Which of the 5 Types of Dysfunctional Families Do You Have?

Which of the 5 Types of Dysfunctional Families Do You Have?

Are you filled with dread at the thought of going home? Is your family constantly at war with each other? Do you feel neglected or worry about a possible violent outburst? You may think you’re the only one whose family life is filled with tension, strife, and emotional chaos. You’d be wrong. Far too many people are living in families where communication, emotional support, and love are in short supply.

Growing up in a dysfunctional family can leave you emotionally scarred and set you up for a lifetime of issues. Not all dysfunctional families are the same though, and each type can create specific problems that carry on into adulthood.

Here are 5 types of dysfunctional families:

1. The Substance Abuse Family

Over 8 million children under the age of 18 live with a parent who has a substance use disorder, according to research in Social Work in Public Health. When one or more parents abuse drugs or alcohol, it can lead to chaotic family life. Children of alcoholics or drug addicts may not have their basic needs met. The addicted parent may forget to pick up the kids from school, neglect to fix lunch or dinner, and skip important health checks. Unreliable and inconsistent parenting causes children to feel insecure and leads to issues with trust and pent-up anger that may linger for decades.

Living in constant fear, being blamed for problems the parent creates and feeling ashamed impact the ability to form healthy relationships later on in life. Children of alcoholics are prone to develop overactivity in the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, and can contribute to mental health conditions, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression. And research in Drug and Alcohol Dependenceshows they are at heightened risk of developing substance use disorders.

2. The Conflict-Driven Family

Is your family life filled with heated arguments, hurtful disputes, and long-running feuds? When family members are constantly picking fights or pressing each other’s buttons to create conflict, it creates a highly stressful environment. When one family member feels threatened, they may retaliate with even more hateful actions. It doesn’t really matter what the conflicts are about—money, personal style, where to go to dinner, or what to watch on TV—it’s the inability to communicate and resolve issues peacefully that causes lasting damage. Children in conflict-oriented families often develop stress disorders and have trouble with attachment.

3. The Violent Family

Each year, approximately 4.5 to 15 million children are exposed to some form of physical violence in the home. Growing up in a volatile or violent family is a horrific experience that no one deserves. Family violence is not only physical. It can also include verbal, sexual, or psychological abuse or any other behavior that makes you feel unsafe. For children, simply witnessing domestic abuse can have the same devastating effects as experiencing abuse oneself, according to 2018 research in JAMA Network Open.

Childhood trauma causes physical changes in the developing brain that are associated with an increased risk of psychiatric disorders and substance abuse. For example, brain imaging research shows that children who grow up in an abusive environment tend to have:

  • Decreased volume in the prefrontal cortex, an area involved in judgment, impulse control, planning, and follow-through
  • A smaller hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in learning and memory
  • Reduced volume in the cerebellum, an area involved in coordinating physical movement and thoughts
  • Excessive activity in the amygdala, the brain’s fear centers

4. The Authoritarian Family

Authoritarian parents act like dictators, making great demands but giving little positive feedback. Mistakes are often met with severe punishment, which can include yelling, spanking, or other forms of corporal punishment. In these households, the authoritarian sets the rules and it’s “my way or the highway.” Children learn to follow rules but don’t gain valuable experience in making their own decisions or learning from their own mistakes.

When they grow up, these youngsters tend to have poor self-esteem, may be overly aggressive or excessively shy in social situations, may be prone to anxiety or depression, and may be vulnerable to substance abuse due to an inability to control their own behavior.

5. The Emotionally Detached Family

In some families, signs of affection and warmth are missing. Emotional unavailability and a lack of hugs, handholding, and other physical signs of love teach children to repress their emotions. This causes little ones to bottle up their feelings and have a hard time opening up to others, which can lead to a series of failed relationships.

In some cases, it creates problems with self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. Without loving parents, children are more likely to have a fear of abandonment, school problems, and psychological issues, such as a lack of identity or personality disorders.

Overcoming the Dysfunctional Family Curse

Whichever form of family dysfunction affects your home life, understand that you can overcome these issues. You don’t need to let them ruin your life. Here are some powerful steps that can help you heal from a dysfunctional upbringing.

  • Adopt brain healthy habits. Even if your brain bears the emotional scars of childhood abuse, you can improve your brain function, which will enhance every area of your life.
  • Find a support network. If your family unit isn’t there for you, find friends, a church group, a support group, or a therapist who can be a good listener and be there for you when you need help.
  • Work on relationship skills. Even though you didn’t grow up with healthy relationships, you can learn to develop strong bonds with others.
  • Stop being a victim. When you are a victim, you are powerless to change anything. Only when you take responsibility for your own behaviors can you gain the power to make changes.

If you’re struggling with issues that stem from growing up in a dysfunctional family or you’re still caught up in an unhealthy family dynamic, Amen Clinics can help. At Amen Clinics, we can help you—and everyone in the family unit—achieve better brain health and a stronger, more fulfilling relationship. We use brain SPECT imaging to help diagnose mental health conditions and to identify areas of the brain that may benefit from optimization. We believe in using the least toxic, most effective solutions, including psychotherapy, natural supplements, nutritional coaching, medications (when necessary) and more.

To find out more about how we can help, call 888-288-9834 to talk to a specialist today or schedule a visit.


  1. Finally! Dr. Amen talks about family-induced brain problems! I have been waiting so long for this!

    Comment by e c — February 7, 2020 @ 12:14 PM

  2. Does Amen acknowledge faith in the treatment process; we are mind, body, soul, and spirit- need the Holy Spirit, our Maker for wholeness and health.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2020 @ 2:44 AM

  3. We grew up with 9 kids in our family with an abusive alcoholic father who had a strap ( leader strips attached to a wooden handle) hanging over the back of his chair at all times and not afraid to use it on us,,. the thing that often saved us our Grandparents on our Maternal side lived in the same yard and we sometimes ran there for refuge. We all ran away at an early age to make a living for ourselves except for the youngest boy who got treated better and was to only one left to help on the farm. I myself married a farmer and helped my husband with everything on our mixed and dairy farm, we had two children and now being a Grandmother realize how I have missed out not knowing how to show my kids love even though I would do anything to protect them from harm, I always made sure they were fed, clean cloths ,lunch for school etc, but realize after getting a TV, how to show your kids love. Even tho I loved them with all my heart I did not know how to show it. I find it still affects my life now even tho I am 88 years old. I feel depressed, is there hope for me? I feel clumsy showing affection.

    Comment by Laura Grift — February 15, 2020 @ 8:49 AM

  4. Where does Gambling Addiction/Compulsive Gambling fit in……..damages everything it touches, destroys families, help and support often difficult to find etc etc

    Comment by Dennie — February 15, 2020 @ 7:03 PM

  5. My husband came from an extremely violent family. He definitely has the issues mentioned in that description in addition to PTSD. Is there anything that can be done to help him.

    Comment by Virginia N Weeks — February 16, 2020 @ 2:14 PM

  6. This article was great. I think discussing the issues is very helpful. My family matched number 4 & 5 from the article.
    I would love to find ways to heal from growing up not feeling loved!

    Comment by Sandi — February 17, 2020 @ 10:56 AM

  7. Laura, dear sweet soul, of course showing love feels clumsy to us who weren’t shown much , if any, of it. But, we give it anyway, we press past our feelings of inadequacy, and we do it afraid. We give ourselves the grace we weren’t given, but we wanted. And then we give grace to the ones we want to have it better than we did. It isn’t easy, but, as we give it anyway, even if it isn’t perfect or comfortable, then one generation at a time, we make our families better. You are quite insightful, compassionate, caring, and loving to see it like it is. I know how daunting it can feel, but we got this! Because our Heavenly Father is a good, loving, gracious, forgiving Dad! He is so proud of you!!
    I came from the same kind of home, except I didn’t have anywhere or anyone to run to, except to Jesus. He saved me from suicide more than once. Now, at 70, I don’t get much right, but, I won’t give up trying, because my kids and grandkids are worth it. Set the example of one who humbly asks for forgiveness for where we reverted to the family modeling and messed up. But, also keep up the good work of loving, no matter what. Remember, it is the truth that sets us free. We’ve come a long way, baby. And our Father knows our struggle. There is a reward for those who loved even when they didn’t quite know how. I really believe that. You just do the best you can with what you do know to do and ask God to bless your efforts. He can do so much with our little bit. Remember how he fed the multitude. God is the great multiplier. God bless you.

    Comment by Eva Sedor — February 18, 2020 @ 1:12 PM

  8. Missed a most important dysfunctional family., gay parent dysfunction. The child brought up in this family becomes very confused, especially when that parent has great issues about their identity, is a liar, thief, relationship issues, and narcissistic. Children’s messages are alarming. More families are suffering with parent like this

    Comment by Rosalie — February 23, 2020 @ 8:30 AM

  9. i live in horrible place right now and that is my home where my brother whi is just 21 yo child threaten my mom dad to give him money so that he can do drugs and alcohol. If they dont give him then he make sure to damage everything present in the home. he broke huge LED tv, dinning table, living table and the list is countless. im his sister if i say something he beat rhe the shit out of me. idk what to do.

    Comment by ritika — July 27, 2020 @ 2:42 AM

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