17 Signs You Probably Grew Up in a Dysfunctional Family

Even if parents have the best intentions, they can still fail to create a suitably functional family dynamic for their children to thrive in. As a result, many of us grow up in dysfunctional families that have a lasting impact on our mental health. Here are 17 signs you probably grew up in a dysfunctional family.

Punishment Felt Like Revenge

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Discipline is an essential part of raising a child, but parents with mental health difficulties or personality disorders sometimes end up using punishment as an excuse to gain a sense of revenge. Perhaps your punishments felt unfair, excessive, or strangely personal. If this is the case, you may have experienced dysfunctional family dynamics.

Emotional Blackmail Was Common

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Dysfunctional family members commonly use emotional blackmail as a manipulative way to get their own needs at the expense of their children’s mental health. Vulnerable emotions or secrets may have been weaponized to gain a sense of control or to intimidate other family members.

Communication Breakdown

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Dysfunctional childhood environments can make it difficult for us to communicate healthily as adults. If you grew up in a family like this, you may have noticed that your caregivers failed to communicate effectively or set clear rules for healthy communication.

Adults’ Needs Over Childrens’ Needs

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Parents who have chronically struggled to meet their own needs may end up prioritizing their needs over the needs of their children, causing more issues for everyone involved. If your emotional needs were frequently neglected or put on hold, you may have grown up in a dysfunctional family.

Suppressed Emotional Expression

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It’s healthy to express all forms of emotion as they arise, but unfortunately, not all families hold this belief. Those of us with a dysfunctional family may have been taught that our emotions are unimportant, inconvenient, or harmful, which can cause us to suppress our feelings in adulthood.

Difficulty Setting Boundaries

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If our parents exhibited unhealthy boundary setting or frequently crossed boundaries with us or each other, this can lead to similar issues in our adult lives. This can manifest as difficulty saying yes or no to things when we truly mean it, creating room for others to overstep our boundaries.

Living in ‘Survival Mode’

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Did you often feel like you were in constant “survival mode” growing up? If so, you may have been raised in a dysfunctional family. Instability and chaos in our childhood lives can cause us to constantly anticipate danger and focus on surviving rather than thriving.

Ignoring Red Flags and Lacking Trust

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Trusting both yourself and others is another thing that can be significantly more difficult if you grew up in a dysfunctional family. As such, it’s more common for those who grew up around these dynamics to ignore red flags and fail to trust their own sense of intuition.

Struggle with Self-Worth

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We all struggle with maintaining a healthy sense of self-worth sometimes, but those accustomed to dysfunctional family dynamics know this feeling all too well. Children who receive excessive criticism and a lack of praise often end up feeling fundamentally inadequate and incapable, leading to a poor sense of self-worth.

Difficulty Forming Close Relationships

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A childhood filled with dysfunction and a lack of healthy intimacy can make it much more difficult to form close, intimate relationships in adult life. Sometimes individuals with this issue will subconsciously sabotage healthy relationships to avoid getting hurt in the future.

Seeking Answers about Family Dysfunction

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If you find yourself specifically researching dysfunctional family dynamics or questioning whether your family was dysfunctional, it’s quite likely that you’re on the right track. Seeking answers about negative childhood experiences is a positive sign that you’re growing in self-awareness and beginning to heal from old wounds.

Assigned Roles in the Family System

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When you were growing up, did it feel like each child was treated in a different, distinct way? Perhaps one sibling seemed to be the scapegoat, while another was the golden child, caretaker, or hero. If this sounds like your family, it’s likely you grew up in a dysfunctional home that may have pitted children against each other to serve the adults’ needs.

Disrupted Sense of Trust

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Growing up in a dysfunctional family can lead to a warped sense of trust in adulthood. For example, you may find it difficult to trust yourself, your loved ones, or the kindness of strangers. This can also create issues with maintaining a stable job or relationship.

Disrespect Among Family Members

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Children may be small and inexperienced, but it’s incredibly important to respect them and their needs. If you were treated with a lack of respect in your childhood or saw your parents disrespecting each other, it’s likely that you grew up in a dysfunctional family.

Fear of Abandonment

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An adult’s fear of abandonment often stems from childhood experiences of abandonment or neglect. Even if we can logically see that our loved ones will probably not leave us, this trauma can create a deep-rooted fear that they will.

Emotional Instability

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If you grew up in an unstable family, you may have been subjected to intense expressions of emotion from your parents or a lack of care for your own emotions. This can often create mood swings, stress management issues, and high levels of neuroticism in adulthood.

Codependency in Family Relationships

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Codependency is an unhealthy relationship dynamic in which one family member is overly reliant on another, frequently leading them to make excuses for poor behavior or neglect their own needs and identity. If you struggle with codependency or have a codependent parent, you likely grew up in a dysfunctional family.

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