Dysfunctional Families Essay Research Paper Table of

Dysfunctional Families Essay, Research Paper

Table of Contents

What is a dysfunctional family? . 2

What are the stressors of healthy vs. dysfunctional families? 3

Economic, social and cultural factors . 3

What are the long-term effects? .. 4

Bibliography 5

Primary Research: Survey 6

Analysis of Results .. 9

Family/household structures and strategies are very diverse worldwide and their response to processes of economic and political change is equally diverse. In other words, if there is a crisis in the family, it can only be a multiple set of crises in many different families. (UNRISD, 1) The outcome is the decline of the traditional male-breadwinner families, into what society, today, calls the dysfunctional family . But first, what is a dysfunctional family? To define this term, we must first know what constitutes a functional or healthy family. Therefore, the opposite of those characteristics would define what a dysfunctional family is. (Pierce, 1) The factors that lead to dysfunction in the family will be looked at in a political economic perspective and how it affects the family unit.

What is a dysfunctional family?

According to LuAnn Pierce, the term dysfunctional family is difficult to define because it must be understood as being opposite of what constitutes a functional or healthy family.

Notwithstanding cultural, economic, or social factors, characteristics of a healthy family include:

+ the family is open to others from outside of the immediate family system;

+ family members allow outsiders to enter the system and they can go outside the system to get help;

+ parents set clear generational boundaries; that means parents are the caregivers and children are secure in their role as siblings, children, and individuals;

+ recognizes stressful situations or crisis as evitable and seeks healthy ways to deal with them as a family;

+ family works together to find solutions to problems – they focus on solutions, not blame each other;

+ family members focus on what is controllable and make the best of situations over which they have control;

+ family develops and revises rules to deal effectively with day to day life;

+ family members recognize that decisions and routines are flexible;

+ family members feel empowered as a result of effectively dealing with stress; and

+ family members recognize the difference between the symptoms of stress and the sources of the stress.

Therefore, a dysfunctional family exhibits the opposite pattern of behaviours and coping strategies in stressful situations.

In Recreating Your Self, Nancy Napier defines functional and dysfunctional in a similar way. Instead of making some moral judgment (i.e. good or bad) about dysfunctional families, LuAnn Pierce and Nancy Napier focus on the difference between the kinds of coping strategies and communication patterns used by functional families and those used by dysfunctional families . According to Napier, functional strategies and patterns are those that enable family members to negotiate challenges and crisis effectively (p.28). Dysfunctional coping strategies and communication patterns are those that interfere with a family s ability to deal with stressful events (p.28).

What are the stressors of healthy vs. dysfunctional families?

According to LuAnn Pierce, the stressors that lead to stressful events also differ between healthy families and dysfunctional families. In healthy families the following are some of the areas that can cause stress within the family: finances, dealing with children s behaviour; insufficient couple time, lack of shared responsibility for housework, lack of communication with children, insufficient time for self, guilt for not accomplishing more or not fulfilling others expectations, divorce, or insufficient family time together. (p.1) However, the stressors are quite different for dysfunctional families and are far more harmful in the long-term to either individual family members or to the family unit as a whole. These include parent/child role reversal, resentment and blame on the person with the problem, blame on the primary caregiver for staying in the situation, individual family members subject to depression, fear of intimacy or getting close to others, learn to discount feelings and needs, irrational belief system, and multiple unresolved issues (p.1) Others factors that can contribute to excessive stress in a family and if not dealt with properly, can cause it to behave dysfunctionally are if one or more persons in the family has any of the following: a mental illness, an addiction to legal or illegal drugs, overly rigid religious beliefs, an abusive spouse, an abusive parent(s), a physical disability, an emotional or behavioural problem, responsibility for an aging parent, an infant/toddler, an adolescent, or an adult living at home (p.2).

Symptoms of families under excessive stress:

+ constant sense of urgency and hurry

+ sense of tension underlying sharp words and misunderstanding

+ mania to escape to your room, car, office, or anywhere

+ feelings of frustration for not getting things done or caught up

+ feeling that time is passing too quickly

+ frequent desire to return to a simpler time in life

+ little me or couple time

+ pervasive sense of guilt for being and doing everything to and for the people in your life. (Pierce, p.1)

Pierce also identifies some basic needs that individuals require in order to be healthy functional beings (Part III). They include the need for individuals to be feel capable and be successful at something, to feel cared for and belong to a group, to have power and control, to give of ourselves and help others, and to be simulated and have fun. If we do not meet these needs individually and through our family, we may become dysfunctional.

What are some of the economic, social, and cultural factors that can contribute to the stressors that lead to dysfunctional behaviours within families?

Some of the more conservative elements in the media (i.e. the Canadian Press Newswire and the Western Report) blame changing social conditions and trends, and ill conceived social policy (i.e. subsidized daycare) as being the culprits for the increasing numbers

of dysfunctional families in Canada. The author of What s happened to the nightly family dinner? featured in the Canadian Press Newswire argues that the traditional family dinner is a very important ritual that promotes effective family communication and bonding. This view is backed up by quoting Diane Marshall, who is a family therapist practicing in Toronto. She said that the decline in the traditional dinners is part of the (larger) breakdown everywhere in our whole culture of parent-child, family. The idea of eating together at a common table fosters a quality relationship between parents and children. The article also blames changing social conditions such as two-income families, single parenting, extra-curricular activities, after-school jobs and commuting for the decline of this important traditional ritual.

Looking at a political economic perspective, the redefinition of the family unit is crucially dependent on portraying the family as an autonomous unit, which is responsible for its own relations with the market due to the rising costs of welfare. If a family fails to provide for its members then this failure is an individual one and may be attributed to a lack of effort or to the dysfunctional nature of the family unit. As a result, the change family/household structures (dual-income families both parents must spend time outside of the home, to raise a family) The rise in female-headed households is among the most important in these changes and these households have thus become a focus of policy debate. The inability of female-headed households to manage in some contexts is not a result of the fact that they are dysfunctional families, but of the discrimination women suffer in the labour market and of the unequal distribution of labour and income within families. Public transfer programs worldwide, favour families with employed male breadwinners, and they thus effectively divert resources away from families most in need. This leads to poverty, a factor or characteristic that a dysfunctional family possesses. (UNRISD, 2)

The supposed indicators of family crisis marital conflict, youth crime, disadvantaged children and single mothers are not simply the result of dysfunctional families, but must also be seen in the context of the strain placed on certain family relations and categories of individuals by poverty and extreme economic hardship. Lack of control over their lives forces many disadvantaged families into situations where personal relations break down under stress. Loss of self-esteem both for parents and children, combined with joblessness, unwanted pregnancies, substance abuse and despair, are made worse by the fact that poverty also dispossesses people of their political as well as their economic rights. (UNRISD, 4) Other factors such as divorce and unsocialized youths (leading to youth crime and behavioural problems) are due to the increase of dual-income families, where time is spent by the parents, outside of the home; paying the costs of raising a family instead of actually, physically, being there, nurturing and taking care of the family unit. This can lead to marital problems and problems with the children because there is not enough time spent with the other partner in marriage or with the children.

What are the long-term effects of children who grew up in dysfunctional families?

In another conservative article called Should governments subsidize bad parenting? Study of effects of non-traditional family arrangements on children , the subject of two-income as a negative factor in long-term secure attachment or bonding is raised. The study of an Edmonton doctoral student entitled Long-term effects of insecure attachment in children is used to prove this point. This study assessed the psychological health and parenting arrangement of 138 adolescents. According to Dr. Mark Genius, at the heart of psychological health is secure attachment, which becomes the foundation for later healthy adult behaviours and bonding patterns. He argues that the main causes of insecure attachment are non-traditional family arrangements such as non-parental care (by nannies, relatives, close friends, or day care centers) of children prior to school age, custody sharing by divorced parents, career changes of parents requiring major adjustment and relocation, and insufficient time spent between parents-children. The long-term effects of insecure attachment are aggression, delinquency, withdrawal, anxiety, depression, cognitive and attention problems.

Robert Becker in Don t Talk, Don t Trust, Don t Feel: Overcoming the Power of Your Dysfunctional Family s Secrets and Nancy J. Nanpier in Recreating Your Self also discuss the long-term consequences for adults who were children of dysfunctional families and how they can overcome these psychosocial issues through self-help and therapy.

Children from dysfunctional families more often then not, adopt unhealthy coping strategies, relationship and communication patterns than those who were raised in healthy families. They may also develop a fragmented sense of self and are prone to feeling of shame, rage, guilt, fear, and helplessness (Napier, p.35) If the effects of dysfunctional families are not dealt with, this results in stress that can continue into adulthood. Yes, this is the responsibility of the parents to raise their children in a healthy functional environment, but it is also the responsibility of the state to intervene, when it comes to the economic factors and costs in raising a family to help the traditional healthy family prosper in the future.


Becker, Robert (1991). Don t Talk, Don t Trust, Don t Fell: Overcoming the Power of

Your Dysfunctional Family s Secrets. Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health

Communication, Inc.

Coontz, Stephanie (1992). The Way We Never Were: American Families and the

Nostalgic Trap. New York: Basic Books.

Is there a crisis in the family? United Nations Research Institute for Social

Economic Development. http://www.unrisd.org./engindex/publ/list/op/op3/op4-


Napier, Nancy J. (1990). Recreating Your Self: Help for Adult Children of

Dysfunctional Families. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Pierce, LuAnn (1998). Dysfunctional Families…What Exactly Does that Mean?, Part I,

Part II, Part III. Self-Help Psychology Magazine. http://www/cybertowers.com/


Should governments subsidize bad parenting? Study of the effects of non-traditional

family arrangements on children. Western Report, vol. 9, 28 (August 8, 1994):


What s happened to the nightly family dinner? Canadian Press Newswire, Sept. 23,


Primary Research: Survey

Results of Survey

1. What does your household consist of?

15 The basic nuclear family. (both parents, children)

3 Only one parent and child/children.

1 Your mother/father, step father/mother and their children, if they have any.

0 An extended family. (the nuclear family + aunts, uncles, etc)

2 I live on my own.

1 Other: _____________________________________

2. Do you have any siblings? 18 Yes 4 No

3. Are any of your parents employed?

10 Both parents are employed.

8 Only one of my parents is employed.

2 I only live with one parent and he/she is employed.

2 They are not employed.

4. If your parent(s) is employed, do they work ?

19 Full time 1 Part time

5. Is your parent(s) usually home during the evenings?

16 Yes (Also applies if one is home and the other isn t) 6 No

6. Are you employed? 16 Yes (Go to #7) 6 No (Go to #8)

7. How many hours do you work per week?

1 Less than 5 hours 1 5 10 hours

4 10 15 hours 10 More than 15 hours

8. If you had to compare your family, to a family on a sitcom or television show, which family would you think your family resembles? Explain.

Average Answer was: Family Matters and Home Improvement

9. How many TV sets are there in your household?

2 Only one 9 Two 7 Three 3 Four

1 Five + 0 None

10. How many hours a day, approximately, do you think your television is turned on?

5 Less than 5 hours 8 5 10 hours

2 10 15 hours 6 15 20 hours

1 Its on 24 hours day/night 0 My family does not watch or own a TV

11. Do you usually watch TV with your family?

8 Yes (Go to #13) 14 No (Go to #12)

12. Why not? Discuss.

Average reason: We do not watch the same programs, they are usually not home and I have my own TV.

13. How many times do you .?

All the

Never Sometimes time

1 2 3 4 5

Eat dinner w/your family 3

Spend time w/your family 2

Confide in your parent(s) 3

Argue w/your parents 4

Argue w/your siblings 3

14. Do you generally get along with your parent(s)?

16 Yes (Go to #16) 7 No (Go to #15)

15. Why not? Discuss.

Average Answer: They don t see eye to eye. (Disagree on things)

16. On a scale of 1 to 10, how functional would you rate your family?

Very functional Moderately Functional Dysfunctional

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The purpose of this survey was to find out what the norm was of the families living in Canada. The information that I gathered, would help me analyze what I learned through my secondary research on what constituted a dysfunctional family . My hypothesis was that the term dysfunctional family was irrelevant because it seemed to me, that the characters that dysfunctional families possessed (i.e. no family rituals, divorce, single motherhood, etc) were actually normal for families in the 90s. I surveyed a total of 22 highschool students in Ridgemont.

Analysis of the Results

From what I have learned, through my results, the majority of the people I surveyed, lived in the basic nuclear family unit. Although, most of the time, parents were in the workplace (usually both parents), to support their families. Also, the majority was employed, themselves, and they usually worked more than 15 hours per week. These statistics suggest that the majority of families have both parent and teenager out in the workforce. As a result, there is really no time spent at home with the family since everyone is busy in their own individual lives. The average number of TV sets in a household was 2 or 3 and it was usually turned on 5-10 hours during a day. The majority that was surveyed said that they did not watch TV with their family because they did not enjoy the same TV programs or they were home alone. This suggests that the members of the family tend to lead individual lives instead of a family life .

Disputes within the family are mainly with the parents to the child, rather than between siblings. This suggests that as we get older, we tend to get along with our siblings better and argue with our parents more. Although, the majority got along with their parents. This could also suggest that these disputes are just tiffs. Family rituals such as eating dinner with the family and spending time with the family were practiced, but not on a daily basis. This could be due to the fact that since both parent and teenager are working, dinner time cannot fit into the daily schedule. Most likely, the times that people do eat dinner with their family is during the holidays.

Most of the people I surveyed compared their family to the sitcom Family Matters or Home Improvement. Those who chose Family Matters felt that they had a strong family that helped each other in need. I discovered that majority, if not all, which chose this answer, were of strong religious belief. This could suggest that religion in the family bonds them together making them a strong functional family unit. On the other hand, those who chose Home Improvement, felt that even though their father was the head of the household (male breadwinner), their mother was actually the one who kept the family in order. When they had to rate on a scale of 1 to 10, how functional they thought their family was the majority chose a 6 out of 10. This is moderately functional, but it leans towards a dysfunctional sense. Those who chose a 6 and above, usually had both parents employed, while being employed themselves. If we look at the political economic perspective, we can see the influence of the economy and having to earn a decent living by having dual-income earners. This suggests that majority of the parents and teenagers, who work, are spending little time at home with the family. Most of these parents and especially teenagers (who are also in school) are under extreme stress from work or school. This can have an impact on the family, if they decide to take out stress on each other by either arguing, physically, emotionally, or verbally abusing each other, or turning to legal or illegal substances. Partners in a marriage could take their stress out on their spouse, which could lead to separation, or even divorce. Therefore, this constitutes what society sees as a dysfunctional family .

In conclusion, I have found in my findings, that there was an equalization of what society sees as a healthy functional family and a dysfunctional family. Some healthy families possessed some dysfunctional traits, while some dysfunctional families possessed functional traits. Therefore, some form of dysfunction in a family could be seen as the norm in families because that family could also possess healthy traits that society sees as a functional family.


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