Coming from an Unhealthy Family: Is This You?

Coming from an Unhealthy Family: Is This You?

Many people with relationship issues who reach out for marriage counseling in Raleigh, NC turn out to be raised in unhealthy and families. Unhealthy families are unhappy, restricting, and damaging. However, the truth is that people who grew up in a dysfunctional family repeat the pattern and often end up in another unhealthy family as adults.

But before we delve into understanding unhealthy family relationships, let’s make sure we define what an unhealthy family is.

What is an Unhealthy Family?

“Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.

(Ana Karenina)

Leo Tolstoy


You can recognize an unhealthy or dysfunctional family through negative behaviors such as neglect, apathy, rigidity, abuse (which does not have to be major or even visible), and lack of support. When these problems exist in the family, the functioning of the family is disturbed which causes constant conflicts, arguments, and tension.

In addition, relationships in an unhealthy family are tense and unnatural. These unhealthy relationships in early childhood form an insecure attachment that affects adult relationships. There are three types of insecure attachment styles formed in the family of origin:

1.     Disorganized attachment

2.     Anxious-ambivalent attachment

3.     Anxious-avoidant attachment

If you have suffered abuse in childhood and never knew what to expect from your caregivers, you have most likely developed this unhealthy attachment style. You tend to repair your parents’ dysfunctional behavior patterns – sometimes you can be very affectionate while at other times you become emotionally disconnected, negligent or aggressive. This is most likely called disorganized attachment style.

In the same way, people with anxious-ambivalent attachment were also raised in the family with contradictory parents, never knowing what to expect while growing up. If you have an anxious-ambivalent attachment style in your relationship, it is most likely that you are oversensitive to rejection and constantly show dependence and a need for approval. You tend to focus only on problems in your relationship which causes anxiety and avoidant behaviors.

Finally, people with anxious-avoidant attachment style have a hard time establishing close and fulfilling relationships. They usually lack self-awareness and struggle to recognize and to control their emotions. Growing up with emotionally distant parents or caregivers who did not support you most likely shaped you in a person with anxious-avoidant attachment. The lack of support during your upbringing taught you either not to trust others or to cling to those you did care for you. You are most likely an independent individual. However, you experience a profound anxiety when your partner tries to become emotionally close to you.

Do You Come from a Dysfunctional Family?

If you’re not sure whether you come from an unhealthy family, look out for the following signs in your behavior and attachment style.

1.    You constantly feel guilty. Whether it is your fault or not, you always feel responsible. You believe that you are accountable for your partner’s feelings and this mistaken belief make you assume that it is your fault when your partner is upset.

2.    You constantly please others. You believe that if you please your partner, he or she won’t leave you. As a result of being abandoned as a child, you fear disappointing people and you go above and beyond to please them, often scarifying your own needs.

3.    You feel responsible for other people. You often tend to ignore your needs while taking up responsibility for others.

4.    Your communication skills are not strong. You often struggle when expressing your thoughts and emotions, and lack assertiveness. For example, you don’t know how to say “No” when you feel pushed into something you’re not comfortable with in your relationship (e.g. when your partner’s demands that only you take care of the kids).

5.    You are unforgiving to yourself. Because you have often been judged as a child, you tend to be too judgmental and harsh to yourself.

6.    You are anxious and tensed. Even when everything seems fine, you can’t help worrying that something bad is going to happen. For example, you tend to worry that your partner will leave you even when he is loving and caring.

7.    You fear failure. As a child, you always struggled to meet the high expectations of your parents, which made you obsessed with perfection. For instance, you don’t allow yourself any flaws in your relationship – you’re never late, never bad-mannered, never messy or ill-tempered.

8.    You feel disconnected. You struggle to build and maintain intimate and close relationships, often feeling lonely and isolated in your marriage. For example, you often feel that you live with a roommate and not your lover but don’t know how to reconnect.

9.    You have low self-esteem. Life in a dysfunctional family may cause you to have low self-esteem and struggle with poor self-image. Furthermore, it may trigger various psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or suicidal thoughts. In addition, you may struggle with alcohol and drug abuse and addiction and have self-harming and aggressive behavior issues.


Growing up in an unhealthy family may form us as insecure, disconnected adult individuals who struggle with emotional health and interpersonal relationships.

In order to secure and unstuck again, you need to work on your attachment styles and behavior patterns. I won’t lie, it’s hard work, but the rewards are priceless!:)

I hope this information helps you learn more about what a dysfunctional family is and what are different signs of growing up in one. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to call at (703)-347-3200 for your free of charge 15-min consultation and/or to schedule an appointment in my Wake Forest office or online.


Irina Baechle,LCSW is a founder, owner, and a licensed therapist at IrinaBaechleCounselingLLC. She specializes in helping distant couples and anxious singles build truly connected and meaningful relationships. She currently offers online and in-home counseling services to residents of Virginia and North Carolina (and most countries abroad). Click here to schedule your free 15 min consultation. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Youtube for useful tips and resources.

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