yes, therapy helps!
Toxic families: 4 ways in which they cause mental disorders

Toxic families: 4 ways in which they cause mental disorders

November 29, 2021

One of the most important social institutions is families, since constitute the fundamental nucleus of socialization and enculturation of individuals , especially in the first years of life.

This means that psychologists, who are responsible for ensuring the emotional and psychological well-being of people, pay close attention to the different interpersonal relationships that develop within families. Not only do the personal characteristics of the individuals matter: it is also necessary to pay attention to the relationships they establish, especially if they are carried out in the family. That is why the issue of toxic families It is so important.


  • Recommended article: "The 8 types of families and their characteristics"

Families that generate mental problems

The family is not only important to educate children and promote their learning, but also generates a series of habits and dynamics that are of great interest because of their influence on the mental disorders that can be generated in any of its members. In fact, psychology observes and studies carefully the ways of organizing in society, and the family, of course, is one of the most important elements.

There are many types of families. Large families, families of only two members, structured families, unstructured, happy, apathetic, violent ... it depends a lot on the personality of its members and, of course, on the circumstances. In addition, each family (in the case that there are children) has its own educational styles: there are more democratic and more authoritarian, there are more open and liberal and also more closed and impermeable . The family bond that is established between parents and children is key and will greatly influence the personality, beliefs and mental health of the child.


Some dysfunctional family relationships based on overprotection, abandonment, violence or projection have been widely studied by psychologists to establish links between these ways of relating and the appearance of some psychological and psychiatric diseases.

The taboo of psychopathology in the family nucleus

When psychologists treat these conflicts and problems in families, it is common that we receive all kinds of criticism. We live in a culture where the family is a closed institution. The members of any family are very suspicious that an external person evaluates and tries to change dynamics and habits, because this is experienced by family members as an intrusion on their privacy and their most deeply rooted values . The family can be dysfunctional and creating mental problems in its members, but it is still very difficult to perform therapy without encountering reticence and bad faces.


There are some preconceived ideas that distort the work of the therapist: "Everything has to remain in family", "The family will always want you well", "No matter what happens, the family must always be united". These are phrases and ideas that are deeply rooted in our culture and, although they apparently speak of unity and fraternity, they hide a distrustful and suspicious look before anyone who can contribute an objective point of view on these dynamics and family relationships (even with the noble intention to help).

This conception of the family causes a lot of pain, distress and despair among people who feel that their relatives have not lived up to the circumstances, that they have not been unconditionally at their side and offering them support. In extreme cases, such as having suffered some type of abuse, the negative consequences for emotional well-being can be serious.

Not all families are nests of love, trust and affection. There are families in which situations of permanent stress are generated and in which one (or several) of its members causes discomfort and suffering to another member (s). Sometimes it can be a harm that is done unintentionally, without bad intention, and in others there may be factors that really lead to hatred and violence, physical or verbal. In other cases, the problem is not so obvious and is more related to the educational style used by parents or the "contagion" of insecurities or problems of some members to others.

Toxic families and their relationship with the mental disorders of its members

It is not the intent of this text to point out the errors of fathers and mothers, but yes it seems appropriate to try to shed light on some myths and cultural misunderstandings that cause some families to be a real disaster . The cohabitation within a toxic family is absolutely devastating for each of its members, and this has direct consequences with the appearance of certain psychopathologies associated with having to deal with high doses of pressure, stress and even mistreatment.

We are going to know a total of four ways in which the toxic families contaminate some of its members, being able to cause mental and behavioral disorders.

1. Labels and roles: Pygmalion effect and its harmful influence on children

All parents, on occasion, have put some label on our child. Phrases like "the child is very moved", "is shameful" or "has bad character" are a sample of sentences that, although adults do not realize, they are causing a strong emotional impact to our children . These phrases, said once and a thousand times in the family environment, end up seriously affecting children.

Although we do not want to give importance, these labels affect the child's identity, how he perceives and values ​​himself. Although the child may not be truly ashamed, hearing that adjective repeatedly in the people of his family, whom he admires, sets a precedent on how he should behave or act, according to the expectations generated. This is what is known as self-fulfilling prophecy or Pygmalion Effect, since the role or label that adults have imposed on the child ends up becoming a reality .

Therefore, labeling a child is a way to contaminate their behavior, inculcating certain essentialist ideas about how it is or how it ceases to be. These labels, to top it off, are easy to spread and are often repeated until exhaustion by teachers, friends of family and neighbors, becoming increasingly encumbered in the child's immediate environment, which exacerbates the problem.

2. Lovers who kill

Many fathers and mothers use a recurring maxim that they always repeat to their children: "nobody is going to love you as we want you". This phrase, although it may be very right, often makes many people who have felt unloved in their family environment assume that, somehow, they have no right to feel bad, since everything their family did was "For your good". This, in extreme cases, it can lead to no reports of abuse or mistreatment .

We must begin to redefine fraternal love in a healthier way. The love of a family is obvious, but there are misunderstood loves, Loves that kill. Sharing genes with someone is not a reason for someone to believe they have the right to harm, manipulate or coerce you. Being related to someone has to do with sharing a genetic and biological burden, but the emotional bond goes far beyond that and the first is not an indispensable condition for the second, nor the cause. People are maturing and learning what relatives have our affection and affection, and this is not something that is written in the family book.

Laying the foundations of family relationships in respect is the first step towards a better understanding of our identities and spaces.

3. Overprotective parents

One of the most difficult tasks for parents when it comes to educating their children is maintain a balance between establishing norms and habits of behavior and loving and spoiling the little ones in the house . In this case the extremes are not advisable, and while some parents are negligent and neglect their children, others are overprotective and are too much on top of them.

This style of parenting is not positive at all, since the child does not face social situations or risk controlled by the overprotection exerted on him by his parents, with which he does not live the necessary experiences so that he can mature and face his own challenges Under this style of learning, most children become somewhat more insecure and unemployed than others. Children need to explore their environment, of course, with the support of an attachment figure like the father or the mother, but Overprotection can damage their learning and self-confidence .

In order for the child to develop and explore the world around him independently, we need to offer support and help to the child, but this attachment should not be confused with excessive control.

4. Desires and insecurities projected in the children of the house

Being a father is not only a great responsibility but also the obligation to care for and educate a human being, in all its complexity. Nobody is obliged to have children, in our societies it is a personal choice that can depend on multiple factors, such as economic stability or the ability to find an ideal partner, but in the end it is also a decision that we take in a very personal way.

If we consider this, having children can be planned and therefore we must take responsibility for it. Children should not serve as a way to fix a couple's problems , or to feel respected by others, much less a way to transfer our frustrations and unfulfilled wishes to another person.

All parents want our son to be the smartest in the class and the best in sports, but we must avoid at all costs to bear the pressure of our desires . If in your youth you were a second division football player who could not become a professional because of an injury, do not force your son to be a professional football player. Trying to compare or press a child to be what you want to be not only leads to a situation of emotional vulnerability, but can reduce their self-esteem and curtail the free development of their personality. Let him make his way and decide for himself, give him your support and the necessary advice, but do not project into him what you would have wanted to be.

Bibliographic references:

  • Ackerman, N. (1970). Theory and practice of family therapy. Buenos Aires: Proteo.
  • McNamee, S. and Gergen, K.J. (1996) Therapy as a social construction. Barcelona: Paidós.
  • Minuchin, S. (1982). Families and family therapy Buenos Aires: Gedisa.

10 Psychology Problems Caused by Parenting Behavior (November 2021).


Similar Articles