19 Signs of a Dysfunctional Family

Families are not as united as they used to be, and they are becoming more and more dysfunctional. In this article, you’ll find 19 telltale signs of a very dysfunctional family.


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Dysfunctional families don’t ever seem to be able to keep tabs on one another. You ask one member of the family where another is and they have no clue. They don’t regularly communicate with one another so the parents never know where the children are. 


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Saying “I love you” to your family members is really important. Love isn’t something that should be taken for granted. We can show love through our actions, but for each member of the family to feel loved, we have to say it. Dysfunctional families rarely tell each other that they love one another.


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Complimenting others is key to a happy family. PennState University agrees, stating that “genuine compliments build relationships, improve communication, motivate people, and boost one’s self-esteem and self-confidence.” Dysfunctional families don’t tend to compliment one another and often take the things that others do for granted.


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Another sign of a dysfunctional family is when no one listens to one another. People speak to one another, but they’re not invested enough in one another to really listen and pay attention to what’s being said. As a result, they have no clue what’s going on in one another’s lives.


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Dysfunctional families forget important things about one another. They forget birthdays and anniversaries. They forget school recitals and turn up late for graduation ceremonies. They don’t take proper note of important things, and thus they forget, turn up late, or even miss big milestone events. 


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All families argue from time to time—that’s completely normal. But dysfunctional families can’t seem to do anything but argue. They struggle to speak peaceably with one another, even about simple things. Raising voices and shouting are commonplace among these families. They are always disagreeing with one another. 


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You know that a family is dysfunctional when no one seems to be able to take responsibility for their actions. When something goes wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. These kinds of families don’t respect one another, and they are quick to point the finger. 


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“Family and domestic violence is a common problem in the United States, affecting an estimated 10 million people every year; as many as one in four women and one in nine men are victims of domestic violence,” says the National Institutes of Health. Violence is a sign of a dysfunctional family.


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Another way to spot a dysfunctional family is by taking note of how selfish they are. When family members put themselves first and show a lack of consideration for one another, they are being selfish. Instead of thinking about others, they concentrate on what they want and how they can get it. 

Small Talk

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Dysfunctional families rarely have deep conversations. In fact, their communication with one another seldom goes past general small talk. They never open up to one another or have in-depth chats, so they live like strangers, never really knowing how anyone feels or what they’re doing.


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“One of the best ways to express warmth as a parent is through hugs. “Hugs are a symbol of love and affection and are an easy way to show positive emotion,” says VeryWell Family. But dysfunctional families don’t express such affection to one another and they rarely hug. 


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You can tell a dysfunctional family from a functional one when it comes to finding out information about them. If the family members can’t answer simple questions about one another, such as what grade they’re in, what they do for work, and who their friends are, they are really dysfunctional.

Free Time

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Families who are dysfunctional rarely spend time with one another. They are like strangers living in the same house. Everyone in the house has things to do that keep them occupied, but none of those things involve interacting with the other family members. Downtime is not family time.


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A dysfunctional family might sit in one room in the house in the evening, but they will all be doing different things. One member of the family might be watching TV, another playing video games, another talking on the phone, and so forth. Although they are united in one place, they’re still detached from one another. 


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Another way to spot a dysfunctional family is to watch what they do at mealtimes. A dysfunctional family will likely have sporadic dinner times, and they won’t eat at the table at the same time. And if they do, each family member is occupied on their cell phone while they’re sitting at the table. 


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According to Forever Families BYU, “When couples and families fail to forgive, unequal relationships are created and maintained. True closeness is an impossibility because the ‘offended’ is in a position of holding the ‘offender’ in bondage, and the obsession with being wronged and seeking revenge holds the victim in bondage as well.”

Silent Treatment

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The silent treatment is frustrating because it doesn’t solve any issues. It makes the person who is being ignored feel annoyed. Dysfunctional families often resort to using the silent treatment instead of talking through their problems and trying to resolve them. This doesn’t get them anywhere. 


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Families who are dysfunctional don’t engage in conversation with one another. They show a lack of personal interest. They don’t try to show interest in the things that other members of the family like to do. This is even true for parents who show a lack of personal interest in their children. 


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Being generous and giving gifts to one another is important in a family. When we do so, we show that we care and appreciate one another. A dysfunctional family rarely exchanges gifts, and when they do, they don’t put a lot of thought into them.

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