What is a dysfunctional family?
Well, there is a huge span when it comes to the term ‘dysfunctional’. It ranges from mildly dysfunctional to completely nuts.
There is really no guide when it comes to determining how dysfunctional a family is but, for the purposes of this article, we are leaning towards the ‘completely nuts’ end of the spectrum.
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1. We feel guilty when we stand up for ourselves.
We buy something, get the incorrect change and assume it’s our fault? Or, if someone steals our purse, we feel like we did something wrong? A common sign we were raised in a dysfunctional family is we assume we are in the wrong in situations that are clearly are not our fault. Yet, we feel guilty for standing up for ourselves.
2. We fear being abandoned. Many raised in a dysfunction family live in fear of being left behind. This is because we 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 our parents shamed we for things we said or did, they abandoned us. This includes harsh statements, being overly critical, sarcastic and issuing veiled jokes.
3. We’re people pleasers. This is usually a survival trait that develops as a result of being regularly abandoned. It’s an attempt to disarm people when we fear their criticism. We forget who we really are and imbue ourselves with different persona. We harbour the belief that if we’re nice enough, no one will abandon we. This trait was developed as a ‘sixth sense’ to be able to determine the mood of the adults around us and then respond appropriately.
4. We feel lonely and isolated. When we are raised in a dysfunctional family we often live with a secret inner fear. The fear is that it will be discovered we are a fraud and, once that’s found out, we will be abandoned. We may feel deeply that we will be criticised and then be annihilated. It’s amazing how many of us come across with enough bravado to throw everyone of the scent.
5. We worry incessantly about the future. Those raised in a dysfunction family try to control the future for two reasons: one, to try and make us feel safer knowing that our future is going to be OK and two, because sitting with ourselves in this moment is extremely uncomfortable.
6. We feel super responsible for others. We believe it’s our job to fix others. By doing this we are able to ignore our own discomfort because we’re involved in others’ chaos. We think we are ‘living’ when we really exist within a co-dependent framework. This enhances our fear of being abandoned because if that person disappears, who are we?
7. We feel like victims. This rolls on from point two because it’s the flip side. Behaving like a victim is a way of trying to get our emotional needs met. When we roll up in a ball and beg for help, we think we are less likely to be abandoned. It’s a powerful but manipulative way of seeking assistance. Those raised in dysfunctional families have a hard time asking for help in a direct and adult approach. This is because as children we were shamed for asking and we don’t want to recreate those feelings.
8. We judge ourselves 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!’ We have no other framework from which to function. At a deep level we believe we deserve it.
9. We feel the need to be perfect. We are often high functioning adults. Why? Because we’re running on fear and we’re hoping to get things right so no one can criticize or punish us. We’re so sensitive to others’ criticism that we can’t bear the thought of being ridiculed, rejected, abandoned or fired. Perfectionism is a form of defence – ‘I’ll get it perfect so you have no reason to criticize me.’ Criticism can feel threatening and that’s what we are trying to avoid.
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