Effects of Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family

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Growing Up In A Dysfunctional Family|
Developmental Psychology|
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Denise King|
4/18/2011|

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Growing Up In a Dysfunctional Family

When some people look back on their childhood they see happy times full of family memories, traditions, love, and encouragement. When I look back on my childhood I remember drug abuse, visiting my step father in jail, going without utilities, and playing the role of a mother at the age of eight. I knew I was different from other children. I knew that my parents depended on me to play the role of an adult. They depended on me to get up every morning and get my brother and sister on the school bus. I knew they depended on me to go straight home from school every day so I could babysit. I would wake my mom up for work so she could work two jobs to support us and then I would cook dinner. Homework, friends, and things I wanted came last and I knew I didn’t have a choice. Indeed, my family was, and is, dysfunctional.

What is dysfunction? Dictionary.com defines dysfunctional as any malfunctioning part or element. Dysfunction contains many aspects of unhealthy relating. Unhealthy relating can include such things as manipulation, using guilt or anger as motivation and at its most severe, abuse, including verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Dysfunction is something that is passed down from generation to generation until it is implemented into the family. From family to family there are different levels of dysfunction which span from mild dysfunction, to moderate dysfunction, and even severe dysfunction.

A child growing up in a mildly dysfunctional environment tends to have an easier time fitting into society and functioning normally in life and their life may not be effected at all. One example of a mild dysfunction is a parent treating a child like an adult or making the child take care of the adult either emotionally or physically. The adult treats the child as if they were an equal rather than a child. This results in the child having difficulties later in life in relationships getting their own needs met. This comes from having to give up a lot of these needs as a child to take care of the parent.

An example of moderate dysfunction in a family is having a parent who is an alcoholic or drug addict. Because the child sees this on a regular basis, these behaviors are deemed to be “normal” or “accepted” behavior. The parents’ drug and alcohol abuse increases the risk of a child abusing drugs or alcohol causing a strain in the child’s relationships later in life. Parents who use drugs tend to become emotionally absent and may, under the influence, scare the child, and may consistently disappoint the child.

Severe dysfunction is the highest level of dysfunction. This occurs when a parent physically or sexually abuses the child on a regular basis, which severely damages the child on many levels. Children who grow up in these environments tend to need a lot of help and lengthy treatment to heal. Some children are not able to heal at all and without help, the patterns of abuse are likely to be passed down to the next generation.

Along with different levels of dysfunction there are specific roles each person in the family plays. There is the dependent, the enabler, the hero, the scapegoat, the lost child, and the mascot. The only exception is the only child. An only child tends to take on multiple roles, at the same time or alternating between roles. Because of this, the only child tends to have a great deal of confusion and overwhelming pain.

The dependent is the spouse that causes the family problems. The dependent, also known as the problem spouse, has a serious problem and it impacts every other member of the family and is taken care of by every member of the family.

The enabler is the spouse that allows the dependent to continue his or her actions so that the dependent does not have to face consequences of his or her own actions. The enabler feels angry and resentful...
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