Families are our first source of contact with the outside world. They are often the first people who make the deepest impact on us. The kind of family we have raised in influences our personality and the kind of person we will become. However, there are problems in every family. Sometimes these problems become hurdles and prevent the members of that family from living to their fullest potential. Such a family is certainly a problematic or dysfunctional family.
All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
What is a Dysfunctional Family?
A dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior, and often neglect or abuse on the part of individuals or groups occur continuously and regularly, leading other members to accommodate such actions. A dysfunctional family can also be one with multiple ‘internal’ conflicts, e.g. sibling rivalries, parent-child conflicts, domestic violence, mental illness, single parenthood, or ‘external’ conflicts, e.g. alcohol or drug abuse, extramarital affairs, gambling, unemployment-influences that affect the basic needs of the family unit.
Now, every family may experience some of these issues. The key to separate a family with a minor dysfunction from a family where dysfunctionality is a major threatening issue is to understand that the latter has a number of these issues together in a way that affects and hampers the physical, emotional, and psychological needs of the members.
Signs of Dysfunctional Families
While every family and culture is different and unique, here are some tell-tale signs of a dysfunctional family.
1. A Lack of Respect
Families will always have some topics where there will be disagreements. However, if these disagreements turn into personal attacks and bring about ridiculing, demeaning, or showing another down; it hints towards a lack of respect. A family where members do not respect each other regardless of age, gender, etc., can surely be on track to becoming dysfunctional.
2. A Struggle for Control
When every family member has to fight for their voice to be heard, it is natural that a struggle for control will ensue. This causes every person to try to control another, and therefore, no one is able to be themselves comfortably. This can affect decision making, raising children, and all the other major and minor aspects of a family, leading to abuse and toxic relationships within families at times.
3. Fear of Expression
When the members of the family are not allowed to express themselves freely without inviting aggression or strained relationships, every member feels suppressed. The members of such a family may feel like they have no right to have an opinion, much less express one. Therefore the fear of expression and the fear to be our own self can be a sign of a dysfunctional family.
4. Limiting Belief Systems
When one or more dominant members of a family impose their restrictive beliefs on the other members, it prevents the victim from excelling and progressing in their desired way.
5. Internal Issues Between Family Members
This might arguably be the most concerning factor about dysfunctional families. When two or more members of the family have unresolved issues which prevent them from blending together, it can wreak havoc for the whole family. And these are not the small disagreements or even somewhat larger arguments; these issues stem from conflicts and firmly held grudges about the other person. When the heart of such issues stops being a genuine concern or desire to make it right with the other person and starts taking the form of resentment, hatred or even rage, it is a sure sign of dysfunctionality.
6. Inability to Move On or Adjust
When members of a family are unable to resolve their issues or are not willing to adjust with each other, it becomes a cause of concern. Prolonged behavior of this kind can lead to members being drawn apart from each other and the family system collapsing.
7. Lack of Transparency and Accountability
As a family, all members need to be transparent with one another and need to be accountable to one another. This leads to greater cohesiveness and resilience in the family. Therefore, the absence of these factors can lead to an unhealthy environment in the family.
What Causes Problematic Families?
The causes of problematic families are many, and no family is completely perfect or entirely imperfect or complicated. Sometimes, however, certain things can accentuate the problems of a family, making it more likely to be dysfunctional. Things like substance use, addiction, instability in relationships, abuse of any kind, legal or financial crises, etc., can lead to the behaviors mentioned above, leaving the families of such individuals at a higher risk of dysfunctionality.
Effects of Dysfunctional Families
Problems in the family affect each member, especially children. Children raised in such families are at a higher risk of inter-generational trauma and, therefore, carry these behavior patterns within themselves. They may also suffer from self-esteem issues, leaving them vulnerable to challenges in their personal as well as professional lives. Each one’s experience of problematic families may be different, and therefore the effects are as unique as the experiences. It is important to know that every family might have some minor episodes of dysfunction sometimes; however, those do not make the family entirely dysfunctional.
How To Maintain Happiness In A Family
While this question will have different answers according to situations, the core of it lies in individual as well as a collective responsibility. It is important for each person in the family to be responsible and understand their role in holding the family together. In the face of problems, conflicts, and issues, this is one factor that will ensure that a temporary conflict does not escalate to form a permanent scar.
How Do I Know if My Family is Dysfunctional, Broken, or Toxic?
Everyone loves their family and can go to any extent whenever their family needs them. It is good but to be observant is essential too. Sometimes the feel of having a family is so much in your head that you miss seeing the real picture. You find yourself hurt, ignored, and yet you seek your family over anything, which is something that is not wise. No doubt family is important, but if it is leaving you empty, lost, and inefficient, then you must know that your family is not a happy family; it has some issues which are toxic and not good for your mental health.
1. All You See is Argument
When you try to discuss something with your family and 8 out of 10 discussions turns into an argument without any end result.
2. Sibling Jealousy
Your siblings try to compete with you and get jealous of your achievements. Although sibling jealousy is very common, you can’t take it just as it is. The bitter truth is for you to know is that your family is actually toxic.
3. All That You See is Just Comparison
This can surely hurt you when you observe that your parents compare you with your siblings most of the time. They are never happy with your decisions or encourage you to do better. Here you must know that this is a clear cut sign that your family is going to the lane of a dysfunctional family.
4. Judgmental and Overreaction
Even you are genuinely late on a get-together or a family gathering, and your family overreact; without knowing the real cause behind it. In short, they are always judgemental and overreact even to small things is a sure shot sign of an unhappy family.
5. Interference and No Respect to Your Privacy
Your family always interfere with your life, despite knowing that you are a grown-up person now and quite adequate to take any decision wisely. In a nutshell, when they don’t respect your privacy and forget their boundaries, you must know that your family is dysfunctional.
6. When They Act as Victims
In some families, the grown-ups act like victims and remind you most of the time how their life was. When they were of your age, how they lived and survived and coped with their elders, how obedient they were and a lot more. Make sure you mustn’t ignore this, just accept that you are living with a toxic family.
7. Always a Big ‘No’
Expressing disappointment and disapproval without any valid reason; telling you that they are more experienced than you and can never be wrong as they are always right. This behavior is undoubtedly toxic as this will leave you disappointed as if you are not capable of making the right decision.
8. When They Warn You
When parents or siblings give ultimatums or warnings for any task to be done on priority, they even call you anytime, ignoring whether you are busy in your workplace or going out with friends. All they see is their work to be done first. This approach is purely selfish, certainly a trait of an unhappy family; you must not miss seeing these signs.
9. It’s All About Them Every time
Whenever you talk to your siblings or parents in person or over a phone call, and all they talk about is ‘themselves’. The talk can be about their childhood or college days or workplace, anything that concerns them only such as — What were their achievements? How did they surpass any adverse condition, likewise… They just clearly forget to ask about your things, how things are with you. Even on a phone call, it’s about them, not about you. By doing this, they let you exhausted every time you meet them or interact with your family members. This is a plain sight of a dysfunctional family.
How To Deal With A Dysfunctional Family
Dealing with a dysfunctional family is quite a big barricade. The ties of family are so into you that moving out from the unfavorable situation ain’t easy either. But if you are sensitive, you have to try hard to seek ways, as believe it or not; ultimately, it’s you who is going to bear the loss. Knowing how to deal with a dysfunctional family is a must, and here are some ways you can try.
1. Review Your Explanation of Family
There are two types of people in a family:
- One is entitled to abuse (verbal or physical), violence, drama, manipulation, betrayal, emotional abuse, emotional withdrawal, neglect, ignorance, passive-aggressiveness. They do this because they are related to you by blood or by marriage with entitlement, designated as ‘family.’
- The other is always humble and obliged and tolerates any improper behavior because, for them, family bonds are everything; all that matters to them is they are related by blood or by marriage. They can be flexible, forgetting, forgiving, and always be there when the family needs them.
If you are the second type, you are the sufferer here because you are living with a dysfunctional family. And now is the time for you to define what a family really is and how it is affecting your personality. A family is where you find:
- peace and happiness when you are with them.
- your opinion matters.
- yourself physically and emotionally stable and safe when you are around them
- the courage to face any obstacle.
If you find your family cannot give you peace, comfort and strength, it’s high time for you to consider to seek for yourself. Don’t get settled for anything, do know this one fact that they are not entitled to you, and you are not obligated to them.
2. Keep Your Expectations in Check
It is easy to say to cut ties from the family if it is broken or toxic. The best you can do is keep yourself in check and don’t expect much. You must know these two things:
- Dysfunctional families are relatively resistant to any changes.
- When you understand and accept reality, you can control your frustration over conflicts or disparities easily.
3. Less Talk and Keep Distance
To avoid an unfavorable situation in the family, try taking these baby steps:
- Try spending less time with your dysfunctional family.
- Talk less
- Share limited information about your personal life.
- Don’t tell them your whereabouts when outside.
- Set boundaries.
4. Let Go And Care for Yourself
If you were or still a part of a dysfunctional family, know that you are not alone. We do not have the power to choose our families. Therefore, it is not our fault when we are subjected to problems from our families. Acknowledge your responsibility in the family and work towards healing from the issues caused by your family.
You have to learn coping skills if you can’t avoid your family the way you want. Living with a dysfunctional family is not healthy, but the situation has helped you cope and endure the most challenging situation. They give you the strength to cope with stress, struggle, conflicts, rejection, and emotional combat. So, it is better to let go of the hardest feelings and care for yourself; if you find it hard to face the ongoing challenging times, seek out the help of your friends or therapist or counselor to come out of it to nurture your future. Remember these couple of things:
- Your life matters.
- Sometimes letting go turns out to be a big healer.
- Your mental peace is important for your growth.
Although, there are many ways to deal with a dysfunctional family; the above-mentioned were some of the best-sorted ways to cope up if you have a broken family. You can cut all the bonds in a go but you can limit it.
Quotes About Dysfunctional Family (Broken Families)
When I was doing my research on this article, I come across some interesting quotes defining broken families/dysfunctional family. I am pinning down some here in my article to get the picture more clear to you.
Here they go:
Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go according to any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds, they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald
Happy or Unhappy, families are all mysterious.
— Gloria Steinem
Unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven.
— Jeanette Winterson
Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
— Leo Tolstoy
Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening.
— Emma Thompson
Family quarrels have a total bitterness unmatched by others. Yet it sometimes happens that they also have a kind of tang, a pleasantness beneath the unpleasantness, based on the tacit understanding that this is not for keeps; that any limb you climb out on will still be there later for you to climb back.
— Mignon McLaughlin
It doesn’t matter what kind of problems a family is having; it should always stay in the family.
— Scott Weiland
I don’t think a female running a house is a problem, a broken family. It’s perceived as one because of the notion that a head is a man.
— Toni Morrison
If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
— George Bernard Shaw
One thing is crystal clear that a dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it. We need to remember that every family is unique and has unique challenges. Overcoming these challenges together is important as a family. However, if your family becomes one of the biggest threats for you; make a wise decision and be sure to take your time and heal in a healthy way.