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Signs You Have a Dysfunctional Family

Updated on April 22, 2019
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Michelle Dee had a rough upbringing as a military child and has happily recovered and now hikes 5-8 miles every weekend in the mountains.



If you see yourself in any of these true examples, take heart. This is not meant to sound negative or depressing. It is very possible for an apple to fall far from the tree. The apple just needs to realize what is going on and to surround themselves throughout their life with positive people who will value, cherish, and support them. They very well may need to keep these dysfunctional family members at a far distance. On that note, let’s take a look at a few signs you are from a dysfunctional family. Feel free to add any comments at the end.

Out of Town Visits

  • Because the cost of living is too high and way out of reach for a lot of people it is necessary for people to share housing. You and your sibling are just starting out in life, and to save money, rent a house and decide to have a housewarming party. So you invite your Dad, who lives 180 miles in another state, to come and stay a few days. He agrees. You guys are so excited he is visiting. You must go to the grocery store and pick up a deli platter for the party. You ask Dad if he wants to ride with you. He agrees. So you get your deli platter and at the checkout it costs $75.00 (it’s a real expensive area). As you and Dad are walking back to the car, Dad gets real hostile and belligerent and spits out that when he was your age he couldn’t have afforded to spend $75.00 like that for a party.
  • You go off to college and live in the dorm life and your older brother, who has no life or friends of his own, decides to drop in to check out the college party life (because there is always parties going on in the dorms). So you and your brother and about 15 other people are sitting around talking and you leave the room for a minute to get another drink and get distracted with another group of people, and finally go back to the room of the 15 people. All of a sudden your brother bellows in an extremely loud child-like voice, “You left me by myself”. He is real serious. Everyone in the room is shocked and looking at each other and it truly is embarrassing. You never invite him again. You always tell him when he asks, that no, there are no parties going on this weekend. Sorry.


  • You inform your Dad that he is now the beneficiary of a $100K life insurance policy that you got through your employment if anything should happen to you. After informing Dad of this information, other events have occurred and the conversation goes like this: You: Dad, the gas shocks on my car just gave out. They are supposed to have a lifetime warranty. Why did they give out so soon? Dad: Because you lived too long.
  • Your older brother asks to borrow $200 from you after overhearing you tell Mom that you had some overtime this week and it should be a good paycheck. Three years later he asks you the insulting question if you expected that $200 to be repaid. Gee, Bro, just consider it a gift at this point, since you have no ambition and because you have no ambition you never will have the money to pay back.
  • One year Mom says she thinks your dad went outside at 3:00 a.m. one morning and fed the neighbor's dogs some raw hamburger meat laced with rat poison, because he can't stand their barking and wants them to die from the poisoned hamburger. The neighbor happens to be a Sheriff's Deputy.

Life Issues

  • You and your Mom go out to lunch one afternoon and she mentions that if anything happens to her she is leaving a boatload of money in life insurance policies. Little do you know that 3 months later she unexpectedly passes away at a young age. Dad was always difficult to get along with but Mom was the peace keeper. Dad inherits the entire boatload of life insurance money. After the funeral he takes off to Disney Land, buys a brand new car and starts living it up. You and your sibling are working two jobs trying to make ends meet and neither one of you get a dime of your Mom’s inheritance. He knows the two of you are trying to keep your heads above water, but he looks the other way.
  • A few years later, Mom’s Mom passes away, and bless her heart she was a wicked witch anyway. Dad was never on good terms with Mom’s side of the family. Quite a few times Dad rants and raves and spits and hisses about how you and your older brother got ripped off when the Grandmother died because you guys didn’t get anything from her estate, like the other grandchildren did. Let it be noted that this Grandmother accuses Dad of killing your Mom because he relocated and moved around all those years. At least that’s Dad’s side of the story.
  • Your older brother tells you right after you move out on your own that Dad told him he would have killed you if he thought he wouldn’t go to jail for murder.
  • Your Dad finally decides to move to Florida. He is going to auction off all his belongings in the house and tells you to come up there and get what you want before the auction. You go up there and take a few things that belonged to your Mother, who passed away some years back. When you pick a few items like her suitcases (which she paid for with money she earned from her job), some old Tupperware, a few candles, Dad says, well I can’t give those suitcases to you for free. He makes you pay him money for the suitcases.
  • You send relatives holiday cards and the next time you see them they tell you, “you really didn’t have to do that”. Huh? Okay so now you are stuck wondering if you should save your postage and not send them any more cards, or….or…..or…..what the heck does that mean?

At Family Reunions

  • There was one, and only one, family reunion that took place because everybody fought and bickered and nobody had a good time so they never planned another one.
  • Consider yourself very fortunate if you get to go to family reunions where everyone is happy to see each other and everyone has a great time. You are extremely blessed.

During the Holidays

  • Your older brother, who never had any ambition or money and hopped job to job, gets married, to the shock of everyone. Nobody saw that coming. Of course his bride makes a ton of money at her government job and she is love starved and nobody paid any attention to her except your older brother and…..never mind bless her heart….let’s move on…..At Christmas Dad gives this 2-income couple living high on the hog a $50 money order. He gives you, a single 1-income person a $25 money order. I guess because it’s 2 of them they get double. Shouldn’t you get $50 because you need the money…….never mind bless his heart, let’s move on.
  • Every Thanksgiving and Christmas you have to hear about how much Dad hated the holidays when he was growing up and how he hates them now. Gee, dad, that’s about the only sure-fire time of the year you even get to have your kids visit you.
  • Every Thanksgiving Dad brags and brags about how he always gives $350 every year to the battered women's shelter. Does he mail them the check every year? No way. He goes there IN PERSON every year to hand over that check and he wants everyone to know it. Never mind his own kids have to work 2 and 3 jobs just to keep their heads above the water.
  • One year Dad gloats about how his younger brother, your Uncle Glen who lives in the same town as Dad, had his Christmas trees (which he grows in his front yard) mysteriously chopped down in the middle of the night. Dad says this with a smirk on his face. You are appalled and ask him, who would do such a low down dirty thing? Once you say that, Dad scowls and gives you an evil look. That’s when you start to wonder if perhaps it was Dad who chopped down the Christmas trees, because after all, it’s not a big secret that he has been extremely jealous of Uncle Glen for years.

In Hindsight

If at all possible, try to help your siblings if they are slow at “launching”. If I could do it over again I would have had more patience with the older brother who just couldn’t get it together. I would have tried to help him a little bit (not pay all his bills for him or anything like that), but offering more emotional support and been nicer to him. He was good at handyman projects and I would have offered to write him check payments to do any house projects that were needed. Back in those days it seemed like if any of your family members had a business that they should do the work for free. I say No Way – family members should help them by offering some payment since they have to make a living as well.

I am not one to tell others how to run their lives, but in hindsight other advice to those with toxic families – don’t tell them your problems. Save that for your real friends or even a counselor if you choose. Let them think all is well with you and don’t express your opinions about anything (because if your opinion differs from theirs, they may jump on you and make you feel stupid because you don't think like they do). I realize that may be difficult but just smile and let them think you have a boring life but you are "Happy with Boring" so you don’t get them all stirred up. When around them don’t get excited about that new job or new boyfriend, etc…This may or may not work for everyone but it sure would have worked with me back then had I known. Keep the negative, nasty, judgmental people at arms length – even parents. Let them think you are boring, but :Happy with Boring". If you are having a bad day and can’t fake happy, tell them you have the flu and will see them another time (when you are out of your funk). If they see you unhappy or depressed about something (and you know how hormones are when you are younger—depression I believe is a side factor of all those hormones raging), you will get them stirred up and may remind them that they were terrible parents, and then they will turn around and blame you for everything that is not in your control. So just stay happy and boring around these manipulators. Save the adult life conversations for your real friends and/or counselors. I hope this helps anyone reading this article.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Michelle Dee


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