The Counselling Centre

Family Issues

Everyone has had conflict with their family at some time or another, but for some it is more of a lifetime struggle involving much confusion and emotional pain. Many students come to university thinking that this change will relieve them of their family stress. Very often, however, this change only exacerbates the problem and students find themselves being pulled back into the family chaos.

What characterizes a “Dysfunctional Family”?

  • Extreme rigidity in family rules
  • Little or no communication
  • High levels of tension and/or arguing
  • Extended periods of silence blame and avoidance as primary coping mechanisms
  • Overall message of “don’t feel, don’t talk, don’t trust”
  • Family problems such as abuse, chemical dependency, mental illnesses, workaholism

In a healthy family:

  • Emotional expression is allowed and accepted
  • Family members freely ask for and give attention
  • Rules are explicit and consistent with some flexibility to adapt to individual needs
  • Individuality is encouraged
  • Each member are encouraged to pursue their interests
  • Boundaries between individuals are honoured

People from dysfunctional families can end up in abusive relationships or find themselves unable to maintain relationships. Other areas in which adult children often report problems include but are not limited to:

  • Guessing what normal is
  • Judging themselves without mercy
  • Difficulty following projects through from beginning to end
  • Taking themselves very seriously
  • Difficulty with intimate relationships
  • Feeling different from other people
  • Constantly seeking approval and affirmation
  • Being either overly responsible or overly irresponsible
  • Avoiding conflict or aggravating it, but rarely dealing with it
  • Fear of rejection and abandonment, yet rejecting others

Breaking Free

Change is something which most human beings resist and/or have great difficulty with, and it is not different for the adult child of a dysfunctional family. One of the hardest things one must realize is that change is up to the individual, not anyone else. We cannot wait around for others to change or we may become paralyzed ourselves. To break free, one must take back control over one’s life and give back control of other’s lives. As one begins to take back responsibility for one’s own life, a process of letting go of blame emerges. Blame is very often understandable, but instead of helping it keeps a person tired to the chains of family chaos. A very important step is learning to set boundaries – what one is willing and not willing to do and/or tolerate in relationships.


  • You’re not responsible for changing or “fixing” the whole family.
  • You’re responsible and in control of taking care of yourself and making the changes you want.
  • Change is difficult and takes time; be patient with yourself.
  • Creating a healthier support system is an important part of the transition.

Materials adapted from Texas State University Counselling Centre

The Counselling Centre offers individual and couples counselling to help with these issues. For more information, call The Counselling Centre at 902-420-5615 or drop by our office on the 4th floor of the Student Centre.