Family dynamics refers to the patterns followed by the family members, in regards to relationships, or communications, among each other. While there are some common patterns when it comes to family dynamics, every family has its unique dynamism that influences human well-being, socially and psychologically. Let’s understand the different types of family dynamics that prevail in the society.
What Is Family Dynamics?
It is a concept that is determined through the relationship and interaction pattern maintained by each individual in his/her family with other members of the family. A family is a space where different individuals depend on each other for physical, emotional, and economic support, thus, making each member the key source of relationship security or stress. A family with a positive environment consists of secure and supportive relationships defined by advice, love, and care. On the contrary, a family with a negative environment is defined by stressful relationships defined by excessive demands, arguments, toxic communication, and constant critical feedback.
A study 1 states that ‘interpersonal communications’ between family members leave a lasting impact that defines the development and well-being of a person via psychosocial, behavioral, and physiological pathways. Thus, family dynamics and the nature of family relationships can either have a positive or negative impact on health.
Types Of Family Structures
Our society is defined by different types of family structures, each of which is again defined by its own dynamics. Here is the list of different types of family structures.
1. Nuclear Family
Traditional structure consisting of husband and wife (two parents) along with children (biological or adopted).
2. Single Parent Family
Consists of a single parent raising one or more children, thus resulting in unique family dynamics.
3. Extended Family
Consists of two or more people, either related by blood or marriage, with positive family dynamics. Such families consist of several members, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, or close family and friends.
4. Childless Family
Such families consist of couples who do not have children, but wish to have children.
5. Grandparent Family
It is the least common family structure with grandparents raising children while parents happen to stay busy with other circumstances.
Such families include a new husband or wife and children from their previous relationships.
Types Of Family Dynamics
Family dynamics can be divided into two broad categories- healthy and toxic family dynamics. The following are explained below.
1. Healthy Family Dynamics
A strong family will always understand the importance of nurturing healthy dynamics coupled with a safe family environment. Additionally, in such families, there is an abundance of love and respect for each other. It must be noted that to shape up a positive environment, several times, parents or elder members of the family set boundaries or restrictions. Even though it may sound easy, building up a perfect family needs regular practice and commitment.
A. Signs of Healthy Family Dynamics
To understand whether a family has healthy dynamics, one must look out for these signs.
- Given the fact that communication is key to building up a strong, unshaken bond, in a healthy family, there is an understanding level. In such families, the members try to understand and evaluate the situation rather than passing any judgment. Here, everyone gets an equal chance to express themselves, and all these factors together establish healthy family dynamics.
- While healthy families accept each other, they have zero tolerance for physical abuse or toxic behavior. They also accept the choices of their children. For example, if one of the parents is a genius, however, not the child, the parents will not stop loving the kid. Rather, they will keep encouraging the child to bring out the best in him/her.
- In a healthy family, rebuilding a damaged relationship is a top-notch priority. For example, a family member will make sure to resolve any issue at home before going to bed. This is why the foundation of such family dynamics is stronger.
- If there is a vulnerable family member, like a mentally ill or a problem child. Then that member receives abundant love and compassion. There is a sense of understanding towards that member. Further, every family member comes together for decision-making that will benefit everyone.
- The responsibilities are properly shared considering age and flexibility. Moreover, there is always room for forgiveness in a healthy family.
B. Impact of Healthy Family Dynamics
The social support yielded by family affects an individual positively. A close-knit family offers unshaken support for an individual in various aspects of his/her life. Additionally, it also provides emotional as well as financial support. According to a study, children who live with their biological parents enjoy better emotional as well as academic well-being. They also prosper better if they witness that parents are working to resolve their marital problems. Furthermore, having close family and friends around helps in maintaining good health.
2. Toxic Family Dynamics
It is not necessary for every family to follow a healthy system. Families that practice toxic dynamics are devoid of love and respect. Instead, they face toxic relationships filled with discrimination, abuse, or even manipulation. Thus, a toxic family dynamic tends to harm the family members by pushing them into depression or mental illness. According to a study 2 , family dynamics determine the health outcome of the family members, and thus, unhealthy dynamics can throw the children into experiencing trauma and stress as they grow up. It is known adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the condition is associated with an increased risk of developing physical and mental health problems. Unhealthy family dynamics also promote an increased risk of substance use and addiction among adolescents.
A. Signs of a Toxic Family
Here are some signs of toxic family dynamics to lookout for.
- A toxic family member will provide zero emotional support to any other member or children, developing a sense of emotional detachment in the child. Not just this, there is a hint of favoritism by focusing only on the oldest child and neglecting others.
- An unhealthy control within toxic parents is exercised for selfish motives, such as emotional blackmailing, or over-controlling. According to a study, children with excessively controlling parents have lower mental wellbeing in their adulthood, which might further hamper their adulthood relationships.
- When dealing with toxic family dynamics, the role of children and parents gets reversed. When parents are absent due to drug or any other substance abuse, the children have to take care of themselves. Children have to take up the daily duties of parents like cooking, cleaning, and so on.
- There is an environment of dominance in toxic families. This means that one of the family members controls and decides everything. The opinion and views of other family members are not taken into consideration. Such a situation may also occur when there is an older toxic sibling 3 who likes to rule over the younger ones.
- Violence is the principal highlighter of toxic behavior. It could be physical, sexual, psychological, financial, emotional, and abusive relationships, and growing up amidst domestic violence may also lead to mental illness, depression, or even drug abuse.
- There is no room for privacy while there is a lack of empathy.
B. Impact of Toxic Family Dynamics
If a child is witnessing separation between parents, then that may harm him/her before the actual separation occurs. They start detaching themselves from both parents and avoid living with either of them. Separation may also result in economic uncertainty if a mother heads the family. It affects the child as well as mentally disturbs the mother. The entry of the stepfamily may also harm the child. It must be noted that children or adults, who get victimized in such a toxic environment, embrace alcoholism, drugs, or even self-harm.
A 2017 study 4 mentions that only 11% of children belonged to families where they lived with their biological parents while 89% had some kind of disruption in their family structure. Two-third of the children suffered from trauma and 36% of cases lived with physical abuse. 71% had reported living either a parent or a sibling with a psychiatric disorder.
A Family That Nurtures Positivity Together, Stays Together
Family is not just defined by different individuals living together in an enclosed place. It is a concept that lives beyond this idea. What defines a healthy family is the way every member communicates with each other, the way they stand for each other in difficult times, and the way to share happiness in times of joy. While in the past, family members stayed together under one roof, in today’s world, it is common for the members to live away from one another for different reasons. However, if we work hard to maintain healthy family dynamics, distance can never part us from our close ones. After all, in times of crisis, a family is the only element that tends to stand strongly with each other, to help them through the times of difficulty or challenges.
- Jabbari B, Rouster AS. Family Dynamics. [Updated 2020 Jul 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560487/
- Anderson J. (2014). The impact of family structure on the health of children: Effects of divorce. The Linacre quarterly, 81(4), 378–387. https://doi.org/10.1179/0024363914Z.00000000087
- Tucker, C. J., Updegraff, K. A., & Baril, M. E. (2010). Who’s the Boss? Patterns of Control in Adolescents’ Sibling Relationships. Family relations, 59(5), 520–532. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2010.00620.x
- Behere, A. P., Basnet, P., & Campbell, P. (2017). Effects of Family Structure on Mental Health of Children: A Preliminary Study. Indian journal of psychological medicine, 39(4), 457–463. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.211767