Dysfunctional Families Part I: Stress Management
by LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW
The term "dysfunctional families" has been used and abused so much over the years that it is hard to define. In order to define a dysfunctional family, one must first know what a functional or healthy family is.
While there is a lot of difference in what is normal for families, there are some common traits found in families that are considered to be healthy, and other traits found in families experiencing excessive stress which can lead to "dysfunctional" behavior.
Without taking cultural, economic, or social consideration into account, the following information highlights some common traits of healthy families and warning signs that a family may be under too much stress and in danger of becoming "dysfunctional."
Characteristics of Healthy Families
* The family is open to others from outside of the immediate family system.
* They allow outsiders to enter the system and members are allowed to go outside of the system for help when needed.
* Parents set clear generational boundaries. Parents assume the role of primary caregivers and children are secure in their role as siblings, children and individuals.
* The family recognizes that stressful situations are inevitable and temporary. They recognize that stress can be positive if handled appropriately.
* The family works together to minimize stress. They focus on their strengths as a family and as individuals.
* The family works together to find solutions to problems. Their energy is focused on solutions, not blame.
* Family members focus on what is controllable. They make the best of situations over which they have little or no control.
* The family develops and revises rules to deal effectively with day to day life. When they are under stress they work together to revise existing rules and evaluate the results.
* Family members recognize that decisions and routines are flexible. Rigid rules and expectations are challenged as a family.
* Family members feel empowered as a result of effectively dealing with stress. They see challenges as opportunities rather than roadblocks.
* Family members recognize the difference between the symptoms of stress and the sources of the stress. They address the source of the stress.
Areas of Stress For Healthy Families
* Dealing with children's behavior
* Insufficient couple time
* Lack of shared responsibility for household upkeep
* Communicating with children
* Insufficient time for self
* Guilt for not accomplishing more
* Couple/relationship issues
* Insufficient family play time
* Over-scheduled family calendar