- Date: circa 1916
- 1 : impaired or abnormal functioning <gastrointestinal dysfunction>
- 2 : abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group
A dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior, and often abuse on the part of individual members of the family occur continually and regularly, leading other members to accommodate such actions. Children sometimes grow up in such families with the understanding that such an arrangement is normal. Dysfunctional families are primarily a result of co-dependent adults, and may also be affected by addictions, such as alcohol and substance abuse. Other origins include untreated mental illnesses/personality disorders, and parents emulating or over-correcting their own dysfunctional parents. In some cases, a "child-like" parent will allow the dominant parent to abuse their children.
A common misperception of dysfunctional families is the mistaken belief that the parents are likely on the verge of separation and divorce. While this is true in a few cases, often the marriage bond is very strong as the parents' faults actually complement each other. In short, they have nowhere else to go. However, this does not necessarily mean the family's situation is stable. Any major stressor, such as relocation, unemployment, illness, natural disaster, inflation, etc. can cause existing conflicts affecting the children to become much worse.
Until recent decades, the concept of a dysfunctional family was not taken seriously by professionals (therapists, social workers, teachers, counselors, clergy, etc.) especially among the middle and upper classes. Any intervention would have been seen as violating the sanctity of marriage and increasing the probability of divorce (which was socially unacceptable at the time). Children were expected to obey their parents (ultimately the father), and cope with the situation alone.