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The Psychology Shop

Dysfuncional Family: Part 1


How Dysfunctional Is Your Family? (Part 1)

Ah, summer time or let's try.. Ah… Thanksgiving time. There are predictable times of year when families will often get together. In your mind, you may picture family bliss; everyone getting along, people smiling and treating each other with love and respect, not a harsh word at all. The reality is often different. Instead of hugs and warm feelings, snide comments and arguments prevail. Do you ever wonder if your family may be a bit dysfunctional? Take the quiz below.

Quiz: How Dysfunctional is your family?

All families have their difficulties. However, some families have more which can create even greater problems. Worst yet, you might see the same type of problems generation after generation. If so, it's time for a change.

True or False
_____1. Members of my family have gone for at least two weeks without talking with one another due to anger.
_____2. We never discuss negative emotions.
_____3. My parent(s) treated each child differently depending upon who was their favorite.
_____4. I prefer to let my partner/spouse make the decisions with regard to my immediate family.
_____5. There was sexual abuse within the family that was never openly discussed.
_____6. One or more members of my family are abusing alcohol and/or drugs.
_____7. There is a member of the family that always is too sarcastic or insults others often.
_____8. Listening to others is difficult for many in this family.
_____9. My parent(s) mostly let the children raise themselves.
_____10. Myself or my sibling(s) were expected to take care of our parents or younger brothers/sisters.
_____11. Money is a sensitive issue in this family. We either never discuss it or there are frequent arguments about it.
_____12. There really are no accidents. Someone is always responsible.
_____13. There are mental health issues in the family but we really don’t discuss it.
_____14. My parents rarely attended a school or sporting event while I was growing up.
_____15. Being in control is very important to me.
_____16. My family can not get through a holiday time without a major argument.
_____17. When there are problems, we will typically not discuss them.
_____18. In my family, criticism was used much more than positive statements.
_____19. One or both of my parents has been divorced at least three times.
_____20. I really dread seeing members of my family and will often try to avoid them.

The more answers that you scored as true, the greater likelihood that your family will have problems adjusting to difficult situations. Remember, past behavior is a good indicator for future behavior. So if your family has a lot of arguments around events such as holidays and weddings, they will likely to continue to do so.

The good news is that even though you can not change your family members (no matter how much you want to), you can change your own behavior; and that by changing your behavior, you may alter how your family reacts to you. Here are some suggestions for the first ten items on the quiz.

1. Members of my family will not talk to one another when angry. This is called stonewalling and will only make the anger fester. If you find yourself in this situation, talk as soon as you can. By talking first, you actually place yourself in a position of power and demonstrate being mature.

2. We never discuss negative emotions. No, instead your family lets it all build up and will release the tension in some other way. Does the term passive aggressive sound familiar? It is far better to let someone know that you love them, but do not like something that they said. The key is to assure your family member that you still care, and then focus on the behavior (and only that behavior) that you did not like.

3. My parents treated us (the children) differently depending upon their "favorites". Every parent should have it implanted in their brain when each child is born, every child should be treated in the same way (loving way, that is). Otherwise, sibling rivalry develops and will often continue into adulthood.

4. I prefer my partner/spouse to make decisions regarding my family. Your family is your responsibility. Having someone else do the dirty work only further increases the chance for mixed messages and conflict.

5. There was sexual abuse in the family that was never discussed. First, this is a serious matter that often requires counseling to work through. Second, if there are children around, even for short periods of time, the family needs to know this information so the individual who committed that abuse is not left alone with potential victims.

6. Members abusing alcohol and/or drugs. Substance abuse alters the user’s social and thinking abilities. Think about how many needless disagreements develop. This is a great time to set boundaries to prevent or limit any potential conflict. Do not discuss anything in detail with someone who is chemically altered.

7. There is a person who always is sarcastic or insults others. Constant sarcastic humor that instead of being funny, hurts others is actually a form of aggression. First, tell your family member that what he said was hurtful to you (DO NOT LAUGH OR SMILE at his comments). If he continues, tell him that every time he starts insulting you, you will leave the room. Then leave the room every time he starts to insult you. Remember, it’s hard to insult others when the target (you) is not around.

8. Listening is difficult in my family. Communication is both listening and talking. If you feel you are not being listened too, tell your family members that you care about them, but they are not listening/hearing what you are saying. You may have to repeat this several times (because they are not listening well). You can always ask your family members, what did you just say as a test to get their attention.

9. My parents let us raise ourselves. CONGRATULATIONS on making it to adulthood. I’m always amazed that humans are able to grow up despite their parents. You may not be able to choose your family, but you can now choose your friends and how you want to live your life.

10. We were expected to take care of our siblings or parents. It is always hard when a child is not allowed to have a childhood. This level of responsibility can lead to resentments and other issues. Be aware how your feelings may impact your relationships within your family. The roles you and your brothers and/or sisters had as kids will often impact your relationships with each other in adulthood.