"As a kid I was like a miniature adult. I cooked and cleaned and made sure my little brothers got off to school. My Mom was always depressed and stayed in bed -- she was in the hospital a lot. I guess I never really was a kid. Now, I work hard to get As, take on lots of responsibility, put on this competent front. Inside I still feel really empty."
"My dad's an alcoholic. I was always afraid to invite other kids over because I didn't want them to see what my family was like. I never really got close to people, now I don't seem to know how to let others get close. I really don't know how to have a good relationship. Most of the time I feel pretty alone."
"My parents have always had these big ambitions for me. They tell me what my career should be, who my friends should be, what kind of car I should drive, and who I should date. It's like they expect me to be perfect but don't really believe I can blow my own nose. I feel like I'm suffocating, but if I get the least bit independent they try to control me with money."
When problems and circumstances such as parental alcoholism, mental illness, child abuse, or extreme parental rigidity and control interfere with family functioning, the effects on children can sometimes linger long after these children have grown up and left their problem families. Adults raised in dysfunctional families frequently report difficulties forming and maintaining intimate relationships, maintaining positive self-esteem, and trusting others; they fear a loss of control, and deny their feelings and reality (Vannicelli, 1989).
This brochure will help you understand and recognize family dysfunction and its effects, provide some strategies to help overcome these effects, and list some resources for further help.
WHAT IS A DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY?
Family dysfunction can be any condition that interferes with healthy family functioning. Most families have some periods of time where functioning is impaired by stressful circumstances (death in the family, a parent's serious illness, etc.). Healthy families tend to return to normal functioning after the crisis passes. In dysfunctional families, however, problems tend to be chronic and children do not consistently get their needs met. Negative patterns of parental behavior tend to be dominant in their children's lives.
How Do Healthy Families Work?
Healthy families are not perfect; they may have yelling, bickering, misunderstanding, tension, hurt, and anger - but not all the time. In healthy families emotional expression is allowed and accepted. Family members can freely ask for and give attention. Rules tend to be made explicit and remain consistent, but with some flexibility to adapt to individual needs and particular situations. Healthy families allow for individuality; each member is encouraged to pursue his or her own interests, and boundaries between individuals are honored.
Children are consistently treated with respect, and do not fear emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. Parents can be counted on to provide care for their children. Children are given responsibilities appropriate to their age and are not expected to take on parental responsibilities. Finally, in healthy families everyone makes mistakes; mistakes are allowed. Perfection is unattainable, unrealistic, and potentially dull and sterile.
There are many types of dysfunction in families. Some parents under-function, leaving their children to fend for themselves. Other parents over-function, never allowing their children to grow up and be on their own. Others are inconsistent or violate basic boundaries of appropriate behavior. Below is a brief description of some types of parental dysfunction along with some common problems associated with each.
WHAT GOES WRONG IN DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES?
Deficient parents hurt their children more by omission than by commission. Frequently, chronic mental illness or a...
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