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Characteristics of Dysfunctional Families

Below is a list of common symptoms and behavior patterns in dysfunctional families, and their affect on Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families. You may find some or all of these characteristics in a family, depending on how healthy or unhealthy it is.

1) Abuse
Children suffer from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; neglect; or witnessing the abuse of someone else. As adults, they may carry the childhood pain throughout their lives, as the passing of time does not seem to heal trauma.

2) Perfectionism
Parents' constant criticism can leave a child to feel a deep sense of worthlessness and shame. As adults, they may internalize those negative messages and keep criticizing themselves.

3) Rigid rules, lifestyle, and/or belief systems
Controlling parents who maintain there is only one right way to be, or only one right way to do something, can make it difficult to have fun or be spontaneous as adults.

4) The "No talk rule" or keeping "the family secrets"
Children are taught to never share their pain or abuse outside the family, and as adults they believe they must handle all of their problems by themselves, in isolation.

5) Inability to identify or express feelings
Anger, sadness, hurt, fear and shame get buried. As adults, they walk around with a mask on, denying who they are are and becoming dependent on pleasing others and seeking others' approval.

6) Triangulation
Communication pattern using one family member as a messenger or go-between, rather than speaking directly to the person with whom they want to communicate. As adults, they may repeat the pattern because it feels "normal."

7) Double messages/double binds
"I love you/Go away." "We are proud of you/We are ashamed of you." As adults, it can be difficult to trust their own reality or to develop a strong sense of knowing themselves.

8) Inability to play and have fun
The world is a very serious place to be. As adults, they're often on the edge of burnout, trying to prove their worth by what they do, rather than accepting who they are.

9) High tolerance for inappropriate behavior/pain
Children learn to deny feelings, to protect themselves from boundary violations and emotional or physical abuse. As adults, they'll put everyone else first and pride themselves on how much they can put up with.

10) Enmeshment
A problem of boundary definition, where people can't see where their identity or problems end, and someone else's identity or problems begin. As adults, they'll blame each other for unhappiness, or be unable to make a move without another.

As you read through this list, it's absolutely normal and okay to:
  • say to yourself, "that never happened in my family,"
  • feel confused,
  • get really mad,
  • wonder,
  • question,
  • doubt,
  • feel sad,
  • cry,
  • be bored,
  • want to talk to someone about it.

Carolyn will help you claim your personal power through family of origin work, by learning to identify and address those early childhood wounds which have fueled various addictions, depression, anxiety, and relationship difficulties. The focus is not on blaming caregivers, but rather healing the underlying blocks and traumas. This allows us to unlock and change current patterns. Learn about your core issues and how to address and heal them. A combination of information and experiential work will guide you through specific processes designed to release painful emotions, heal childhood wounds, and assist you to reclaim personal power. Work with Carolyn to receive a set of strategies, tools, and resources to make these empowering principles permanent in your daily life.