By: Chris Anderson Psy.D.

Many of us grew up in a household that was less than mentally and emotionally healthy. It may have even been what is often referred to as the dysfunctional family dynamic. Many survivors of such upbringings are rightfully apprehensive about the prospect of starting their own family. People often worry they will inadvertently re-create the same dysfunction they grew up with and provide a difficult experience for their own children. With little to draw from but poor role modeling, many people have an idea of what they don’t want to do but little idea of what to do to actually make a healthy family environment. As the saying goes; you can’t know what you don’t know. We believe that being cognizant and aware in conjunction with a little bit of knowledge can allow anyone to steer their ship down a different path.

What Makes a Family Dysfunctional?

Although everyone wants a harmonious family experience, the reality is that sometimes individual issues, baggage, emotional problems, and mental health problems can set the stage for an insidious and chronic pattern of dysfunction and poor interactions. One person’s issues tend to have a reverberating effect on the whole family. Like a mobile hanging over a baby’s crib, each string (person) is part an interconnected whole (family) and when one string is pulled, all others are affected and moved. Dysfunction can manifest in a number of ways. What follows are some common culprits.

  • Poor Communication: Many people struggle with basic communication and problem-solving skills. Their attempts to resolve issues devolve into arguments, resentments, and unresolved issues swept under the rug. The cumulative effect of this over time can drive wedges between people.
  • Poor Boundaries: Some people do not have a good handle on appropriate boundaries and tend to be nosy, intrusive, and fail to respect privacy and basic respect. Others share too much and without awareness of age appropriateness of content.
  • Judgement and Criticism: Some members of the family may be unduly harsh, critical, shaming and create an environment where it is not safe to share things for fear of attack or condemnation.
  • Control and Manipulation: Some people grew up experiencing frequent attempts to control or manipulate each other in an effort to get what they themselves want. This could involve lying, intentional misleading or misinforming, or overt coercive demands made.
  • Substance Abuse: When a parent in the family has a substance abuse problem, chaos often pervades the home. It creates insecurity and unpredictability when the person is sad one moment, happy the next, and enraged the following. Inconsistency leaves a family walking on eggshells and trying to guess what may be coming next.
  • Mental Health Problems: Untreated mental health issues can also create stress and strain in a family. A depressed parent often lacks the energy and empathy to be available and supportive to others. High anxiety can often lead to issues with control. Trauma that has not been dealt with may lead to disengagement or suspiciousness of others.

How Do You Create a Functional Family?

The first and best thing anyone can do for the sanctity of themselves and their family is to be honest with themselves and aware of any issues they may need to address within themselves. Cleaning up your own side of the street is your first responsibility and something you can control. Getting help and working on your own stuff will be one of the greatest gifts to yourself and to your family. From there creating a healthy family environment is just a function of aspiring to create certain dynamics that most people thrive and grow in. What follows are some of the ingredients to promote a healthy family experience and environment.

  • Caring and Involvement: Everyone wants to feel that others care and are interested in their lives and well-being. Having others check in, ask about your day, follow up with you on events and expressing empathy about your experiences promotes feeling valued and cared about by others and facilitates a sense of worth which builds self-esteem. Knowing you are important to others helps you feel good about yourself.
  • Love and Support: Partners and children want to feel loved and supported. This is demonstrated with words, actions, gestures, physical affections, sometimes gifts, and the giving of your time to another person whether it’s listening, helping, coaching, or just being interested.
  • Boundaries and Discipline: Children in particular need to learn boundaries and accountability. Helping them to learn what is socially acceptable helps prepare them for future relationships with friends, coworkers, and romantic partners. Children may view you as mean at times because they are not getting what they want, but this brief frustration will be nothing compared to the rejection and ostracization they may experience repeatedly throughout life if they don’t know how to behave with others. Take the time to explain to children why rules are what they are and why they are important.
  • Responsibility and Decision Making: All members of a healthy family share in the responsibility of managing the home and family. Mutual contribution facilitates a sense of “we-ness”, commitment, and appreciation for building something you are personally invested in. Allowing for input from all parties with some family decisions also promotes problem-solving skills as families tackle challenges and come together to overcome them.
  • Communication and Respect: Healthy families strive to be respectful of each other’s thoughts, ideas, beliefs, feelings, and input. Everyone wants to feel heard and be understood even if they don’t ultimately get what they may have wanted, they certainly want to feel others know where they are coming from. Promoting open communication where people can come to each other with questions, concerns, and problems creates the support that everyone needs.

If you want to work on your issues for the betterment of yourself and your family, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule an appointment with one of our providers for a more thorough assessment.  Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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