Despite what the media portrays, there is no such thing as the perfect family.
Most families have that one relative who people try to avoid. However, a person’s eccentricity is not sufficient enough of a reason you treat that family member like a pariah. A person’s eccentric traits are very different from toxic behaviors. So, what can be considered toxic? In past articles, we’ve outlined a few traits, but, to summarize, a toxic person adds negativity or psychological distress to your life.
But, toxicity can also describe family systems.
A family is a group of parents and children living together as a unit. Usually, they share the same genealogy, but that is not always the case. In this structure, the parents control the power dynamic; hence they are responsible for the safety and well-being of the children.
Having strong family bonds is essential for the longevity and health of the unit. However, there are exceptions. In an enmeshed family, there are no boundaries between members. Hence, poor bonds between the members. So, instead of a well-functioning family, you have a dysfunctional and toxic family environment.
An enmeshed family system typically emerges from trauma, loss, or illness. However, sometimes this system is passed down from one generation to the next.
Below are a couple of examples of toxic family dynamics.
- The picture-perfect family
The picture-perfect family dynamic is all about appearances. It paints an unrealistic picture of perfection by sweeping arguments and resentments under the rug. While everyone appears to be doing well, everything is falling apart.
There is no authenticity within this family dynamic, and actions are performative. Within this dynamic, family members are likely to curate their life to appear perfect or acceptable in other people’s eyes.
While those within this dynamic may appear content, this dynamic is toxic as it places undue emotional strain on those who are in it. Parents may even exercise a degree of psychological abuse towards their children. Consequently, the child grows up believing that love is conditional.
An example of a toxic family dynamic is when parents hide a serious issue such as a divorce, affair, or financial struggle and pressure their children to maintain the lie so they will not look bad.
- The disconnected family.
The disconnected family has no structure. Parents are either emotionally or physically absent from their children’s lives. In a way, the parent behaves like a roommate–providing the bare necessities for their child. However, the parent fails to provide emotional guidance and support. They do not nurture the child, so the child grows up nurturing themselves. Hence, there is no parent-child connection.
As a result, the child grows up emotionally distant from others. They have difficulty being vulnerable around others and struggle to show up emotionally for others.
An example of a disconnected family dynamic is a parent who solely focuses on work and neglects to forge a relationship with their child.
- The chaotic family
This type of family system lacks stability. This instability may arise from a sudden divorce or financial struggle, thus burdening the parent with responsibilities and distancing them from their child.
Consequently, children who grew up within these dynamics are incredibly independent yet feel unsettled. They are accustomed to always being ready to run, so settling down is difficult. Also, as a result of living in a state of chaos, they tend to process their emotions differently or not at all. Instead, they default to dissociation to cope.
An example of a chaotic family dynamic is an abusive household. The parent is overwhelmed and unable to fulfill their role properly.
- The child-parent
This dynamic is also a product of an unstable house. Within this dynamic, the child assumes the role of the parent. This act of parentification may arise naturally or may be enforced. By naturally, I mean that the child may notice the lack of stability from their parent and assume that role to protect a younger sibling.
An example of this dynamic is if the parent struggles with addiction. The circumstances in that family force the child to assume the role of the parent.
In some cases, the parent may not be emotionally mature enough to handle certain situations, thus leaving it up to the child.
A child growing up in this dynamic becomes incredibly responsible. However, they are reluctant to lean on others and open up emotionally. In relationships, they often have a hard time expressing their emotional needs and usually assume blame for everything.
Unfortunately, the media glorifies parentified children. They are seen as mature. However, this idea of parentified children is harmful because it undermines the reality — a child has been robbed of their innocence and childhood.
- The messy split family
This type of family dynamic is an extension of the previous one. This dynamic is common within divorced families. If the divorce is not amicable, the dynamic can quickly become messy. A messy divorce can create toxicity for the child. Planting resentments or undermining the other parent creates strain for the child and deprives them of a sense of stability.
Children who grow up in this dynamic have difficulties creating lasting relationships. They develop trust issues and believe that happy and healthy relationships do not exist.
- The co-dependent
This dynamic involves an aggressor or abusive parent and an enabling parent who stays in the relationship out of fear. The child witnesses the power struggles within the relationship and assumes that they are normal.
They may also grow up resenting their parent for not providing them the protection they needed. Hence, they are likely to struggle with trust issues and fear being taken advantage of.
Hopefully, these points were illuminating and have helped you in some way. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to a licensed professional.
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