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Chemical Dependency and the Dysfunctional Family - What Is a Dysfunctional Family - A Scale Of Dysfunction

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaChemical Dependency and the Dysfunctional FamilyChemical Dependency and the Dysfunctional Family - What Is a Dysfunctional Family - Shaneen's Family, Ray's Family, What Families Need, What Is A Dysfunctional Family?

A Scale of Dysfunction

Almost no family is entirely functional or dysfunctional, just as no person is all good or all bad. Most families fall somewhere in the middle of the scale. Remember, every family has problems. Dysfunctional families usually have more problems, ones that are more complicated and harder to solve.

Obvious Dysfunction

Shaneen's family is an example of obvious dysfunction. Shaneen tries to hide her family's problems, but it's easy to see that things are not right.

Several types of dysfunction are present in Shaneen's family. Mrs. Rand is an alcoholic. She puts her need for alcohol ahead of her children's needs. She is emotionally abusing Shaneen and her stepbrothers by not providing them with the love, comfort, and discipline they need. She also yells at Shaneen and the boys fairly often because she is not feeling well enough to cope with their, as well as her own, everyday needs.

Shaneen tries hard to take care of Jesse and Mikey and to make up for all the things that their parents don't do for them, but Shaneen has her own problems to sort out. The fact that both Shaneen's father and her stepbrothers' father are not around just makes matters worse for Shaneen.

In a seriously dysfunctional family, very few of each member's needs are met. Though Shaneen's family is surviving, they are definitely not thriving. No one feels safe, there is usually not enough food or money, and Shaneen, Mikey, and Jesse feel nervous when their mom is around because conflict could occur at any time.

Shaneen and her family are in serious trouble. They struggle with dysfunction on a daily basis. Their basic needs are not met. They are struggling so hard just to survive and make it through each day in one piece that there is no room to be concerned about growth, communication, education, and skills for independent living.

Subtle Dysfunction

The problems in Ray's family are more subtle than those in Shaneen's. Ray and his sister have what they need to survive— food, clothing, shelter, safety, and security—but they don't have what they need to thrive and be happy.

Ray's parents are workaholics, which means that they put their careers before everything else, including the needs of their children. Mr. and Mrs. Coban do not actively participate in the care and upbringing of their children and take very little interest in Ray and Sara.

Ray used to work very hard at school to gain approval and love from his parents, but when that didn't work, Ray stopped trying. As a result, his grades have dropped. But there's really no one around to care or to talk to him about it; Ray's parents haven't been to school to speak with his teachers in years.

Ray also used to push himself extra hard to perform well in baseball games and track meets to get his parents' attention, but they never came to any of his sports events. Ray was so hurt and angry that he quit the teams. His parents never even noticed.

Mr. and Mrs. Coban never talk to Ray about things that are important to him. In fact, they rarely communicate with him at all, aside from the postcards they send on their travels.

Ray's parents are failing to teach their kids about being part of a family and are setting a poor example of nurturing. As a result, Sara and Ray may go on to repeat their parents' mistakes.

Although the dysfunction in Ray's family is harder for an outsider to spot than the dysfunction in Shaneen's family, the results are just as disastrous. Like Shaneen, Ray has turned to drugs to try to escape from his problems. Using drugs to cope with life in a dysfunctional family is discussed in more detail in chapter 4. But first, it is useful to understand the concept of codependency.

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