The Eight Most Common Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family

The Eight Most Common Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family

Far from the idyllic families that were portrayed on radio and television fifty years ago, families that are depicted in media nowadays are more realistic, in the sense that they often exhibit characteristics of dysfunction. While the term "dysfunctional family" is thrown around somewhat carelessly nowadays, there are certain hallmark characteristics of dysfunctional families that are common. Does a family that has one of these characteristics automatically qualify as "dysfunctional"? Of course, it depends on the severity of the problem and the way in which it cascades to cause other problems. Here is a list of some of the most common qualities of a dysfunctional family.

Dysfunctional Family Characteristic #1 - Addiction

One of the most prominent characteristics of a dysfunctional family is addiction on the part of one or more of its members. This addiction need not be to drugs or alcohol, but it typically manifests itself by making it difficult for family members to communicate, and may affect the family financially. Typically addiction is a problem suffered by the adults in the family, though adult children and teenagers may suffer from addictions in various forms.

Dysfunctional Family Characteristic #2 - Control

Another hallmark characteristic of dysfunctional families is control. Control means that one member of the family exerts his or her will on some or all of the other family members. This may manifest itself, for example, as a husband not permitting his wife to see male friends, or as a parent not allowing their child to go to reasonable school events, such as football games and dances. Control usually occurs from spouse to spouse or from parent to child in a dysfunctional family. This control usually results in emotional "stunting" and may make people feel as if they are not entitled to an opinion or to a life of their own. Control may be overt, or it may be in the form of causing people to feel guilty for wanting to "step outside the box."

Dysfunctional Family Characteristic #3 - Unpredictability and Fear

Unpredictability and fear are two common signs of a dysfunctional family. Typically, fear results from the unpredictability of a single or multiple members. This may be unpredictability with regard to financial matters, emotional state, or reactions to novel situations. This affects a family by making its members fearful of the actions of a single or multiple members. Typically an adult plays this role, and may be a spouse or parent.

Dysfunctional Family Characteristic #4 - Conflict

A more obvious indicator of a dysfunctional family is conflict. While a certain amount of conflict is expected in a normal family, constant, heated conflict is not. If a serious argument erupts over slight misunderstandings on a frequent and unyielding basis, there is a good chance that there is a certain level of dysfunction within the family. Likewise, undertones of conflict and resentment can also be an indicator of a dysfunctional family. The conflict may also take place in passive-aggressive terms. Conflict may occur between any member of a family, and affects the family by increasing tension and resentment among its members.

Dysfunctional Family Characteristic #5 - Abuse

Abuse, whether physical or emotional, is another characteristic of a dysfunctional family. The way in which abuse affects a family is obvious, as it punishes and diminishes a single or multiple family members. Abuse typically occurs from one spouse to the other, or from a parent to a child. Sometimes children also abuse each other, whether through physical or emotional means.


Dysfunctional Family Characteristic #6 - Perfectionism

Although it may not seem to be a characteristic of a dysfunctional family, perfectionism very much is one. Perfectionism can be a reflection of unrealistic expectations towards other family members, and may also be an indicator of the areas in which the perfectionist family member feels that he or she is inadequate. Perfectionism may result in low self-esteem in other family members, and may be self-perpetuating. Typically, perfectionism occurs in parents towards their offspring.

Dysfunctional Family Characteristic #7 - Poor Communication

Poor communication is another hallmark of a dysfunctional family. Communication may be strained, ineffective, or nonexistent. Family members may have difficulty communicating their wants and needs to other members, which can result in misunderstandings and little self-expression. Poor communication often occurs throughout the entire dysfunctional family.

Dysfunctional Family Characteristic #8 - Lack of Diversity

A lack of diversity in a family is a sign that a family may be dysfunctional. Diversity, in this instance, refers primarily to differences in interests and beliefs between family members. If all of the family members share the same interests and beliefs, there is a high probability that one member of the family is acting to control and manipulate the others. An example of this would be several children from a family that all have the same interests and aspirations as one of their parents. A lack of diversity usually occurs in families where there are children, though some people may be emotionally quashed in romantic relationships to the point where they adopt all of the interests of their partner.