We have thirty years of experience in family and relationship therapy. We teach healthy parenting skills especially with difficult adolescents and young adults. We help families deal with addiction as well as depression and anxiety that affect the family system
Addictive Family Characteristics
Healthy Family Characteristics
The family organizes around managing or enabling the addict.
The family is organized to achieve agreed-upon goals and to help launch the children into the world as effective young adults with self-esteem and internal locus of control.
Family activities and holidays are disrupted.
The family members contribute and are engaged in creating and maintaining family traditions. They have a sense of humor and ability to play.
Parental duties and responsibilities are taken over by family siblings.
Parental and relational roles and expectations are clear and stable, but flexible and adaptable.
Alcohol or drug use becomes family’s way to cope with stress.
Clear expectations and family values limit the use of substances. Use of alcohol or drugs is clearly discussed.
There is a lack of clear behavioral expectations with the addict or family members.
The family has a sense of purpose and future with adequate problem solving, and planning skills and behaviors are modulated within acceptable boundaries.
Low expectation of child success.
Children are encouraged to do their best with reasonable expectations of success.
Family members have a right to their physical and emotional private sense of self and inner world honored. They have a sense of their own identity and the ability to act independently and exert some control over their environment with social competence and ability to recruit and attach to adults and/or parental figures.
Guilt – Everyone blames himself for the addict’s behavior. They must be doing something wrong. Family members blame themselves for the behavior of the dependent person. They believe they must be doing something that triggers the drinking or using. They begin to question themselves and find unreasonable fault in their own behavior.
Guilt is a positive motivator for better or more socially acceptable behavior.
Insecurity & Uncertainty – Things are never steady for any period of time. Shaky finances and lack of job security may be constantly present. Daily duties and responsibilities are not met. Each member of the family has the feeling the roof could fall in at any minute.
Though crises can occur to upset the system externally, there is a constancy of mood, behavior and environment in the family in which expectations are normalized.
Fear – Deep within, each member of the family knows that something is seriously wrong. The family knows that tragedy is just around the corner. The family lives with the dependent's sudden changes in mood, often with anger and violence erupting. Fear is a constant.
The family members have a positive, hopeful expectation that things will be all right and that they will be safe in the family.
Unpredictable anger or violence with ongoing lack of real engagement. Members of the family do not wish to be embarrassed. Social events are cancelled. Friends are not invited into the home. Yet, the behavior of the chemically dependent person continues to bring embarrassment to family members.
Anger is a natural feeling, within limits, but is modulated and contained in a healthy manner by strong parental role modeling. Domestic violence is never part of family environment.
Embarrassment – Minimal social contact. Social events canceled. Friends not invited. Addict continues to embarrass with behaviors. (This is a duplicate of the one above. Do you want to revise it or keep it as it is?)
The family is a safe place to engage with the community and able to bring friends home and have them feel hospitable and comfortable.
Isolation – Rigid communication/secrets. No one willing to talk about feelings. Not close-knit family with rigid boundaries. Crisis situations are created in order to attain comfort and closeness. Communication within the family erodes. No one is willing to discuss feelings about “the problem.” Each member of the family selects a way of dealing with the pain and sadness. The family of a chemical dependent cannot be a close-knit group.
Communication of feelings is accepted and encouraged when needed and when appropriate. Every individual in relationship has ownership of their inner world and is free to communicate their needs and aspirations with others.
Disappointment, broken promises and unfulfilled expectations. High hopes always turn to disappointment and betrayal. The chemical dependent is unable to live up to his or her commitments and promises. Broken promises and unfulfilled expectations are common. Members of the family are constantly having their high hopes turn into great disappointments.
There is dependability among members of the family system. Children can depend on their parents and parents can depend on the word of each other.
Suspicion – Addict cannot be trusted. Creates untrustworthy environment. Family displays ongoing conflict and accusations fly back and forth. Members of the family learn early that the dependent person cannot be trusted. Conflicts and accusations are common. The entire household becomes filled with suspicion. This condition encourages the dependent person to continue using or drinking.
There is a sense of trust in the system. People say what they mean and mean what they say. There is a maximum of communication and a minimum of conflict. Members have a conscience and an ability to sacrifice for others. Individuals in the system are not in conflict or competition with each other for attention and positive regard.
Resentment – Unexpressed anger is stuffed and becoming a raging resentment mass. Family members lash out at addict and each other.
Family members don’t need to hold onto resentments to protect themselves. They do not need to build a negative case against another member of the family because they are able to resolve conflict and negotiate solutions in a win/win manner.
Dealing with Anger in a Dysfunctional Family
To maintain a “good” son or daughter image, one must not show anger toward parents, but must bury the feelings (anger in), which feeds guilt and depression.
Anger leads to feelings of inadequacy that lead to a belief that, “I never do well enough.” This leads to resentment that leads to more buried feelings, resulting in guilt and depression.
Intense anger at self and others can become frozen into a chronic attitude of hostility. Submerged anger leads to being vigilant for any attacks (real or perceived) on self. This provides a stimulus to draw the anger feelings to the surface, resulting in overreaction (ex.: “Your anger in this situation is disproportionate to the importance of the event.”)
Self-hatred leads to turning off feelings, which can lead to projection and blaming others for their problems.
Anger leads to rage that leads to severe punishing of the troubled person or other family members.
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