Dysfunctional family: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior, and often abuse on the part of individual members of the family occur continually and regularly, leading other members to accommodate such actions. Children sometimes grow up in such families with the understanding that such an arrangement is normal. Dysfunctional families are primarily a result of co-dependent adults, and may also be affected by addictions, such as alcohol and substance abuse. Other origins include untreated mental illness, and parents emulating or over-correcting their own dysfunctional parents. In some cases, a "child-like" parent will allow the dominant parent to abuse their children. [1]

A common misperception of dysfunctional families is the mistaken belief that the parents are on the verge of separation and divorce. While this is true in a few cases, often the marriage bond is very strong as the parents' faults actually complement each other. In short, they have nowhere else to go. However, this does not necessarily mean the family's situation is stable. Any major stressor, such as relocation, unemployment, illness, natural disaster, inflation, etc. can cause existing conflicts affecting the children to become much worse.[2]

Until recent decades, the concept of a dysfunctional family was not taken seriously by professionals (therapists, social workers, teachers, counselors, clergy, etc.) especially among the middle and upper classes. Any intervention would have been seen as violating the sanctity of marriage and increasing the probability of divorce (which was socially unacceptable at the time). Children were expected to obey their parents (ultimately the father), and cope with the situation alone. [3]


Examples of a dysfunctional family

Dysfunctional family members have common symptoms and behavior patterns as a result of their common experiences within the family structure. This tends to reinforce the dysfunctional behavior, either through enabling or perpetuation. The family unit can be affected by a variety of factors.[4]

  • Denial (i.e. a refusal to acknowledge the alcoholism of a family member; ignoring complaints of sexual abuse; having a workaholic parent), also known as the "elephant in the room"
  • Lack of empathy and understanding toward family members
  • Lack of clear boundaries (i.e. throwing away personal possessions that belong to others, inappropriate physical boundaries, breaking important promises without just cause)
  • A schism between family members regarding religion and/or ideology (i.e. parents support their country being at war, while children do not)
  • Families with older parents or immigrant parents who cannot cope with changing times or a different culture
  • Children afraid to tell outsiders what problems or abuse is happening within their family, or are otherwise fearful of their parents
  • Lack of equality and fairness toward younger family members (may include frequent appeasement at the expense of others or uneven enforcement of rules)
  • Divorced or separated parents in continuous conflict, or parents who should separate, but do not (to the detriment of their children)
  • Adulterous, promiscuous, or incestuous behavior
  • One or more children does not follow suit with demands to have the same sexual orientation (asexual, heterosexual, homosexual, etc.) as that of their parents
  • With some exceptions, children who have no contact with the family of their mother or father due to disharmony, disagreement, prejudice, feuding, etc.
  • Extremes in conflict (either too much or too little fighting between family members)
  • Siblings continuously told that a particular brother or sister who is often causing problems is none of their concern
  • Lack of time spent together, especially in recreational activities and social events ("We never do anything as a family")
  • Family members (including children) who "disown" each other, and/or refuse to be seen together in public (either unilaterally or bilaterally)

Signs of unhealthy parenting

  • Disrespect; especially contempt
  • Emotional intolerance (family members not allowed to express the "wrong" emotions)
  • Being under or over protective
  • Ridicule and belittling
  • Shame ("Shame on you!")
  • Bitterness
  • Apathy ("I don't care!")
  • Hypocrisy ("Do as I say, not as I do")
  • Either no or excessive criticism (experts say 80-90% praise and 10-20% constructive criticism is the most healthy [5][6][7])
  • "Mixed messages" by having a dual system of values (i.e. one set for the outside world, another when in private, or teaching divergent values to each child)
  • The absentee parent (seldom available for their child due to work overload, alcohol/drug abuse, gambling or other addictions)
  • Discussion and exposure to sexuality: either too much, too soon or too little, too late
  • Faulty discipline based more on one's emotions than established rules (i.e. punishment by "surprise") or an unpredictable emotional state due to alcohol, drugs, or stress
  • Gender prejudice (treats one gender of children fairly; the other unfairly)
  • Being a miser ("scrooge") while children's needs go unmet
  • The "know-it-all" (has no need to obtain child's side of the story when accusing, or listen to child's opinions on matters which greatly impact them)
  • Older siblings given too little or too much authority over younger siblings with respect to their age difference and level of maturity
  • Isolation (parents unwilling to reach out to other families--especially those with children of the same gender and approximate age, or do nothing to help their "friendless" child)
  • Regularly forcing children to attend activities for which they are extremely over or under qualified (i.e. using a preschool to babysit a typical nine-year-old boy, taking a young child to poker games, etc.)
  • Unfulfilled projects, activities, and promises affecting children ("Give them three more days, and they'll take three more decades")
  • Nature vs. nurture (non-biological parents blame common problems on child's heredity; faulty parenting may be the actual cause)


Dysfunctional parenting styles

  • Using (destructively narcissistic parents with rule by fear and conditional love)
  • Abusing (parents who use physical violence, emotional or sexual abuse to dominate their children)
  • Deprivation (control or neglect by withholding love, support, praise, attention, or otherwise putting their children's well-being at risk)
  • Asymmetrical parenting (going to extremes for one child while continually ignoring the needs of another)
  • Perfectionist (fixating on order, prestige, power, and/or perfect appearances)
  • Dogmatic or cult-like (harsh and inflexible discipline with children not allowed to dissent, question authority, or develop their own value system)
  • Appeasement (parents who reward bad behavior--even by their own standards, and inevitability punish another child's good behavior in order to maintain the peace and avoid temper tantrums "Peace at any price")
  • Micromanagement (parents who micro-manage their children's lives and/or relationships among siblings--especially minor conflicts)
  • "The deceivers" (well-regarded parents in the community, likely to be involved in charity work, who abuse or mistreat one or more of their children)
  • "Public image manager" (sometimes related to above, children warned to not disclose what fights, abuse, or damage happens at home, or face severe punishment "Don't tell anyone what goes on in this family")
  • Role reversal (parents who expect their minor children to take care of them instead)
  • "The guard dog" (a parent who blindly attacks family members perceived as causing the slightest upset to their esteemed spouse, partner, or child)
  • "My baby forever" (a mother who will not allow one or more of her young children to grow up and begin taking care of themselves)
  • "Along for the ride" (a reluctant de facto, step, foster, or adoptive parent who does not truly care about their non-biological child, but must co-exist in the same home for the sake of their spouse or partner)
  • "The politician" (a parent who repeatedly makes or agrees to children's promises while having little or no intention of keeping them)
  • "It's taboo" (parents rebuff any questions children may have about sexuality, romance, puberty, certain areas of human anatomy, nudity, etc.)
  • "The identified patient" (one child, usually selected by the mother, who is forced into going to therapy while the family's overall dysfunction is kept hidden)
  • M√ľnchausen syndrome by proxy (a much more extreme situation than above, where the child is intentionally made ill by a parent seeking attention from physicians and other professionals)


Dynamics of dysfunctional families

  • Parents who frequently fight amongst themselves (even if divorced or separated)
  • Parents vs. kids
  • The balkanized family (named after the three-way war in the Balkans where alliances shift back and forth)
  • Free-for-all (a family that fights in a free-for-all style)

Children in dysfunctional families

Unlike divorce, and to a lesser extent, separation, there is often no record of an "intact" family being dysfunctional. As a result, friends, relatives, and teachers of such children may be completely unaware of the situation. In addition, a child may be unfairly blamed for the family's dysfunction, and placed under even greater stress than those whose parents separate.

Children growing up in a dysfunctional family have been known to adopt one or more of six basic roles:

  • The Good Child (also known as the Hero): a child who assumes the parental role.
  • The Problem Child (also known as the Scape Goat): the child who is blamed for most problems and may be partly responsible for the family's dysfunction, in spite of often being the only emotionally stable one in the family.
  • The Caretaker: the one who takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family.
  • The Lost Child: the inconspicuous, quiet one, whose needs are usually ignored or hidden. Often occurs in balkanized families.
  • The Mascot: uses comedy to divert attention away from the increasingly dysfunctional family system.
  • The Mastermind: the opportunist who capitalizes on the other family members' faults in order to get whatever he or she wants. Often the object of appeasement by grown-ups.

Effects on children

Children may also: [9]

See also

Movies depicting dysfunctional families:

  • Mary Poppins, a 1964 Disney movie centered on a nanny helping a dysfunctional family.

Television programs depicting dysfunctional families:

  • The Simpsons a popular American cartoon centered around a dysfunctional family.
  • Family Guy a popular American cartoon centered around a dysfunctional family.
  • American Dad!, an American cartoon centered around a CIA Agent and his dysfunctional family.
  • Arrested Development an American sitcom that ran from 2003-2005 that centers around a Balkanized dysfunctional family


  1. ^ Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves: Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families by David Stoop and James Masteller c. 1997
  2. ^ Family Evaluation by Michael E. Kerr and Murray Bowen c. 1988
  3. ^ Recreating Your Self: Help for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families by Nancy J. Napier c. 1990
  4. ^ Handbook of Relational Diagnosis and Dysfunctional Family Patterns Florence W. Kaslow c. 1996
  5. ^ http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/praise_and_encouragement.html
  6. ^ http://apps.detnews.com/apps/blogs/askthechildpsychologist/index.php?blogid=36
  7. ^ http://www.abuse-recovery-and-marriage-counseling.com/articles/parenting/gottman.html
  8. ^ a b Neuharth, Dan (1999). If You Had Controlling Parents. Harper Paperbacks. ISBN 0060929324. Except where individually noted
  9. ^ Forgiving Our Parents: For Adult Children from Dysfunctional Families by Dwight Lee Wolter c. 1995. Except where individually noted
  10. ^ http://www.lbfdtraining.com/Pages/emt/sectiond/childabuse.html Long Beach (California) Fire Department

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