Signs of Dysfunctional Family Relationships and Roles

Written by: Shreya Manerkar – MA (Clinical Psychology)
Last updated date : March 26, 2023

Do you feel your family is not “normal”? Family members don’t talk to each other or only talk about work. As a family, you don’t spend much time with each other? When you see other families smile and laugh, you wonder if this is how normal families behave. It makes you wonder if your family shows signs of dysfunctional relationships and family roles.

We will begin this article by defining a dysfunctional family. Following this, we will clear your doubts about signs of normal and dysfunctional family relationships. We will end the article by discussing how normal family roles and different from dysfunctional family roles.

Let us start by defining an important term – dysfunctional family.

  • Dysfunctional Family – a family that does not behave like a regular family. In such families, people fight instead of understanding each other. They usually yell or shout instead of talking nicely. Parents don’t pay attention to their children.

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Chapter 1:

What Are the Signs of Dysfunctional Family Relationships?

You may find it difficult to understand if you have grown up in a dysfunctional family. As you grow older, you notice that your family behaves differently from other families. Here are some common signs of dysfunctional family relationships.
Family Does Not Talk to One Another
The biggest sign that family relationships are dysfunctional is family members don’t talk to each other. If there is an issue, does your family sit and talk or avoid the topic? How does your family handle such problems?

You may have noticed that when there is any issue, people avoid talking about it. Instead of discussing them, family members fight, scream and shout at each other.

You Don’t Understand Each Other
Another common sign of dysfunctional family relationships is that family members don’t understand each other. As a child, did your parents punish you if you made a mistake? Or did they listen to you? Here, parents don’t understand their child’s feelings and only focus on their behavior.
Your Parents Ignore You
In dysfunctional family relationships, parents show signs of ignoring their children. This is because parents are busy drinking or abusing drugs. Some parents suffer from mental health issues and are hence unable to take care of the child.

As a result of this, when children grow up, they have mental health issues themselves. Moreover, they may also start taking drugs or drinking alcohol.

Your Parents Are Very Strict
When you compare your parents to others, do you feel they are very strict? Do they put so many conditions on you that you are unable to live life? If yes, then you may have very strict parents.

While some form of discipline and schedule is good for the child, it is wrong to stop their growth. Look back at your childhood and think, did your parents only hug you when you got good grades? This form of conditional love causes a lot of self-doubt in a child. Sometimes, however, they put too much pressure on the child. This can turn the child into a perfectionist.

Chapter 2:

Normal V/S Dysfunctional Family Roles

A family consists of a father, mother, siblings, and grandparents. Sometimes, you may also live with your uncle, aunt, and cousins. All these members lead happy lives together and do their duties.

In contrast, in a dysfunctional family, members don’t know their roles. Sometimes, a child has to behave like an adult, whereas at other times, parents behave like children.

Are You a Golden Child?
Are you the favorite child in the family? If yes, then your family may consider you a “hero” or “saint”. If you have siblings, parents compare them to you. Parents will overlook all your flaws because you are good at your studies.

While it can be encouraging to have parents recognize your achievements, as you grow older this can be a problem. As an adult, you feel you can never make a mistake. You will also feel like you need to be in the spotlight all the time. You also expect people to praise you.

Do You Cause a Lot of Trouble?
Are you the exact opposite of a golden child? Have you been a troublemaker or black sheep, because you never do anything right? This is a dysfunctional family role because your family blames you for all their problems. Moreover, even if the issue is real, your parents neglect it because they expect this behavior from you.
Are You a Lost Child?
When the family is busy focusing on the golden child or the troublemaker, the other child feels lost. You will get very little attention from parents and hence are lost most of the time.

As a result of this, you start taking care of yourself. This is a dysfunctional family role because you have to be an adult when you are still a child. When you grow up, you find it difficult to ask others for support.

Do You Always Try to Make Peace?
As a sign of a dysfunctional family relationships, all roles are mixed up. Due to this, there is a lot of confusion and fights in the house. Hence, there is always one family member who needs to be a mediator or peacemaker.

Most of the time, the mediator is making peace between troublemaker sibling and parents. As they grow up, they always mediate the situation and put their needs aside.

Are You the Clown?
Do you have the habit of cracking jokes when people in the family fight? You make use of humor to cope with difficult situations. Just like the mediator, you are always focusing on other people’s feelings. And hence as an adult, you find it difficult to handle negative emotions.
Do You Take Care of Everyone?
An important role in dysfunctional family relationships is a caretaker. Their main goal in life is to save others from negative consequences. A caretaker will make excuses and deny any wrong behaviors. This encourages people to do wrong things.
You Like to Get Things Done
As the name suggests, this family member will want to do everything for everyone. Often, a mother will do things for other. However, in a dysfunctional family, an older daughter or son may take up this role.

As adults, they feel tired most of the time and find it difficult to relax. They also have difficulties building boundaries and can’t say no to people.

You Sacrifice for Other People
A person who is a doer usually sacrifices for other family members. They keep reminding people of their sacrifices and make them feel guilty. This is a sign of a dysfunctional family relationship role when you make people feel like you owe them something for helping you.

Chapter 3:

Final Thoughts

Maybe you associate with these roles and have problems connecting with people. Perhaps you feel anxious because you need to be perfect all the time. You also realize that you are unable to cope with some of the negative emotions. Hence, we recommend joining our self-help course “Low self-esteem”, or “Perfectionism“, which can help you with these issues.

"Structured and engaging course" Joan

69 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount