Dysfunctional Family – Types, Signs, And Many More

Written by Harini Natarajan , Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner

No family is perfect, but denial or ignorance of domestic issues can make things ugly and toxic. Such an environment might become grounds for secrecy, neglect, or abuse. In an unhealthy family system, children’s emotional and physical needs often remain unmet, leading to depression, low self-esteem, and other psychological issues.

Often the parents punish, abuse, or shame the kids to prevent them from voicing their opinions, severely limiting their expressions of feelings and invalidating their needs. As a result, the children may form unsatisfying relationships as adults and feel less valuable and worthwhile about themselves. These dysfunctional traits in a family might cause parent-child conflicts, violence, strife, tension, and emotional chaos.

Therefore, to tackle the premises of dysfunctional family relationships, go through our article. It will help you understand what a dysfunctional family is, the signs and types, and how it affects you growing up. Scroll down to explore!

What Is A Dysfunctional Family?

What Is A Dysfunctional Family


A healthy family is one where the family members are attuned to each other’s moods, needs, wants, emotions, and health. On the other hand, a dysfunctional family is rooted in conflicts, neglect, emotional disturbance, abuse, lack of communication, and exploitation. The most prominent emotions felt by one or more family members are anxiety, secrecy, denial, or addictions.

No parent is perfect, but there are bad parents – not the ones who scold you, but those who are abusive, toxic, shaming others, punishing, and brushing off responsibility. Unfortunately, such families affect the child more than the people involved. The child in a dysfunctional family might feel neglected, experience abuse, and have low self-worth and other psychological disturbances, depending on the gravity of the situation. They may even have an inferiority complex and difficult relationships as adults.

The signs of dysfunctionality can be seen through different aspects of a person’s life. They range from how they communicate with others to the way their parents or guardians behaved with them. Here are the signs that you were a part of a dysfunctional family.

Signs Of A Dysfunctional Family

Signs Of A Dysfunctional Family


  • Being a people-pleaser
  • Perfectionism comes from fear of failure and punishment
  • Constantly feel guilty, obliged, and answerable
  • Lack of proper communication skills
  • Feel responsible for others
  • Hard on oneself
  • Anxiety, hopeless, or anguish most of the times
  • Preferring seclusion or feeling isolated even with a companion.
  • Trust issues
  • Always dissatisfied due to lack of appreciation for your efforts
  • Sibling rivalry
  • Favoritism by a parent based on child’s gender, color, and area of interest
  • Different private and public personas of your parents or guardians
  • Lack of healthy boundaries and privacy
  • Depriving food as a punishment
  • Abuse of drugs, alcohol, or other substances by you or your parents
  • Parental threat to abandon you
  • Punished for talking, replying, voicing thoughts, or pursuing hobbies
  • Not allowed to experience childhood, treated like an adult
  • Infantilized by clothing or disciplining like you are far younger than you are

A child that grows up in a dysfunctional family usually feels secluded, keeps to themselves, and struggles to socialize. Dysfunctional family environments make the child develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. They cannot trust others easily and have trouble forming personal relationships and friends. Here are some common traits that show up as long-lasting effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family.

What Happens When You Grow Up In A Dysfunctional Family?

What Happens When You Grow Up In A Dysfunctional Family


  • Social isolation or loneliness
  • Behavioral or personality disorders
  • Bad or low self-image
  • Extremely self-critical
  • Low self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth
  • Anxiety or depression
  • May exhibit self-harming tendencies
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings
  • Poor academic performance
  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing on one task
  • Prone to substance abuse
  • Difficulty establishing healthy adult relationships
  • Easily and frequently getting angry
  • Lack of child-like innocence (too mature for their age)
  • Lack a role model and discipline

There are different kinds of dysfunctional families based on the root causes and parental behaviors. Sometimes, there can be a combination of more than two types of dysfunctional families at the same time.

Types Of Dysfunctional Families

  1. Emotionally Unavailable Family: The members of such families are not emotionally available for each other due to various reasons. They might be working for long hours to make ends meet and leave the child with a caretaker or on their own. Other times, they are overseas for work or traveling, which compel them to be unavailable at home or emotionally. This causes an emotional rift between the parents and the children.
  2. Addict Family: A family with one or both parents being addicts of some substance are always absent for their kids and may sometimes be financially unstable. They neglect the child when in a trance and don’t care for their basic needs, such as proper living conditions, healthy diet, clothing, education, and medical expenses.
  3. Abusive Family: Abusive family members use the threat of physical punishment as a means to accomplish a task or control their partner or children. The child might have witnessed the verbal abuses, cuss words, rudeness, or violence or been at the receiving end of the punishment.
  4. Poor Communication Family: The members of such a dysfunctional family do not know how to communicate. They may interact only when necessary and continue with their tasks without crossing paths with each other. A family with weak communication skills does not discuss issues but believes that their finances will solve all problems. There is no healthy exchange of words or views (either silence or shouting or screaming) – complete apathy.
  5. High-Conflict Family: It refers to families where the family members are always ready to fight. Even for the smallest of inconveniences, they would rather shout than talk it out. They use harsh words, taunts, sarcasm, snapping, jabs, and insults and may even involve physical violence. The intensity of the fights keeps increasing with every hurtful word spoken.
  6. Exploitative Family: This family type mostly tends to exploit their children or partners. It might be for money, possessions, or personal work. Exploitative family members believe that the children live with them to do their work and bidding, while the kids’ needs are non-existent.
  7. Authoritarian Family: In this family type, one or both parents exert authority and control over the children. They make strict rules that have to be followed by the children without question. The parents order the children to stick to the family’s rigid belief systems – religious, political, or financial, without leaving room for personal choice.

There are various reasons for a family to become unhealthy, toxic, and dysfunctional. Scroll down to find out the root causes that lead to fights and disharmony in the family.

What Are The Reasons For Dysfunctionality In Family?

  1. Family History Of Dysfunction: Parenting styles are behaviors learned through observing and reflecting from their parents or caregivers. Therefore, dysfunctional parents may easily reflect the same behavior or go overboard in their way. Since they do not know what healthy parenting is, they cannot teach their kids either. The cycle continues until someone breaks it and goes down the right path.
  2. Health Issues And Mental Illness: A chronic illness, cancer, or even an accident that might have resulted in the amputation of a limb can make a person feel less useful than they previously were, resulting in low self-worth. This situation is deflected onto others as a form of coping mechanism.Psychological causes like depression, anxiety, or personality disorders can change a person’s mood directly or through medication. For example, a person with a psychological illness might develop conflicts in the family without proper treatment.
  3. Addiction: Addiction is one of the major reasons for discord in family relations. It usually starts with the denial that a family member can be an addict, followed by the various impromptu attempts to prevent them from getting any substance to binge on. This results in withdrawal syndrome, a serious series of physical and mental symptoms that occur when the intake of the addictive drug is stopped.
  4. Perfectionism And Constant Criticism: The perfectionist parent who is conditioned to keep everything in a specific order might prove unhealthy for other family members in the long run. It might come from a learned behavior from their parent or a compulsion. This entails criticism (sometimes too overwhelming to be excessive), swearing, scolding, sarcasm, insults, jabs, and even abuse.
  5. Authority: An authoritarian parenting style that imposes rules, expects results, and doesn’t entertain any slip-ups can lead to weak family bonds. It hinders a child’s growth and encourages unhealthy behaviors like not speaking up, accepting wrongdoings, or getting abused without defending themselves.
  6. Lack Of Empathy: Lack of empathy comes from a lack of understanding emotions. As a child, when a person’s emotions, feelings, and thoughts are not acknowledged, they don’t develop the basic knowledge of how to recognize and empathize with others’ emotions. This makes a child socially isolated, hampers their ability to communicate strongly, and they tend to behave coldly and devoid of kindness.
  7. Ineffective Communication: Lack of socialization might lead to a lack of effective communication. It also roots from their unwillingness to listen, but they need to always respond. People in dysfunctional families do not reflect whether their response is useful, hurtful, or completely irrelevant – they always have to have the last word. They are usually aggressive and don’t easily confide in anyone.
  8. Lack Of Privacy And Independence: This comes from a lack of trust in the child or the need to know and persuade events the way they prefer it. While a healthy family would talk, a dysfunctional family works through room raiding to be in loop with the family members.
  9. Finances: When there is a deficit in financial resources, the stress can hugely affect the family members directly or indirectly. Parents usually try to protect their children during such a crisis in a healthy family. However, in a dysfunctional family, the parents start neglecting the child’s needs to save money while spending it on themselves, alcohol, and other indulgences.

The steps mentioned in our following section are a guide to help you deal with a dysfunctional family and not set in concrete. Consider the points that might help you, improvise on others, and go through what seems to best suit you.

How To Deal With A Dysfunctional Family

How To Deal With A Dysfunctional Family


  1. Reflect On Your Choices: Consider the two very crucial options you have at hand – to stay or to move on. None of the options are wrong. It is good to stay and help your family become better. On the other hand, it is also completely alright to get distant from your family and work on yourself. The choice is all yours, based on how sensitive and fragile the situation is.
  2. Build Your Support System: Build a network of people whom you can rely on. They can be friends, family members, church groups, colleagues, or housemates that you believe you can trust. Someone who knows your situation but is ready to help you find your footing.
  3. Stop The Victim Behavior: Stop being a victim and start living for yourself. Mourn the past if you have to and then move on. Work on yourself and your present relationships. Focus on all the things you want to change about yourself and become a better, healthier version of yourself.
  4. Be Your Own Responsibility: You are now responsible for yourself. You might have people you can depend on, but at the end of the day, the person you can completely depend on is you. Therefore, it is now your responsibility to take care of yourself and overcome the hardships of the past. This will allow you to establish new, healthy emotional connections. Set expectations for yourself and meet them slowly and steadily. Do not try to rush into things.
  5. Seek Help: Asking for help is never bad or embarrassing. Those who can ask for help are the ones who can benefit the most from it. You can seek professional help to unlearn any unhealthy and harmful behaviors.
  6. Get Creative: Creativity can flow even through the gravest of times. So, use your emotions and energy creatively – paint, write a poem or a story, sing, dance, or anything that will allow you to express yourself in a language that only you will truly understand. This exercise can help you build yourself with greater confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth.
  7. Do Not Lose Trust: Building trust is not easy. It is a cumulative effort of all the members towards the same goal. Trusting a fellow human being gets difficult with age, and it is nearly an impossible thought by adulthood. Therefore, build trust only with those family members you are closest to. Others can stay behind the line and watch.
  8. Set Healthy Boundaries: Last but not least, set healthy boundaries with every person in your life. Be it your friends, family, relatives, or partner, draw a boundary that no one is allowed to cross without your consent. Boundaries help you establish and protect your limits – they also make you feel safe.

The Takeaway

Dysfunctional families have a direct impact on the child’s formative years and the environment they grow up in. The tremendous emotional disturbance and anxiety among family members can lead to child neglect and abuse. Children from such families tend to assume the situation is normal, as they regularly experience unhealthy interactions. However, they can wisely deal with a dysfunctional family relationship by setting healthy boundaries and learning their feelings are important enough to be expressed.

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