We all tend to believe that our families of origin are inherently dysfunctional. It is important to remember, however, that living under the same roof as a group of strong-willed individuals (relatives, nonetheless) is bound to result in some head-butting, button-pushing, and the occasional, emotionally charged squabble. It is not uncommon for the relationships we form with our closest loved ones to undergo a constant ebb of flow – sometimes we love them dearly, and sometimes we can’t even stand to be in the same room as them. During certain times of our lives (such as our teenage years), we may be especially repulsed and angered by the actions and behaviors of our immediate family members. However, the older and more mature we become, the more we realize that the bonds we form with our families are unparalleled, deeply meaningful, and absolutely essential.
Is My Family Dysfunctional?
In some instances, however, our families of origin will truly prove to be dysfunctional, and we will wind up spending years of our lives working through the patterns of dysfunction we adopted during our formative years (throughout early childhood and adolescence). Because we tend to feel so strongly about our families, it can be difficult to detect whether or not they were truly dysfunctional. For example, you may feel that your father was altogether too militant and demanding, seeing as he regularly grounded you for failing to clean your room. You may harbor a resentment against him for grounding you on the night of what turned out to be the ‘most epic’ high school party of the year. In reality, your father was a loving individual, who was trying to instill in you the value and importance of personal responsibility and cleanliness. In retrospect (in adulthood), you can see that your angst stemmed more from a place or hormonal torment than a place of authentic and justified betrayal. You can look around your clean apartment with pride, and look back on what you once believed was unwarranted cruelty as a valuable lesson that you chose to learn the hard way.
If you are having a difficult time determining whether or not your family is actually dysfunctional, there are several telltale signs to look for.
The Signs of a Truly Dysfunctional Family
- You spent a lot of your childhood thinking of ways to get out of your house – you spent a lot of time with friends, and dreaded having to return home.
- You did all that you could to avoid bringing your friends over to your house, for fear that they would witness fighting, witness you being disciplined, judge the lack of cleanliness, etc.
- You often felt envious of your friends, because they seemed to have parents who were kind, supportive, and easy-going.
- You tended to relate to others who came from dysfunctional households – children with divorced parents, children who had parents or siblings that struggled with alcoholism or drug abuse, etc.
- Your close friends felt like your family members more than your actual family members did.
- If your family ever did go on vacation together, the vacations were very rarely enjoyable – full of fighting, arguing, and hurt feelings.
- You became shy and introverted to avoid being drawn into the conflict that constantly surrounded you.
- When people tell you that you are similar to your mother or your father, you get inwardly upset and hope that this is not really the case. You actively try to avoid becoming like your parents.
- You made a pact with yourself to move far away from your hometown as soon as you were able to.
- You also made a pact with yourself to avoid falling into the same unhealthy patterns that your parents had, and avoid making the same mistakes that they did – that you would marry someone you actually loved, and be a good mother or father to your future children.
- You seem to want and enjoy sex more than the rest of your friends.
- You have long-since craved a happy, healthy monogamous relationship (perhaps to partially make up for the some of the emotional stability you lacked while growing up.)
- You turned to drugs and alcohol as a means of escaping the chaos that constantly surrounded you.
Breaking Patterns of Dysfunction
The good news is, as soon as we take the steps necessary to permanently breaking the cycle of familial dysfunction, we will be free from the chaos and commotion that had likely become our norm. If we were immersed in dysfunction during our early, formative years, we will likely need to undergo some intensive therapy in order to reverse our limiting core beliefs and work through any potential relational trauma. Even if we feel we have neatly evaded the same detrimental patterns that we witnessed our family members exhibiting and engaging in, growing up in the midst of dysfunction and chaos can damage us on a core level, leading to a host of problems later on in life. Many children who are products of dysfunctional households grow up to grapple with relational issues, such as sex and love addiction, attachment, codependency, and enmeshment. We at Next Chapter are familiar working with men who are attempting to overcome the lasting effects of a chaotic home environment early on in life. For more information on our program of recovery, please feel free to contact us today.