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What Makes a Dysfunctional Home Dysfunctional?

A dysfunctional home begins with the overarching unspoken rule that the unsatisfied emotional needs of the parents trump the needs of the children. This starts the wheels in motion as some parents may not have had the necessary ingredients of love, safety, or nurturing in their upbringing and, therefore, cannot provide the required emotional health for their children. However, as parents, they must find healing to stop the cycle of dysfunction.

If children lack love, nurturing, stability, safety, etc. they have had to forfeit the fulfillment of their most basic needs, hide their authentic self and invent ways to maintain the family system while manipulating ways to get their needs met. They become hostages to behave in a way that is based on the provider's behaviors, moods, and opinions, thereby basing self-worth on the belief:

"I am not worthy of my most basic need for love, I am not capable of providing what I am being asked to provide (believing that their caretakers are adults and know better), I am not strong enough to bear the burdens, and so, I am defective; not worth much and I must find a way to satisfy that in which there is no provision for: I must craft and manipulate a way to make this work and live in that space."

Nancy Groom defines codependency:

"Codependency is a self-focused way of life in which a person blind to his or her true self continually reacts to others being controlled by and seeking to control their behavior, attitudes and, or opinions, resulting in spiritual sterility, loss of authenticity and absence of intimacy."

Nancy so beautifully describes characteristics morphing in these individuals in order to make peace with the situation they have been handed. As a child, they could develop these characteristics and carry them well into adulthood:

  1. Self-forfeiture which satisfies the empty space created between being asked to care for oneself and being available for the adult "in charge." They resign to a posture of helplessness and find identity through accommodating the needs of another, being controlled by that person. They feel victimized, and rightfully so, by the fact that they were put in harm's way as their emotional health in the hands of another who was incapable of dealing with their own emotional needs, never mind that of their children.

  2. Self-contempt which takes the posture of rage just beneath the surface, against themselves because they can not fulfill what they are being asked to fulfill and are inclined to feel worthless. They then will go on to serve others not out of genuine love but to secure recognition, a sense of belonging, and approval from others. They are so controlled by this need that their life is on an endless track, often vying for affirmations to feel okay.                                                                                                                                                              

  3. Self-aggrandizement which in their desperation, they need to feel significant enough to be loved. They utilize control, making themselves seem more powerful than they are. It is not only becoming overtly controlling as one might think; it also shows up in rescuers who, for the sake of their importance, will violate another's dignity. By taking on the other's responsibilities and consequences, the rescuer feels stronger, and the one rescued is indebted and weakened to a state of reliance more on the rescuer than on God or on themselves. It is crippling!              

  4. Self-sufficiency drives the determination to stay safe and never be hurt again; terrified to ever be needy (as neediness is seen as a shameful state), they don a cloak of perfection, never admitting weaknesses. 

  5. Self- deception leaves them committed to denial; "nothing to see here," which lends itself to being forever caught in this web of dysfunction.     

If you recognize any of these behaviors, know there is hope for healing and change which will free you and those you relate with daily. Seek out individual counsel, join 12-step groups emphasizing God as a Higher Power, and grow your relationships with like-minded individuals.

Be committed to a journey that will change the course of your future and that of your family…

Writer:Anita J Arrunategui Ph.D/ Content: Nancy Groom, "From Bondage to Bonding"/ Image: Canva Pro

The content published is for informational purposes. The content included in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


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