Adults from Dysfunctional Families

Many people decide to try psychotherapy because they feel stuck in patterns of painful feelings, negative thinking, and unproductive behaviors. They may be haunted by depressed moods, disappointed by recurring relationship problems, or experience a lack of love and respect for themselves. They have tried on their own to make changes, perhaps with some success, but they want more out of life. These individuals may be struggling with the long-term effects of growing up in dysfunctional families.

One of the primary functions of a family is to rear healthy children who get along well in the world outside the home. Parents in dysfunctional families don’t know how to do this. They tend to raise their children as they themselves were raised, transmitting destructive parenting practices from one generation to the next. They typically have significant personal problems that interfere with their ability to focus on the welfare of their children. Children are expected to accommodate to chronic parental depression, substance abuse, marital conflict, or domestic violence. Adult family members may perceive themselves and their children in distorted ways, and make harsh, unfair judgments that damage children’s self-esteem. People who come to therapy are in many cases the first members of their families to recognize the need for changes in their family legacy as well as in themselves.

Adults from dysfunctional families are people whose childhood caregivers were…           

  • Alcoholics or addicts
  • Mentally ill
  • Emotionally or verbally abusive
  • Physically or sexually abusive
  • Emotionally unavailable, unloving or unresponsive
  • Neglectful
  • Absent

People tend to view and treat themselves as they were viewed and treated by their parents. Many adults from dysfunctional families are successful in their work and respected within their communities. They appear to be doing well, but they struggle inwardly with self-rejection, self-sacrifice, or self-criticism. They often develop depression, anxiety, and addictive attachments to food, drugs, or electronic entertainment. They have the most difficulty in intimate relationships, because we all learn about intimacy from our families, and dysfunctional families teach the wrong lessons.

Children who are subjected to traumatic experiences on a continuing basis in their family environments are at risk of developing serious problems that persist into adulthood. Examples of highly destructive parental behaviors include emotional, physical and sexual abuse, failure to protect children from abuse by others, neglect, and abandonment. Repeated abuse, neglect, or important losses in childhood can cause a complex form of PTSD that affects a child’s brain and personality development.

In therapy adults from dysfunctional families learn about their characteristic patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting in relationship to themselves and others. Many of these patterns enabled a person to survive a difficult childhood and to succeed as an adult. Other patterns contribute to the pain and stress in a person’s life and need to be changed. The relationship with the therapist provides a safe environment in which to experience old ways of relating and try out new ones. Most people who work with me are able to improve the quality of their relationships and their lives significantly through psychotherapy, and many achieve dramatic transformations.

How Do You Know if This is the Right Therapy for You?

  1. You are troubled by painful memories of your childhood, or conflicted feelings about your parents and other family members. You may see some ways that your early experiences contributed to your current disappointments.
  1. Your mood is consistently sad or depressed, you experience recurrent episodes of depression, or your mood feels “unstable.” You feel disappointed about how your life has gone so far, and not very hopeful about the future, if things continue as they are.
  1. Without knowing how you do it, you choose friends and intimate partners who act like your dysfunctional family members.
  1. People have usually struggled for years with their issues before they enter therapy with me, and many doubt that, after so much time, there is still hope for them. I can offer people real hope of recovery, based on more than three decades of successful work with adults from dysfunctional families.

    You sometimes react with intense fear, anger, or hurt feelings to things that people say or do, even though these things don’t seem important enough to trigger such strong responses. You have difficulty calming down, once you start reacting.
  1. You think and act like other peoples’ preferences are more important than your own. You may focus so much attention on their feelings, thoughts and needs, that you lose track of what you feel and what you want.
  1. You sometimes think very negative things about yourself, such as that no one would be attracted to you, that you are a “bad” person, that you are “too much” for people, that you are “not enough,” that you are a failure, or that you are inherently defective.
  1. You have children of your own and don’t want to repeat your parents’ mistakes.
  1. You are ready to try a kind of therapy that is designed to create lasting changes in patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that have been with you for a long time.

If you see yourself described in any of the above items, requesting an initial consultation would be a good way to get more information about what therapy can offer you.