Coming from an Unhealthy Family: How to Feel Secure, Whole, and Unstuck

Coming from an Unhealthy Family: How to Feel Secure, Whole, and Unstuck

In my marriage counseling in Raleigh, NC I often work with couples who grew up in unhealthy families with different behavior issues and attachment styles. For example, one of my clients told me her parents were never available for her emotionally. They were distant and cold, neglecting her needs for attention and affection. She never really enjoyed her childhood and teenage years in the family home and couldn’t wait to leave for college. Today, this woman comes for marriage counseling in Raleigh, NC because she doesn’t know how to connect emotionally with her partner. Which makes so much sense, how can she do that when she was never shown “how to” by her primary caregivers? She feels completely disconnected and insecure in her relationship because she was socialized in an environment where emotions were forbidden and never talked about outside of occasional anger and frustration.

If you come from an unhealthy family, you may struggle with attachment issues and other psychological problems. To feel secure, whole, and unstuck again, you need to understand what was that caused your family to be dysfunctional. Furthermore, you need to identify and process painful childhood experiences with your partner. The sooner you accept that vulnerability is the key and learn to attune and open up your heart to your partner, the sooner your healing process will begin.

What are the Signs of Dysfunctional Family Relationships?

When you grow up in an unhealthy environment where your needs are ignored or you are always criticized, neglected or abused, there is a good chance that you will become an adult who struggles with mental health issues and unhealthy relationships.

Controlling parents. One or both of your parents were in charge and always made decisions on your behalf not allowing you freedom and responsibility. As a result, you may feel inadequate, incapable and powerless as an adult.

Lack of support. Your parents (one or both of them) failed to provide emotional support, neglecting their parental responsibilities. As a result, you may feel emotionally vulnerable, lonely and isolated as an adult.

Perfectionism. Your parents had unrealistic expectations from you. For example, they always expected you to win every competition or perform at your utmost at school. Such attitude turned you into a tense, stressful perfectionist.

Unpredictability. You never knew what to expect from your parents which created an underlying, always present fear.

Violence and Abuse. Any form of abuse, as well as violence, are evident signs of a dysfunctional family.

How to Feel Secure, Whole, and Unstuck by Your Unhealthy Family

1.    Set Firm Boundaries

We all set boundaries towards our life experiences and our relationships. Boundaries help us recognize and let other people know what we are or we are not comfortable with. So, when someone crosses the line, let them know. Do it in a respectful way, but make your boundaries clear.

For example, cooking for your parents is always a struggle. They are very critical of your culinary skills and tend to inspect the cleanness of your kitchen and your home, always finding imperfections. However, they keep insisting on visiting you in your home, so you feel obligated to host them.

How to Set Boundaries?

So, next time your parents ask you to come over, state your boundaries clearly and firmly. Say something like, “I love the time we spend together, but your visits to my home kind of stress me. I think we should go out together for lunch or dinner instead”. However, do not get into argument with them. Even better, after you establish the boundaries, try to change the subject to let your parents know that you are not upset or angry.

2. Work on Expressing Your Emotions

People raised in unhealthy families often have difficulties expressing their emotions. For example, you may struggle with articulating your anger and resentment, believing that you just need to let go and forgive. However, it is okay to feel angry if your family members haven’t treated you right.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should not forgive. Forgiveness is a healthy way to move forward while working on productive ways to vent anger and other emotions. For example, express your feelings through art, poetry, or dance and movement. Or keep a journal in which you will write down your feelings.

3. Learn to Trust People

An important part of coping with an unhealthy family is learning to trust other people. Individuals who grew up in families where parents didn’t trust each other and their kids may struggle to build their relationships on trust and confidence. However, if you want to feel whole and secure again, you need to make effort to build trust with your friends and your partner.

Surround yourself with positive and kind people. This will help improve your self-esteem and put yourself back together.

4. Take Care of Your Needs

Assert yourself. Recognize your own emotional needs and request respect from others. In dysfunctional families, your thoughts and your attitude may be often criticized and judged. For example, if your mother is criticizing your choice of a partner, let her know that, although you respect her opinion, you feel secure in your choice and won’t accept her efforts to convince you in the opposite.


If you grew up in an unhealthy family, you need to set firm boundaries and take care of yourself in order to feel secure, whole, and unstuck.

Keep in mind that you deserve respect. So do your emotions and life choices. Don’t allow your unhealthy family to skew your thoughts and make you wonder whether you deserve respect – frequently remind yourself you do.

However, it is very hard to deal with the emotional burden of an unhealthy family alone. 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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