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Understanding Family Dynamics and Their Impact

Gabrielle Applebury
Smiling family hanging out

Family dynamics are often complex and may feel difficult to understand. Family dynamics can have a significant impact on the conscious and unconscious choices one is drawn to throughout childhood and as an adult.

Understanding Family Dynamics

Family dynamics are pervasive patterns of interaction--both healthy and unhealthy--that trickle down from generation to generation. These interactional patterns may or may not be something that some or all family members are consciously aware of.

Why It's Important to Understand Family Dynamics

Family dynamics impact nearly all areas of life, making understanding them incredibly important to individuals who are working towards living an emotional healthy life. Without a solid understanding of your own unique family dynamics, you may not feel fully in tune with why certain experiences are triggering, or why you are drawn to certain careers, relationships, and friendships. Understanding your family dynamics means:

  • Being connected to yourself
  • Developing insight
  • Understanding your conscious and unconscious choices, as an awareness of this can help you seek out healthy relationships and experiences as well as have a healthy awareness of your needs

Factors That Affect Family Dynamics

Family dynamics may be impacted by:

  • The parents' relationship
  • If the parents or caregivers are not together and/or are dating/committed to other partners
  • If there are children within the family and if so, how many
  • If one or multiple parents or caregivers are abusive, neglectful, or have abandoned a child or children
  • If someone in the family has a chronic condition, an addiction, and/or one or more mental health disorders
  • If the family or an individual within the family has experienced trauma, homelessness, a loss, or a divorce or breakup
  • What the family values are
  • The family's culture and belief system (religious or non-religious)
  • The power structure in the family
  • If parent-child attachments are secure
  • What the pervasive family dynamic patterns are
  • What the environmental climate/experience is like that the family is living through
  • What the parenting style is like
  • If multiple generations live within the same household
  • The family members' temperaments

How Do You Explain Family Dynamics?

Family dynamics are the interactional patterns experienced between family members. Family dynamics include what roles you take on (healthy and unhealthy), typical family interactional patterns, as well as multi-generational interactional patterns that have impacted the entire family system.

family morning dynamic

Healthy Family Dynamics

In a healthy family dynamic:

  • Everyone has a voice and is treated with respect
  • The parent-child attachments are secure (if there is a child or children)
  • If there are children, the parenting style provides structure and rules, but is flexible, understanding, and loving (vs. overly rigid or totally non-structured)
  • Everyone feels loved, safe, and connected

Types of Family Dynamics

Family dynamics can range from unhealthy to healthy, and everything else in between. Family dynamics can also shift from healthy to unhealthy, and vice versa. Family dynamics can be impacted by those involved in the family system. A family dynamic example: a family with one-parent and one child will have a different family dynamic than a family household that includes two grandparents, two parents, and several children.

Family Dynamics Roles

Within a healthy family, the roles may look like:

  • Two adults in an equal and loving relationship
  • A one parent or caregiver household, a multi-parent household, or a multi-generational household with the parent(s) or caregiver(s) using healthy parenting methods to nurture their child or children (healthy attachment established, appropriate rules and boundaries set, and unconditional love)

When families experience unhealthy dynamics, they often unconsciously slip into the dysfunctional family roles of caregiver (enabler), the scapegoat, the hero, the lost child, the mascot, and the addict or identified patient.

How Family Dynamics Affect Child Development

Family dynamics become the basis for how the child views themselves, their relationships, and the world around them. What is unconsciously and consciously absorbed and experienced during childhood greatly impacts their choices as adults, including who they are attracted to, what type of goals they have, and how they handle conflict. Children who grow up in households with unhealthy family dynamics (abuse, neglect, overly strict parenting, overly loose parenting, poor communication, insecure attachment style, etc.) are more likely to develop mental health disorders and may experience more difficulty within relationships.

Family Systems Theory

The family systems theory posits that individuals do not have individual problems that exist in a vacuum, but rather are impacted by the complexity of family dynamics on a multi-generational level. This approach is able to identify and address an individual's difficulties and/or uncomfortable symptoms by examining their relational experiences.

Understanding Family Dynamics

A family's unique dynamics can have an immense impact on every individual's overall health and well-being, as well as the conscious and unconscious choices they make.

Understanding Family Dynamics and Their Impact