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LDS Counselor: Definition of “Dysfunctional Family”

Working as an LDS counselor, I’ve heard patients use the term, “dysfunctional family,” many times to describe either their adult home life or their childhood home life.  Often they use the term jokingly or justify the behavior or personality they’re describing by saying that every family is somehow dysfunctional.  While every family operates in its own unique way, not every family is dysfunctional.  True family dysfunction damages every individual in a family and creates shockwaves of psychological and emotional turmoil that can last for generations.

What The Term “Dysfunctional Family” Really Means

A dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, bad behaviors and even child neglect or abuse happen on a regular and continuing basis and in which most or all of the family members adapt to accommodate the conflict or behavior.  Children who grow up in these types of families and who don’t know what a healthy family dynamic looks like accept these problems and the accommodation of them as normal.  Often, dysfunctional families result from addictions, substance abuse or undiagnosed or untreated mental illness.    

Common Features And Patterns Of A Dysfunctional Family

  ◾ A lack of empathy or understanding toward one or more family members while one or more others are favored

  ◾ Denial of bad behaviors that create conflict

  ◾ Toleration of inadequate or missing personal boundaries including tolerance of physical or sexual abuse

  ◾ Disrespect of personal boundaries

  ◾ Conflicts taken to extremes including excessive anger and refusal to consider peaceful resolution

  ◾ Unequal or unfair treatment of one or more family members based on something arbitrary like age, gender or family position

In addition to these common features and patterns, there are others that are not common but that appear often including controlling behavior, high levels of jealousy, fear of speaking out about problems, family members who disown or shun each other.  

How Family Dysfunction Affects Children

As an LDS counselor, I have seen the many ways that children are affected by living within a dysfunctional family.  Children can suffer from a variety of lifelong problems that include anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts, addiction to alcohol or narcotics, sexual dysfunctions including sexual abuse, paranoia, low self-esteem, bullying others, lack of self-control, joining a cult and replicating their dysfunction with their own families when they are grown.  Counseling at any point can help children, even adult children, cope with the side effects of growing up in dysfunctional families.      

If you feel that you are living within a dysfunctional family and you want the help of an LDS counselor, call me, Jody VanDrimmelen, at Insight Child & Family Counseling at (972) 426-9500 to schedule an appointment for a consultation.  You can also visit me online at

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