5 Signs Of A Dysfunctional Family Dynamic

Do you often wish you were a part of a different family? 

Unfortunately, not all families are idyllic like the ones we see in the movies. Sometimes a family home can be filled with tension and anger instead of warmth and love. Although every family has its problems, in a healthy home those problems can be overcome. But if there’s a dysfunctional family dynamic, every new day brings a different set of challenges.

There are many signs of a dysfunctional family, and here are some most obvious one.

1. Fear

Have you ever tried to hide something from your parents? Maybe a bad grade or a broken vase? If so, what were you afraid of? Scolding or punishment?

Discipline is important, and sometimes parents may raise their voices a little, especially if a child is being extra unbearable. And sometimes when kids make mistakes, some consequences are needed. If a child breaks a vase, they’d have to clean the mess, if they get a bad grade, they’d have to spend extra time studying…

I’m sure you agree these are not examples of some horrible things, but sometimes parents act like every little mistake is terrible. They might yell and scream at their children, take away their things, forbid them from seeing their friends, or even physically punish them.

When this happens, children learn to fear their parents even for mundane things such as spilled water at the dinner table. They feel like they need to do everything perfectly which puts a lot of stress on them. Sometimes the fear is so great that if they find themselves in some kind of trouble, they even run away from home because of the fear of their parents’ reaction.

2. Codependency

A codependent parent has an unhealthy preoccupation with their children or child, so much that their attachment makes them excessively control their children’s lives. They may feel like their happiness and stability depend on their children, or that their kids are responsible for their health and overall well-being.

That parent is over-involved in their child’s life, more than required for healthy parenting. They excessively take care of their children, even with things they shouldn’t do in order to let their kids grow – like, for example, cleaning their rooms even if they’re already teenagers. They consider their children their only friends and barely ever hang out with other people. Also, they might use guilt-tripping and gaslighting to manipulate their kids into doing what they want them to do. 

This type of behavior can negatively impact their kids’ personality and identity, and since children see their parents as role models and learn about the world based on the behavior their parents exhibit, they become dependent on their parents too, making the relationship even more unhealthy. 

3. Neglect

Neglect is another common sign that a family dynamic is not the healthiest. It is also a type of abuse, although it differs from other types, like physical abuse.

Parents from a dysfunctional family often fail to take care of their children as they should, in other words, they neglect taking care of their kids. They don’t keep track of their children’s hygiene, like washing their clothes, having them take showers, or making sure their hair is clean and combed. They don’t help their kids with homework, and usually don’t even know what their kids do in school (or if they even go to school regularly). Sometimes it might go so far that they don’t even notice if their kids ate. The neglect can negatively impact their children’s mental health, and even physical health, which makes it dangerous for their development. 

4. Silence

In dysfunctional families, communication is not something that goes on very often. Each family member might be closed off in their rooms (except when they’re fighting, of course), doing their own thing. Those members don’t open up to each other or ask for advice, they don’t tell each other about their day or about something they’re excited for.

Moreover, silent treatment is also something that can happen. It is a way for them to handle conflict, but they can also use it as a punishment. This can be especially harmful if parents use silent treatment as a form of discipline for their children.

And if someone tries to break that silence with honesty and openness, other members can react by humiliating them for stating their feelings, so the silence continues.

5. Isolation

Finally, dysfunctional families tend to keep to each other and avoid letting anyone in their lives. It can be other family members, friends or neighbours… They keep their distance so that the secret of an unhealthy family dynamic stays within their home.

Parents may tell their children that other people are bad and that they should stay away from them, or make up lies why nobody ever visits. This makes it very hard for them to receive any help, since their problems are not visible to others, and the distance they put between everyone makes them a lot less likely to even ask for help or advice.

Closing thoughts

Is your family showing some of these signs?

If that’s the case, it’s important that you take care of yourself as best as you can given the circumstances. If it gets too out of hand, maybe you could think about visiting a therapist to help you deal with everyday life. And of course, know that you won’t have to live in that environment forever, and someday you’ll have a family of your own, and you’ll get a chance to experience a happy and loving home.

Thank you for reading!
Written by:
Stela Košić

If you wish to find out more about topics on unhealthy families, feel free to check out some of the videos from Psych2Go’s YouTube channel:


  • Arora, M. (2021, February 17). Dysfunctional Family – Characteristics and Effects. FirstCry Parenting. https://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/dysfunctional-family-characteristics-and-tips-to-overcome-its-effects/
  • Davenport, B. (2021, October 6). 39 Unhealthy Signs Of A Dysfunctional Family. Live Bold and Bloom. https://liveboldandbloom.com/09/relationships/dysfunctional-family
  • How to Recognize and Report Child Neglect. (2021, July 1). Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/what-is-child-neglect-4151259
  • Lewis, R. (2020, November 30). 8 Signs That You Might Be a Codependent Parent — and How to Heal. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/parent-codependency#effects

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