Dysfunctional Families

Dysfunctional Families | Nova Psychology - Telehealth Psychologists Online Australia

Over the last few years we have all experienced lockdowns where we were forced to restrict our movements and keep close to home. While some found this as an opportunity to find meaningful connection with their families, those living in dysfunctional families have been forced to coexist in an unhealthy environment. So what can be done if you or someone you know is going through this? Read more to find out.

What is a dysfunctional family?

While every family has its specific traits, a dysfunctional family is a family without healthy behaviours and inappropriate boundaries. Examples include any form of abuse, unhealthy coping mechanisms displayed by parents and mirrored by children, setting unreasonable expectations or standards on other family members, lack of communication and conflict resolution skills, unpredictable behaviours and putting children in dangerous situations.

The results of coexisting in this environment

There are many long-term issues that can result from living in such an unhealthy environment. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or PTSD can arise from this environment. Some children may also grow up with low self-esteem issues, a desire to people please at the risk of their own safety or happiness or an inability to trust others. Other people who come from dysfunctional families may self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or turn to external, sometimes unhealthy coping mechanisms.

How are you going to deal with it?

While the best option would be to limit exposure to the toxic behaviours of those in a dysfunctional family, during times like the pandemic, this may not be possible. Here are some other ways to deal with it.

Care for yourself

People who live in or grew up in dysfunctional families often have no idea how to regulate emotions. You can however learn what healthy feelings are and how to cope with the bigger, harder emotions. When you feel overwhelmed, try breathing exercises, going for a walk, journaling your thoughts or painting feelings. The most important step is to reach out and speak to a qualified therapist to help you navigate these feelings. Nova Psychology has a team of highly qualified and caring psychologists, social workers and counsellors to help guide you through these emotions.

Prepare for interaction

If you must live with toxic people, try to prepare yourself for interaction with them. Whether it’s having a time limit on interactions or specific topics of conversation, set boundaries for yourself. If these boundaries are crossed by others, and in families such as these they will be, there are a couple of ways you can protect yourself. You can remove yourself from the conversation by saying ‘I’ll be back, I just have to send a quick email/make a quick call’ or ‘sorry I just realised I have an appointment’ or you can deflect conversation- ‘Actually I want to check in with you- how’s (insert topic) going?’ Remember to debrief to a trusted friend/therapist after an interaction that leaves you rattled.

Seek help

If you are living in a dysfunctional family and experiencing or at risk of any form of violence or abuse, it’s very important to seek help whether it’s from a family friend, therapist or police if needed. Domestic violence (DV) organisations reported a drop of up to 30% in calls during the covid restrictions which is likely due to increased time spent with the abuser.

Here are some practical tips for anyone in a DV situation who can’t make those calls to seek help.

  • Make a mental note of safe places in your house and escape routes if possible
  • Make sure your phone is fully charged and important numbers easily accessible
  • Keep your car keys close to you or easily accessible, car fully fuelled and backed into the driveway for a quick getaway if needed
  • Let someone you trust, know about your situation and create a signal for help
  • Always call 000 if you feel your life is in danger or the situation is getting worse.

Check in with yourself often, making sure your boundaries are still in place and that you are putting yourself first. Always seek help, if not from a trusted friend or another family member, a qualified professional. Nova Psychology has experienced therapists who are ready to support you with any challenges you might be experiencing. You don’t have to suffer in silence and you are not alone.


Tania Saunders, Principal Consulting Psychologist at Nova Psychology

About Tania Saunders

Principal Consulting Psychologist at Nova Psychology

Tania Saunders holds an honours degree in psychology and has over 15 years’ experience in supporting individuals with a broad range of mental health and lifestyle concerns. She consults with adults and adolescents and enjoys utilising a range of therapies which she customises for each individual client.

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