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.