Dysfunctional family: what it is and what it's like to grow up in a family | better help (2023)

Content notice:The following article includes topics such as domestic violence, abuse, trauma and other potentially triggering issues. Read with discretion.

Many problems that appear later in life can arise from childhood.One of seven childrentraumatic experiences that can have repercussions into adulthood. Difficult or traumatizing experiences related to family dynamics could mean that you grew up in a dysfunctional family. Start by examining the characteristics of dysfunction and the effects of growing up in an unhealthy environment.

Did you grow up in a dysfunctional family?

Discuss your experience with a therapist

What is a dysfunctional family?

Dysfunctional families can look different because family dynamics can be complex.

OMcGraw-Hill Concise Dictionary of Modern Medicinedefines a dysfunctional family as “a family with multiple internal or external conflicts that affect the basic needs of the family unit”. This could include, for example:

  • sibling rivalries

  • parent-child conflicts

  • Domestic violence or abuse*

  • insanity

  • single father

  • alcohol or drug abuse

  • extramarital affairs

  • gambling addiction

    (Video) Why Dysfunctional Families Do Not Change

  • affected by unemployment

  • financial worries

  • Other traumatic family events

Some families have minor dysfunctions, while others have deep-seated problems that grow into serious problems. Many factors can lead to disruption of family life and each can present itself to varying degrees.

*If you are exposed or witness any type of abuse, theNational Domestic Violence Hotlineis available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788.Online chat. The hotline provides essential tools and support to help survivors of relationship abuse and domestic violence live their lives free of abuse.

What are the factors of a dysfunctional family?

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you may have had worries since childhood. These problems may have worsened with age and may still affect you as an adult.

Dysfunctional families tend to be unstable or have conflicts. Caregivers may be so focused on their concerns and needs that they fail to respond to the children's. This behavior can lead to neglect, abuse or conflict.

Some children feel lonely and develop low self-esteem and self-esteem. As a result, they may have physical or psychological problems. Children who grow up in these toxic environments often lash outsurvival mechanismsthey have carried with them for years.

The following factors may indicate family dysfunction. you could take tooo ACES tests, as providers often use it to determine whether someone experienced trauma as a child.

family history of dysfunction

Dysfunctional family patterns can recur. For example, people can learn theirparenting stylesof their parents or caregivers. If one or both caregivers abuse them, they may abuse their children.

In some cases, parents may try to avoid abusing their children by being indulgent or careless. Spouses could participate in conflicts if their parents did. They may not understand how to model healthy behaviors.

Those raised in dysfunctional families can learn healthier parenting methods. They can deal with the problems they carry with them as adults and learn to love, appreciate, respect and treat others in a healthy way.

A willingness to do the work necessary to overcome these issues can help to end a dysfunctional home environment. For example, trauma therapy can be effectiveTreatment of adults who have been sexually abused.also yoursBinding style is subject to change.over time.

medical problems

A physical illness alone cannot lead to family dysfunction. However, it can have an impact on the family unit. Parents can rely on their children to take care of their health, which can cause anxiety and depression in their children. Also, if a child is sick and not taken care of, it can cause children to grow up and invalidate their illnesses.

You may not have been able to control the illness that afflicts your family, but you can control your actions, learn to use available resources, and meet your children's needs.


Biology can play a role in many mental illnesses. However, behavioral problems that may accompany them can make family life much more difficult, especially without treatment.

People with untreated mental illnesses, such as traumatic disorders, anxiety or depression, may behave in unhealthy ways towards their families. With treatment, people with mental illness can make a positive contribution.

(Video) 7 Signs of a Toxic Family

life conditions

Stress is often an inevitable part of life. While low levels of stress can have a positive impact on people and lead them to achieve their goals, excessive stress can threaten a family's safety and well-being.

High levels of stress can lead to hostilities within a family. Learning to deal with life's stressors in a healthy way can be essential to the happiness and well-being of individuals and families. By modeling healthy coping strategies for your children, they can learn how toregulate your emotions.


drug addiction, gambling, etc.psychological dependenciescan lead to thiscodependência, where caregivers dedicate excessive amounts of time, energy and other resources to the dependent person. Sometimes children take on the role of caregivers. When addiction is severe, it can drain a family's financial and emotional resources, including the emotional resources of children living with addicted parents. A parent living with an untreated substance use disorder or other addiction may be emotionally unavailable to their children.

While addiction issues can cause problems within a family, addictive behaviors can also develop as a result of dysfunctional family dynamics. Those living in families that don't meet their needs may turn to drugs, food, or gambling for temporary relief.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact theNationale SAMHSA-Hotlineat (800) 662-4357 or visit the website for support and resources.


parents who areperfectionistthey may pressure their partners and children not just to do their best, but to achieve the impossible. Perfectionism can lead to unrealistic expectations and damage family life.

Family members of perfectionists may feel like they are walking on eggshells. Children with perfectionistic parents may lose their innate ease and find it difficult to learn. These children may lack self-esteem or feel guilty about their parents' behavior.

ineffective communication

Poor communication can be a hallmark of a dysfunctional family. Problems can be resolved with open, honest and healthy communication.

Dysfunctional families can have trouble listening to each other, and indirect communication can lead to resentment or passive-aggressive behavior.Teach children active listeningand learning them yourself can prevent this.

lack of empathy

When caregivers lack empathy, their children may feel that their parents' love is conditional. When a parent shows empathy, they model that trait in the child, which can help children grow into compassionate and empathetic adults. Empathy is a skill thatcan be learned.

In healthy families, caregivers are often concerned with helping their children make good decisions and learn from their mistakes, rather than belittling or ignoring them.instill shame.

Excessive attempts to control

Dysfunctional families are often characterized by a caregiver's excessive need to control their children or partners. If parents don't help children develop a healthy sense of autonomy, they may not feel confident.

A more relaxed and accepting approach encourages children to be their best in every situation, rather than living to placate the controlling parent. Studies show this in relation to parenting stylesauthoritarian educationit is often the most beneficial.

Lack of privacy and independence

Parents in dysfunctional families may not trust their children and invade their privacy. While there are times when parents need to know what is going on with their child, in a functioning family parents can use honest communication and questioning rather than forcing their child to open up.

constant criticism

Criticism can run rampant in a dysfunctional family. Sometimes the criticism can be blatant, with the parent blaming everything the child says or does. In other cases, parents are more subtle, using sarcasm, insults or teasing. When criticism involves attempts to frighten, control, or isolate, it can meanemotional abuse.

dysfunctional family roles

There isfive to six common functionsin a troubled family:

  1. Facilitator or caregiver: The person may try to keep the family going despite the presence of addiction or other family dysfunctions.

    (Video) 8 Common Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family

  2. Scapegoat or troublemaker: The scapegoat or troublemaker may become sick, weak, angry, or rebellious in response to your treatment. They can suffer the most abuse or mistreatment.

  3. Lost Child: The Lost Child may spend most of her time alone, avoiding the family and its dysfunctional ways.

  4. Pet: This person may try to ease family tensions by using humor or mischief in everyday life. The mascot can be called the family clown.

  5. The Hero or Golden Child: This person may be idolized or pressured by their caregiver. They may be less likely to be abused or neglected, but may feel pressure to excel, please their parents, and be "perfect."

Immediate effects of living in a dysfunctional family

When a child lives in a dysfunctional family, there can be immediate repercussions, including:

  • Social isolation or loneliness

  • development of mental illness

  • PTSD infantile

  • Feeling extremely self-critical

  • Low self-esteem

  • behavioral problems

  • Difficulty expressing thoughts or feelings

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, your brain can respond to stressors in harmful ways. Your fight-or-flight response in your nervous system canstay activatedlong after you have left your family dynamic.

Did you grow up in a dysfunctional family?

Discuss your experience with a therapist

(Video) 10 Signs You Came from a Dysfunctional Family (Affect on Relationships)

What is it like growing up in a healthy family?

If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you may feel that there is no such thing as a healthy, functioning family life. It can be hard to believe that functioning families can become a reality.

However, there are healthy families. So what does a healthy family look like? There are some characteristics of a healthy home environment:

  • People communicate freely and openly, but with compassion

  • Everyone's basic physical and emotional needs are met, including water, food, shelter, social belonging and bladder/digestion needs

  • Caregivers show unconditional love for each child, even when they disapprove of certain behaviors

  • Through their words and actions, parents can support their children's emotional growth.

  • Children are open to directing concerns or questions to their caregivers

Advice on Support

Adult children of caregivers who have exhibited dysfunctional behaviors may benefit from working with a therapist. Healing internal wounds can be a crucial step in overcoming a childhood marked by a dysfunctional family.

Studies show that many adults feelmore confortableat home, which can make face-to-face therapy daunting. If you can relate to this, you can try home therapy in the form of online counseling.

Online therapy can effectively treat various mental illnesses and heal certain types of trauma. While many problems often stem from negative childhood experiences, your mental health can be affected at any stage of life.

Aslearnshowed how Internet-delivered therapy successfully reduced the severity of PTSD symptoms in participants. The same group also saw a reduction in comorbid depression and anxiety, proving the effectiveness of online therapy for these issues.

Talking with the family about their experiences can make existing problems worse. Talking with a therapist allows you to express your feelings about what happened in a safe environment. If you are willing to try counseling, you should get in touch via an online platform such asbest helpfor individuals orrecoverfor couples.

Running away

Your past cannot necessarily predict your future. Even if you had traumatic or dysfunctional childhood experiences, there are ways to find support and healing. If you're looking for professional help, you should see a counselor to get started.

(Video) 7 Signs You Came from a Dysfunctional Family


What it's like growing up in a dysfunctional family? ›

Growing up in a dysfunctional family unit could result in frequent job loss, poor boundaries in relationships, and difficulty launching into adulthood. A study into the physiological trauma of children of dysfunctional families found that these types of units are usually distinguished by unharmonious parenting styles.

What describes a dysfunctional family? ›

A dysfunctional family is characterized by “conflict, misbehavior, or abuse” [1]. Relationships between family members are tense and can be filled with neglect, yelling, and screaming. You might feel forced to happily accept negative treatment. There's no open space to express your thoughts and feelings freely.

What are 5 causes of dysfunctional family? ›

Factors that can impair a family's functioning include poor parenting, distressed or abusive environments, substance abuse, mental illness, chronic physical illness, and poor communication.

What are the psychological effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family? ›

Effects of Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family

A disrupted sense of trust – in yourself, in others, in the world. Difficulty dating and forming healthy relationships. Increased risk of alcohol and drug abuse. Increased risk for psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, panic, depression, among others.

What is the pain of a dysfunctional family? ›

In dysfunctional families, adults tend to be so preoccupied with their own problems and pain that they dont give their children what they need and crave consistency, safety, unconditional love. As a result, children feel highly stressed, anxious, and unlovable.

How do you heal from growing up in a dysfunctional family? ›

How to Deal with a Dysfunctional Family
  1. See Your History as an Adult. From your adult point of view, you can conquer the lingering emotions from life in a dysfunctional family. ...
  2. Let Go of the Past. Remember that you can't undo your family history. ...
  3. Don't Have the Victim Mentality. ...
  4. Define Your Own Person. ...
  5. Get Family Therapy.
Nov 24, 2021

What is an example sentence for dysfunctional family? ›

The whole thing was a big dysfunctional family. Most of her neighbors wouldn't mind seeing her and her entire dysfunctional family move away and never come back. Alcoholism is one of the leading causes of a dysfunctional family. It is a comedy about a family business run by its dysfunctional family members.

What effect does a dysfunctional family have on a child? ›

Children from dysfunctional families are also more likely to become withdrawn and socially isolated. They often feel lonely and have difficulty expressing their feelings, and they are at risk of developing depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and more. As children mature, these problems persist.

What are the 5 types of dysfunctional family dynamics? ›

The five types are the authoritarian family, the passive-aggressive family, the enmeshed family, the disengaged family and the substance abusing family. Understanding these five types of dysfunctional families can help you identify unhealthy patterns in your own relationships and work towards creating healthier ones.

How do dysfunctional families start? ›

Dysfunctional families are primarily a result of two adults, one typically overtly abusive and the other codependent, and may also be affected by substance abuse or other forms of addiction, or sometimes by an untreated mental illness.

How do you break family dysfunction? ›

Try going to family or individual counseling. A professional therapist can help you identify dysfunctional family patterns you might not yet see and help you to create tools to set boundaries and lift yourself out of the situation at hand.

What are 4 things that cause family stress? ›

Some of the most common causes of family stress include:
  • child discipline.
  • financial challenges.
  • work-life balance.
  • overloaded schedules.
  • divorce or separation.
  • serious illness, both physical and mental.
  • death of a loved one.
  • birth of a child.
Apr 7, 2022

Did I grew up in a toxic household? ›

Feelings of extreme anxiety, low self-esteem, worthlessness, difficulty trusting others, maintaining close relationships, or feeling worn out after a visit with your family are all signs you grew up in a toxic family.

Is a dysfunctional family trauma? ›

Children in dysfunctional families often experience some form of childhood trauma physical or emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, witnessing violence, homelessness, etc. Below is a list of experiences that are common among children in dysfunctional families. You may relate to some or all of them.

Who is the victim in a dysfunctional family? ›

The Victim: The victim tends to be very dramatic, everything is a crisis, and they tend to make a mountain out of a molehill. When there's dysfunction in the family the victim runs in and makes the chaos all about themselves. They are also the secret keeper, furthermore owning problems of the family aka victimizing.

How do you heal a toxic family? ›

Here are seven ways to pursue just that — and center your own emotional well-being in the process.
  1. Get Clear. Reflect on your relationships with family. ...
  2. Take a Breather. Sometimes space is the best option. ...
  3. Negotiate New Terms. ...
  4. Boundaries are Best. ...
  5. Let Go of the Fantasy. ...
  6. Start Fresh. ...
  7. Focus on the Family You Build.
Dec 18, 2019

How do I get over being hurt by my family? ›

Whether you're on your way out or bracing for more, here are some ways to protect yourself from the ones who scrape you:
  1. Don't let anyone else's behaviour change who you are. ...
  2. Make it clear this isn't personal. ...
  3. Now remind yourself not to take it personally. ...
  4. Find compassion. ...
  5. Hold the space. ...
  6. Accept what is.

When should you walk away from a dysfunctional family? ›

When the relationship creates so much stress that it affects the important areas of your life at work, home or both. When your emotions are totally caught up in defending yourself and wanting to explain yourself and the chaos of your relationships with these people is all you talk about, it is time to let go.

What is the hero role in a dysfunctional family? ›

“The Hero” is a family role that is also known as the perfectionist and overachiever. The Hero is the family role that is most likely to prevent any help or suggested solutions from anyone other than themselves. Each individual in a family system will have their own personality characteristics.

What needs to happen to break the cycle of living in a dysfunctional family? ›

Enforce and model healthy boundaries with children and other people. Encourage children to think and make choices for themselves, even when it's different than the parent's beliefs or ideals. Encourage children to live their own lives, even if the parents miss them.

What are the types of family dysfunction? ›

Here are 5 types of dysfunctional families:
  • The Substance Abuse Family. ...
  • The Conflict-Driven Family. ...
  • The Violent Family. ...
  • The Authoritarian Family. ...
  • The Emotionally Detached Family.
Jan 2, 2020

What is a good example of a dysfunctional Behaviour? ›

Examples of dysfunctional behaviour:

Behaviour that distresses the person experiencing it – not being able to go out of the house is distressing for agoraphobics. Behaviour that makes a person observing the patient feel uncomfortable – such as when a person is talking to themselves while sitting next to you on the bus.

What is a short sentence for dysfunctional? ›

He had never matured into a rounded individual, however dysfunctional. Malone knew how fortunate he was to have a family that was not dysfunctional.

What is psychological trauma of children of dysfunctional families? ›

Children from dysfunctional families suffer from a number of fears that do not correspond with age norm. It reveals their tendency to infantilization and natural ageing process slowdown. Conflict relationships in dysfunctional families trigger children's anxiety, increasing and perpetuating their fears.

Does a dysfunctional childhood cause mental problems? ›


Childhood abuse is positively related to adult depression, aggression, hostility, anger, fear, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.

Can a dysfunctional family be fixed? ›

Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility. But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

What is the golden child in a dysfunctional family? ›

The Golden Child is greatly valued by their narcissistic parent for a variety of reasons–these form a heavy load for the child to carry. Within the dysfunctional family, the golden child learns early on that their role is to please their parent and live out their parent's own unfulfilled ambitions.

What are the 4 types of family conflict? ›

Definition. Family conflict refers to active opposition between family members. Because of the nature of family relationships, it can take a wide variety of forms, including verbal, physical, sexual, financial, or psychological.

What causes dysfunctional behavior? ›

It is often the result of a parent or caregiver not getting the emotional support they need. As a result, they are unable or don't know how to provide their children with emotional support.

How many people grow up in dysfunctional families? ›

Do you describe your upbringing as dysfunctional? You're not alone. In fact, according to recent statistics, 70%-80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. If you're in the minority, you might find it hard to imagine not having an emotional connection to family members.

Why do families end up broken? ›

Divorce is claimed to be the main reason behind broken family. The common disputes between a husband and a wife are the financial issue, sexual misunderstanding, early marriage, teen pregnancy, education, health problem, etc. When the parents get divorced, usually either of them or sometime both of them leave home.

How do you break free from a toxic family? ›

Other Useful Tactics
  1. Don't expect anyone to be perfect, including yourself.
  2. Stop trying to fight old battles. ...
  3. Stand your ground. ...
  4. Let go of your wishes for family members' lives. ...
  5. Once you resolve to change your own behavior, brace for strong reactions from family members and even friends.
Apr 9, 2021

How do you break toxic family patterns? ›

Communicating honestly with your family members to invite them into a change process with you. Cutting ties with toxic family members or avoid certain family events. Setting appropriate boundaries to protect your well-being. Reaching out to professionals and finding resources to understand your family's toxic patterns.

How do you not let family problems affect you? ›

While there is no perfect way to manage stress, here are some tips that may work for you and your family:
  1. Know your own stress cues. ...
  2. Take time to do something that is meaningful, relaxing and fun to you and your family. ...
  3. Practice deep breathing or mindfulness. ...
  4. Get enough sleep. ...
  5. Accept your emotions and feelings.

Why does my family cause me anxiety? ›

Your anxiety could be triggered by the fear of conflict, feeling pressure or expectations from your loved ones or family members, or possibly from a fear of disappointing them… These are just a few examples as to why you might feel anxious around your family or loved ones.

What things cause family crisis? ›

This can be for a variety of reasons including:
  • Different personalities clashing and disagreements over ways of doing things.
  • Jealousy or fighting between brothers and sisters.
  • Parents arguing.
  • Divorce or separation.
  • New step-parents or step-brothers and sisters.

What are signs of a toxic mother? ›

Signs you might have a toxic parent include:
  • They're self-centered. They don't think about your needs or feelings.
  • They're emotional loose cannons. They overreact, or create drama.
  • They overshare. ...
  • They seek control. ...
  • They're harshly critical. ...
  • They lack boundaries.

What is the black sheep of the family? ›

What does it mean to be the “black sheep” of the family? A “black sheep” is a family member who is marginalized, treated differently, or excluded by the rest of the family. Black sheep, also known as marginalized family members, often feel hurt, inadequate, and lonely.

What does a toxic childhood look like? ›

A toxic childhood could include any of the following experiences: Your emotional needs weren't met by caretakers. Your parents were controlling, neglectful, or overprotective. You experienced abuse (e.g. physical, verbal, emotional, sexual).

How do you know if you grew up in a dysfunctional family? ›

A dysfunctional family is characterized by “conflict, misbehavior, or abuse” [1]. Relationships between family members are tense and can be filled with neglect, yelling, and screaming. You might feel forced to happily accept negative treatment. There's no open space to express your thoughts and feelings freely.

What is a normal family like? ›

Still, there are several characteristics that are generally identified with a well-functioning family. Some include: support; love and caring for other family members; providing security and a sense of belonging; open communication; making each person within the family feel important, valued, respected and esteemed.

What are the characteristics of a shame based family? ›

If you have grown up in a shame-based family, your thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs are constantly discounted, minimized, rejected, and disqualified. You don't really ever have the opportunity to develop an internal sense of what actually feels “okay” and “not okay” to you.

What are the 3 rules of a dysfunctional family? ›

Dysfunctional family rules
  • 1) Dont talk. We dont talk about our family problems to each other or to outsiders. ...
  • 2) Dont trust. ...
  • 3) Dont feel.
Jun 29, 2018

What is the truth about dysfunctional families? ›

Dysfunctional families are fertile ground for neglect, abuse, secrecy, addiction, or denial. In these family systems, children's emotional needs go unmet because the parents' needs take precedence. One or both parents might be suffering from a substance use disorder, personality disorder, or mood disorder.

How are children affected in a dysfunctional family? ›

Children from dysfunctional families are also more likely to become withdrawn and socially isolated. They often feel lonely and have difficulty expressing their feelings, and they are at risk of developing depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and more. As children mature, these problems persist.

What is the birth order of a dysfunctional family? ›

Birth Order in Fabled Dysfunctional Families

Often the Oldest Child, or Oldest girl, is overly responsible as a substitute parent in families that need one due to dysfunction or parental absence. The Second child often is troubled, or oldest if a boy.

How can bad home life affect a child? ›

Poor living conditions can also prevent children from engaging in playful and social activities, which are beneficial to their cognitive, social, and emotional well-being. Cramped or unsafe environments restrict children from exploring, interacting with, and learning from the world around them.

How family dynamics affect the growth of a child? ›

Children who grow up in households with unhealthy family dynamics (abuse, neglect, overly strict parenting, overly loose parenting, poor communication, insecure attachment style, etc.) are more likely to develop mental health disorders and may experience more difficulty within relationships.

Is my family toxic or am I overreacting? ›

Here are some common signs of toxic behavior from a family member: Their perception of you doesn't jibe with the way you see yourself. They accuse you of things that you feel aren't true. They make you feel like you're never enough or bad about yourself, or otherwise emotionally destabilized.

What is the lost child in a dysfunctional family? ›

The “lost child” is the family member who retreats from family dysfunction due to feeling overwhelmed. They can spend a lot of time alone, pursue singular interests, and/or struggle to establish or maintain relationships with others.

What is the scapegoat child? ›

A family scapegoat is a person who takes on the role of 'black sheep' or 'problem child' in their family and gets shamed, blamed, and criticized for things that go wrong within the family unit, even when these things are entirely outside of their control.


1. Proven Ways To Deal With A Dysfunctional Family
2. 11 Essential Traits of a HEALTHY FAMILY vs a Dysfunctional Family
(Jerry Wise MA, MS, CLC)
3. What Are The Dysfunctional Family Roles
(Heidi Priebe)
4. Did You Grow Up in a Dysfunctional Family?
(Tracy Principi)
5. 5 Causes of a Dysfunctional Family
(Rashawnda James)


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