What Is A Dysfunctional Family?
A dysfunctional family is one that has at its core destructive and harmful parenting and a lack of concern for the child. The harmful effects on the child may go completely unacknowledged or be minimized. Often, little or nothing is done to rectify the situation nor to alleviate its adverse effects upon the child.
If the distress caused to the child is severe and long-lasting s/he may develop a psychiatric condition such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which, if not properly treated, may seriously adversely affect the rest of his/her life.
Above: Family members are often unconsciously assigned particular roles.
Types Of Dysfunctional Family :
1) A family in which the mother and/or father are addicted to drugs or alcohol (or who have another psychological addiction).
This may lead to the parent passing out, going missing for extended periods of time, behaving unpredictably, getting out of control or causing the family severe financial hardship.
Children who grow up in such families tend to grow up into distrustful adults who see others as being essentially unreliable.
2) A family in which violence and volatility predominates. Children from such families are at risk of becoming violent and volatile themselves, not least as a result of learned behavior.
3) A family in which the child is forcibly removed from the parents’ care (eg due to bring taken into care or being sentenced to a period of juvenile detention).
4) A family in which the child is used as a ‘pawn’ (eg divorcing parents each trying to turn the child against the other parent). This may include speaking ill of the other parent, limiting the child’s contact with the other parent, preventing the child from seeing the other parent at all or coercing them into rejecting a parent when this is not in the child’s interest.
5) A family in which a parent has a mental illness that adversely impinges upon the child’s own emotional development
6) A family in which the child is overly controlled and a parent makes excessive use of their power.
Adverse Effects Upon The Child :
Apart from the adverse effects upon the child already mentioned, children brought up in such dysfunctional families are also at risk of developing many other problems and difficulties, including depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, irrational self-blame and self-hatred, alcohol and/or drug dependency, an impaired, or even ruined, ability to both give and receive love.
Furthermore, the child may become rebellious and start to behave in anti-social ways eg. getting into fights, vandalizing property, indulging in petty theft, committing arson, bullying others, dropping out of school.
They may also start behaving self-destructively, self-harm, develop life-long problems with interpersonal relationships, have an elevated risk of attempting suicide as well as lower life expectancy. Also, if they become parents themselves, they may develop their own parenting problems, thus perpetuating the dysfunctional family cycle.
Dysfunctional families which lead to the child having to take on the role of carer (eg before I was a teenager I cared for my mentally unstable mother after the divorce of my parents) can put the child under extreme stress as s/he does not have the emotional maturity to cope. Such children, in effect, have their childhoods ‘stolen’ from them. For more on this, see my article about ”parentification‘.
Children may also attempt to cope with the enormous stress of growing up in a dysfunctional family by becoming withdrawn.
Compounding this problem, very sadly, they may become the victims of bullies at school due to their vulnerability.
As a result of this, they may grow up to be ‘loners.’
Some children who grow up in abusive households may be at higher risk than average of becoming abusive themselves as adults without the intervention of effective therapy.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).