How to Navigate Life with a Dysfunctional Family

We hear the word “dysfunction” often but do we really know what it is? What does it look like? Typically when we live in a state of dysfunction, we rarely recognize it. When we grow up is dysfunctional patterns it becomes so normalized to us. This can be hard for us to see our own dysfunction. We begin to adopt unhealthy patterns and behave in ways that make sense to us based on what we’re used to seeing.

Having a dysfunctional family can be challenging. It can affect all areas of your life, including relationships, self-esteem, jobs, and mental health. Dysfunctional families can have different dynamics, including abusive behaviors, addiction issues, mental illness, a combination of factors, or have low-key dysfunction.

If you come from a dysfunctional family, you may feel isolated, confused, and overwhelmed. However, there are ways to cope and thrive despite the challenges. In this blog post, we’ll explore some tips for navigating life with a dysfunctional family.

5 Steps to help you cope with your dysfunctional family dynamics…

  1. Acknowledge the situation: The first step in dealing with a dysfunctional family is to acknowledge the situation. Recognize that your family has some issues that may be affecting your well-being and relationships. Avoid blaming yourself for the problems or taking responsibility for resolving them alone. Accept that you cannot change other people’s behaviors, but you can change how you react and cope with them.
  1. Set boundaries: Setting boundaries is crucial when dealing with dysfunctional family members. Decide what behavior is acceptable and what is not, and communicate your boundaries clearly. Be firm and consistent, and enforce your boundaries even if it causes conflict or discomfort. Identify your triggers and warning signs, and develop coping strategies to deal with them. For example, if your family member tends to yell or criticize you, you can practice deep breathing, meditation, or assertive communication to respond calmly and assertively.
  1. Seek support: Dealing with a dysfunctional family can be emotionally draining and isolating. It is essential to seek support from people who understand your situation and can offer empathy, advice, or resources. You can join support groups for families of addicts, survivors of abuse, or mental health advocacy groups. You can also seek therapy or counseling to work through your feelings and develop healthy coping skills. Online resources, such as blogs, forums, and podcasts, can also be helpful in finding validation and inspiration.
  1. Practice self-care: When dealing with a dysfunctional family, it is easy to neglect your own needs and priorities. However, taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental health is crucial for your well-being and resilience. Make time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as exercise, hobbies, reading, or spending time with supportive friends or family members. Take care of your body by eating healthy, sleeping enough, and avoiding harmful substances or coping mechanisms. Practice mindfulness, gratitude, and self-compassion, and challenge negative thoughts or beliefs that may limit your growth and self-esteem.
  1. Cultivate healthy relationships: Dealing with a dysfunctional family can make you mistrustful, fearful, and guarded in your relationships. However, cultivating healthy relationships is essential for your recovery and growth. Surround yourself with people who respect your boundaries, values, and goals. Choose friends or partners who are supportive, empathetic, and trustworthy. Practice effective communication, conflict resolution, and intimacy skills, and avoid repeating the dysfunctional patterns you learned in your family. Learn to forgive yourself and others, and focus on building new and positive experiences with people who appreciate and love you for who you are.

Dysfunction in families may not present as “in your face” abuse and neglect. It may look like:

  • Having your emotions being brushed off as you being “too sensitive”
  • Keeping secrets for or from family members
  • Being around people that make you uncomfortable
  • Feeling like you’re “walking on eggshells”

What does this mean for me as an adult?

Oftentimes what we saw as a child influences the way we perceive and react to those around us as adults, particularly our romantic relationships. Family dysfunction may lead to adult relationship dysfunction and may present in a variety of ways such as:

  • Anxious and/or avoidant attachment style
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Difficulty communicating wants and needs
  • Mistrust
  • Commitment struggles

What do I do now?

When we realize that our family has bred unhealthy patterns that we are still doing, it may feel impossible to break out of. The first step of working on this is recognizing it. In this stage of understanding our family, sometimes journaling helps sort out what is going on internally. Other times, talking with a trusted friend may help us understand what was normal or not normal in our families. In many cases, starting therapy may help us process our experiences. The work starts with you and it’s not easy, but it is possible.


Dealing with a dysfunctional family can be challenging, but it is not insurmountable. By acknowledging the situation, setting boundaries, seeking support, practicing self-care, and cultivating healthy relationships, you can navigate life with resilience and hope. Remember that you have the power to change your life and your relationships, and that healing is a process that requires patience, self-compassion, and courage. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, and don’t give up on yourself or your family. With the right mindset and skills, you can create a new legacy of healing and wholeness for yourself and your future generations.

Need support on your healing journey? At Hanson Complete Counseling our skilled therapists are here to help you. Call us today for more information!

Work With An Experienced Therapist.