There Are Certain Characteristics That Healthy Families Share

Have you ever thought about what constitutes a healthy family? What are the characteristics? What does a healthy family look like, sound like? Or, do you doubt that there is such a thing as a healthy family? For many who have had unhealthy family models, it’s hard to believe family harmony is possible. Every family is different but there are still characteristics to look for that can show whether your family is functioning in a healthy way or an unhealthy way.

Think about the many personalities and roles that family members play. Yours probably have strong opinions and strong wills, which may not be a comfortable fit for your personality or beliefs. This website may help you with your studies, if your family cannot help; but your situation can much more complicated. Some families are guided by stern moral principles; others are easy-going and accepting. Some are spiritual and some are not. What kind of family do you have?

Dysfunctional or narcissistic families cause lasting damage. Are you forced to adjust to the family “facade” that all is well no matter what, and you can’t deviate from what’s expected of you. Or can you comfortably go your own way? You might ask yourself if a family can be healthy when everyone is at odds with each other. What about keeping secrets from each other, can that happen in healthy families? But here’s the bottom line. It’s all about personal feelings, growth and independence.

Healthy families accept you for who you are, make you feel safe and good, and encourage you grow into a confident, independent person

Before we get to the specific characteristics of healthy families, here are a few questions to ask yourself about your relationship with your family.

  1. Are you eager to go home and be with your family members?
  2. Would you prefer to pass when there are get togethers?
  3. Do your family expectations make you feel resentful and sad?
  4. Is there a family scapegoat for everything that goes wrong?
  5. Are you that scapegoat?
  6. Are you struggling to heal from narcissistic abuse?
  7. Is everyone helpful and accepting?
  8. Can your family members tolerate different lifestyles and opinions?

 Okay, you can see the themes here. Feelings matter. Healthy families aren’t a myth – they really do exist. Your family may well be one of them, but if you’re reading this you probably have questions like the ones above and want your family to be healthier.

First, realize that most families have some healthy and some unhealthy traits, and no family is perfect. Actually, those who come from seemingly perfect families that have never suffered from difficulties or imperfections, have trouble adjusting to an imperfect, unhealthy world. So what are the characteristics of healthy families?

Healthy Families Have These Characteristics

Number 1 is honest communication, exchanges, and respect 

It takes speaking and listening for effective communication. If your family doesn’t allow you to express your feelings, your experiences or your needs, healthy communication isn’t happening. If your family allows you to express yourself and is able to listen without judging, you have a healthy communication. For a family to communicate at the highest level, family members must also be respectful of each other. That means not interrupting, not arguing, not putting each other down.  Listening (not just hearing) to what is being said is a basic skill. Healthy communication also includes being able to tell the truth without someone breaking into a rant or a rage. Issues can be addressed when everyone has the right to speak, and everyone has the obligation to listen and try to understand. Then discussions can occur in a calm environment.

Number 2 is acceptance of each other

Healthy families accept each other’s differences. These differences can be level of talent, of intelligence, success at school or work, personalities that are opposite, beliefs and opinions. In healthy families, acceptance that everyone is an individual, and everyone has value, is a profoundly important characteristic of a healthy family. One example might be respecting your children’s choices for hobbies and interests, even when they want to become famous musicians and are dreaming of a drum set to play at home. Learning and playing music is healthy, even when it’s loud.

Acceptance does not mean tolerate unhealthy or abusive behavior

Acceptance does not mean that any behavior is tolerated, far from it. It also doesn’t mean giving passes for not trying or not doing well, either. Acceptance looks like this: If dad or mom is a great athlete and the kids are not interested or not gifted, they will still be loved, cherished and encouraged for the qualities they do have. This also means you may hate a loved one’s views, or style of dress, or believes, but you won’t beat him or her up for them. Acceptance that you are yourself and have your own choices to make is also an important characteristic of healthy families. 

Number 3 is having love and compassion for vulnerable members of the family

Love and compassion are valuable when they are implemented  in a healthy family dynamic. It’s easy to love and support someone who’s doing well and seems oh so all right. You don’t need compassion for that. When a family member is struggling with drugs, alcohol, alcohol or a disability, however, love and compassion take on a new meaning and have a special role to play. The vulnerable family needs acceptance and love, but doesn’t have to become the center of attention in the family. This is where families can get confused.

Addiction is an example of family dysfunction

Addiction complicates behavior in all families. In healthy families all members of the family are valued, and each is validated for the unique qualities he brings. When there is a sick member of the family, like a person with substance use disorder, however, the balance is always  disrupted. The person with the problem can take center stage and his/her needs can drown out the others. Good intentions turn to enabling and codependence that hurt other members of the family. Having love and compassion and acceptance does not mean letting someone rule the emotional life of the whole family. Compassion may mean understanding, helping and supporting as much as possible, as well as including other members of the family in decision making about issues that involve everyone.

Number 4 is collaboration and involvement

Families that work together and play together are healthier than those who don’t. Not all parents have equal skill sets for children at every age. I, for example,  loved the baby and toddler stage and was less good with setting boundaries for adolescents. I could do much better now. So, children who had their parents play with them and read to them when they were little but received less guidance and involvement from their parents as they got older, may feel lost and less values.

Studies have shown that parents who do activities with their kids bonds them both on an individual level and on the family level. Eating meals together, being involved in the kids’ school and after-school events, taking the children to work to show them what the jobs are like, having friends visit, visiting with other relatives, and doing leisure activities such playing Pokemon Go, taking walks together, or playing board games are invaluable for healthy living.

Number 5 is healthy coping skills

Because life is not always easy or simple, a family needs both individual and family coping skills to use during difficult times. These coping skills can be in these 5 areas:

  • Physical: taking care of the basics such as healthy meals, enough sleep, exercise, and hygiene, and basic safety;
  • Emotional: being able to feel feelings and talk about them with the family, journal, cry or laugh, talk to a teacher or counselor at school, go for family therapy, write/draw/dance/sing and participate in other creative emotional outlets, jog/walk/exercise out the feelings;
  • Intellectual: read, write, have deep discussions with family members or others, study, learn, teach; do puzzles or healthy video games, do creative activities;
  • Social/relational: having time with family and others together while also having alone time for we need to also have a relationship with self such as reading, meditating, writing, or doing yoga or tai chi;
  • Spiritual: having a sense of communion with a higher essence, being with others including the family, taking walks in nature, having fun, being creative, going to a religious ceremony or spiritual event, reading religious/spiritual books, meditating, prayer, being alone.

All of these are healthy family characteristics. Look back over these. You may find your family in the middle. Look over them again. You may find new ideas for a healthier family. check out Al-anon for help with addiction.

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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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