Characteristics of dysfunctional families



Let’s continue on the dysfunctional families topic. It is a broad issue that affects numerous homes today, and to which we must pay attention, as the family is the foundation from which human beings perceive reality and the world around us.

Let’s also analyze the following story: a boy was the son of a middle-class man who worked for the government. His father demanded absolute obedience from his children, and the family suffered due to his uncontrollable anger. When this boy was three years old, he witnessed how his father brutally beat his mother because she replied to him.

A story of dysfunctional families

When the boy was 4 years old, his father began to abuse him physically, practically daily. He remembers getting 30 lashes on his back when he was 6 years old. When his father needed him, he would whistle for him to come, just as people do when they call a dog. When he was 11 years old, his father almost beat him to death when he tried to run away from home.

Before this child was born, three of his siblings had died of diphtheria, all before the age of three and all with a difference of a month. His mother, fearing she’d lose another son, kept her distance from this son and did not develop an attachment with him. His father, always drunk, complained a lot about how Jews and minorities were causing all the problems in the world. The boy grew up hating his father, but could not find a safe way to vent his emotions.

The beginning of the problem

He began to mistreat other children, play violent war games, and give hate speeches focused on Jews and other minorities. This boy grew up and became a hateful man, who never got married or had a family of his own with whom he could share his emotions. Instead, he found a large audience to whom he was able to express his feelings of hate. He got to subdue an entire race with his hate and anger. That little boy grew up to be Adolf Hitler (Miller, 1983).

As parents, we often ignore the influence our dysfunctional patterns have on future generations. If you are honest, you will remember that when some of these things happened to you when you were a child, you made a vow never to treat your children that same way. And now, sadly, you find yourself in stressful situations, repeating the same words and behaviors of your parents towards your children.

Characteristics of a dysfunctional family

There is no such thing as a dysfunctional family. However, if you see that your family has some characteristics and traits listed below, your family is likely dysfunctional in some areas.

 Disappointment and denial

They deny their problems, thus problems are never solved. They also deny freedom to their members.

Forming rigid and static roles

Roles are created due to the need for the family system. Children give up their own needs to meet the needs of others.

Breaking boundaries

The members of a dysfunctional family have permeable boundaries. The boundaries are not respected and are mutually invaded.

Needs sacrificed

Members of a dysfunctional family cannot meet their needs. Individual needs are set aside to meet the needs of the family. There is almost always a certain amount of anger and depression in the members of a dysfunctional family. Individual needs are sacrificed to satisfy the requirements of the family.

Conflicting and Confluent Communication

They use open conflict or confluence (they agree not to disagree) as a communication style. Very rarely do they manage to make real contact.

 Irrevocability of the rules and control

in dysfunctional families, rules are set, and they do not change.

We must control our feelings and behaviors at all times. This is the most important defense mechanism.


We have to do everything right. The fear of not fulfilling what others expect of us is the main motivation. Family members spend their lives focused on their image.


When things do not go as planned, we blame ourselves or others. This keeps the balance in the dysfunctional family when controlling does not work.

Family members cannot speak

This rule forbids the free expression of any feeling, need, or desire. No one talks about loneliness or problems.

There cannot be any mistakes

Making mistakes implies vulnerability. This is not allowed. Family members have to cover up any error at all costs to avoid criticism.

There are other deeper characteristics, but the ones mentioned in the previous paragraphs we can observe easily in the daily life of many families, even those with Christian beliefs. The way parents raise their children will determine what kind of family future generations will have since they will repeat the learned patterns and will apply them to their family relationships.

The challenges of a dysfunctional family

It is not easy to be part of a dysfunctional family. The communication and interaction channels affect by the disrupted dynamics that take place. It does not matter what religion, culture, ethnicity, or social status family members comes from, dysfunction can be the foundation of any family.

  • Do these characteristics and rules of dysfunctional families seem familiar to you?
  • Do you think your family could be going through this?
  • Is it difficult to talk about important and deep issues in your family?
  • Do you feel that you cannot express yourself or be who you are?

If so, let me tell you that you are not alone in this. In our society, it is more and more common to see these family traits. But, remember, it is possible to transform family dysfunction into functionality.

I invite you to read our next post, in which we will continue talking about dysfunctional families. So, you can learn what can do to overcome this “family script.”

God bless you.

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