Curses of the Dysfunctional Family – Pt 1

The Dysfunctional Family

Most folks have heard the term “dysfunctional family.” But just what constitutes such a family system is unclear to many. That’s in part because despite the abundance of information available, much of it is inaccurate.

Allow me please to offer a relatively simplified but accurate definition of complicated concept.  Families are dyfunctional when its members are too unhealthy to properly assume their roles and functions. And by “unhealthy,” I mean impaired emotionally, psychologically, and character development-wise.

The concept of the dysfunctional family largely originated with research on families in which an addict, especially a parent, resided. But we’ve long realized that dysfunction occurs in other troubled family systems as well. In an addict’s family, others often assume roles and duties rightfully belonging to the addict. Roles and duties become confused, therefore, and the entire family dysfunctions in significant ways. Moreover, those who step up and assume the addict’s duties inadvertently “enable” his or her continued dysfunction.

There are many adverse consequences or “curses” that come along with being a part of a dysfunctional family. And I’ll be posting about some them over the coming weeks. But this week I want to focus on a particular consequence that rarely gets sufficient attention.

A Curse Largely Unspoken

Young persons growing up in dysfunctional environments can experience a variety of problems. But perhaps the most significant “curse” they experience is the negative impact on their character development. Of course, as those of you familiar with my online articles and books already know, innate personality traits also have a big influence on character development. But all of us need a healthy and supportive nuclear environment (and community support, too!) if we’re to forge a solid, healthy character. As I’ve asserted time and time again, socialization is a process. And healthy socialization a process that demands intense, consistent positive influence, especially if a person’s innate traits are naturally at odds with the process.

Over the years, I’ve counseled many individuals who came out of dysfunctional family systems. And one thing I learned about some of the disturbed characters I worked with is how their dysfunctional environments helped them develop a distorted sense of self. (See also:  Cultivating Healthy Self Worth  and Chapter 3 in Essentials for the Journey.)

It’s easy for young persons functioning at a higher level than a parent – at least at some levels – to develop a completely unbalanced sense of self. I’ve said something akin to the following to several: “You were never meant to be the highest functioning member in your family. In fact, being in that position harmed you. It was a curse. It gave you a false sense of competence. And it set you on a path toward unhealthy, premature independence. As a child, you were never meant to lead or set the rules. Rather, you needed to be an attentive student in a moral development school, under the tutilage of competent, trustworthy teachers and role models.”


I’m happy to report that activity for the audiobook version of Essentials for the Journey has been robust. I’m deeply grateful for all the consistent, positive word of mouth about my work.


4 thoughts on “Curses of the Dysfunctional Family – Pt 1

  1. How can we get out from under the curse?
    This is very much how my life went.
    I always knew it wasn’t right the way my parents treated me vs. other siblings.
    Dumping the responsibility of a baby they had when I was 8 1/2 yrs old.
    Sleeping in school because mom wouldn’t take care of her.
    Slapping me for telling teacher why I was falling asleep everyday.
    Dad shaming me for getting pregnant at 15 and praising my boyfriend for becoming a father.
    Finding out dad got his girlfriend pregnant at 15 when he was 18 and running off to defend himself by joining the Nat’l Guard. (hero complex)
    Finding out I have a 70 yr old adopted sister after dad passes.
    Yes, shame on me?
    I’m so frustrated.

    1. Priscilla
      First off, my sympathies to you. What you went through and still is awful.
      I haven’t had near the same issues as you, but I can say that I have been taken advantage of to a high degree and treated terribly by the X and my own lawyer and daughter.
      What was hard is the aftermath of it all. I was left with so much anger.
      When it was finally released was when I just admitted to myself that I have been royally screwed. It’s a fact. It’s not right. But it happened. Somehow I admitted it and accepted it. And then life was easier to get on with without so much anger. It’s that anger that was killing me on the inside, anger that they’d done the things and it harmed me and I carried it with me.
      Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry, but it’s not all-consuming.
      I so hope you can find a path where it’s released.

      1. Lucy,
        Everytime I think the anger is dealt with and over it seems to rear it’s ugly head.
        I know much of my anger is because of the family who are gaslighting now. They refuse to deal with their own issues and so dump on me. I wish I could go no contact with them, I think about this often!

        1. Priscilla,
          I think if it had been over, you could move on easier, but the fact that it continues is something that you continually are dealing with. To a much lesser degree, I am made somewhat of a scapegoat by my siblings who continue what my mom & dad established, though they are both gone now. Plus, my SIL is a narc and shes the worst of it. I don’t have anythng to do with most of them except holidays. And when I go home after theses holiday get togethers I am always feeling depressed for a few days. I’m sorry about your situation – when you are made to feel at fault so that they can pass the blame onto you its something you are not in control of. Its either minimize contact, no contact or deal with all the negative emotions it brings up. Take Care.

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