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If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, the echoes of your childhood experiences could poison your adult existence. You might develop one or many psychological disorders that interfere with your success at work and in relationships. When you are around people who didn’t experience such trauma, you can feel like a stranger in a strange land.
How can you heal from a dysfunctional family? The process takes considerable time and effort — after all, you probably spent at least 18 years enmeshed in maladaptive behaviors. However, by treating yourself with patience and love, adopting healthy coping mechanisms and seeking help, you can develop inner peace.
People who grow up in dysfunctional families often feel trapped as children. They depend on their caregivers for their basic needs, and running away can lead to tragic results like sex trafficking. According to the nonprofit Human Trafficking Search, of the millions of annual runaways, 800,000 fall prey to commercial sexual exploitation.
However, as an adult, you can carve a path forward that doesn’t involve your family. You might struggle with deciding whether to cut them off entirely, but if you maintain contact, do so from a safe distance. Limit your interactions with them and remember — you can now grab your keys and leave when family gatherings grow uncomfortable.
Friends are the family you choose — select positive, uplifting ones. It’s also helpful to associate with others who have experienced similar dysfunction if they are actively working to overcome childhood trauma.
However, exercise caution to avoid trauma-bonding. In this unhealthy dynamic, you form an attachment with someone like an addict or alcoholic who reinforces maladaptive behaviors.
Fortunately, psychological research has made significant strides in identifying dysfunctional family patterns and the consequences children of such dynamics face. Read everything you can to gain insight into why your caregivers — and you — behave the way you do.
You can find numerous books on healing childhood trauma. Additionally, investigate online support groups. Members can often point you toward resources you might find helpful.
You can find dozens of high-quality YouTube channels hosted by professional psychologists and therapists. These resources are valuable, especially if you have migraines or similar health conditions that sometimes makes reading painful.
While only a licensed professional can diagnose you, you can seek expert videos that tackle issues like alcoholism or drug abuse that may plague you. Many offer advice on techniques that may help you heal.
Your efforts to heal from your dysfunctional family can backfire if you continue to express your emotions in the same way you learned in childhood. Maybe your father used anger to threaten you into submission, but when you vent frustration thus at work, you find yourself unemployed.
Work on labeling your emotions as you feel them. Are you irritated? Frightened? Once you identify the driving force, pause before you react. Your limbic system wants to respond in a learned pattern that’s maladaptive and leads to consequences like pink slips.
Use the space between the trigger and your response to consider the ramifications of your actions. Would you like it if someone similarly reacted to you? Is venting your spleen worth earning a reputation as the office Negative Nancy?
Mindfulness meditation can be a potent technique for examining your inner world and understanding the forces that drive your behaviors. However, remain aware of the dangers. This practice will force you to look at aspects of yourself that might be negative — the truth can hurt, but it’s sometimes necessary for healing.
According to Dr. Deane H. Shapiro from the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine found that patients were more aware of their negative qualities after returning from a meditation retreat. You might realize that you participate in many of the same dysfunctional behaviors your caregivers did. Instead of beating yourself up, respect and embrace this new awareness and use it as a catalyst for lasting change.
If you don’t feel well, your emotional state will suffer. Plus, overindulging in substances like alcohol will cause changes in your neurotransmitter levels that can have a long-term impact on mood and behavior.
Eat a nutritious, plant-based diet full of magnesium-rich foods. Deficiency in this mineral can worsen symptoms of depression. Get regular exercise, and strive for seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Finally, healing from your dysfunctional family often means seeking professional help. This intervention is vital if you endured long-term mental, physical or sexual abuse. If you don’t have health insurance coverage, look for clinics that offer care on a sliding-scale basis.
You can also avail yourself of counseling apps. These often cost a fraction of the price of traditional couch sessions and some offer limited in-person meetings along with unlimited talk and text support.
Healing from your dysfunctional family will take time — you didn’t learn maladaptive behaviors overnight. However, with patience and effort, you can regain a healthy sense of self and way of functioning in the world.