, dysfunctional families don’t practice healthy communication skills enough. As a result, members can be quick to react, rather than wanting to listen in order to understand. Consequently, many arguments arise which create daily stress and challenges that tear the family apart, instead of bringing it closer.

byCatherine Huang for Psych2Go

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