Family dysfunction is often portrayed in the media as squabbling parents whose antics are comical and always result in a happy ending. In reality, family dysfunction is no laughing matter. Just the opposite, it can absolutely be traumatic. The following experiences, particularly when coupled together, are known risk factors for developing PTSD and other stress related medical conditions.
Substance misuse within the household.
Physical or emotional abuse or neglect.
Family violence, such as physical, sexual, or emotional violence between parents.
Mental illness within the household.
Parental separation or divorce.
Incarcerated household member.
In real life, people don’t always make up. Things aren’t always repariable. Adult children and parents alike deal with very real issues of guilt, grief, anger, and shame. Family, as the saying goes, is the true F word. But, that doesn’t mean it has to rule your life.
Today, we are going to look at how we are hurt and how we heal from family dysfunction. You might be wondering, was what I experienced really that bad? After all, your parents did the best they could, right? I can’t answer that question but I can share the effects of ongoing, repeated, or developmental trauma. (What I mean by developmental trauma here is experiencing or witnessing events within the family that caused you to feel highly overwhelmed or helpless, such as those previously listed).
The effects of a dysfunctional childhood include:
Negative or distorted self view; low self esteem.
Unhealthy relationship beliefs; difficulty in relationships.
Emotional dysregulation; feeling too much or too little.
These struggles make up complex PTSD or C PTSD. Unlike PTSD, C PTSD results from experiences that happen over time versus single incident trauma (like an accident). C PTSD occurs in our relationships, such as with family members or partners, and it impacts our self view, relationships, and emotion regulation.
If you can relate to these symptoms, you are not alone. Many people enter counseling for support dealing with these topics.
I use the lens of C PTSD to examine the effects of a dysfunctional childhood not because I want to pathologize anyone's experiences, which I don’t tend to find helpful, but because it illuminates a clear path forward for our healing. There are very real things that we can do to address these issues. Let’s look at signs of recovery.
Solid self esteem; sense of agency in your life.
Satisfying, fulfilling, healthy, close relationships.
Ability to confidently manage all of your emotions.
We don't get there overnight and we don't get there by doing the same things we've always done. We get there by actively working on ourselves and our relationships over time. The only magic involved is that which comes- painfully gradually, at times- with getting to know and love ourselves and developing trusting relationships where we can get and give the love we want. This involves saying, no. This involves getting through difficult emotions. This involves upsetting others. This stuff ain't easy.
Because this stuff ain't easy, because it ain't taught in school, and because so many clients and community members can relate (when you’re a therapist, people tell you things), I am starting a group, Adulting After Dysfunky, for adult daughters of dysfunctional families to address these topics in concrete, fun, safe, and manageable ways. I invite you to check it out if you’re interested.
As always, wishing you a safe and wonderful day. I hope you found this article encouraging. Family dysfunction, hard as it is, is not a life sentence. There are things that you can do, including books that you can read, individual and group therapy to pursue, online forums to participate in, and other means of support for your unique healing journey away from dysfunction and into a happy healthy future.
Cheers to your health and wholeness,