In a dysfunctional family system, open, honest, loving communication is thwarted to some degree for one or more reasons:

At least one person in the family is emotionally or physically abusive or absent, dependent, handicapped, physically or mentally ill, or manifests some other type of disorder.

Resulting problems in family interaction may cause one or more members to feel that something is wrong, but negative communication systems hinder the freedom and ability to be honest about one's feelings. Denial, an unwillingness or inability to recognize problems in and around one's “self,” promotes more repression and further erodes family trust and intimacy.



In the dysfunctional family system, the primary goal of the family members is survival. Very little development takes place in the children. They assume rigid roles and don't develop a strong sense of self-worth. As a result they are doomed to keep playing these roles in their marriages and other relationships.

In this type of family system, most normal self-development is lost. All of the unconscious focus is on the primary dysfunctional person.


• The enabler tries to make everything okay.

• The hero thinks that by being perfect, the problems will go away.

• The scapegoat rebels against the family problems and ultimately believes

     that he is the problem.

• The lost child pulls into a shell, withdraws and isolates himself from

    meaningful relationships.

• The mascot (clown) tries desperately to make everyone laugh in the

    midst of the tragedy of the family situation.


* Adapted from The Family Trap, by Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, and

    On The Family, by John Bradshaw.