How to Change a Dysfunctional Family

Family members in upset moods illustration

Does Your Family Put the Funk in Dysfunctional?

Radio spot as it aired on KLBT 88.1

What is your normal? We grow up thinking that our home life is normal. Children have no other reference. It wasn’t until I was in college, living in a dorm that I realized how fortunate I was to have grown up in a peaceful functioning home. I met others who weren’t so fortunate. As a Life Coach I often hear stories from women who suffered abuse and some who are still caught in troublesome family relationships.

What makes a family functional? And how can you do something about the dysfunction if it exists in your family. With the holidays approaching this is a timely question because you may find yourself at family gatherings where old patterns reemerge. Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D. says in a healthy functioning family, “All members of the family can state their opinions, thoughts, wants, dreams, desires and feelings without fear of being slammed, shamed, belittled or dismissed.” She includes in her article on PsychCentral a list of qualities of a functional family. They are:

  • Respect
  • An Emotionally Safe Environment
  • A Resilient Foundation
  • Privacy
  • Accountability
  • An Apology
  • Reasonable Expression of Emotions
  • Gentle on Teasing and Sarcasm
  • Allows People to Change and Grow
  • Parents Work as a Co-Parenting Team
  • Courtesy at Home First
  • Encourages Siblings to Work Together
  • Provides Clear Boundaries
  • Has Each Others’ Backs
  • Get Each Other’s Sense of Humor
  • Eat Meals Together
  • Follow the Golden Rule

Aletta says that respect is the “Holy Grail.” Respect can increase or decrease over time. Situations build or destroy respect. One way to build respect is to listen. Active listening isn’t the same as hearing someone. When we listen with a caring ear we may develop compassion where resentment once was. Ask questions that are not really accusations in disguise. Demonstrate common courtesies. And forgive.

If your family continues to be dysfunctional you do not have to be a part of the dysfunction. You can detach with love. Detaching helps us accept our own personhood. It is a state of being separate. Sometimes establishing our place apart from our family is healthier than staying and trying to fix it.

I encourage you to do what gives you joy in your heart.

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