We tend to carry this first experiences throughout most of our formative years and into adulthood; for regardless of the fact, we may not have been able to cognitively understand what was taking place, instinctively we did…. this is what is called cellular memory, where the body remembers what felt pleasant or unpleasant.
Each family is unique in the way its members interact. While some families provide children with love, affection and a safe environment, many others maintain unhelpful dynamics that negatively affect the growing child’s personality.
Healthy families are those in which the child feels safe, secure, and free. Each person’s boundaries are respected, uniqueness is appreciated, the right to an opinion is valued and needs are met. Dysfunctional families have dynamics in which parents repeatedly and consistently neglect children. They silence them, bully them, emotionally blackmail them, traumatize them physically and/or emotionally, and treat them disrespectfully.
There is no such thing as a perfect childhood, but what is it like for the children who grew up in dysfunctional, perhaps even abusive settings, and what are the consequences? Let’s find out more:
Growing up in a dysfunctional family can cause wounds so deep that they affect you for the rest of your life. Growing up in a dysfunctional family can mean many things; there is no one rule that fits all — in psychology we say, every family is dysfunctional as per the “ideal”, due to the fact that every human being is so complex and different. But that is not the type of dysfunctionality I am referring to here, this article focuses more on abnormal dysfunctionality…. a type of dysfunctionality that scars a child for life. I needed to make that very clear, as within modern society, too many new parenting approaches are leading to what I call “the bubble wrapped” child– which is a child who is overprotected, over indulged, often overwhelming their senses…children who develop no resilience, which in time will lead to adults incapable of facing the natural hardships of life……no extreme is ever good.
In most cases, when I refer to children who have been scarred for life due to the dysfunctionality of their surroundings, I am referring to a home full of instability and full of conflicts. Commonly, there is abuse, neglect, dependence on drugs or alcohol, other type of addictions, psychological issues, or atmospheres where the child was never wanted but came to be due to family expectations or a “moral social” code…. the result: children who suffer every day.
Dysfunctional families create an environment that tends to be experienced as chaotic and unsafe, as one parent or both often behave in unpredictable and inappropriate ways. Children growing up in dysfunctional families have no control over their toxic home environment. Most dysfunctional homes are a combination of two or more of the following unhealthy dynamics:
Chaotic homes: In these families, parents are often absent and behave inappropriately. They are busy leading their own lives and neglect the needs of the children. Often these children are raised by others or more or less raise themselves.
High Conflict Families: There is conflict between the parents, or the parents and other relatives who may live in the same home, or between a child and the parent. Children in such families grow up with insecurity, constant stress, and an inability to bond.
Households with pathological parents: In homes such as these, one or both parents are pathological, that is, they have a personality or mood disorder that is severe, often only showcasing two settings– happy or angry–and in other cases, the parent is affected by alcohol, drug abuse or other addictions.
Households with a dominant father or mother: In many dysfunctional families, there is a father or mother, who is dominant and overly controlling, ignoring the needs and feelings of his partner and children. The submissive spouse and children develop repress negative and angry emotions. It is important to note, the term “dominant” here being used, does not only apply to openly controlling or emotionally ill-humored, but also to the parent who dominates by secluding the children from the other parent by playing the role of overprotective doting parent. This type of parent hijacks the emotional bonding which should be taking place between the other spouse and the children. Children of the later often tend to grow to become experts at emotional blackmail while maintaining a mask of goodness.
Households with Emotionally Distant Parents: In many families, parents do not know how to deliberately express or repress any expression of emotions. This is often seen in certain cultural backgrounds that are predominantly patriarchal. Children in such families grow up with low self-esteem and are equally or more inexpressive.
Some of the consequences of having lived in such dysfunctional surroundings are:
- Trust Issues : One of the first and foremost issues growing up in a dysfunctional family is trust issues. When you can’t trust the people who gave you life, you grow up feeling like you can’t trust anyone.
- Inability to set limits when it comes to abusive behavior: When a child has been submitted to abuse, he or she is often taught to forgive, or even ignore bad behavior. The dysfunction that takes place during our younger years is often filled with examples of our parents, caregivers and family members forgiving abusive behavior. The next generation is expected to excuse and dismiss bad behavior.
- One learns not to talk about problems; instead, they wait until their temper explodes: Family members learn to sweep things under the rug. Communication skills are lacking because no one wants to deal with problems, so they spend little time interacting.
- Anxiety and depression problems: The erratic or unpredictable conditions a child grows up in can affect how they learn to manage stress. They are constantly on their guard because they never know what will happen next, this can lead to anxiety and periods of depression. Although they grow up and may have a place of their own, the brain has been programmed to live in a constant state of alert. Fight-or-flight mode is one of the most difficult modes to give up, especially when your body is used to higher levels of stress-related hormones like cortisol.
- One grows up to be the scapegoat: This is especially true for children with high resilience, who as adults and despite their setbacks, once able, fights back the oppressors and the system that protects them. This person will be used to put the blame on for all the problems in the family, and their story is often discredited as it creates a distraction from the dysfunction and gives the family the sympathy they crave in social circles. Interestingly enough, the rest of the family often acts as if surprised and forgiving while denying the abuse; they will avoid an open face to face regarding what took place, out of fear the truth will become obvious.
- Poor financial management: Many people who grow up in chaos never learn to manage money effectively. Not having a positive example, they often spend too much or live to amass money….never to enjoy it — this is reflective of poor self esteem.
- Learn violence: Have you ever heard that the abused becomes the abuser? Unfortunately, it is quite common for someone who was abused to become an abuser. The reason is that they never learned effective ways to handle conflict and or they feel others deserve the same fate they experienced.
- Self-medication with drugs and alcohol: Many people don’t know how to deal with all the things that happened to them in the past, so they try to self-medicate to relieve the pain. The downside to this thought process is that the “numbness” wears off as soon as the intoxication level wears off, and then, they still have to face reality, which only leads to wanting to numb themselves once more.
- Continuous suffering is all they deserve: Growing up around people who frequently fight or even avoid communicating, teaches children that fighting is an inevitable part of relationships. While human differences or even conflict are inevitable, dysfunctional families teach unhealthy and unsafe ways to deal with conflict which are more fighting than setting boundaries or standing up for oneself– and that becomes a big problem.
- For a child who grew up in a dysfunctional family dynamic, it is difficult to form healthy boundaries, have healthy self-esteem, and form respectful and loving relationships. Many times, the children themselves repeat the patterns they learned in their childhood and indulge in self-destructive behaviors as a means of escape.
The pains of abuse radiate over the decades and can alter a person for lifetime. If you were a victim of an unstable toxic dysfunctionality, the best you can do is to seek help. The more you heal old wounds, the better chances future generations will have. More importantly…healing and walking away from toxic circles, is the gift you can give yourself, for you are deserving of love and have the power in you to rewrite your story….one step at a time.
**By Sofia Falcone