What is a Dysfunctional Family & How to Deal with It?

Communication gap, arguments and dysfunctionality in a family.

A family is an important part of everyone’s life. Because It can affect a person to the core. Hence, a family can either make a person’s personality or break it. But sometimes we suffer from a dysfunctional family. A family that doesn’t seem to fulfill our physical and emotional needs. It frustrates us and affects us negatively. Moreover, we often don’t want to talk about these topics. Because that is our “family” after all. As a result, unacceptability makes things even worse.

Unacceptability of a situation, leading towards stress and anxiety

So let’s try to untangle the ties, humanly. Here in this article, first of all, I’m going to discuss what is a functional family and its importance. Because If you and I want to sort out a thing, we first need to acknowledge why it’s that important to be sorted out. Afterward, we will discuss what a dysfunctional family is, what are the causes of an unstable household, and how we can improve the situation.

What is a functional family?

A family is usually supposed to be a group of people we feel comfortable and secure with. It’s traditionally a basic unit of society. Usually, families consist of parents and siblings.

 Let’s see the different points of view about a positive family.

Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.

–Lisa Weed

And according to John Wooden:

The most important thing in the world is family and love.

So, we notice that love is the main ingredient of a happy family.

A functional and happy family

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.  

Says Barbara Bush.

This shows that the family provides support. It can be physical, moral, or emotional support. It provides us protection and console. Consequently, all of these things make us strong, independent, and productive human beings. In a family, members should listen to each other and help each other growing.

But let’s see how a family becomes a dysfunctional family.

What is a dysfunctional family?

We have seen the qualities of a healthy family above. But any family that lacks the majority of them is a dysfunctional family. According to encyclopedia.com, a dysfunctional family is:

A family whose interrelationships serve to detract from, rather than promote, the emotional and physical health and well-being of its members.

Furthermore, neglect, conflicts, and misbehavior are constants in a dysfunctional family. There is a mostly stressed and anxious atmosphere between them. That leads to a lack of direct communication and trust.

Unstable, single parent & dysfunctional family.

As Benjamin Alire Sáenz writes:

See, I think there are roads that lead us to each other. But in my family, there were no roads – just underground tunnels. I think we all got lost in those underground tunnels. No, not lost. We just lived there.


Causes of a dysfunctional family

But the question is, that what are the reasons behind a dysfunctional family? What are the factors which contribute to creating an unstable household leading towards an unhealthy family?

The reasons can be internal and external. The following are some basic causes behind a dysfunctional and abusive family.

 Financial instability

This is the main cause of dysfunctionality in the family. Finance is the major problem mostly in developing and underdeveloped countries. And the families there are so used to this dysfunctionality, that this is their normal now. Anyhow, it’s considered unstable households in developed countries.

The financially unstable parents overwork to fulfill their and their children’s needs. On the other hand, when children see their unfulfilled needs, those become highlighted overlooking what parents are actually doing for them. As a result, all this infighting leads to frustration and tiredness. Causing fights, stress, disharmony, and a feeling of instability in a family.

Abused parents, who become abusive

The parents could be suffering from childhood trauma, financial uncertainty, or any addiction. It affects their mental health and they become abusive. One or both abusive parents create an abusive family and affect their children’s mental health badly. They can hurt each other which leaves scars on children’s hearts. Or even they can harm their children in anger and aggressiveness, physically or emotionally. It’s like a loop, which leaves effects on many generations.

Abusive or violent parents

Past victims of a dysfunctional family

As I talked earlier, that this is like a loop. If there is a family history of dysfunction, then one or both the parents raised in that dysfunctional family create another dysfunctional family. Unless at some point a member of that unstable household determines to be a normal and functional person when he becomes an adult. It’s said that same happened in the case of Steve Jobs. He was adopted as a child. And when he became a father himself, he denied Lisa Brennan-Jobs to be his daughter, for years.

Substance-addicted parents

If one or both the parents are drug-addicted, they fail to provide that stability and protection to their children. They don’t fulfill their promises and can break their own rules. Consequently, children have to try to take care of themselves. And take the extra responsibility on their weak shoulders. The children of a substance abused family are most vulnerable and can sometimes become an addict themselves.

Substance abuse/ Drug addiction

Attention to only one member who may be sick or disabled

If any member of a family is chronically sick or is disables, all the attention and care of the whole family go there. And some of the family members may feel neglected or deprived of love even when they don’t say that.

Authoritative parents

One of the reasons behind a dysfunctional family can be a parent or both of them being extra pushy and authoritative. They sometimes don’t agree to listen to other person’s points of view and impose their desires on their children. This creates dislike and hate among family members.

Characteristics of a dysfunctional family

It’s very unfortunate that a dysfunctional family can be emotionally draining, sexually, or physically abusive, with drug addictions and behavior problems. Sometimes, this can be characterized by the eating disorders of its members and extreme aggression. The following are some major characteristics and signs of an unstable household and a dysfunctional family.

  • Lacking empathy & love: In an unhealthy family, empathy lacks. Members don’t feel compassion or love for each other. Thus, small issues and problems lead to a big drama.
  • Communication gap: Members of a dysfunctional family don’t communicate directly with each other. Rather they just argue or fight about the things. Due to which the connection between them loses its grip.
  • Addiction: Unstable household causes people to rely on drugs. And members of a dysfunctional family can be addicted.
  • Mental health issues: Communication gap and constant trouble cause mental health issues lie depression. Here are the five major signs of depression.
  • Controlling behavior: Members of the family can be controlling or narcissistic.
  • No independence: In a dysfunctional family there is little to no privacy of family members and especially kids. Members don’t directly communicate but tend to invade each other’s privacy and independence

How to deal with a dysfunctional family?

If you’re a minor it might be difficult for you to deal with a dysfunctional family, or to stay in one. But you can try to create a better situation for you from the following measures.

Talk about it

Share your feelings with your parents or siblings when they are in a pleasant mood. Try to fully convey your point of view. Use I statements while talking.

Like “I didn’t like when you cussed me. But I didn’t want to mention that because you were angry”. Say it politely enough, so it doesn’t convert into argument or conflict but firmly enough so that your message is conveyed and taken seriously. So, they can understand your point rather than being defensive. Talk to your friends or other family members you trust. So, you can have their assistance in unpredictable situations.

If you are a major, you have to be patient. Therefore, give your children some space even if they are impolite sometimes. It is because of their age and the stress which will meltdown with time. Besides, I will also recommend practicing compassion because real happiness lies in helping others and practicing compassion.

Try to share less about you

If you’re being judged or mistreated for everything you say or do, try to have less interaction. Instead, spend time on your mental health and doing some coping exercises. Be responsible and try to put yourself on other’s position too, to better understand what’s going on.

Secure yourself. Seek help.

You’re the most important for you. If you think that someone is going to harm you in a dysfunctional family, contact authorities. Document the situation and its details so you can share it with the police. If it’s not possible to live anymore with them, get your ways apart and take government shelter and security.

You might feel guilty doing this, but if that’s necessary for your mental health, do that!

How to heal from the effects of a dysfunctional family

If you’re grown in an unstable household as a child, it can have adverse effects on you. But it’s over now. You’re your own responsibility and you could become the best version of yourself.

Take responsibility

Accept what you feel and what you have been through. But don’t blame it on yourself. As you have not decided to born in that specific family. You’re your own responsibility. Hence, you can change the situation for you. Take care of your mental health.

Seek help

There is nothing wrong to seek professional help. Talking to a psychiatrist can help in solving the problems.  Try to regain your self-confidence and self-esteem. Work on your elf. Try to communicate with friends and family you trust, and you feel comfortable with it.

Build trust

Build trust and love in your present relationships. You can grow your trust gradually. Communicate with your new people and don’t do what you’ve been taught to do in a dysfunctional family.

If you want to talk back to your family, you can. Try to forgive them, to unburden your shoulders. If you want to cut off the ties, that’s perfectly fine too.


Your past doesn’t define your present. You can always grow and become a better person. Trust yourself and have confidence. Comment below some other useful ways to cope with the effects of a dysfunction family. Moreover, you can share your stories with me. Let us all learn to heal from each other!

Liza Aslam Chaudhry
Liza is a student of electrical engineering, and besides that, she is a passionate writer & reader. Being an observant yet sensitive person, she loves to write about psychology, mental health, social issues, personal development, brands & technology. Occasionally, Liza becomes a poet too. She knows to make her content optimize and reachable to provide quality and value to the masses. Moreover, Liza is writing for a few blogs and websites to help them grow their readers and enhance SEO.