A healthy communication tips poster with five words.

Finding Peace in a Dysfunctional Family: Tips and Strategies

What is family to you? How do you see it?

For some folks, family is like a strong foundation that holds them up and gives them support. But if you’re reading this, maybe your relationship with your parents, brothers and sisters, and other relatives isn’t going so well.

Dealing with family members who cause problems can be really tough.

I’d be lying if I said I could cover everything you need to know in just one article. But as a coach for business owners, I want to help you as much as I can with these tricky family situations.

First off, let’s think about how you see things. Sometimes, the reason we struggle with family is because we’re looking at things the wrong way or seeing them in a way that’s not quite right.

asian family arguing

Healing your emotional pain requires revisiting your past

“If you knew the parent who abused me and caused me problems, you would understand why my life is so hard!”

I have said this refrain countless times. 

I said it when I wanted to:

  • Avoid stressful situations.
  • Complain about the lack of career success. 
  • Prove that others had no right to question me or what I wanted to do.

But I also said it when I wanted to:

  • Have sex with strangers in dangerous places.
  • Call a friend every night to complain about my problems.
  • To justify my crazy and chaotic relationships.

Have you ever really thought about the words that you say?

And speaking about my parents, I honestly don’t know my mother. I lived with her for 13 years. Those 13 years were long and pain-filled.

All I knew was that I lived with a dysfunctional family member who had little to no resistance to doing deplorable things. However, that is just part of the bigger picture.

Trauma and abuse have a way of distorting reality. 

People who have harmed us are also be victims themselves. The person who caused harm had been damaged in some way, leading them to act in harmful ways towards you and others.

The devil incarnate

At the beginning of my recovery, I portrayed my mother as a monstrous villain who delighted in sexual molestation, attempted to starve my brother, wrote bad checks and was just a terrible human being. 

I concluded that she was evil personified.

Case closed. 

But did I ever thought beyond the words that I said? As, I write this article as a 41-year-old woman, I still don’t know her. 

Clearly, she has mental issues, but what would cause a person to commit such terrible acts? 

How could she call the cops on her own kids just because they wanted something to eat? 


I need to know.

Why unresolved emotional pain distorts reality 

I wrestled with these questions and decided to numb the pain by indulging in sex and alcohol for many years. 

People with unresolved traumas and addictions avoid asking these questions because they are addicted to stress hormones.

My healing began when I stopped seeing myself as a victim and started to be more curious about me, others, and life from an objective perspective. My emotionally disabled mother and other family members were all victims.

Crime studies have shown that most perpetrators of crimes were once victims of similar crimes. For instance, during R. Kelly’s trial for multiple sex crimes, his legal team argued that he was a victim of sexual abuse as a child.

Does this excuse what my mother or any other abuser? NOOOOOO! 

But if you want to get well, you have to look at things from a different angle.

In the following section, we will discuss how you can handle dysfunctional family members.


Four tips for dealing with dysfunctional family members

The first step is to set limits. Set limits on how often you will hear from or speak to them. The next step is setting limits on what you will speak about.  Finally, learn how to be communicate with others in a loving and constructive way.

First, we will discuss limits on frequency of calls and visits.

1. Learn to set limits on calls and visits 

Setting limits means knowing the amount of time that works well for your mental health and priorities. 

This isn’t coming from a place where you try to avoid and evade your feelings. Famed Swiss psychologist Carl Jung once said, “what you resist, not only persists, but will also grow in size.” 

Setting time limits is about knowing what is needed and necessary to help you mature emotionally, while not pushing your boundaries. 

Make it clear to yourself how often you will meet, then let your family member know of your plans. Inform them of your limits and let them decide whether to accept or reject your plan. 

That means you don’t have to visit your dysfunctional family member(s) daily, and it doesn’t matter if they beg, scream, or yell at you for your decision. It also doesn’t matter if they call your relatives and use them to manipulate you into seeing them. 

You are an adult, and adults are judicious with how they use their time.

2. Limits on talking points. 

Love – don’t try to own someone’s pain or misery. 

When you grew up, you may have grown accustomed to listening to tales of woe from your family members. You may know all about their financial and health problems, or even their sex life. As a child, if you were told things that belonged in a conversation with another adult, it’s called emotional incest

I’m sorry your emotionally disabled parent or parent figure loaded your innocence mind with inappropriate facts as a child. 

Now is a new day. And as an adult, you have a choice. 

You can listen to someone without trying to take on their misery, or even better, you can tell them that you’re not available for certain types of conversation that you cannot and will not resolve.

People judge others based on their behavior, while we judge ourselves based on our intent. Take a moment and think before concluding certain people in your life are on a mission to make you feel miserable.

3. Know your family isn’t out to “get you.”

See your family as disabled people, not criminal masterminds. 

Unless your parents were involved in human or drug trafficking or some type of RICO-like crime, your parents or other dysfunctional family members are just wounded, broken people with poor to nonexistent communication skills. 

Dysfunctional behaviour, while maladaptive, is functional within the family unit to cope with emotional and physical pain. When you grow up and see others behave differently, it can make you question how “normal” your family was.

4. Be compassionate yet firm

My journey to feeling better started when I stopped thinking of my family as bad people.When we’re feeling sad or mad, we might act in ways that aren’t very nice. We might yell, say mean things, or do stuff that’s not cool. But would we want to be punished forever for it?

Unless we’re really down on ourselves and feeling like life’s not worth living, most of us would say no. When you don’t see your family as totally awful, they can feel that. They might still act out or be difficult, but at least you’re not making things worse.

And when you speak your needs, mean what you say. Don’t pretend that you aren’t upset or your needs don’t matter. Now is the time to teach yourself and others that your feelings and priorities matter.

Here’s a quick summary of my top tips. Then, I’ll share my final thoughts.

A healthy communication tips poster with five words.

Final Thoughts 

While you cannot control the behavior of your parents or relatives, you have full control over yourself. Part of your ability to heal requires examining how your thoughts may contribute to your current pain and confusion. 

Once you are ready to be honest about your feelings, then and only then can you relate in a healthy and constructive way with others, if you choose to.

If you need help understanding how your family dynamics are linked to your current behavior, then don’t hesitate to contact me.

Dig deeper into dealing with dysfunctional family members by listening to this episode of my podcast or press the play button below.


The information in this article is for informational purposes only. No material in this article or website is to be a substitute for professional medical and/or mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you read from me or anyone else online.

Also, this article is not designed to diagnose or treat you or anyone with a suspected mental health illness. Please, if you need help, seek appropriate help from a lawyer, health care provider or law enforcement officer.