The Effects of growing up in a Dysfunctional Family

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I will explain:

  • Why families are important and why you need them
  • Why you don’t need to be the perfect parent to have a healthy family
  • How growing up in a dysfunctional family could have affected you
  • A quiz from Charles Whitfield’s Book “Healing the Child Within” that questions how your childhood would have affected you.


In this article, you will definitely need your journal and a pen handy as I have a quiz to go through at the end.


The Truth about Families

Most families have some sort of dysfunction that manifests itself from time to time.

Also, some families go through periods of dysfunction when they are going through stress and difficulties such as bereavement, divorce, job loss, health issues, and even moving house can be problematic sometimes.

The truth is that there isn’t a perfect family. Especially in this day and age in Western Societies because of our lifestyles. We are just not able to provide as much as what is needed for our families emotionally do our many conflicting demands.

Parents don’t need to be perfect really. It is not possible and not necessary. It’s all about a phrase called Rupture and Repair devised by a Paediatrician called Donald Winnicott. 

Winnicott said that children need their mothers or primary caregivers (remember that the main caregiver a the turn of the 19th century when this was written was the mother).

Children need their mothers to fail them in intolerable ways on a regular basis so they can learn to live in an imperfect world. … However, the quicker a parent can notice the rupture and skillfully repair it, the better a child will learn to self-regulate.

The important thing about failure when it happens is to be in tune with your child to repair any damage. A Child then learns to cope well with difficulties when they happen.

I suppose this is where apparently “loving” families could appear dysfunctional because if you wrap your child constantly with cotton wool, they won’t learn how to cope with challenges when they get older.

The differences between a Dysfunctional and Healthy Family

The difference between a dysfunctional family and a family that experiences dysfunction from time to time is that the family that sometimes experiences dysfunction is more emotionally mature.

They are better able and have more coping skills to manage difficulties. In those difficult circumstances, for a healthy family, the impact of the difficulties doesn’t stay long.

If your parents have good coping strategies and emotional intelligence, they are able to come through the other side of their difficulties. Even learn from what they have been through to use that lesson for the benefit of the family as a whole.

For those families which are mainly dysfunctional, the same experience would have more of an impact on them simply because they don’t have the same skills to cope with those difficulties.

The impact of the problems there tends to remain for long periods of time where problems add on to more problems then even more problems and nothing ever gets resolved.

This could even continue from generation to generation. Hence the term – Intergenerational Trauma.
If you add to those problems the “unspoken” rules and demands of the family. Those rules such as don’t trust anyone, don’t talk about family problems, etc will make things even worse.

Why Families are important

The thing is, the family is important because it is where we form our first relationships. Our parents are the first people we fall hopelessly in love with as children.

We don’t question what and why they do things, we just love them because they are our parents. This is a natural response that we all have as children to connect with the person that is caring for us. It’s nature’s way of keeping us safe and it’s a natural instinct.

We learn about ourselves through our families based on what we see from them, how we feel they see us, and also what we think they think about us as well is important. As children, we don’t have the brain capacity to know how to fully understand their emotions and behaviors.

We are like sponges and just soak up everything we see and feel. We also learn emotional literacy, how to feel, and what is ok to feel. We take on the thoughts and opinions of our parents ending up seeing ourselves the way they see us.

If you were brought up in a dysfunctional family where you could have experienced physical, sexual, emotional neglect, psychological or spiritual abuse. The following could happen:

  • We learn how to protect ourselves and in some ways our families including our parents.
  • We often learn how to repress, deny, and find our feelings uncontrollable.
  • How we relate to others in friendships, our jobs, and intimate relationships is shaped by our dysfunctional family.


I have to add here that children are very resilient and can cope with some insurmountable problems if they have the love, support, security, and guidance from their parents. As I said earlier, every family experiences some level of dysfunction from time to time.

But depending on the parent’s ability to cope emotionally with what they are going through will lessen or deepen any scars the child would be left with. You can get two families going through the exact same thing. Both families would struggle at first, as we are all human beings and not robots.

However, one family will continue to struggle and the ramifications of the struggle would continue to affect them whilst the other family, with the love and support from the parents, modeling healthy coping strategies, the family would get through, virtually unscathed.

The main difficulty with all these experiences is that of a child, as part of your family. As a child in these circumstances whether you are a baby or adolescent, you will adopt behaviors and beliefs about yourself and the world to help us manage and cope with what you are experiencing.

Those behaviors helped you survive those circumstances but they often don’t stand you in good stead as an adult as they often change into behaviors that are often detrimental to ourselves or others. 

We adopted certain behaviors to protect ourselves as children because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t have the self-awareness to work out what was going on and what to do about it.

The Charles Whitfield Quiz - how growing up in a dysfunctional family could have affected you

I have found this quiz taken from the Book “Healing the Child Within by Charles Whitfield – “Recovery Potential Survey”. He did a quiz to assess how you could have been wounded by some of these experiences.

Just have a pen and paper handy and write down if you experience any of the statements
All the time,
Not at all
That’s often, occasionally, rarely, or not at all’’

What did you think of this quiz? If you answered “often or occasionally to a lot of these questions, then this podcast is for you.
Charles Whitfield identified these as classic symptoms of childhood wounding. One thing I need to stress here is that non of these issues here are insurmountable. Recovering from all of this is possible but it takes time, effort, discipline, and patience.

What to do next

What do you think about the contents of this article. Feel free to contact me to let me know and also let me know of other articles you would like to see on this website.

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Do you have a Toxic, Emotionally Immature, Narcissist, Co-dependent, or Parent with an Addiction? Have you struggled with their behavior for most of your life? Maybe your Childhood wasn’t the best but you want to make sense of why it still affects you now.

You may find yourself struggling in so many ways.

I am an experienced and qualified Online-Therapist based in the United Kingdom helping you on your road to healing from your Toxic Parents. 

Healing is Possible! I’m here to walk with you on your Journey

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