Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families

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Our addiction treatment centre helps not only people caught in the shackles of addiction – we understand that addiction results also in the suffering of friends, relatives, and in particular, children of the addicted person. It is the children of dysfunctional families that are brought up in an unhealthy environment.

“Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families” is an expression to describe the adults that were brought up in disturbed families lacking in values, unconditional love, acceptance or a healthy degree of hierarchy. We help such people overcome their social anxiety or battle their own addictions which resulted from that dysfunctional up-bringing. Below, we outline the personality traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics.

The family role in child’s personality development

The family environment plays a crucial role in personal development – it shapes personalities and behaviours of the family members. Establishing an emotional bond with their family is every child’s fundamental need. This healthy connection ensures child’s proper personality and character development.

A functional family should provide the child with safe, emotionally fulfilling and nurturing environment. Such an environment is understood as the sense of belonging and being accepted, respect for the child’s rights among them the right to express themselves freely. This allows the child to be directly involved in the family matters instead of condemning them to a role of a passive observer. A friendly family environment teaches the child how to express their feelings, build and maintain healthy relationships, and take care of their own needs.

A dysfunctional family

A dysfunctional family fails to fulfill the child with their basic needs such as care, support, love, affection or at times even their physiological needs. This, in fact, makes a dysfunctional family a pathological environment. A dysfunctional family abandons the child while the source of this betrayal lays with a dysfunctional caregiver.

Dysfunction in a family system might be related to:

  • substance abuse
  • incest
  • psychological or emotional abuse
  • domestic violence
  • chronic illness which weighs on other family members or a hypochondriac family member that terrorises the entire family with their alleged condition

Causes to pathological family structure

A pathological family environment might have underlying biological or social reasons. Alcoholism, drug addiction, troubles with law, conflicted relationship between the caregivers, inability to communicate constructively, poverty, unemployment, mental illness among caregivers are all examples of pathological behaviours.

The aforementioned factors are often intertwined. Treating only the addicted person might not be enough to solve family problems. This is because any family dysfunction results in a substantial erosion of family bonds, especially those between children and their caregivers. Children in dysfunctional familes are exposed to unhealthy patterns of behaviour which the child itself may repeat in their adult life. A child whose personality is shaped in that kind of environment, finds socialising outside of the family particularly difficult.

The pathological family dynamics

A pathological family does not reinforce any positive behavioural patterns and refuses to accept any external support. A dysfunctional family does not necessarily attract the attention of social assistance institutions. Many of the behavioural patterns that children in such families are taught differ from those typical in normative families – i.e. parents may encourage their children to steal since theft is the only source of income for the family or may send off young children to buy them alcohol.

Repeating dysfunctional family patterns

Failing to meet child’s most fundamental necessities, such as physiological needs or a safe and nurturing environment, makes providing the child with higher hierarchy needs completely impossible. A neglected child focuses their entire energy on surviving their ordeal. Children “inherit” this state of mind from their caregivers and are unable to change it even as adults. As such, the dysfunctional family pattern is passed down through the generations.

Inadequate parenting

Family pathology is not necessarily related only to substance abuse, domestic violence or poverty – often it might also be associated with a complete lack or unhealthy excess of affection. In any case, the parenting is inconsistent and lacking in “golden mean.” Inadequate parenting may manifest itself in the following behaviours:

  • casual and inconsistent approach to parenting
  • over-nurturing the child (to the point of almost controlling their behaviour)
  • overly strict upbringing
  • avoiding or rejecting the child
  • neglecting the child

The aforementioned behaviours prevent the child from feeling safe, secure or serene.

Emotional disorders

Emotional disorders in a child might stem from authoritarian upbringing, emotional coldness in the family or, at the opposite end, excessively liberal approach to parenting that results in no supervision. Child’s rejection by caregivers manifests itself also in parental neglect, strict parenting or lack of acceptance. Overly protective parents often shield their children from non-existing threats. On the contrary, giving children free rein to do as they please in order to win their affection is also detrimental to their development. Particularly damaging is parents’ unstable behaviour or inconsistent rules which they try to impose on children.

The consequences of dysfunctional upbringing

Inadequate or inappropriate parenting might result in irreversible changes to child’s psyche, underachievements at school, a lack of aspirations or inability to build intimate relationships in later life. A lack of positive reinforcement in family environment might negatively impact the child’s self-esteem, self-worth or their social skills. The undesirable parental behaviours may include:

  • direct or indirect domination
  • indifference to the child’s needs
  • inconsistent parenting
  • children’s rights violation
  • humiliating the child
  • excessive praise or its complete lack
  • expecting the child to choose sides in parental conflicts
  • overprotectiveness
  • isolating the child from their peers
  • unjust treatment

The aforementioned factors cause the child’s basic emotional needs to remain unfulfilled – this, in turn, negatively affects their adulthood.

If the memory of your childhood is tormenting you and you struggle to find serenity in your daily adult life, our addiction treatment centre is here to help you.