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tional Families: Recognizing and Overcoming Their Effects...
Dysfunctional Families: Recognizing and Overcoming Their Effects INTRODUCTION "As a kid I was like a miniature adult.
take on lots of responsibility,
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.
Most of the time I feel pretty alone." "My parents have always had these big ambitions for me.
what kind of car I should drive,
it's like they expect me to be perfect but don't really believe I can blow my own nose.
but if I get the least bit independent they try to control me with money." When problems and circumstances such as parental alcoholism,
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 deny their feelings and reality (Vannicelli,
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,
In dysfunctional families,
problems tend to be chronic and children do not consistently get their needs met.
How Do Healthy Families Work
? Healthy families are not perfect
and anger but not all the time.
Rules tend to be made explicit and remain consistent,
but with some flexibility to adapt to individual needs and particular situations.
each member is encouraged to pursue his or her own interests,
and boundaries between individuals are honored.
Children are given responsibilities appropriate to their age and are not expected to take on parental responsibilities.
in healthy families everyone makes mistakes
Perfection is unattainable,
and potentially dull and sterile.
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 Deficient parents hurt their children more by omission than by commission.
chronic mental illness or a disabling physical illness contributes to parental inadequacy.
and children are often asked to be their parents' caretakers.
Children are robbed of their own childhood,
and they learn to ignore their own needs and feelings.
they often feel inadequate and guilty.
These feelings continue into adulthood.
Controlling Parents Unlike the deficient parents described above,
controlling parents fail to allow their children to assume responsibilities appropriate for their age.
These parents continue dominating and making decisions for their children well beyond the age at which this is necessary.
Controlling parents are often driven by a fear of becoming unnecessary to their children.
This fear leaves them feeling betrayed and abandoned when their children become independent (Forward,
these children frequently feel resentful,
as these adults frequently have difficulties making decisions independent from their parents.
as if growing up were a serious act of disloyalty.
Alcoholic Parents Alcoholic families tend to be chaotic and unpredictable.
Rules that apply one day don't apply the next.
Expectations vary from one day to the next.
emotional expression is frequently forbidden and discussion about the alcohol use or related family problems is usually nonexistent.
thus preventing anyone from seeking help.
All of these factors leave children feeling insecure,
Children often feel there must be something wrong with them which makes their parents behave this way.
difficulty with emotional expression,
and difficulties with intimate relationships carry over into adulthood.
Children of alcoholics are at much higher risk for developing alcoholism than are children of nonalcoholics.
particularly when it comes from those entrusted with the child's care.
Some verbal abusers are very direct,
while others use subtle put-downs disguised as humor.
Definitions of physical abuse vary widely.
have felt the urge to strike their child.
With physically abusive parents,
the urge is frequent and little effort is made to control this impulse.
The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines physical abuse as "the infliction of physical injuries such as bruises,
etc." Striking a child has much to do with meeting the parent's emotional needs and nothing to do with concern for the child
parents often erroneously justify the abuse as "discipline" intended to "help" the child.
Physically abusive parents can create an environment of terror for the child,
particularly since violence is often random and unpredictable.
Children of abusive parents have tremendous difficult ies developing feelings of trust and safety even in their adult lives.
While parents may justify or rationalize verbal or physical abuse as discipline aimed at somehow helping the child,
there is no rationalization for sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is the most blatant example of an adult abusing a child purely for that adult's own gratification.
Sexual abuse can be any physical contact between an adult and child where that contact must be kept secret.
It is perpetrated by both men and women.
It cuts across lines of race,
sexual abuse is part of an overall family pattern of dysfunction,
and inappropriate role boundaries.
Responsibility for sexual abuse in all cases rests entirely with the adult.
No child is responsible for being abused.
Most sexually abused children are too frightened of the consequences for themselves and their families to risk telling another adult what is happening.
They tend to be self-punishing and have considerable difficulties with relationships and with sexuality.
effects vary widely across individuals.
or positive changes in the family can help prevent or minimize negative effects.
? Adults raised with family dysfunction report a variety of long-term effects.
If you find yourself answering "Yes" to over half of them,
you likely have some long-term effects of living in a dysfunctional family.
If you find yourself answering "Yes" to the majority of them you might consider seeking some additional help.
Do you find it difficult to identify what you're feeling
Do you find it difficult to express feelings
Do you often feel lonely even in the presence of others
Is it difficult for you to ask for what you need from others
Do you find it difficult to trust others
Do you tend to hang on to hurtful or destructive relationships
Do you find it particularly difficult to deal with anger or criticism
Is it hard for you to relax and enjoy yourself
Do you find yourself feeling like a "fake" in your academic or professional life
Do you find yourself waiting for disaster to strike even when things are going well in your life
Do you find yourself having difficulty with authority figures
? Yes_____ No_____ HOW CAN SOMEONE OVERCOME THE EFFECTS OF A DYSFUNTIONAL FAMILY
? Regardless of the source of dysfunction,
You have likely developed a number of valuable skills to get you through tough circumstances.
it is important to first stop and take stock.
You may find that much of what you learned in your family is valuable.
Many of the survival behaviors you developed are your best assets.
people who grow up in dysfunctional families often have finely tuned empathy for others
they are often very achievement-oriented and highly successful in some areas of their lives
they are often resilient to stress and adaptive to change.
In examining changes you may want to make in yourself,
it is important not to lose sight of your good qualities.
! Negative effects from growing up in dysfunctional families often stem from survival behaviors that were very helpful when you were growing up,
but may become problematic in your adult life.
so it may take awhile to learn and practice new behaviors.
In most dysfunctional families children tend to learn to doubt their own intuition and emotional reactions.
Often outside support provides an objective perspective and much-needed affirmation which will help you learn to trust your own reactions.
therapy groups such as Survivors of Incest or Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families (ACODF),
and self-help groups such as Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA),
or Codependents Anonymous (CODA).
Growing up in a dysfunctional family often results in an exaggerated attention to others' feelings and a denial of your own feelings and experiences.
you may have neglected sensitivity to yourself.
Stop each day and identify emotions you are or have been experiencing.
? How might you affirm or respond to them
? Try keeping a daily feelings journal.
In sharing your feelings with others take small risks first,
but it is a horrible first step.
Children need to believe in and trust their parents
children tend to blame themselves and feel responsible for their parents' mistakes.
When you begin with trying to forgive your parents you will likely continue to feel very badly about yourself.
allows you to feel less guilt and shame and more nurturance and acceptance toward yourself.
This can be done in support groups or with good friends.
If you decide to do this it is important to keep your goal clear.
or are you trying to get even or hurt them back
? Pursuing revenge frequently results in more guilt and shame in the long run.
Slowly build up to taking bigger risks.
Adult children from dysfunctional families tend to approach relationships in an all-or-nothing manner.
or they insist on nearly complete self-sufficiency,
taking few interpersonal risks.
children of dysfunctional families continue to seek approval and acceptance from their parents and families.
they are unlikely to meet your needs now.
Seek your support from other adults.
Don't expect people to guess
This step will likely require much effort.
Practice Taking Good Care of Yourself.
survivors of dysfunctional families have an exaggerated sense of responsibility.
Try identifying the things you really enjoy doing,
then give yourself permission to do at least one of these per day.
Work on balancing the things you should do with the things you want to do.
? How might you approach this in a more balanced fashion
? One of the best things you can do for your mental and emotional well being is to take good physical care of yourself.
Do you eat a good healthy balanced diet
Al-anon calls this "detachment." Counseling or support is usually crucial when trying to change family relationships.
usually including large doses of guilt.
While most families can be workable,
undoubtedly there are some rare families who are far too dangerous or abusive to risk further contact.
Many books provide helpful information about dysfunctional families and strategies for recovering from their effects.
Here is a short list of some we recommend: Forward,
New York: Bantam Books.
Codependent no more: How to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself.
New York: Harper & Row.
Group psychotherapy with adult children of alcoholics: treatment techniques and countertransference.
New York: Bantam Books.
Adapted From Kansas State University Counseling Services.
updated/modified for the internet in 1997 by Dorinda J.
TWU Counseling Center Locations:
Houston Suite 2250 713-794-2059