top of page

Signs of a Dysfunctional Family

kid tries to cover ears to stop sound of parents arguing holoidays

Growing up in a dysfunctional family can have a significant and long-lasting impact on your life. Dysfunction in a family is the result of unhealthy dynamics and interactions between family members, leading to unhelpful behaviors, negative attitudes, and strained relationships. They may not be perfect, but most families do love one another.

A dysfunctional household consists of family members who exhibit codependent or enabling behavior instead of healthy habits. These dysfunctional patterns are often rooted in past trauma or unresolved issues that create barriers to trust, loyalty, and honesty within the family dynamic.

If you recognize any of these signs in your own home, know that you are not alone. Many people grow up with similar experiences. It’s never too late to work toward rebuilding trust and strengthening relationships with loved ones.

Defining Dysfunctional Families

A dysfunctional family is one in which the interactions and communications between family members cause distress and unhappiness, leading to serious emotional and mental health issues for members. Dysfunctional families are characterized by a lack of mutual respect, hostility, and a general disregard for one another’s feelings. Dysfunctional families are often very high-conflict households, where parents or siblings argue often or even violently. The members of a dysfunctional family may exhibit avoidance or denial when confronted with the reality of their situation.

Dysfunctional families are extremely common, and many people grow up in them without ever realizing that they have the power to change their situation. People who come from dysfunctional families often feel ashamed of their situation, leading them to keep their experiences hidden.

Constant Conflict and Fighting

Conflict is a normal part of life, and it’s often a sign that people care enough about something to argue about it. In a healthy family, there will be occasional arguments and disagreements, but they’ll be resolved quickly. When fighting in your household becomes a consistent pattern, it’s a sign that the relationship between family members has become unhealthy. When parents are constantly bickering or fighting with each other, it indicates that their relationship is dysfunctional.

Children learn conflict resolution and communication skills by example, so when parents can’t resolve their own issues, their children are unlikely to learn how to do so either. If you notice significant conflict in your household, it’s important to speak up.

Using Negativity to Communicate

Parents who grew up in a dysfunctional family were likely raised by adults who modeled unhealthy communication patterns. These negative communication methods are often passed on to their children. Negative communication patterns include things like arguing, name-calling, and using insults. Children who grow up using negativity as a primary method of communication will likely use this pattern as adults. Negative communication often stems from feelings of anger or resentment. It’s important to recognize when you’re feeling these emotions and find constructive ways to deal with them.

Dishonesty and Lack of Trust

If your family is constantly lying to one another, it indicates that the people in your household don’t trust one another. Dishonesty and lack of trust are often warning signs of dysfunction. When parents lie to their children, it teaches them that it’s acceptable to deceive others. Parents who lie about their work, love lives, or financial situations are telling their children that it’s okay to keep secrets from one another. Children who grow up in a home with a high degree of dishonesty will likely use this pattern as adults. They’ll be less likely to trust their partners, friends, and co-workers. They’ll likely find themselves in unhealthy and unfulfilling relationships because they don’t know how to put their trust in others.

Equating Abuse with Love

It’s possible that you grew up in a home where you were regularly mistreated or abused. If your parents abused you and it’s something that you have a hard time coming to terms with, it’s important to remember that abuse is not love. When parents mistreat their children, it’s not a sign of their love for them. It’s a sign that they’re emotionally stunted, unable to properly raise and care for their children.

As a child, you had no control over your situation. You were at your parents’ mercy, so you did the best you could with the knowledge and skills that you had. It’s completely understandable if you still have difficulty coming to terms with this as an adult. Unfortunately, many children who are mistreated grow up to mistreat their own children. If you still struggle with mistreatment or abuse, it’s important to seek help and support.

Escaping Through Food

Some families are so dysfunctional that they lead their children to self-destruction, and one of the most common signs of this is an unhealthy relationship with food. When you notice that your family members regularly over-eat, it’s likely a sign of escaping through food. Eating more than your body needs is a way of escaping your pain and discomfort. It can also be a sign of low self-esteem. It’s important to recognize if you or someone you love is regularly engaging in unhealthy eating habits. Parents who were overweight or obese children are more likely to over-eat as adults, and that pattern can be passed down to their children.

Understanding Normal

It’s important to note that most families are somewhat dysfunctional. Some researchers suggest that the average family is dysfunctional to some degree. Yet, there’s a significant difference between a slightly dysfunctional family and one that is seriously dysfunctional. It’s normal for families to have squabbles and minor disagreements. If your family is consistently falling apart or struggling to get through their days, there may be a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

If you’re unsure whether your family is dysfunctional, try keeping a journal for a couple of weeks and write down the things you notice about your household. What types of fighting are happening? What types of communication are occurring? Are there any patterns you can identify? Learn to recognize patterns and cycles of dysfunction.


Every family has its own set of issues to deal with, but when those issues are causing significant harm to the people within the family unit, it’s important to address them. The first step to changing a dysfunctional household is identifying the issues. Once you’ve done that, you can begin to work on repairing the relationships within your family. It won’t happen overnight, but with time and effort, you can repair broken relationships and create a healthier environment for everyone in your family.


bottom of page