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Over Coming The Effects Of A Dysfunctional Home

Living in a dysfunctional family forces children to develop a number of skills that can be useful to them in life 

For example, people who grow up in dysfunctional families often have finely tuned empathy for others; they are often very achievement-oriented and highly successful in some areas of their lives; they are often resilient to stress and adaptive to change. In examining changes you may want to make in yourself, it is important not to lose sight of your good qualities.


Negative effects from growing up in dysfunctional families often stem from survival behaviours that were very helpful when you were growing up, but may become problematic in your adult life. Remember that you spent years learning and practicing your old survival skills, so it may take awhile to learn and practice new behaviours.

Get Help.

  • In most dysfunctional families children tend to learn to doubt their own intuition and emotional reactions. Often outside support provides an objective perspective and much-needed affirmation which will help you learn to trust your own reactions.  You can reach out to a psychologist or counsellor for help.

Learn to Identify and Express Emotions.

  • Growing up in a dysfunctional family often results in an exaggerated attention to others' feelings and a denial of your own feelings and experiences. While this often results in very good sensitivity to others, you may have neglected sensitivity to yourself.

    Stop each day and identify emotions you are or have been experiencing. What triggered them? How might you affirm or respond to them? Try keeping a daily feelings journal. Be selective in sharing your feelings with others. You may not find it helpful to share all of your feelings. In sharing your feelings with others take small risks first, then wait for a reaction. If the responses seem supportive and affirming try taking some larger risks.


Allow Yourself to Feel Angry About What Happened.

  • Forgiveness is a very reasonable last step in recovery, but it is a horrible first step. Children need to believe in and trust their parents; therefore, when parents behave badly, children tend to blame themselves and feel responsible for their parents' mistakes.

    These faulty conclusions are carried into adulthood, often leaving guilt, shame, and low self-esteem. When you begin with trying to forgive your parents you will likely continue to feel very badly about yourself. Placing the responsibility for what happened during your childhood where it belongs, i.e., with the responsible adults, allows you to feel less guilt and shame and more nurturance and acceptance toward yourself.

    It is usually helpful to find productive ways to vent your anger. This can be done in support groups or with good friends. Try writing a letter to one or both of your parents and then burning the letter. You may want to talk with your parents directly about what happened.

    If you decide to do this it is important to keep your goal clear. Do you want to encourage change and work for a better relationship, or are you trying to get even or hurt them back? Pursuing revenge frequently results in more guilt and shame in the long run. Holding on to anger and resentment indefinitely is also problematic and self-defeating. Focusing on old resentments can prevent growth and change.


Begin the Work of Learning to Trust Others.

  • Take small risks at first in letting others know you. Slowly build up to taking bigger risks. Learning who to trust and how much to trust is a lengthy process.

    Adult children from dysfunctional families tend to approach relationships in an all-or-nothing manner. Either they become very intimate and dependent in a relationship, or they insist on nearly complete self-sufficiency, taking few interpersonal risks. Both of these patterns tend to be self-defeating. Frequently, children of dysfunctional families continue to seek approval and acceptance from their parents and families. If these people could not meet your needs when you were a child, they are unlikely to meet your needs now. Recognize your parents' limitations while still accepting whatever support they can offer. Seek your support from other adults. Practice saying how you feel and asking for what you need. Don't expect people to guess -- tell them. This step will likely require much effort.


Practice Taking Good Care of Yourself.

  • Frequently, survivors of dysfunctional families have an exaggerated sense of responsibility. They tend to overwork and forget to take care of themselves. Try identifying the things you really enjoy doing, then give yourself permission to do at least one of these per day.

    Work on balancing the things you should do with the things you want to do. Balance is a key word for people who've grown up in dysfunctional families. Identify areas you tend to approach compulsively: Drinking? Eating? Shopping? Working? Exercising? How might you approach this in a more balanced fashion? One of the best things you can do for your mental and emotional well being is to take good physical care of yourself. Do you eat a good healthy balanced diet? Do you get regular exercise?


Begin to Change Your Relationships with Your Family.

  • Keep the focus on yourself and your behavior and reactions. Remember, you cannot change others, but you can change yourself.

    Work on avoiding entanglements in your family's problems. Counseling or support is usually crucial when trying to change family relationships. You are fighting a lifetime of training in getting hooked into their problems, usually including large doses of guilt. It is also important to be patient with your family. They may find it difficult to understand and accept the changes they see in your behavior. While most families can be workable, undoubtedly there are some rare families who are far too dangerous or abusive to risk further contact.


Read.and Research

  • Many books provide helpful information about dysfunctional families and strategies for recovering from their effects.  You can try to find some but you can also use the internet for research and even help.

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