There’s a huge span when it comes to the term 'dysfunctional' and there’s really no guide when it comes to determining how dysfunctional a family is. However, there are some characteristics which are common to a large majority of people raised in a dysfunctional family.
1. You feel guilty when you stand up for yourself. Do you buy something, get the incorrect change and assume it's your fault? Or, if someone steals your wallet, you feel like you did something wrong? A common sign you were raised in a dysfunctional family is when you assume you are in the wrong in situations that are clearly not your fault. Yet, you feel guilty for standing up for yourself.
2. You fear being abandoned. Many raised in a dysfunctional family live in fear of being left behind. This is because you were often abandoned as a child. This can mean being left alone in a house, car or somewhere else on a regular basis. But it can also mean emotional abandonment. For instance, when your parents shamed you for things you said or did, they abandoned you. This includes harsh statements, being overly critical, sarcastic and issuing veiled jokes.
3. You're a people pleaser. This is usually a survival trait, which develops as a result of being regularly abandoned. It's an attempt to disarm people when you fear their criticism. You forget who you really are and imbue yourself with a different persona. You harbor the belief that if you're nice enough, no one will abandon you. This trait was developed as a 'sixth sense' to be able to determine the mood of the adults around you and then respond appropriately.
4. You feel lonely and isolated. When you are raised in a dysfunctional family you often live with a secret inner fear. The fear is that it will be discovered you are a fraud and, once that's found out, you will be abandoned. You may feel deeply that you will be criticized and then annihilated. It's amazing how many of us come across with enough bravado to throw everyone off the scent.
5. You worry incessantly about the future. Those raised in a dysfunctional family try to control the future for two reasons: one, to try and make themselves feel safer by knowing the future is going to be OK, and two, because sitting with themselves in the present moment is extremely uncomfortable.
6. You feel incredibly responsible for others. You believe it's your job to fix others. By doing this you are able to ignore your own discomfort because you're involved in the chaos of others. You think you are 'living', when in reality, you exist within a co-dependent framework. This enhances your fear of being abandoned, because if that person disappears, who are you?
7. You feel like a victim. This rolls on from point two because it's the flip side of abandonment. Behaving like a victim is your way of trying to get your emotional needs met. When you roll up in a ball and plead for help, you think you are less likely to be abandoned. It's a powerful but manipulative way of asking for help. Those raised in dysfunctional families have a hard time asking for help in a direct and adult manner. This is because as children you were shamed for asking, and you don't want to recreate those feelings.
8. You judge yourself mercilessly. This comes from being judged as a child: 'What, do you think I'm made of money?' - 'You are the most selfish child I know!' - 'You're never grateful for anything I do for you, are you!' You have no other framework from which to function. At a deep level you believe you deserve it.
1. Write down your examples of these characteristics.
2. Write down other characteristics of being raised in a dysfunctional family not listed above.