Is Your Family Dysfunctional?
It has already been established in other articles that those who grow up in highly dysfunctional families are more likely than others to develop mental illness later in life (for example. borderline personality disorder, or BPD – click here to read my article on the link between childhood trauma and the later development of this serious condition). But what are the signs and characteristics of a dysfunctional family?
I list some key examples below :
– PARENTAL ALCOHOLISM/DRUG ADDICTION : this puts the child at risk of various forms of abuse and increases the likelihood that s/he will be neglected (emotionally, physically, or both). It also increases the likelihood of conflict within the family.
– AN UNPREDICTABLE AND FEAR INDUCING ATMOSPHERE : for example, the parent/s may be inconsistent with their child (eg in relation to discipline) meaning the child can never be sure as to how his/her parents will respond to his/her various behaviours. Or the parent/s might be violent towards the child, or prone to outbursts of extreme rage (click here to read my article on this) meaning that the child is obliged to live in an environment in which s/he feels constantly apprehensive and fearful.
– A HIGH LEVEL OF CONFLICT WITHIN THE FAMILY : this may be verbal or physical (although, of course, a certain amount of conflict within families is inevitable, particularly when children within the family reach adolescence).
– PERFECTIONISM : for example, if one or both parents place excessive demands upon the child to constantly achieve excellence in a particular activity or activities, causing the child to experience damaging levels of stress and anxiety.
– ABUSE : physical, sexual or emotional
– POOR COMMUNICATION – for example. the child being largely ignored by one or both parents
– EXCESSIVE CONTROL : for example, not allowing an adolescent child to ever leave the house to see friends or invite friends around to his/her own house
– REPRESSION : for example. a family in which it is unacceptable to show or talk about personal feelings and emotions (everyone must keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ at all times)
– A LACK OF EMPATHY : for example, in a family in which the parents are never able to understand or relate to the child’s feelings about issues that are of importance to him/her, and are, therefore, be dismissive of them
– ROLE-REVERSAL : for example, in a single parent family in which the child looks after/cares for a clinically depressed mother. whilst his/her own needs (emotional, physical or both) go unmet
– DENIAL : for example, in a family in which the father is an alcoholic but this fact can never be acknowledged or spoken about, meaning the problem goes unresolved and the child is burdened with having to keep a ‘family secret’)
– SCAPEGOATING – for example, when the personality problems of family members are projected onto one individual (click here to read my article on scapegoating within dysfunctional families).
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).