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BellaOnline's Mental Health Editor

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Dysfunctional Families

Guest Author - Karen Huber

There are many types of dysfunctional families; definitions differ according to different experts. One thing they seem to agree on though, is that adults that are the products of these families suffer from a variety of long-term effects. The main problem is unhealthy boundaries within family relationships. Either the children or the adults have no concept of a healthy respect for other people. Often, the constant picking and put-downs are supposed to “make a child a better person.” Instead, it breeds a child without confidence and who does not develop individually because he or she is afraid to. Adults sometimes don’t set boundaries, so a child constantly misbehaves and thinks that his or her parents are there to wait on them.

Many rules of dysfunctional families are covert and their aim is to control the members. They are cut off from the outside world and have no conception of healthy relationship behaviors. These families don't talk about problems communicate directly. The controlling members like to be in the spotlight all the time and tell others that they are selfish if they think about their needs. Less controlling members are consumed and become puppets that carry out commands without thinking about them. Challenging a belief or a covert rule is a major crime and leads to unpleasant consequences: the silent treatment, application of guilt, and/or emotional or physical abuse.

Adults of these families have many issues including expressing feelings, marrying a dysfunctional person or one from from another dysfunctional family, perfectionism, fear of taking risks, having a constant need for approval, and ineffectiveness in decision making. They can also feel worthless, avoid conflict and tend to be impatient, have fear of abandonment, fail to take care of themselves while immersing themselves in the needs of other people, and do not like to express anger. Adults of dysfunctional families can also have other problems including mental health issues, addiction issues, problems with the legal system, problems getting through school keeping a job.


Adults of dysfunctional families can work to change the issues that keep them from living full and satisfying lives once they recognize behaviors that are holding them back. There are many types of therapy and “deprogramming” that can help. individual counseling, therapy groups. Make goals for yourself and practice self-programming. Allow yourself to feel anger and unpleasant emotions. Work your anger out; shovel a few loads of snow, walk extra miles; do something that is repetitious and pounding. It works the anger out and gets surprising results when you are done your chores, exercises, or walking. Talking to yourself helps, too. You rarely say something to yourself that you don’t want to hear.

Take care of yourself first. You cannot take care of anyone else if you are in bad shape. You might injure them in the long run if you are an emotional mess yourself. Change your destructive relationships. This is difficult; you will feel guilt at first. If you have to, get rid of destructive relationships, even if they are family. There is no law that says you must put up with emotional or other abuse; it is just tradition; i.e., you are stuck with us, we are your family. Not true. If your old “friends” don’t like the new you, remember, there are close to 7 billion people in the world. There are plenty to choose new friends from. It is better to be alone than lonely in the midst of a crowd. You have a right to have personal boundaries and have people respect them.

Make no mistake; this is a lot of work and takes a lot of time, but it is worth it. Even one step to help yourself will make you feel better and more productive right away. There will be times when you feel very lonely, but keep in mind that you are bettering your mental health and relationships. Keep at it and your confidence will build and you will make new friends that respect you and want to see you succeed.




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Content copyright © 2014 by Karen Huber. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Karen Huber. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Dr. Jonice Webb for details.

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