Signs That You May Have a Dysfunctional Family

It’s pretty safe to say that no one has a truly ‘perfect’ family. Most of us have at least one relative that we don’t really want to introduce our friends to: Auntie Rose, who hits the cooking sherry on Thanksgiving Day and is singing Italian operas by noon, or Cousin Louie, who doesn’t seem to have a verbal filter when it comes to age and gender appropriate jokes.

As embarrassing as the family might be at times – it’s still within the range of normal behavior. Or at least a somewhat loose definition of normal.

These are the relatives that put the ‘fun’ into dysfunctional, as the saying goes. But truly dysfunctional behavior goes beyond tolerable and forgivable actions, and into the realm of causing damage: physical, emotional or both.

Growing up in a truly dysfunctional family can have a life-long effect on your self-esteem and life choices.

Many Entrepreneurs come from these types of families, and is often responsible for the decision to turn away from the corporate world, as there are often many similarities between the demands of a corporate boss and their parents.

If you spent your childhood trying to please ‘impossible’ parents – you are going to chafe at the demands of a boss!

The bottom line is that the behavior that makes you miserable may also have provided the impetus to make you a successful Entrepreneur.

BUT…that does not mean that you should put up with abusive or harmful behavior from your family, or anyone else, for that matter. A key step in dealing with a negative situation is learning the difference between ‘normal’ family behavior and truly dysfunctional behavior.



Here’s 10 signs that your family may be truly dysfunctional:

  1. Family gatherings cause you stress
    Just the thought of going home for the holidays or even just a ‘normal’ visit home causes weeks of anxiety before and after the trip. It often affects your work schedule negatively as you cannot focus on anything other than the upcoming visit home. It’s an overwhelming event that seems to take over every aspect of your life.


  2. As a child, you rarely invited anyone over to play, and never wanted to have a sleep over at your house.
    You never knew when an argument would break out, so it was best to just visit friends at their homes. On the rare occasions when you did have friends over – you were inevitably embarrassed by your parents’ behavior at some point during your friend’s visit.


  3. Growing up, you were amazed to see how other people behaved.
    It was a shock when you realized that other people did not behave like your family did. Mothers and fathers were actually polite and encouraging to their children, and to you, as their child’s friend. You envied your friends home life, and sometimes fantasized about living with them instead of your real family.


  4. Family activities, from dinner out to family vacations, often ended in arguments and harsh words.
    You have very few happy memories of the family together. Every event ended in a fight, and usually in tears. Going out to dinner was traumatic, and vacations were pretty much always a disaster. You have no warm fuzzy memories from childhood holidays.


  5. As a child, you were often accused of using the ‘wrong tone of voice’ or having a bad attitude.
    Your parents often punished you when you had no idea what you had done wrong. The infractions were often esoteric, such as your tone of voice, facial expression or simply your ‘mood’. Sometimes you felt as though you could do nothing to make your parents happy.


  6. You frequently missed big events because you were grounded.
    More often than not, you missed the big party, Homecoming football game, maybe even the play that you were supposed to be in because you were being punished for one of these imaginary infractions. Somehow, the weekend that you were grounded was always the weekend of the big event you had been anticipating. You finally just stopped even planning on going to anything.


  7. You’re not sure you want kids, because of the way your family is.
    You are so afraid of being like your parents, that you may have decided to not have a family yourself. You are simply not willing to take the chance that you could turn out like your parents. Not. Worth. The. Risk.


  8. You live more than a ‘easy’ drive from your parents.
    As an entrepreneur, you could live anywhere you want, but you live far enough away from your family that they won’t ever just ‘pop’ in on you. And you like it that way.


  9. One or both parents has expressed disappointment in your career choice.
    This is your life. Being an entrepreneur is tough and demanding career choice, but for those of us that are – we love it! We are here for a reason, and whatever that reason is…it is OUR choice. But narcissistic or toxic parents will often see our failure to follow in their footsteps as a direct attack on their life choices, rather than an expression of our own.


  10. Your parents or siblings blame you for their situation
    Unless you really have done something horrific that put your family at risk or put them in debt – there is very little reason for you to be blamed for their current circumstances. Chances are they simply looking for a easy scapegoat – and you happen to close at hand.

Now, ask yourself honestly where your family fits in the normal versus dysfunctional spectrum. If you answered yes to 3 or fewer of the questions, your situation is probably stressful but fairly normal.

If you answered yes to 5, you probably have reason to dread going home but with some careful planning ahead of time, can probably still maintain a decent enough relationship with your family.

If you could identify with more than 5 of the above scenarios, then you definitely have a good reason to limit your time with your family. In fact, your family situation may cross over to the toxic side of the equation, and if so, you need to practice some serious ‘self-care’ in dealing with them.

Our new ebook, “Going Home: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Coping With Family” takes a strong look at the unique challenges that Entrepreneurs often face when dealing with their parents and siblings.

Family dynamics can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but when parents disapprove of our career choices, or simply don’t understand what we do, the resulting clashes can be catastrophic to all sides.

Whether your family simply doesn’t understand your entrepreneurial lifestyle, or actively disapproves, “Going Home: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Coping With Family” is an eye-opening guide to dealing with, and hopefully, improving, your family relationships.

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