Friday, October 15, 2010

Coping with a Dysfunctional Family

Everyone’s family is at least a bit dysfunctional. Most folks have a relative or two that can make family gatherings a bit unbearable – to say the least. But what about the family that is at each other’s throats what seems like all the time?

According to Wikipedia, the dysfunctional family dynamic is one where members suffer from “conflict, misbehavior, and often abuse”. Is this starting to sound familiar yet? In these situations, there is often little compromise, no communication, and typically no interaction between family members. It is from this environment that estrangement is born. Because of the difficulties they faced when they were together, brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters (or any combination of those three) may part ways and not speak for months, years, or worse yet – for the rest of their lives.

You’ve had enough. You don’t want to be that family. You want to strengthen the bond while you still have a chance. Well, it’s not entirely impossible to turn your situation around. However, it will take an open mind and heart from all parties involved. Relationships can never thrive if they’re built on a one-way street. One person can’t want to change for the better and make it work alone. It takes teamwork to succeed.

If you can get everyone on the same page, here are some tips you can follow (summarized from

  • “Set a new course”. Start internally by imagining your idea of a better life then gradually work your way up to trying new things.
  • Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and trust your intuition.
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt and look for the “silver lining” in every circumstance.
  • “Take a step back” and try to notice your bad habits.
  • Watch your words. Don’t lie but consider how your words will affect others before you say them.
  • “Don’t keep score”. Don’t tally your faults or the faults of others. Learn to move on and put those things behind you.
  • Don’t play the victim or the villain. Neither “guilt, blame, nor shame” should have any place in your relationship.
  • “Treat yourself well”. This is probably the most common sense tip, but it’s the one that most people overlook while trying to rebuild relationships. Don’t neglect your needs for the needs of anyone else.
  • “Get outside help”. If you could do it alone, you wouldn’t be sitting where you are right now reading this blog post. A fresh set of eyes and ears can help you see both sides of the coin.
  • Don’t be afraid to “move on” if things aren’t working out. This may be either a temporary or long-term move, but to find your peace, you must be able to leave if/when you need to.

If you follow the tips above, you should not only be able to repair your relationship (if the other party is willing to try), but you’ll also have a more clear perspective on your life and path to happiness. Remember, no advice is perfect or foolproof, so proceed with caution.

Best wishes,


  1. You do offer some really good tips. For me forgiveness, setting healthy boundaries and whether or not the other person is willing to live by those boundaries are also key steps in deciding whether I want to renew my relationship with the other person, especially family members. With my dad, I was able to eventually forgive him and set the healthy boundaries but he was not willing to stay within those boundaries so the relationship was not renewed.

  2. Hi, Patricia:

    Thanks for your comment!

    The tips came from I just condensed everything a bit. I agree - setting boundaries is definitely very important. I also think it's very admirable that you tried to mend your relationship with your father. Everyone deserves another chance to make things right (after the victim has healed, of course).