There are many people that might resist the idea of labeling the home that they grew up in as dysfunctional, despite the flaws of their caregivers and the experiences that they had as children. Perhaps they have predominantly good memories of childhood or as an adult, there is more understanding and empathy for the plight of their caregivers.
It does not take a selective memory or delusions to make the word dysfunctional seem like the wrong one to use. The very word carries a negative connotation since it means not functioning properly or deviating from the normal. The willingness to look at our childhood at face value can be helpful in recovery because understanding the reasons behind many of our thoughts and actions can play a critical role in seeing where changes can and should be made as adults.
It’s important to note that when those that suffer from a substance use disorder seek to better understand the effects of the home they were raised in, it is not a matter of finding blame for our troubles. The reason we work to examine the specifics of the environment we experienced as children is to help us better understand the causes and conditions of certain behavior. In doing so, we have the opportunity to make needed changes to the way we view and operate within the world, helping us to be healthier individuals overall, and freeing us from the need to seek out substances to numb pain.
While there are those that grew up in homes that were clearly abusive, negative, or toxic, there are other more subtle ways that a home can be dysfunctional. Many in early recovery might share that they grew up in loving homes where all of their needs were met, only to find later that the chaotic environment they existed in as children might have had the capacity for a lasting impact. Here are some less obvious challenges we might have experienced growing up:
Poor communication: Some of us might have grown up in homes where the communication between caregivers was poor, the communication between caregivers and children was poor, or both. Homes where parents fought excessively or there was much yelling and argument, even if not directed at the children, can have a lasting impact. When parents don’t help children to understand what is causing conflict in a way that they can understand, children feel compelled to come up with their own explanation.
Since understanding the situation is out of a child’s scope of understanding, children can easily come to the wrong conclusions and blame themselves. Children that aren’t given direct and honest communication often pick up roles as the hero or the clown, seeking to remove unpleasantness in the home with their own efforts.
Lack of empathy or understanding: An important and underused tool in parenting is empathy. Caregivers can easily forget what it feels like to be a child so they might not consider the confusion or lack of understanding that their children face on a day-to-day basis. When parents don’t try to get on their child’s level of emotional and mental understanding, they might make choices towards discipline or punishment that don’t make sense to them. It’s important for children to feel heard and understood as they grow. A lack of empathy can make children feel like they should be silent about what they are feeling or experiencing.
Unpredictability: This is another way to say chaotic. Children need structure to help them negotiate the world around them. This helps them to build routine, consistency, and predictability. When a home is in constant chaos a child might struggle to create these things later in life. They become so used to situations having different outcomes each time that they lack follow-through as adults. They might also seek out chaos as adults, feeling uncomfortable conforming to routine.
Criticism or expectations of perfection: Perfection is an unattainable goal. However, parents that had extremely high and often unattainable standards of performance for their children might inadvertently set the stage for low self-esteem. Parents that are highly critical of their children, even with the positive intention of helping them to achieve great things, might make their children feel as if there is nothing they can do to be worthy of love or praise.
As adults, children that grew up in highly critical homes might find themselves struggling to take credit for their hard work or even feeling as if any measure of hard work will ever make them “good enough.”
Lack of boundaries/respect for boundaries: Children that grew up without boundaries often struggled to understand the boundaries of others and have trouble setting them for themselves later in life. When children aren’t set up with boundaries they might grow up having difficulty in interpersonal relationships, either in not being capable of communicating their own personal boundaries or in understanding the reasons others have for setting them.
It’s important to remember that while some caregivers are intentionally harmful or abusive, in many family structures they themselves simply weren’t equipped with the proper tools to become perfect caregivers. If you feel that the family structure you grew up in may have caused struggles for you as an adult, there are different programs, such as Adult Children of Alcoholics (which has been expanded to include dysfunctional homes) and therapy options that can help you learn healthier habits.
Whatever your childhood was like or experiences you’ve had, know that recovery is possible and there are people there to help you move towards a healthy life. Ashley Addiction Treatment believes that connection is the key to recovery, with treatment options focused on holistic, integrated, and compassionate care. Ashley utilizes a variety of treatment modalities to help aid you in healing. If you would like to speak to someone about our care options, please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.