Russian author Leo Tolstoy wasn't quite accurate when he famously wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Certain patterns of communication are seen repetitively in dysfunctional families, leading to chronic problems within the family, note Sheryl A. Benton and Dorinda J. Lambert with the counseling department at Kansas State University 12. If you recognize negative communication patterns in your own home, family counseling may help your family learn to function normally 1.
Some families argue whenever there is a difference in opinion or beliefs. However, emotional arguments rarely resolve these differences or sway anyone to change her beliefs. A person whose beliefs are strongly attacked is likely to defend them with equal vehemence, increasing negative emotions on both sides. Healthy families can acknowledge and tolerate different points of view.
- Some families argue whenever there is a difference in opinion or beliefs.
- However, emotional arguments rarely resolve these differences or sway anyone to change her beliefs.
The Effects of "Control Freak" Parents
Families who practice “reality shifting” contradict each other about what actually happened, says the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Counseling Center website. While people naturally have different points of view about different incidents, reality shifters deny objective events. For example, a parent might speak of an unhappy, argumentative Christmas dinner as a "lovely time" and act indignant when a child describes the actual events of the evening. Reality shifting can cause children to doubt their own experiences.
- Families who practice “reality shifting” contradict each other about what actually happened, says the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Counseling Center website.
- While people naturally have different points of view about different incidents, reality shifters deny objective events.
Criticism between family members can backfire when it is too harsh or excessive, even when it is meant to be helpful. Parents who criticize their children or each other too much often suffer from unrealistic expectations. Anxiety can also be at the root of excessive criticism. A parent who is anxious about her child's academic success or about her husband's ability to handle money may resort to criticism and demands that the situation change in order to feel better herself. Unfortunately, excessive criticism is more likely to cause tension than positive change.
- Criticism between family members can backfire when it is too harsh or excessive, even when it is meant to be helpful.
Control vs. Guidance
Maca & Anxiety
Control rather than patient guidance is an attribute of dysfunctional family communications. Instead of encouraging their children's independence as they mature, controlling parents order them around and make decisions for them even when they are old enough to do so themselves. When children of controlling parents grow up, they may doubt their abilities and even feel disloyal when they act independently.
The Effects of "Control Freak" Parents
Maca & Anxiety
The Effects of Bullying on Children in School
Define Deviant Child Behavior
4 Causes of Family Conflict
The Signs & Symptoms of Socialization Problems in Children
Definition of Emotional Withdrawal
GABA & L-Tyrosine for Anxiety & Depression
Signs of an Abusive Husband
The Signs of Mental Abuse
- University of Illinois Counseling Center: Understanding Dysfunctional Relationship Patterns in Your Family
- Kansas State University Counseling Services: Dysfunctional Families: Recognizing and Overcoming Their Effects
- Szapocznik J, Schwartz SJ, Muir JA, Brown CH. Brief strategic family therapy: An intervention to reduce adolescent risk behavior. Couple Family Psychol. 2012;1(2):134-145. doi:10.1037/a0029002
- Lander L, Howsare J, Byrne M. The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice. Soc Work Public Health. 2013;28(3-4):194‐205. doi:10.1080/19371918.2013.759005
- Sukhodolsky DG, Smith SD, McCauley SA, Ibrahim K, Piasecka JB. Behavioral interventions for anger, irritability, and aggression in children and adolescents. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2016;26(1):58‐64. doi:10.1089/cap.2015.0120
- Lander L, Howsare J, Byrne M. The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice. Soc Work Public Health. 2013;28(3-4):194-205. doi:10.1080/19371918.2013.759005
- Behere AP, Basnet P, Campbell P. Effects of family structure on mental health of children: A preliminary study. Indian J Psychol Med. 2017;39(4):457-463. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.211767
- Platt R, Williams SR, Ginsburg GS. Stressful life events and child anxiety: Examining parent and child mediators. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2016;47(1):23-34. doi:10.1007/s10578-015-0540-4
- Kumnig M, Höfer S, Huber A, et al. Patterns of dysfunctional parenting styles and psychological disturbances in offspring. Z Psychosom Med Psychother. 2013;59(4):356-68
- Jiménez L, Hidalgo V, Baena S, León A, Lorence B. Effectiveness of structural⁻strategic family therapy in the treatment of adolescents with mental health problems and their families. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(7) doi:10.3390/ijerph16071255
- Brown University. Dysfunctional Family Relationships. 2016.
Cindy Ell began writing professionally in 1990. A former medical librarian, she has written materials for hospitals, medical associations, the "Nashville Scene" and "Coping Magazine." She received her Bachelor of Arts in linguistics from the University of Massachusetts and her Master of Library and Information Science from Pratt Institute. She is currently a full-time freelance medical writer.