How to Live in a Dysfunctional Family


Dysfunctional systems are hard on all of us, especially when they occur within our primary relationships. But there is a way to navigate through them.


I am a young adult man who lives at home. My family is really dysfunctional. My parents are very controlling and verbally abusive, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I am really shy and not very good with words so I just remain silent. I have begun to hate them for it. I don’t have enough money to move out. What can I do?


Dear Friend – My heart breaks for you. I am so sorry that you are hurting like this. I don’t know what’s really going on in your house. I can only go on what you wrote to me. So, I will do my best to give you some basic counsel, but you must get into counseling yourself from a trained professional to help you sort this stuff.

Let me see if I can give you some basic concepts to get you started on the road to health in this area:

First of all, you need to know that you cannot change your parents, all you can change is yourself.

What we have to look for is how to deal with them in their present state of mind.

What do we do?

As I mentioned before, we have to make some decisions. If you want more freedom, then you are going to need to provide for yourself. If you are unable, then you need to determine a way to work with your given scenario.

That would mean the following:

1.)  Find a manner to communicate with your parents better. I would recommend that you write things clearly in a letter to both your mom and your dad (start with a few thoughts and see where it naturally goes – pouring out your heart, intentions, plans, questions, etc.). It’s not going to fix things, but it will get them in the loop. It will be one more way you can demonstrate that you are willing to talk (even if it’s things that they neither want to hear or face). I have no promises that things will change with your communication, but I do know that you need to communicate for your own heart.

2.)  Set up boundaries with your parents – no physical aggression is allowed from them to you, or you to them (including mom). If things get physical, you are to leave the house immediately.

3.)  Determine the ground rules of you living there at home. What are their requirements specifically about what you should do around the house and what do you need to contribute? Your status as a child of the family doesn’t allow you to control things or demand things.

4.)  Suggest family counseling – I know this sounds silly (that they would take your advice) but honestly it may allow you all to get healthier patterns of communication going and healthy relationships boundaries about what they are expecting of you and it will give you a consistent voice by sharing with the counselor and allowing him/her to communicate that to your parents more accurately.

I appreciate that you are trying to keep your heart soft and not hate your parents. That is good. Don’t let the enemy eat you alive with bitterness. Remember, parents are just broken people like the rest of us. If you had a kid today, that wouldn’t make you any more emotionally healthy than you are right now. You need to deal with them in their brokenness and help to compensate for their weakness just like they must do with you.

You can’t heal your parents. Their health needs to be led by themselves alone.

Remember there is no parenting manual. They are flying with what they know.

Regardless of what happens with your parents, you need to be a godly man. You need to grow with the Lord and act with honor. You are to set boundaries but treat your parents with honor and not harm them or speak evil about them. There’s nothing wrong with the truth. There’s nothing wrong with seeking advice. There’s nothing wrong with ‘sharing family secrets’, but we cannot do things maliciously.

Dysfunctional systems and relationships are hard on all of us, but we can navigate through them.

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