Understanding The Rules of Dysfunctional Families

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Understanding The Rules of Dysfunctional Families

A dysfunctional family is a family system that fails to meet the needs of its members in a way that is healthy and nurturing. Obviously, there are times in the life of most families where not everyone gets what they need. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including divorce, addiction, physical illness, life circumstances, etc. While many families quickly adjust to changes, others become stuck in patterns of dysfunction which can be passed on from generation to generation. As a result, dysfunctional families tend to develop unspoken rules that govern the way the family operates. The more you understand these rules, the more power you will have to break the cycle of dysfunction that these rules create.

Rule # 1: Denial

Dysfunctional families tend to operate in a state of denial about the problems the family is facing. I call this the Pink Elephant Syndrome. Imagine walking into a room at home and seeing a large pink elephant. Most people might ask “What is an elephant doing in here?” However, imagine how you might feel if everyone else forcefully responded “What elephant? Are you crazy? There is no elephant here.” If the family denies the presence of the elephant long enough and hard enough, you might begin to doubt your own perceptions and intuitions. This is the experience that dysfunctional families create when they “deny” the problems that they face.

Rule # 2: Silence

Dysfunctional families encourage and enforce a conspiracy of silence in the family. Even if you can see that there are problems, you aren’t allowed to talk about them. Common statements include: “Don’t say anything, you don’t want to upset them.” “Quiet they are sleeping.” “Family issues are private, don’t talk about them outside the home.”

Rule # 3: Rigidity

Dysfunctional families develop ways of operating that become entrenched over time. There is an expectation that you will always act a certain way. You have your role and you are supposed to stay in it.

Rule # 4: Isolation

Dysfunctional families become isolated and alone. They tend to hide problems from people outside the family and avoid dealing with the problems within the family. As a result, people from dysfunctional families tend to feel like they have to face life alone.

Changing the Rules to Create Healthy Families

In order to create a healthy family system, it is important to establish rules that support growth and health. A starting place is to replace the rules that lead to dysfunction.

Rule # 1: Honesty

By replacing denial with honesty, you create an atmosphere where trust can develop. Secrets can destroy a family. Create an open atmosphere where problems can be identified and explored honestly.

Rule # 2: Communication Open communication should replace the conspiracy of silence. The more that you are able to openly talk about feelings and problems, the more you can create a healthy family system.

Rule # 3: Flexibility

Healthy families allow room for everyone to grow and change. Don’t get stuck in rigid roles that only entrench unhealthy patterns. In healthy families, if something doesn’t work, then it becomes OK to try something new.

Rule # 4: Intimacy

Healthy families actively create intimacy by allowing open honest communication, resolving conflicts, and supporting individual and family growth.

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