Social-Cultural CAUSES of the Dysfunctional Family

The dysfunctional family (relationship) is a cultural thing: it is the product of an emotionally    
dishonest, fear-based, blame-shame, society
(still a patriarchal one) – and based upon beliefs
that do not support the concept of
"Love thyself", "Love thy neighbor", or "Do Unto Others as
you would have them do unto you
" (Robert Burney).
As we have seen.
  • Culture is the major determinant of what is "acceptable" - and what isn't; what is "possible", and
    what isn't; what is "permissible", and what isn't.

  • Culture is what teaches us what our "limits" for achieving our potential are: and thus retards it.

  • The family is the smallest cultural unit - it is a culture itself.
  • Dysfunctional family and relationship dynamics can be the result of
    substance abuse (drugs/alcohol etc), poverty, death, poor foster care -
    and many others.

  • Dysfunctional Families & Relationships respect no boundaries: they  
    are found among rich and poor; educated and illiterate; in all  
    cultures, in in all religions and political systems.
  • Dysfunctional families & relationships go far beyond our role models
    and our prototypes. These are dysfunctional – and that’s cultural.

  • Our "traditional" concepts of what a man is, of what a woman is, and
    what a child is, are distorted and twisted stereotypes of what
    masculine, feminine and childhood really are: they are formed by the
    cultures we live in.

  • Our cultures reinforce it through examples among "heroes", public
    figures, magazines, advertising, and television, among others. It is     
    a "machismo" thing.

  • Abuse and Violence are endemic: this is how power and control are  
    maintained, and transmitted - the cultural transmission of   

  • No matter where we look - and I am trying not to be pessimistic -   
    we see violence: war, protests, exploitation, starvation, and large  
    scale poverty - when the resources to avoid all this are readily
  • The "push" seems to be toward "control" and dominance - using force
    whenever, and wherever necessary.

  • Children learn from their parents and other significant adults: from      
    what they see, hear, observe and experience, they form their views on
    what    is "right" and "wrong", "how life is", what is permissible and    
    acceptable, etc.
  • The "model" cultures promote of what a man is does not allow a man to cry or express fear; when
    the model for what a woman is does not allow a woman to be angry or aggressive, or a child to be
    a child - that is emotional dishonesty, and is severely maladaptive.

  • When the standards of a society deny the full range of the emotional spectrum and label certain
    emotions as negative - that is not only emotionally dishonest, it creates an emotional sickness (our
    behaviour patterns are not a disease) they are behaviours and patterns of behaviour.

  • When a culture is based on emotional dishonesty, with role models that are dishonest emotionally,
    then that culture is also emotionally dysfunctional and maladaptive. For it sets the people of that
    society up to be emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional in  getting their emotional needs met.

  • What we traditionally have called normal parenting in this society is abusive because it   is
    emotionally dishonest.  Children learn who they are as emotional beings from the role modeling of
    their parents - and from the wider cultural setting they live in: in which they are immersed; and by
    which they are surrounded.

  • "Do as I say - not as I do," does not work with children or adults.  Emotionally dishonest parents
    (and cultural environment) cannot be emotionally healthy role models, and cannot provide healthy
    parenting.  Our cultural/familial model for what a family should   be sets up abusive, emotionally
    dishonest dynamics.
of sick, unhealthy, dysfunctional(alcoholic)  families and relationships:

  • Denial & Enabling: Denial is the mechanism that "keeps it going" (see Dysfunctional Families).
    This is only a manifestation of cultural denial and enabling to maintain exploitation and the
    status quo (see Denial and Enabling).

  • Non-communication and secrecy: members of/from dysfunctional family (cultural unit)  
    avoid speaking about the situation and their feelings about it. The whole dysfunctional,
    maladaptive situation results in feelings of futility and powerlessness about being able to change
    anything. Later in life it leads to makes them want to drop out of groups, blame everyone else,
    and do almost anything but communicate, or look for meaningful change.

Anger and fear: in dysfunctional families (as in cultures), children are left with a constant level of
anger and fear, which becomes "normal" behaviour in these circumstances. Later, it is exacerbated by
any situation which threatens (or seems to threaten), or to mimic the original situation (family
dynamic). The anger is carried over from childhood into adulthood, and later in life, when certain
incidents arise, even if the anger is justified, its vehemence will usually be greater than the situation
deserves, due to the carry-over. Because it is in part a carryover from childhood, the force or
frequency of the anger may obscure its actual cause, and the end result is frustration for everyone.

  • Competition: (mirrored from the culture people find themselves in), there is a limited amount
    of love, time, money, food, clothing, safety, etc, in dysfunctional families. Family members learn
    that all of these things must be earned through competition. Rather than developing ways of
    working together, family members pit themselves against each other. Later in life they feel they
    have to compete with others (in all kinds of situations and circumstances) to get a word in
    edgewise, to perform as well as others, or to jockey for a power position.

  • Unequal power structures: in most dysfunctional families (once again, as in the various
    cultural environments) one person had the most power (often, but not always, the father); the
    other adult (often, but not always, the mother) was dependent upon him/her. The children, in
    turn, were dependent upon the weaker of the two. That adult's powerlessness was compensated
    for through his or her power over the children. The children were powerless against their parents
    and sought to make pecking orders among themselves and their peers - because they learned to
    operate within the family rules.
Dependence: dysfunctional family cultural unit members became dependent upon the very people
whose behaviors they didn't feel good about.  Later in life these people are terrified to let go of
destructive patterns: of course, outsiders find this behavior baffling: codependency at its worst - and
thus repeating and perpetuating the cycle. It also often leads to
Codependency later in life.

  • Guilt and shame: members of dysfunctional families usually are: powerless, dependent, fearful
    and angry. These emotions are funneled into the subconscious through secrecy. The end result
    is: a feeling of malaise (sickness); low self-esteem; lack of trust, and a strong underlying sense
    of shame; also see "Guilt", a great cultural mechanism to keep people from questioning the
    status quo.

  • Lack of trust: this is the consequence of growing up in a dysfunctional family (or growing up
    dysfunctional). It is a continuing state of dysfunctional family survivors. It goes so deep that a
    vicious, repeating circle is formed, one which perpetuates the situation: with the result that it
    both causes and increases all of the behaviours above (see Building Trust). This is simply
    mirroring the cultural climate where people no longer trust politicians, for example.

  • That circle is known as the Cycle Of Violence & Abuse. Inability to trust leads to being suspicious
    of everyone, and everything. There is always a suspicion that all others have hidden motives and
    agendas: in fact, it is assumed that this is the case. This leads to the inability to be fully
    authentic, honest and forth-right. To people raised in a dysfunctional family, or trapped in a
    dysfunctional relationship, the opposite (healthy, functional and adaptive) looks weird, strange,
    sick, intimidating and scary.

Our cultural human tendency is to judge/compare new experiences, ideas, practices, customs,
situations and people in our lives by comparing them, or measuring them against what we know.

  • To people raised in a dysfunctional family, or trapped in a dysfunctional relationship, the
    opposite (healthy, functional and adaptive) looks weird, strange, "sick", intimidating and scary.

  • Mostly, this is due to the fact that our human tendency is to "judge" new experiences, people and
    situations in our lives by comparing them, or measuring them against what we know.

  • The "weirdness" actually consists in the fact that it is the "sick" situation we are using as the
    "standard", as if, somehow, it was "right" and the other is "wrong".

  • If we use the standard we were taught, we will never be able to break out of the cultural pattern:

Amazingly, there are those who go counter to the prevailing cultural model - and work out a family,
or relationship system that doesn't follow the cultural pattern:
Healthy Families, Comparing Healthy-UnHealthy Relationships, Male-Female Equality.

"Escape" from this is totally possible - see "The Awakening".

Klaas Tuinman
Deerfield (Yarmouth County) Nova Scotia - Rev: 2009
To cope, members of dysfunctional family systems resort to taking on “roleswithin the family that
allow the system to be tolerable. The “taking on a role” is an unconscious act – it is not deliberate: it is
a survival "technique".

These, too,are products of our environment and culture (as represented by the family, community,
culture; "church" and state)

Since the family is the basic core of society - the problems and dysfunctions of society are reflected in
the family, and the dysfunctions of families are projected into society.

A "sufficient" number of dysfunctional (alcoholic) families causes the entire society to turn
dysfunctional: it is truly, and fully a "cultural" phenomenon: a sad, and destructive one - often to be
repeated, generation after generation - until someone
breaks the cycle.

  • Because the child is born into it, the family's method of functioning is seen as "normal", rather
    than sick, maladaptive or deviant - it becomes simply "the way things are" for that child. It is part
    of their socialization process.
  • This form of dysfunction is shrouded in non-communication, alienation, fear, denial and anger
    which, while shared by all, is not permissible to express.
  • These feelings get channeled into standardized behavior patterns designed to keep the unhealthy
    system functioning as smoothly as it can under the circumstances.
  • The patterns become second nature, part of the basic survival mechanisms which people carry
    through into all their subsequent situations.
Culture and Its Effects on Family and Relationships
It is no measure of health to
be well-adjusted to a
profoundly sick society.
~Jiddu Krishnamurti
People who really want to heal,
will find a way;
those who don't, will find an
The Culture of Dysfunction
Roadside Assistance For Your Journey Through Life
- Dedicated to helping people return (and maintain) sanity and decency to life -
From the eBook: "One! The Journey hOMe", by Klaas Tuinman © 2007-2017

Questions and comments welcomed.