What are the traits of functional families? We’re glad you asked. According to family experts Friel and Friel, authors of Adult Children, The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families, healthy functional families have eight traits in common. Many who are in recovery are past victims of trauma and/or abuse. In fact, 2 out of every 3 people in recovery were victims of child abuse. Recovery teaches us to choose progress over perfection. This list will help you measure where your family is now and where you want to grow.

1. Traits of functional families start with meeting basic needs

Functional families are consistently meeting each individual’s most basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing. A family that is food insecure, shelter insecure, or without the basic clothing needed, is vulnerable is every way. Growth is almost impossible when survival itself is the everyday focus.

2. Family members are safe from abuse

Beyond food and clothing, safety is a fundamental need for every family member. Being safe from emotional and physical abuse is critical. Family members embrace and nurture each other. They thrive. What is emotional abuse.

3. One trait of functional families is love to go around

Noted psychologist Abraham Maslow explains that we also have a deep need for love and belongingness. For an individual and family to grow, they need to know that they are loved, cherished, and belong to their tribal family. Here the family works as a unit to allow each member to talk about issues, to trust others, and to feel their feelings. What does a dysfunction family look like.

4. Everyone is encouraged to be an independent individual

There is a strong need for autonomy or separateness. Functional families allow each individual in the family to grow and develop.  Also called individualization, each person in a functional family becomes a unique self and the family supports this ongoing development. The individual is seen as their own person while still functioning as part of this healthy family system. In this manner, the family also embraces diversity.

5. All members are worthy and valuable

Families also function to promote self-esteem or a sense of worth in each family member. Each person is seen as worthy and valuable to the family. Family members praise each other. This is about dignity and self-assurance of each individual.

Perfectionism is not a goal for it is unhealthy, and each member and the family itself must make mistakes in order to learn, heal, and grow. Here we realize that we are all imperfect beings in our perfection of our selves. Without making mistakes, no one would be able to cope within this imperfect, perfect world.

7. One important trait of functional families is play and enjoyment

Play is a very important aspect of healthy development; without it, our growth becomes static, rigid, and perfectionistic. Play also includes exploring the many outlets of creativity. Each family member and each family needs allow creativity such as:

  • Playing
  • Writing or journaling
  • Singing (even if you can’t carry a tune)
  • Playing sports or doing yoga
  • Meditation actually changes your brain

Do whatever it is that makes your heart soar.

8. Spirituality matters

That old adage about families that pray together has some merit. In spirituality, the family embraces a sense of wonder and awe, of creation and creativity, of joy and sorrow, and of love and gratitude. The family sets the basis of spirituality and allows diversity of belief and practices for each individual.

So, how does your family measure up? Don’t be in a panic if you don’t meet all of these functions. For remember, the family, and each individual, needs to make mistakes in order to develop throughout the lifespan.  Are there ways that the family can improve? How can your entire family explore these traits and focus on healing?

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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