9 signs you grew up in a dysfunctional family, according to psychology

Growing up in a dysfunctional family — it’s a phrase that can hit hard, and it’s more than just dealing with the occasional argument or misunderstanding.

It’s about enduring persistent patterns of conflict, miscommunication, and often, emotional pain.

According to psychology, growing up in such an environment can leave lasting marks on a person’s psyche. But do you ever wonder if your family upbringing was truly dysfunctional or just normally imperfect?

There are certain unmistakable signs that can help you understand this better.

In this article, we’re going to delve into 9 of these signs, as identified by psychology.

My hope is that, by identifying these signs, you’ll gain a better understanding of your past and how it has shaped you into the person you are today.

1) You frequently find yourself in the role of a peacemaker

For people who grow up in dysfunctional families, peace can often feel like an elusive concept.

One of the signs that you may have grown up in such an environment is if you often found yourself playing the part of a peacemaker.

Growing up, were you constantly trying to mediate conflicts between family members? Did you feel compelled to smooth over issues to keep the peace?

This could mean that you were frequently exposed to tension or conflict at home.

But here’s the truth:

A child’s role isn’t to mediate or defuse adult conflicts. Their role is to be taken care of, and be guided by their parents toward a healthy adult life.

Unfortunately, in a dysfunctional family, these boundaries can become blurred.

For example, you might have developed this role as a survival tactic, an attempt to create a semblance of normalcy amidst the chaos.

Now you recognize this pattern which is the first step towards understanding how your upbringing might be influencing your current actions and relationships.

2) You’re hyper-aware of other people’s emotions

Do you find yourself constantly scanning the room, picking up on the slightest shift in someone’s mood? And does this ability, at times, feel more like a burden than a gift?

Well, this heightened sense of emotional awareness is a concept known as “hyper-vigilance”.

It’s a psychological term that describes an individual’s increased state of sensory sensitivity for the purpose of detecting threats.

In a dysfunctional family setting, you may have developed this as a coping mechanism. The need to anticipate and react to volatile emotional situations could have been a matter of self-preservation.

Let’s face it: hyper-vigilance can make you extremely attuned to others’ emotions, often at the expense of acknowledging your own feelings.

Yes, it’s a challenging way to live, constantly on high alert.

And if you resonate with this, it could be an indication of a turbulent family upbringing.

3) You struggle to express your own emotions

Interestingly, while you may be hyper-aware of other people’s emotions due to growing up in a dysfunctional family, expressing your own feelings might be a struggle.

I know this may seem counter-intuitive.

After all, if you’re so adept at understanding emotions, shouldn’t you be equally proficient at expressing your own?

However, in a dysfunctional family environment, expressing personal emotions might have been discouraged or ignored.

As a result, you may have learned to suppress your feelings as a defense mechanism.

In essence, you could be an emotional chameleon of sorts — constantly adjusting to the emotional states of those around you, while neglecting your own emotional needs.

This often leads to a lack of emotional self-awareness, making it challenging to identify, let alone articulate, your own feelings.

Most importantly, it’s a pattern that, if unaddressed, can extend into adulthood, affecting personal relationships and emotional health.

4) You have a hard time setting boundaries

Have you ever stopped to consider how comfortable you are with setting personal boundaries?

In healthy family environments, boundaries are taught and respected. They serve as the invisible lines that help individuals understand their limits and protect their emotional well-being.

However, in a dysfunctional family, boundaries may be frequently violated or simply non-existent.

The result?

This can make it difficult for you to establish and maintain boundaries in your adult life.

In fact, people who grew up in dysfunctional families often find themselves saying ‘yes’ when they really want to say ‘no’. Or perhaps they let people take advantage of their time and energy more often than they’d like.

If these scenarios resonate with you, it could be a sign that your inability to set boundaries stems from your family upbringing.

And for this, you need to realize that setting boundaries is not about being selfish or unkind. It’s about preserving your mental and emotional health.

5) You exhibit signs of ‘survival mode’

pic1808 9 signs you grew up in a dysfunctional family, according to psychology

In a dysfunctional family, children often find themselves living in ‘survival mode’.

This means adopting certain behaviors as coping mechanisms to navigate through the chaos. As an adult, these behaviors might still be prevalent in your life.

They might include:

  • Constantly expecting the worst
  • Feeling anxious about making mistakes
  • Struggling with perfectionism
  • Avoiding confrontation at all costs

These behaviors are more than just personality traits.

They are signs of a person who has learned to operate in survival mode, potentially indicating a dysfunctional family background.

6) You have a complicated relationship with trust

Trust – it’s a simple word, but it carries a lot of weight.

I’ve come to realize that in dysfunctional families, trust is often a commodity that’s in short supply.

For many of us who grew up in such environments, trust might be something we struggle with.

Maybe you find it hard to trust others, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. On the other hand, you may be too trusting, ignoring red flags because you’re desperate for connection and acceptance.

Does this strike a chord with you?

If yes, then let’s acknowledge this.

It’s okay to admit that trust is a complicated issue for you. It’s okay if your past experiences have shaped your ability to trust.

Because you’ve already taken your first step in understanding how our upbringing may still be affecting us.

7) You struggle with self-worth

Imagine you’ve just achieved something great at work. Your colleagues are showering you with praise. But guess what?

Instead of feeling proud, you’re uncomfortable.

You might even feel like a fraud, convinced that sooner or later, everyone will discover that you’re not as competent as they think.

Does this sound familiar? Do you often feel like you’re not good enough, despite evidence to the contrary?

If so, you’re probably wondering why this unhealthy pattern happens and whether it’s actually connected to your past.

Well, the truth is that it is connected to your family.

In a dysfunctional family setting, children may frequently receive negative feedback or none at all.

As a result, this leads to a sense of low self-worth that persists into adulthood.

That’s why you should question whether your feelings of inadequacy could be linked to your upbringing.

Could it be that your self-worth was undermined during your formative years?

8) You have difficulty forming close relationships

Building and maintaining close relationships is a fundamental part of our lives.

However, for some of us, it can be surprisingly challenging.

I remember a time when I found it incredibly hard to connect with others on a deeper level. I would keep people at arm’s length, fearing that if they got too close, they’d somehow hurt me or leave.

This fear of intimacy and rejection often stems from having been hurt or betrayed in the past, especially during childhood.

In a dysfunctional family, trust can be broken time and again, leading to a reluctance to form meaningful connections later in life.

You might find yourself sabotaging relationships before they get too serious or shying away from vulnerability.

This behavior is a protective measure — a way to avoid the pain of potential disappointment or betrayal.

Yet, this avoidance can also mean missing out on the joys and growth that come with deep, trusting relationships.

9) You’re here, reading this article

This is the final sign, and arguably the most important one.

The fact that you’re here, reading this article, suggests that you’re looking for answers.

  • You’re questioning your past and how it might have shaped you.
  • You’re willing to delve into potentially painful memories to gain a better understanding of yourself.
  • You’re seeking to break the cycle, to not let your past define your future.

Trust me, this self-awareness and willingness to explore your personal history is a powerful first step in healing.

It’s a journey towards self-discovery and change, where acknowledging these signs is pivotal in building a healthier, more fulfilling future.

Recognizing these signs is not about blaming or feeling despair, but about acknowledging the truth of your experiences.

And with this acknowledgment comes the power to change, grow, and heal.

What can you do now?

Identifying these signs is just the beginning. As we draw this article to a close, you might be asking yourself, “What now?”

Here are a few steps to consider:

  • Seek professional help: A trained therapist or counselor can provide valuable guidance as you navigate your journey toward healing.
  • Practice self-compassion: Acknowledge that your experiences were not your fault and treat yourself with kindness and understanding.
  • Establish healthy boundaries: You have a right to protect your mental and emotional well-being. It’s okay to say ‘no’.

The most important thing here to realize is that instead of blaming your past, you just need to understand it.

As we part ways, I encourage you to reflect on these signs and consider what steps you can take toward healing. You’ve made it this far, and that in itself is something to be proud of.

Picture of Nato Lagidze

Nato Lagidze

Nato is a writer and a researcher with an academic background in psychology. She investigates self-compassion, emotional intelligence, psychological well-being, and the ways people make decisions. Writing about recent trends in the movie industry is her other hobby, alongside music, art, culture, and social influences. She dreams to create an uplifting documentary one day, inspired by her experiences with strangers.

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