Overcoming a Dysfunctional Family: Learning to Survive Growing up in an Alcoholic or Abusive Family of Origin

By Steve Wodka, PsyD  Ext. 313

Many individuals who grow up in dysfunctional families (families where alcoholism or physical/emotional/sexual abuse occur) develop a variety of problems as adults. They can experience increased levels of depression, anxiety disorders, tendencies toward perfection and control, low self-esteem, difficulties with intimacy, fears of rejection and abandonment, difficulty parenting effectively, anger management issues, communication difficulties, and substance abuse. These problems do not have to occur. There are ways individuals can overcome these issues, and cope with life demands and relationships in a psychologically healthy way.

  • DYSFUNCTIONAL DEFINED:

    • PHYSICAL/EMOTIONAL ABUSE

    • CHRONIC PHYSICAL ILLNESS

    • ALCOHOLISM/SUBSTANCE ABUSE

    • SEXUAL ABUSE

    • INCONSISTENT AND UNPREDICTABLE PARENTING

    • CHRONIC MARITAL CONFLICT

    TYPICAL DYSFUNCTIONAL PARENTING:

    • DENIAL

    • AVOIDANCE

    • RATIONALIZATION

    • PROJECTION OF BLAME

    • OVER-CONTROL

    • NEGATIVITY

    • RIDICULE/SHAMING

    • ANGER AND HOSTILITY

    • ROLE REVERSALS

  • CHRONIC CRISES/UNPREDICTABLE

  • LACK OF POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT

  • CONDITIONALITY/NON-EMPATHIC

DYSFUNCTIONAL RULES:

  • DON'T TALK

  • DON'T TRUST

  • DON'T FEEL

RESULTS OF DYSFUNCTION:

  • DEPRESSION

  • ANXIETY DISORDERS

  • LOW SELF-ESTEEM

  • SUBSTANCE ABUSE

  • FEARS OF REJECTION

  • SELF-DEFEATING PATTERNS

  • NEGATIVE RELATIONSHIPS

  • SELF-CRITICAL

  • CONTROLLING

  • DIFFICULTIES W/ INTIMACY

  • AFFECTIVELY BLUNTED

  • OVER-RESPONSIBLE

  • PERFECTIONISTIC

  • "ALL OR NOTHING" THINKING

  • HYPERVIGILANT

  • NOT "GOOD ENOUGH" OR UNLOVABLE

  • DIFFICULTIES W/ SPONTANEITY OR FUN

DYSFUNCTIONAL ROLES:

  • FAMILY HERO (CONTROL, JUDGING, EXTERNAL IMAGE)

  • PEOPLE PLEASER (SOCIAL WORKER, PERFECTIONIST)

  • SCAPEGOAT (ACTING OUT CHILD, NEGATIVE ATTENTION, DRY DRUNK, RAGING, ADDICT)

  • AVOIDANT-ROBOT

  • CHAOTIC-ENABLER

POSITIVE TRAITS:

HEIGHTENED SENSITIVITY

EMPATHIC
INNER STRENGTH

TAKE LESS FOR GRANTED

COMMITMENT TO HAVING A HEALTHY FAMILY W/ COMPASSION AND CARING

OVERCOMING DYSFUNCTION:

AWARENESS OF DYSFUNCTION

SUPPORT FROM HEALTHY PEOPLE

OPEN MINDEDNESS TO CHANGE

INCREASING FLEXIBILITY

POSITIVE SELF-TALK

RECOGNITION OF FEELINGS

COMMUNICATION OF FEELINGS

RECOGNITION OF NEEDS

DELEGATE RESPONSIBILITIES

CREATING SAFETY

FINDING MENTORS

WORK IN THERAPY

SELF-WORTH & GOOD ENOUGH

PARENTING ONESELF