Living In A Dysfunctional Family? What Are The Signs?

Parents are the primal unit of a family. However, because of a parent’s lack of emotional maturity, their behaviours can result in the creation of a functional or dysfunctional family unit. Dysfunctional families take many forms. When individuals hear the term dysfunctional they may automatically think domestic violence or sexual abuse or child abuse. However, those are some of the obvious cases. Unfortunately, individuals tend to believe that because their family is not like that then they do not have a dysfunctional family. That however maybe not be the case. Before a family gets to the physical abuse, there has to exist emotional abuse. What some individuals may not be aware of is that emotional abuse within a family unit can exist for years without it becoming physical abuse. Because emotional abuse is not expressed as a physical thing, some individuals may not even realize that they are living within a dysfunctional family. A family may look great on the outside to the seeing eye, but they may really be hiding a cemetery filled with skeletons in their closets.

Family Secrets and Problems:

There are some families that believe it is a betrayal and violation of the trust of the family to discuss family problems with outsiders. Families tend to have that approach because there are things that they want to remain hidden and they are ashamed of it and it is also a sign of control. It is helpful for families to understand that because of their closeness to the individual member who may have the unresolved issue, it is advisable for that member to receive help from a qualified professional on the outside rather than speak to the family. Also the family regardless of their background may not be the healthiest entity to speak with. There are certain problems experienced within the family that needs to be discussed with outsiders in order for there to be not only an objective view, but for the individual to feel comfortable enough to really open up during their sessions.. There is also the factor that based on a family’s views and beliefs, the member that has the issue won’t feel a hundred percent comfortable in discussing their feelings especially if they feel that their issues would challenge the beliefs and views of the family.

Questionable Behaviour Outside of the Marriage:

If you have ever witnessed your father flirting or displaying inappropriate behaviour with someone else and he is still very much married to your mother, you are living in a dysfunctional family. Same goes if the parent is your mother. If you know that your father is having an affair and your mother knows about it and not only does she hate it, she is depressed over it and your father still persists, then you are living in a dysfunctional family. What is even more detrimental is actually seeing either parent having the affair while still married.

Petty Behaviours by a Parent:

We all have our quirks. The things that annoy us may seem silly to others, but nonetheless they annoy us. The things that annoy women may seem silly to men and vice versa. However if your mothers issues are not respected by your father, even if it is not understood and he continually does the very things in the house that your mother hates, you are living in a dysfunctional family where one or both parties are not behaving as adults and setting proper and healthy examples for the children. If your parent was ever trying to compete with you when you were a child or even now as an adult that is another sign of dysfunctional behavior.

Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour with Children:

While this one may be a given, there are some family members who feel that sweeping sexual abuse or sexual inappropriateness towards their child(ren), either by a father, mother, uncle, brother, sister, grandparent, under the rug is the best way to deal with such situations. This is on of the highest forms of dysfunction that a family can exhibit. Sexual abuse of a child will follow that child into Adulthood and it can’t be excused by telling them to get over it because it happened years ago. It is a far reaching dis-ease that if not attended to or be aware of will create repeated dysfunction in an individual’s life.

Healing Your Life:

Growing up in any of the aforementioned environments can be emotional destructive if not dealt with. It is especially hard for the children to know if they should still love or hate their parents. They still love their parents but they hate the pain their parent’s behaviour is causing each other or has caused them. Some children have developed the attitude that their parent’s issues have nothing to do with them so they will still love their parents so they will not get involved. However, that attitude is another symptom of a dysfunctional environment. The unhealthy behaviours of parents do affect the children and sometimes the damage is irreparable. This does not mean that you won’t be able to live a healthy life nor does it mean that you or any of your family members are dysfunctional. What it does mean is the elements that make up the family unit are dysfunctional. Growing up in such an environment will affect you in your adult life. It is commendable if you vow within yourself to not be like your parents and make sure your children do not grow up as you did. However, without a proper understanding of how your family issues have affected you, you will not be able to do things differently without having to shut down your emotions. Unfortunately, most individuals choose to shut down their emotions because they may feel that having or expressing too much emotion will get them in the same situation as their parents. Actually, feeling your emotions and dealing with them as they rise to the surface will help you to become emotionally healthy and thus avoid repeating your childhood when you do begin to have your own family. While some forms of dysfunction can cause serious mental, physical and emotional harm, they may not necessarily be life altering if individuals are willing to do the work required.

At some point in our lives we all desire intimacy. There will come a time when we will seek to share our lives with that special someone. However, because we have lived most of our lives with our emotions on lock down, it will create a paralyzing effect on our lives leaving us fearful of sharing our lives with anyone even with ourselves. This would be unfortunate for us and for others because we would be denying ourselves and others the joy and essence of who we are. To truly find the love we deeply desire, we first have to look back at our childhood and see how the issues within our family dynamic has influenced our lives in the past and present. If we do not come to terms with those issues, not just from our childhood, but also in how they have affected our adult lives, then we won’t be able to live a truly healthy life. Getting to the bottom of our emotions takes hard work. It is not for the faint-hearted. The pain of toxic emotions rising to the surface is enough to knock down a seven hundred pound tiger, but confront them we must if we are striving for emotional health and strength. Working through your emotional baggage will feel as if you are traveling through a deep, dark tunnel. Be patient with yourself. You will be amazed to find that as soon as you work through your emotional pain, chronic illnesses that you have been suffering from for years will slowly disappear. Dis-ease is the guilty element in a majority of the illnesses we suffer from.

Do not be afraid or ashamed to seek help from a mental health therapist. No one has to know your business. Your health is what’s most important to you. For some, main-stream therapy do not work, but alternative therapy such as dancing, painting, volunteer work or other sources of artistic work may be better or a combination of main-stream therapy and alternative therapy. There are those who have a strong religious background and may feel comfortable speaking to their religious leaders. If it works great, but remember the ultimate goal is get you on the path to better emotional health so if something is not working for you, you owe it to yourself to seek other options that may work better for you. It is important to remember that your religious leaders are not trained Psychologist and as a result they may not be able to provide to give you with the appropriate help that you may need for your emotional, mental and physical health. They may only be able to give you spiritual advice, however, in some cases you may need more than that.

As you begin to work on your emotional health it may not be a good idea to be around family or any other individuals who may send you spiraling back down into a place that you are working to get out of. You can step back when you feel you are stronger. It is perfectly okay to step away again if you feel that you are still not strong enough. Take all the time you need to get you on the path you would like to travel. As you travel on your Spiritual journey of healing your past and creating and finding happiness in your present and in your future utilize anything that will get you on the path to emotional health. Whether you decide to share your life with someone special or you decide to have children or just be by yourself, you owe it to yourself to step into your life emotional, physically, mentally healthy and completely whole.


Do Parents Play an Important Role in the Education of Their Child?

Parents’ involvement in their child’s education is a key factor in the child’s scholastic success. It helps eliminate the cultural barrier that separates home from school.

The importance of involving parents in child’s education can be justified on several counts. First, parents have been rightly recognized as their children’s first teachers and role models. Experts suggest that parents’ attitudes and practices toward diversity influences and shapes children’s attitudes toward people who are different from themselves.

Parents themselves are important teachers. Parents’ willingness to take the risks of displaying their own ignorance, when they don’t know something, working patiently to solve problems they face are some amongst the important part of teaching children. Playing with children and talking to them, even for a short period of time, is an important part of their learning. Trying new things is part of learning to teach. What a person knows is less important than what they do to find out new things.

When parents and children explore learning together, the experience of cooperation, family support, and excitement outweighs the problems of being tired, not having enough time and embarrassment. Education includes more than just being in the classroom. The information society requires more than basic education. It rewards creativity, the ability to work together, the ability to put information together in new ways, curiosity, questioning, and asking difficult questions.

Students’ participation in extracurricular activities like sports, school clubs, music, theatre is part of this development process and should receive as much support from parents as classroom work. Education often begins even before school i.e. at home. The demands of future work will place more emphasis on personal interaction and building close and collaborative interpersonal relationships which is almost a difficult task to achieve until and unless the same sort of environment is created at home.

Growing up has never been easy especially now in the new millennium amidst unprecedented prosperity, it has become more striving than ever. The cravings to know each and every fact of the existing world around him drives the inquisitive child to a stage of instability. During this stage the child cries for attention, help and love from the parents. This stage if ignored can prove to be lethal for the child.

Parents usually prefer to discuss only the career oriented issues with the child and rest of his cravings are considered as taboo. The child is always raised with pressures to excel in life. When children are young, parents marvel at their every little accomplishment but later the primal ambition left with the pushy parents is just to see their child topping the class. The grim epithet to the tormented lives of the children is the word ‘failure’. Sometimes the children express an inability to cope with the pressure to excel, frittering the dreams of their parents.

Examination fear, sibling rivalry, issues at school, warring parents, fear of punishment, distressed parents, divorce of parents are some of the prominent reasons roosting among the children which are making them vulnerable towards depression or a new world (without parents).

The escalating aspirations where the youth believes in achieving anything and the need of instant gratification makes the youth bully in nature. In such cases the refusals by the parents to accept the browbeating attitude of the child drives him away from them towards the world of destruction.

To safeguard the future of their child and to bridge the gap the parents have to bring a cluster of changes in their own behavior and personalities. The parents should ensure that the state of anguish being brought in the lives of their children by the inchoate emotional forces running rampant in the adolescent mind of the child should not go unheeded in any case or on the pretext of being a subject of taboo. Parents should also ensure that they are least absorbed in their own lives and career and try to spend the maximum time with their child.

On seeing their child scoring low or being flunked most of the parents are seen doing comparisons between their child and the other intelligent classmates of the child who scored the highest, such affronting creates despair in the child. Instead of doing comparisons, sermonizing the child to compete in today’s rat race and creating polarities, the parents should keep patience to hear and understand the child, entice the child for study and match the child with peer. They should try to ferret out the caliber of their child and help the child hone it up.

Some children do not want to grow up as they assume that adults have no fun in their life. They perceive all the adults in their life as stressed and permanently tired. Here too the parents should tend to talk to the child about what they enjoy by growing older, also to tell them that education is the best provision for the journey to the old age. Caring relationship has proved to be the most powerful disciplinary and learning tool for children. Parents have the most important and enduring relationship with their children. Children learn more from the home environment than any other thing.

Parents are the truest friend a child has, when trials heavy and sudden falls upon the child; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with the child during sunshine deserts him; when trouble thickens around him, still will parents cling to their child, and endeavor by their kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to the hearts of their child.

Being pragmatic the parents should establish a few family rules and should stick to them. If children learn to obey at home, it will be easier for them at school. Punishment for not following the rules should be non-physical. The follow ups of these little but primal elements in life by the parents and the teachers will not let the child get bogged down by anxiety, phobias, academic and socialization plights and can restore a happy life to thousands of children. These factors corroborate the statement that ‘the parents definitely have a role in proper education of their child.’

The China Earthquake – Child Adoption


This is the second paper is in response to the work being carried out in China by counsellors in the field. China on May 12th suffered its worse earthquake for 30 years measuring 8 on the Richter scale, causing at this time over 70,000 deaths and millions of people homeless and injured. In the aftermath of the earthquake people from all over China were concerned with the plight of the children left victims of tragic parental loss and death. Good hearted people rushed forward to offer adoption of these children to give them a new home and a new beginning. This paper is to explore the psychology of what to expect from a child who will have severe mental anguish for many months if not years and to make potential adopters aware of the pitfalls of rushing to quickly to adopt what may turn out to be a problem child with severe mental problems in the future.


Research into child adoption is well established particularly in the United States and Europe following disasters in other areas and the long-term study of the effects of psychological harm seen to manifest in children over the short and long term. As far back as 1937 David Levy in the USA began the first study into how children are affected by adoption into a stranger’s family, in a new environment and the absence of the biological mother. Levy saw the distress in these children from an early age and the cumulative effect over the years to mental problems in adulthood. Since this pioneering research many other psychologists have followed suit and confirmed the harm of adoption when the compulsion to help over-rides the needs of the child.

The Effect of Adoption:

Jean MacLeod wrote in Adoptive Families Magazine, “The day to day life with a new child, who is scared and perhaps angry or rejecting, with little sleep can make even the most confident parent lose their composure” This then is the fundamental problem of removing the child from its environment, natural parents and friends to a strangers home (however welcoming) to begin a new life where all they knew and understood has been torn away from them in a moment of horror.

The children of the earthquake will suffer emotional problems brought on my sudden loss of their parents soon after birth, as small children and as middling to teenage years. Each child according to age and experience will deal with the loss in differing ways but often with similar reactions. The youngest will have not have had the chance for a bonding relationship with the biological mother, this often lies at the deep route of a child’s later personality as physical and psychological aspects are merged in the child (Clothier 1943). Child development research by such eminent psychologists such as Bowlby (1960’s) clearly show the affect of sudden loss, separation anxiety and developmental damage to a child’s psyche in the future and how they can easily become dysfunctional adults later in life. Even with the best-substitute mother in the world the subtle effects of interactionism at an early stage of development cannot be made-up for in kindness and patience by an adoptive parent. Older children from two years to ten know they have a personal loss; they cannot however evaluate the process of grief with the reality of the situation. Disbelief as in any grief process is the first reaction and they angrily reject any attempt to re-parent them to another family. In China because of the one-baby-policy this has an even worse affect as no older sibling as available for secondary bonding and sharing of the grief process for them. For the teenagers it can be even worse – they have the cognitive ability to understand the loss, but they are too young to fend for themselves and are treated as younger than they really are by well-meaning helpers. They often feel their needs are ignored and the feeling for self-determination is not taken into account as the authorities determine their fate for the next five to ten years.

What can new Foster Parents Expect?

The emotional problems will manifest in many ways but some are more common to most age groups, such as, fear of close relationships, low self esteem, and anger, immaturity that produces problems such as, lying, oppositional behaviour, school underachievement, quick temper, frustration and depression. (Katz M.)

Fear of Close Relationships:

You are young, your parents have died in an earthquake, and it was sudden, horrific and unexpected. You are now alone, strangers are feeding you, sheltering you, you can here counsellors talking but do not understand the words. Your personal belongings, the things you cherished are gone. Soon you are told a nice couple are going to look after you? You are confused, who are these strangers what do they want me for? The first thing most children learn is to trust or mistrust adults, in this the child’s reactions to situations can often be the foundation of decisions. In the child’s mind their parents have been taken away, lost forever, no chance for goodbye or a last kiss, hug or smile. This can happen again the child surmises and in this moment decides that getting close to someone hurts terribly, so the only solution is to keep your distance both physically and mentally. The new parents cannot understand why the child hates them, rejects their kindness, and does not communicate with them, soon the new parents feel guilty, they want to give the child back; they feel it is ungrateful for this new chance, this new beginning. The new parents start to reject the child and so the child sees this rejection as confirming its new belief that to be close is dangerous. In the child’s mind safety lies in self-reliance without the need for adult care.

Low Self-Esteem:

All ages of children will feel the sudden loss as somehow a punishment to them for something they did not do or think about prior to the earthquake. To an adult this is irrational thinking but to a child it makes sense. They (the child) must have done something wrong to be punished in such a terrible way. Feelings of worthlessness abound as the child develops. New parents talk of future expectations, how they are going to help the child become something, but to the child this pressure to please the new parents is hard work when they have not even had time to grieve for their own loss. This thinking leads to the “Chosen Child” complex where the child feels they are special to the new parents and so must make every effort to show their gratitude for being adopted. However for the child trying to live up to these expectations can lead to feelings of failure, lack of self-worth and depression. They cannot become the “Perfect Child” for them and become emotionally drained. As the child grows they see the physical differences between them and their adoptive parents, this further highlights their strangeness and feelings of being misplaced in the family and the world.


The child in anger is manifesting their frustration with the new situation, they cannot relax, they feel no familiar comfort in the home, the talk of friends and other family are not understood, they feel it is hard to ask for things without feeling awkward. Eventually their emotions boil over and they break. The anger is sudden and violent, often for smaller children breaking objects or destroying new toys as a way of expressing their grief and feelings of being lost in this new world.


Even the older children will developmentally go backward in some aspects of their behaviour. Lying is very common, some is to please the new parent, saying they are happy (when clearly they are not) saying thank you more that normal (as an appeasement to the new parents) denying breakages or stealing money (to prepare for another loss – money is useful to save). Oppositional behaviour manifest in the need for self-reliance, the rejection of help by the new parent, the lack of a suitable role model that looks, thinks and acts as they do can all lead to emotional problems such as school underachievement and violence to other children.

The New Parents:

For the adoptive parents this time can be particularly difficult, they thought they were doing a noble thing, a good deed for society in taking in this child who had such a tragic start to their young lives. However as time passes and they experience all the emotional turmoil of the child’s problem behaviour they become frustrated, angry, physically violent to the child in some cases and abusive both verbally and emotionally. The little dream child has turned into a nightmare of sleepless nights and constant battles for control. As there is no natural bonding the parents feel that the child in merely a visitor they look after until such time as it no longer needs them. As the child grows it looks like the biological parent and often the adoptive parents feels that the problems over the years are the fault of the dead parents and blame them for not teaching the child proper behaviour when they were alive. Even the most patient new parent will have a test of wills on many occasions with the child causing resentment and rejection.

The Genes Question:

There is no doubt that genes play a part in the physical aspects of a child’s looks and growth. However this should not be confused with social development, that takes place within first the family, later peers and significant others. As the child grows they can see they are not like the other members of the family in looks and physical attraction. This may cause two psychological consequences, first a feeling of not belonging, the idea of the outsider and second the feeling of being mentally different. This is not strictly true but merely a need for self-recognition. This often leads to the older child asking questions about where they come from, who were their real parents, what happened to them, why did they leave me with you, am I bad person then, how can I find them? This is a time of great difficulty for the new parents as they have to face the prospect of a late rejection after maybe years if coping with their problem child.

The Second Rejection:

Many new parents will not be able to cope with the problem child and come to the decision to give the child back to the adoption agencies to re-assign to other parents. This is particularly true of child-less couples who take the opportunity to have a child from the earthquake as a substitute to not having one of their own. Others cannot cope with the loss of face. They told the neighbours they are going to adopt a child from the earthquake as a badge of honour. Later they have to hide the problem child from those same neighbours who now witness much of the behaviour described above. Those who do cope for a few years can still send the child away to boarding school as a way of some respite for themselves but the child sees this as yet another loss of trust. Some that develop severe mental problems can be hidden away or sent to psychiatric hospitals, many never to return. To the growing child this maybe the last straw, in a long line of rejections and painful experiences, often leading to long-term psychiatric care and attempted suicides or drug dependency.

In Summery:

The Chinese earthquake like many other terrible disasters led to thousands of children parentless, homeless and grieving. Many kind-hearted people will rush forth to help, nurture and adopt these tragic children. However not all the new parents are fit for this task even with the best will in the world can many of them cope with an emotionally scared child who has psychological damage that will follow it for its lifetime? For many of the children they would be better to stay in the area they grew up in and make a new start surrounded by the familiar. Children of loss bond to each other much more solidly than to strange adults. Questions of trust, security and routine are far more important right now than well-meaning people who think, with money, care and comfort them can take the place of the biological parent in the short term or the long term. No solutions are perfect – but new parents should be aware of the responsibility they take on with that child of tragedy! In this paper I have looked at the negative aspects of adoption for a good reason and that is to warn, stop and get new potential adoptive parents to think first and act with compassion second. Of course many children of adoptive parents grow to appreciate their new home and loving, caring parents. However no new parent starts with the ideal child who rushes in and says mummy I love you five minutes after they arrive. Realism is called for in this tragedy to protect the interests of the child and its future as part of China’s harmonious society.



David M. Levy, (1937) American Journal of Psychiatry – 94, Primary Affect Hunger.
F. Clothier MD, (1943) Psychology of the Adopted Child
N. N. Verrier (1993) Primal Wound
Bowlby J (1965) Loss / Separation Anxiety