WHAT IS FAMILY DYSFUNCTION?
The most universal trait among dysfunctional families is
an inability to manage intimacy. Intimacy may be defined as
the sharing of feelings.
To function intimately one must first be a self and
express it. Second, one must appreciate (or at least accept)
the self-expression of others.
Intimacy is about identifying, accepting and expressing
feelings; dysfunction is about not identifying, not accepting
and not expressing them.
In dysfunctional families we see behaviors which
serve as substitutes for intimacy and which encourage the
suppression of feelings. Addiction to alcohol, drugs, food,
work, sex, relationships, gambling, spending and religion are
all ways to fend off unpleasant emotions or to manage the
loneliness that comes with emotional isolation.
Abuse, whether physical, emotional, verbal or sexual is
common in dysfunctional families. Abuse always involves
disrespect and a violation of personal boundaries.
Individuals are not valued except insofar as they contribute
to the maintenance of rigid roles that protect the family
from real feelings.
Vague, indirect communication designed to disguise
meanings is typical. So are closely guarded and unspeakable
secrets, lack of privacy, coercive or manipulative control
tactics, rigid rules and a deep suspicion of outsiders or
These traits are passed down through the generations.
People tend to parent as they were parented unless they make
a conscious choice not to.
Families are systems. This means that each member is
affected by every other. Even if only one member is
dysfunctional, other members will take on dysfunctional
There is no choice about this. Everyone goes along
because they have to. The only other options are
dissolution, disablement or ejection. And those are not
escapes. You can’t escape your family because they’re in
you. All you can do is out-grow them and become a self
capable of intimacy.