What Is a Functional Family vs. a Dysfunctional Family?

by | Relational/Couples Counseling

Have you ever joked around about having a dysfunctional family? We all have our quirks and family members who might be a bit more eccentric than others. But a truly dysfunctional family is nothing to joke about. 

In fact, it can contribute to long-term mental health issues for everyone involved. 

Understanding the differences between a functional and dysfunctional family can make it easier to realize why you might struggle with certain relationships. Growing up in a dysfunctional family can impact you in ways you might not understand until later in life. 

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the characteristics of functional and dysfunctional families. We’ll also dive into what you can do if you’ve been living in dysfunction for years. 

What Are the Signs of a Functional Family? 

Every family is different and unique. There’s no “ideal” situation, and your family certainly doesn’t have to look like they belong in a sitcom to be considered normal. The differences between functional and dysfunctional often refer to how well families can deal with things like communication issues or difficult times. 

Some of the most common signs of a functional family include: 

  • You enjoy spending time together
  • There’s an undertone of respect
  • Different ideas and individualities are celebrated
  • Conflicts are resolved in healthy ways

There is also no trace of abuse or neglect in a functional family. There are appropriate attachments and relationships within the family unit, and everyone feels comfortable communicating. 

That doesn’t mean there are never disagreements and it doesn’t mean everyone thinks the same way. But, when respect and communication are prioritized, it leads to healthier attachments and more openness. 

What Does a Dysfunctional Family Look Like? 

As you might expect, a dysfunctional family is pretty much the opposite of everything listed above — and more. There’s typically a strong underlying tension that plagues dysfunctional families. 

You might feel like you’ve never really been able to be yourself. Individual differences aren’t celebrated or accepted. Conflict runs high and tends to dictate how people feel about each other. 

Sometimes, dysfunctional families occur because healthy boundaries aren’t set. Or, one person has complete dominance over everyone else and tries to control everyone. Of course, issues like physical, emotional, or sexual abuse can also cause huge problems within the family unit that strain relationships and can have lasting effects on everyone’s personal lives. 

What Can You Do? 

Do some of those characteristics sound familiar? If so, it’s important to remember that you can break the cycle. You don’t have to continue participating in negative familial patterns just because they’re what you know. 

In fact, if you don’t step away from those patterns, you could end up negatively impacting your future relationships. You could even carry them on and impact your children. 

Thankfully, creating a functional family is easier than you might think. 

Focus on encouragement and respect. Choose to respect people in your family even if you aren’t immediately given respect in return. Make sure there are clear roles and boundaries for everyone. If that requires you to set rules, then so be it. You might be met with some pushback, at first. But, when your family starts to see the benefits of those rules, they’re more likely to get on board. 

Most importantly, don’t ignore your mental well-being. If you’ve been dealing with a dysfunctional family for quite some time, consider reaching out for help and contacting Valued Living Therapy. Working with one of our therapists can make it easier to manage your emotions and deal with any issues like anxiety or depression that can influence your decisions. By prioritizing self-care and your mental wellness, it will be easier to combat negative patterns and create a brighter, better future with your family. 

Valued Living Therapy

We are a dynamic, trauma-informed, multi-specialty group practice of mental health professionals offering therapy in the heart of Edina, MN and online throughout Minnesota.

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