Problematic Family Dynamics by Arielle Saunders

No family is perfect. Every family is different and has some mixture of healthy and unhealthy traits. It is completely unavoidable that a family will have conflict, hurt, and times of unrest. What becomes dangerous is if these negative characteristics develop into long-term patterns. I’ve identified 3 particularly problematic family dynamics to watch out for, as well as some possible solutions to manage each one if they start to show up in your family.

1 – Avoidance of Conflict

There are two major responses to conflict when it happens: engagement and avoidance. If your family, or even just one member, tends to avoid conflict at all costs or pretend it didn’t happen, then it sends the message that anger is bad. It’s more productive to engage with conflict when it happens. This shows conflict is a natural part of all relationships.

2 – Emotionally Frozen

When a person or family is emotionally frozen, they numb out all undesirable emotions when they become overwhelming. The problem with this survival response is that it also numbs out all the desirable, more positive emotions in the process. For instance, by numbing out sadness and anger, joy and pleasure also get frozen out. The healthier option is to view all emotions as normal and acceptable, which teaches everyone in the family they are strong enough to control all of their emotional responses with practice and by practicing self-compassion.

3 – Performance-Based Value System

This dynamic shows up when being enough isn’t enough. Instead, love and attention are given out based on what people in the family do or how they behave. It is a system where people have to earn their worth in the family. If this starts to show up, remember that it is impossible for people to earn their worth. People are inherently of value, so they are enough by being exactly who they are. Take off the performance-based view and focus on loving people where they’re at.


Arielle is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Florida and Georgia, as well as an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. She specializes in working with anxiety, depression, and relationship concerns.