The Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family

A Dysfunctional Family is a family where the family roles of both the parents and children are as described below.

THE PARENTS in a dysfunctional family engage in some form of immature, inappropriate or destructive behaviour to the detriment of other family members. Some parents become passive and allow inappropriate behaviour in the family to continue, without establishing boundaries, and that to the detriment of other family members.

THE CHILDREN in a dysfunctional family accept all kinds of roles:

  • The “hero” or responsible child, tries to fix the family problems and help create a positive family image with noteworthy achievement. This child receives positive attention but often develops perfectionistic, compulsive behaviours that shows then but also later in life.
  • The “scapegoat” or rebellious child, in an effort to resolve the dysfunctional family behaviour, draws the focus away from the family problems and onto himself or herself with rebellious, uncontrollable behaviour. This child consumes time and energy from the family members and often develops self-destructive life patterns.
  • The sensitive and reclusive child hopes that by ignoring family problems, the difficulties will go away. This child avoids attention and is often lonely and withdrawn. This child may develop disassociation techniques to deal with unacceptable situations in future.
  • The “clown” uses humour and antics to direct the focus away from family problems. This child is often hyperactive and usually seeks to be the center of attention.

A role reversal may take place in some dysfunctional families. Children once did whatever they could to please their parents. Now parents are doing whatever they can to please their children. Parents should communicate as adults, in respectful and positive ways, to a child. Don’t be overly defensive of your child.

Children who grew up in a dysfunctional family and accepted certain dysfunctional patterns later in life, should identify which patterns need to be changed, then focus on several action steps that will enable you to move toward emotional health and healing. Tell the Lord and those closest to you that you want to give up unhealthy, childish patterns, and ask them to help hold you accountable. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)