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Dysfunctional Family: Characteristics and Effects

Dysfunctional Family: Characteristics and Effects

Dysfunctional Family: Characteristics and Effects

The family is a central factor in the development and reduction of antisocial behaviors and delinquency. Family structure is key in shaping the individual path in life and it refers to recurring interaction patterns within a family that define how family members relate to one another and the outside world, what activities members engage in, and how the roles each member plays in the context of family life are related to the impact of outside systems. In today’s world however, dysfunctional families are almost the norm. By definition they have poor insight into their own behaviors and problems and will do almost anything to project normal. In reality, such families are frequently crippled by their poorly contained fears, addictions, mental disorders, and insecurities. There is a tremendous amount of emotional disturbance within the family members, and it sometimes means that it is coupled with child neglect and abuse. Children from dysfunctional families assume that this situation is normal, as they are exposed to that environment regularly, and do not know the different aspects of dealing with a dysfunctional family. A functional family, however, encourages all family members to attain optimal growth, and provides a safe space for emotional well-being. Below we have highlighted what goes wrong in dysfunctional families, the characteristics, and the effects of a dysfunctional family.

What Goes Wrong in Dysfunctional Families?

Controlling Parents

Controlling parents fail to allow their children to assume responsibilities appropriate for their age. These parents continue dominating in their children lives well beyond the age at which this is necessary. Controlling parents are often driven by a fear of becoming unnecessary to their children. This fear leaves them feeling betrayed and abandoned when their children become independent. On the other hand, these children frequently feel resentful, inadequate, and powerless. Transitions into adult roles are quite difficult, as these adults frequently have difficulties making decisions independent from their parents. When they act independently these adults feel very guilty, as if growing up were a serious act of disloyalty.

Deficient Parents

Chronic mental illness or a disabling physical illness contributes to parental inadequacy. Children tend to take on adult responsibilities from a young age in these families. Parental emotional needs tend to take precedence, and children are often asked to be their parents’ caretakers. Children are robbed of their own childhood, and they learn to ignore their own needs and feelings. Because these children are simply unable to play an adult role and take care of their parents, they often feel inadequate and guilty.

Alcoholic Parents

Alcoholic families tend to be chaotic and unpredictable. Rules that apply one day do not apply the next. Promises are neither kept nor remembered. Expectations vary from one day to the next. All of these factors leave children feeling insecure, frustrated, and angry. Children often feel there must be something wrong with them which makes their parents behave this way. Mistrust of others, difficulty with emotional expression, and difficulties with intimate relationships carry over into adulthood.

Abusive Parents

Abuse can be verbal, physical, or sexual. Verbal abuse, like frequent belittling criticism, can have lasting effects, particularly when it comes from those entrusted with the child’s care. Criticism can be aimed at the child’s looks, intelligence, capabilities, or basic value. Physically abusive parents can create an environment of terror for the child, particularly since violence is often random and unpredictable. Sexual abuse can be any physical contact between an adult and child where that contact must be kept secret. Abused children often feel anger. Children of abusive parents have tremendous difficulties developing feelings of trust and safety even in their adult lives.

Common Characteristics of Dysfunctional Families

Lack of Communication

Members of a dysfunctional family do not know how to openly communicate with one another, and often sweep issues under the carpet, and never discuss them.

Lack of Empathy

There is no unconditional love, and issues are always subjected to behaviour corrections, even when it is not necessary or the child has made only a small mistake. There is no room for error in dysfunctional families, which creates a claustrophobic environment, which leads to a constant fear of failure in children.

Addiction to Substance Abuse

Children who have witnessed their parents being addicted to drugs or alcohol, often as adults end up being addicts.

Mental Issues

Children from dysfunctional homes are prone to developing personality disorder issues as adults.


Parents often end up putting pressure on their kids to perform, and excessive of it leads to children inevitably growing up to be perfectionists.


Parents from a dysfunctional home are often condescending, patronizing, and mean, instilling a sense of helplessness and lack of belief in the child, leading to low self-esteem.

Effects of growing up in a dysfunctional home

Common behaviour patterns from people from a dysfunctional family are:

1: They a negative self image.

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2. They experience a hard time forming healthy adult relationship.

3. They get angry frequently and easily.

4. They exhibit self harm behaviours.

5. They suffer from mental health issues such as depression.

6. They have inadequate child like qualities like innocence.

7. They are prone to drug and substance addiction.

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