Family Dysfunction Series: Unhealthy Parents

Do you have parents with boundary issues? If the answer is yes, that’s okay. All hope is not lost for your family tree. As I’ve mentioned before on the podcast, there was a time in my life that everything seemed to be closing in. A lot of that had to do with family dysfunction. So here are three things you need to know when it comes to family dysfunction, specifically when it comes to family dysfunction involving a parent. If you’ve got dysfunctional relationships with a spouse or a child, hang in there. We’ll be getting to you over the next two posts. And don’t worry, these principles still ring true for you too! No matter what type of dysfunctional family member you’re dealing with, there is light at the end of your tunnel.


Your Parent Trials Are Planned


First at bat. Our trials are not by mistake. They are by design. God put them in your life to give you endurance and to give you wisdom. James1:2-5 gives a solid description of this,


“My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.”

James 1:2-5


That means your difficult parent relationships will help you in the long run. Because you will be tougher and you will be wiser when all is said and done.


You Can Find Joy in Your Parent Trials


A lot of people mistakenly believe that means we have to endure our trials with a smile on our face. Not true. James does say “consider it nothing but joy”. But James is not telling us to rejoice in the fact that we have trials, or to be happy we are suffering. Instead, we should read this as instruction to find profit in the various trials that permeate our lives. None of us actively rejoices in trials when we are going through them. And that is okay. The form of joy being expressed here is a passive, tranquil, joy. A joy that gives me the ability to remain content even though the world is spiraling around me. It is an emotional peace that makes me calm.


So if you have a parent that is causing you distress. You can find a space for this emotion of joy to give you contentment. And that contentment is not dependent on the choices you make concerning setting healthy boundaries. Because the boundary setting process is different for each person, and each scenario has its own twists and turns. Setting healthy boundaries with an unhealthy parent looks different for everyone. What brings peace to one person in one situation will not work in another. There is no “one size fits all” solution to healthy boundaries with unhealthy parents.


You Are Allowed to Rest From Your Parent Trials


Which leads me to my last point. Because setting boundaries with an unhealthy parent is difficult, and can often be a confusing, anxiety ridden process. It’s okay to gain some physical and emotional distance from that person while you figure things out. You are not dishonoring your parent, or parents, by seeking clarity and guidance for creating healthy boundaries. Healthy people want people to be healthy. So while it may hurt like the dickens. A healthy parent will always respond to healthy boundaries with trust and respect for their child. The healthy parent trusts that God loves their child more than they ever could. And if that child is asking for space, there is damage in the relationship that needs healing. And healing takes time. A healthy parent will do their best not to panic, and instead will give their anxiety and fear for their child over to God. And grow in their patience.


One last note on unhealthy patterns in families. Dysfunctional states lead to chaos in any family system. If you grew up in a healthy family system, you may not know what this feels like. But if you grew up in a dysfunctional family system, you know the chaos I’m referring to. It’s an emotional state that is the opposite of the joy I mentioned above. It is “anti-joy''. And this anti-joy can be overwhelming, painful, and confusing.


We know from 1 Corinthians 14:33, the God we serve is not a God of chaos. But a God of order and peace. Therefore, it is okay to exit the chaos in order to gain godly insight, wisdom, and order in your thinking about a particular relationship. Parents included.



About the Author:

Dr. Corley is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor (LPC-S) in Missouri and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in Kansas. He specializes in marriage counseling and trauma recovery.







If you think you might need some help in this area. Click the image below and give us a call. Our counselors at Lakewood Family Therapy stand ready to help you find peace in your chaotic family storm.


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