Dysfunctional families often have elements of substance abuse (alcoholism or drug abuse), physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. When someone grows up in this kind of environment, they may continue the patterns of abuse in their own adult life. Some patterns are not about the overt abuse, but are much more subtle, often continue unnoticed for long periods of time and may spread from one generation to another.
In dysfunctional families, there are rules that are rarely, if ever, spoken but are followed implicitly. These rules become so ingrained in the lives of families that there is often no thought given to them. The dysfunctional patterns in the family continue even without overt abuse.
Rules in abusive families are Don’t Talk, Don’t Feel, and Don’t Trust.
In the abusive family, it is often not okay to talk about the abuse, both inside and outside of the family. The situation is often a secret. In some families, it may be important to make sure everything looks perfect so no one outside the family would know what was going on behind closed doors. This pattern may continue throughout life and affect many relationships. The lack of social support can lead to isolation and depression. The pattern of hiding problems can lead to perfectionism, which can seem like a good thing, but often goes hand-in-hand with feelings of not being good enough, worthlessness, and low self-esteem.
Feelings in the abusive family are not validated. Often children are told that they shouldn’t feel a certain way or that they don’t actually feel a certain way. Feelings are not discussed, sometimes not felt, and often ignored. This can lead to hiding and avoiding feelings in adulthood and result in poor conflict resolution.
- Avoiding feelings of happiness by expecting that they cannot be happy for long and are just setting themselves up for a big fall. Life always has both good times and bad times.
- Avoid disappointment by not getting their hopes up. Hope and anticipation of good things often help people live more enjoyable lives.
- Feelings of sadness and grief are often discounted and hidden due to continued patterns of helplessness and thinking it is better to ignore those feelings and move on. Allowing ourselves to grieve leads to healing.
- Many times, the only emotion expressed in the home is anger. People can become prone to rage, due to keeping feelings of anger in until they become overwhelming and erupt. It could eventually lead to anxiety and depression.
Abusive families tend to isolate themselves in order to hide their secrets. Family members are taught that they cannot trust the adults in the family because they are either abusive or not protecting them from the abuse. They are told not to trust anyone outside sometimes explicitly, but mostly implicitly. This rule continues and causes people to have few if any social supports. Messages like ‘you can only rely on the family because friends will always let you down’ become prominent. Perfectionism comes into play because they are not allowed to show any weakness or perceived flaw. It leads to rigid boundaries. Once again isolation, depression, anxiety often are a result of continuing to follow this rule.
People may not realize that they are continuing these dysfunctional patterns, and don’t understand why things are not working out well in their current family or relationships when there is no overt abuse. Finding ways to change these patterns may be difficult and need the help of a trained professional to identify patterns and change these patterns to healthier behavior.
If you or someone you know would benefit from family counseling, counseling for the recovery from trauma and abuse, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, codependency, anger management, and much more – Perspectives of Troy Counseling Centers can help. Call 248-244-8644 for more information and set up an appointment.