Christian Biblical Counsel: DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY (Updated)

Dysfunctional Family

Making Peace with Your Past

by June Hunt

“Recovery from dysfunctional family patterns is not easy. It requires a transformation at the deepest levels.… God has promised to be actively involved in this transformation.”

—Dale and Juanita Ryan


A. What Is a Dysfunctional Family?

•     A dysfunctional family is one where improper and immature behavior of at least one parent damages the growth of individuality and healthy relational skills among family members.

•     A dysfunctional family is one where family members are impaired emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

•     A dysfunctional family is one where everyone is negatively affected even when only one family member experiences a problem.

“He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise.”

(Proverbs 11:29)

B. What Is a Functional Family?

The Functional Family is a Cultivating Family!

•     A functional family is one where proper and mature behavior of two parents cultivates a healthy balance between individuality and relational skills among family members.

•     A functional family is one where healthy emotional, psychological and spiritual growth is cultivated among family members.

•     A functional family is one where, as family members encounter problems, they cultivate the ability to face difficulty with confidence and the support of other family members.

“He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.”

(Proverbs 14:26)


A. Dysfunctional Family Roles


•     The Problem Parent

—  Engages in some form of immature, inappropriate or destructive behavior to the detriment of other family members

•     The Passive Parent

—  Allows the inappropriate behavior to continue—without establishing boundaries—to the detriment of other family members


•     The Super Responsible Child

The “hero” tries to fix the family problems and help create a positive family image with noteworthy achievement. This child receives positive attention but often develops perfectionistic, compulsive behaviors.

•     The Severely Rebellious Child

The “scapegoat” draws focus away from the family problems and onto himself or herself with rebellious, uncontrollable behavior. This child consumes time and energy from the family members and often develops self-destructive life patterns.

•     The Sensitive, Reclusive Child

The “lost child” hopes that by ignoring family problems, the difficulties will go away. This child avoids attention and is often lonely and withdrawn.

•     The Saucy, Restless Child

The “clown” uses humor and antics to direct the focus away from family problems. This child is often hyperactive and usually seeks to be the center of attention.

Role Reversal

•     Children once did whatever they could to please their parents.

•     Now parents are doing whatever they can to please their children. Parents should communicate as adults, in respectful and positive ways, to a child. Don’t be overly defensive of your child.

B. Personal Checklist

Test for Unresolved Conflicts from Your Past

□    Do you fear personal criticism?

□    Do you give to others to the extent that it is harmful to you?

□    Do you constantly seek approval?

□    Do you suppress your emotions?

□    Do you lie when you could easily tell the truth?

□    Do you feel you must rescue others?

□    Do you have difficulty having fun or relaxing?

□    Do you confuse pity with love?

□    Do you judge yourself too harshly?

□    Do you find yourself easily manipulated?

□    Do you assume too much responsibility?

□    Do you have unresolved anger toward any family member?

□    Do you avoid taking personal responsibility for your actions?

□    Do nm, you fear abandonment?

□    Do you violate your own conscience in order to please others?

□    Do you feel you need to control others?

Q “I grew up in a messed up family, and I am now repeating many patterns from the past. What should I do?”

Identify which patterns need to be changed, then focus on several action steps that will enable you to move toward emotional health and healing. Tell the Lord and those closest to you that you want to give up unhealthy, childish patterns, and ask them to help hold you accountable.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.”

(Proverbs 1:8)


A. Dysfunctional Family Roles

“The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

(Exodus 34:6–7)

Dysfunctional Families Produce Dysfunctional Families

•     The Chaotic Family

—  Both household and individuals are poorly organized..

—  Family is plagued by problems

—  Parents are inconsistent and indecisive.

—  Children are emotionally abandoned.


Family members are not connected.


“A man of understanding and knowledge maintains order.” (Proverbs 28:2)

•     The Controlling Family

—  Structure is overly rigid.

—  Tone is authoritative and dictatorial.

—  Parents tend to be faultfinding and critical.

—  Children are task oriented … value is placed on their performance.


Family members are fearful and insensitive.


“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

•     The Coddling Family

—  Parental authority is lacking.

—  Feelings are overprotected.

—  Disagreements are avoided.

—  Children are the center of attention.


Family members are undisciplined.


“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)

•     The Codependent Family

—  Conformity is strong within the family.

—  Self-direction is lacking.

—  Parents are overly possessive.

—  Children are smothered.


Family members are insecure.


“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

B. The Functional Family Style

•     The Cultivating Family

—  Structure and discipline are maintained by parents.

—  Individual responsibility is required.

—  Love and obedience to God are developed.

—  Children are secure.


Family relationships are balanced.


“There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.” (Deuteronomy 12:7)

C. Root Cause

Wrong Belief:

“My parents did not give me the unconditional love, significance and security I needed as a child. Since my past is unchangeable, I can’t change who I am today.”

Right Belief:

My need for unconditional love, significance and security is being met by Christ, who lives in me. Although I can’t change my past, I can change my attitude about my past. I will depend on God to empower me to learn healthy ways of relating to my family.

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

(Colossians 3:13)


A. Key Verses to Memorize

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

(John 8:31–32)

B. Key Passages to Read and Reread

Genesis chapters 37, 39, 41, 42, 50

Breaking Free of Family Failures

Joseph’s story in Genesis is a biblical portrait of what God can do in dysfunctional family relationships when one family member is yielded to God.

Genesis chapter 37

Joseph’s Dysfunctional Family

Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob, born to him in his old age. He loved Joseph more than any of this other older sons. When his brothers saw that their father favored him more than the others they became very jealous and angry. In their vengeance they sold Joseph into slavery.

•     lacking good communication

•     partiality

•     jealousy

•     dishonesty

•     anger

•     vengefulness

•     disloyalty

•     fearfulness

Genesis chapters 39 and 41

Joseph’s Walk With The Lord

•     yielded to God’s ways

•     obedient to authority

•     trustworthy

•     morally pure

•     faithful

•     honest

•     humble

•     persevering

Genesis chapter 42

Joseph’s Response to his Family

•     forgiving

•     generous

•     honorable

Genesis chapter 50

Joseph’s response To god

•     submissive

•     trusting

•     honorable

Don’t be a prisoner of your past!

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”

(Genesis 50:20)

C. Putting Away the Past

“I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”

(Philippians 3:13)

•     Give yourself time to grieve your past.

—  Pray for God to reveal your grief.

—  Choose to be honest about your pain.

—  Give yourself permission to grieve.

“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:20)

•     Give up your need to be controlling.

—  Recognize that God has ultimate control.

—  Trust in God’s sovereign control.

—  Submit to God’s control of your personal life.

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22)

•     Give Christ first place in your heart.

—  Ask Jesus to be Lord of your life.

—  Accept His forgiveness and love.

—  Be aware of His constant presence within you.

—  Allow Him to lead in all you say and do.

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23–24)

•     Give God thanks for your past.

—  Know that God will be faithful to heal you.

—  Recognize that difficult relationships mature you.

—  Look for positive ways God can use the pain in your life.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

•     Give attention to how you responded to your circumstances as a child. Were you …

—  The responsible child?

—  The rebellious child?

—  The reclusive child?

—  The restless child?

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15)

•     Give thought to your present dysfunctional characteristics.

—  Pray for God to reveal your weaknesses.

—  Pray for wisdom to understand how to change.

—  Pray that you will draw on Christ, who is your strength, to make changes.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23–24)

•     Give consideration to your God-given rights.

—  You have the right to obey God rather than others.

—  You have the right to a clear conscience.

—  You have the right to follow the Word of God.

—  You have the right to live in your God-appointed role.

“We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29)

•     Give yourself boundaries.

—  Define who you are: “I am a child of God.”

—  Define who you are not: “I am not a piece of property.”

—  Refuse to be manipulated or mistreated.

—  Stop playing the victim: “As an adult, I am not powerless.”

—  Stop blaming others: “I’ll take responsibility for my own behavior.”

—  Learn to say no.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

•     Give up resentment.

—  Consider the consequences of unforgiveness.

—  Confess your own areas of unforgiveness.

—  Choose to forgive and keep on choosing to forgive.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

•     Give time to restoring healthy family relationships.

—  Be the one to begin rebuilding relationships.

—  Be willing to spend quality time to develop healthy relationships.

—  Be generous with grace toward others whose attitudes and actions are negative.

—  Be a channel of God’s unconditional love and acceptance to others.

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24)

D. Cultivate Your Family for the Future

•     Emphasize the uniqueness of each family member.

“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Corinthians 12:14–17)

•     Seek togetherness, but also encourage individuality.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7)

•     Maintain consistency in the messages you communicate.

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:10–13)

•     Practice immediate but appropriate discipline.

“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)

•     Allow a generous margin for mistakes.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

•     Encourage the appropriate expression of feelings.

“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” (Proverbs 20:5)

•     Promote and develop natural talents and abilities.

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

•     Require family members to take responsibility for their own attitudes and actions.

“Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:4–5)

•     Treat everyone with love and respect.

“Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14)

•     Nurture a dependence on the Lord.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6)

A poor   background is a poor excuse for poor behavior. With the power of Christ   inside you, your past should not overpower you. Never give the past the power   that Christ alone should have.—June Hunt 

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”

(Jeremiah 29:11)

Family Trees

Five styles of Family interaction

Be wise about the ways of your family“She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who   embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.”(Proverbs 3:18)



Carder, Dave, Earl Henslin, John Townsend, Henry Cloud, and Alice Brawand. Secrets of Your Family Tree: Healing for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families. Chicago: Moody, 1991.

Coleman, William L. How to Go Home Without Feeling Like a Child. Dallas: Word, 1991.

Conway, Jim. Adult Children of Legal or Emotional Divorce: Healing Your Long-Term Hurt. Saltshaker. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990.

Ells, Alfred H. Family Love: What We Need, What We Seek, What We Must Create. Nashville: Oliver-Nelson, 1995.

Field, David. Family Personalities. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988.

Harrison, Dan. Strongest in the Broken Places: A Story of Spiritual Renewal. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990.

Hemfelt, Robert, Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier. Love Is A Choice. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.

Hunt, June. Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Forgive … When You Don’t Feel Like It. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007.

Hunt, June. How to Handle Your Emotions. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Hunt, June. Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008

LeSourd, Nancy. No Longer a Hero: The Personal Pilgrimage of an Adult Child. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Lewis, Gregg, and Tim Stafford. You Call This a Family? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Mains, David. Healing the Dysfunctional Church Family. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1992.

McGee, Robert S. Father Hunger. Ann Arbor, MI: Vine, 1993.

Ryan, Dale, and Juanita Ryan. Recovery from Family Dysfunctions: 6 Studies for Groups or Individuals. Life Recovery Guides. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990.

Sell, Charles M. Unfinished Business: Helping Adult Children Resolve Their Past. Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1989.

VanVonderen, Jeff. Families Where Grace Is in Place. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1992.

VanVonderen, Jeff. Tired of Trying to Measure Up. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1989.

Wright, H. Norman. Always Daddy’s Girl: Understanding Your Father’s Impact on Who You Are. Ventura, CA: Regal, 1989.[1]

[1] Hunt, J. (2008). Biblical Counseling Keys on Dysfunctional Family: Making Peace with Your Past (2–13). Dallas, TX: Hope For The Heart.

Dysfunctional Families

Our Sins Can Affect Our Grandchildren

How often we assume that our “private” sins hurt no one but ourselves. For instance, how could the sin of envy affect anyone else? Isn’t coveting strictly a matter between us and the Lord?

But sins of character have a way of touching everyone with whom we have contact—especially those we love the most, our family. That is what happened in three generations of Isaac’s family. His wife Rebekah determined to gain Isaac’s blessing for her favorite son Jacob, even if it meant deceiving her husband (Gen. 25:28; 27:5–29). Thus she helped her son Jacob grow up to be a deceiver (Gen. 27:35–36).

Years later, Jacob’s second wife Rachel became frustrated as her sister and rival Leah bore four sons for Jacob. Rachel’s anguish developed into such strong envy that it created tension and anger in her husband, even though he loved Rachel dearly (Gen. 29:34–30:2).

A bitter harvest of Rebekah and Jacob’s deception and Rachel’s envy was reaped in the third generation when Joseph’s brothers began to envy him (Gen. 37:11). They sold him into slavery and then deceived their father about it (Gen. 37:23–35). Where had they learned to treat their sibling with jealousy and their father with such cruel deception? Clearly, they were following in their elders’ footsteps!

Sin can pass from generation to generation, not just by what is said, but by what is lived. Attitudes are not so much taught as caught. In light of this reality, consider the relationships in your own extended family. In what ways may you be harming others by harboring envy, covetousness, lust, pride, or other “private” sins? Is there a need for repentance and a change of attitude, as well as behavior? Would you change your ways for the sake of your children and grandchildren?

Like a Spider’s Web

Esau had been cheated by the schemes of his mother and brother (Gen. 27:1–39). When he realized what had been done to him, he was outraged—some would say justifiably (Gen. 27:34–36). Yet how did he deal with his anger and hurt? He nursed it into a grudge and determined to retaliate by killing his brother after his father was dead (Gen. 30:41; compare Heb. 12:16–17).

However, he failed to take into account the complicity of his mother. When she learned of Esau’s plan, she helped Jacob escape. And rather than confront the deception that she and Jacob had committed, and apologize to Esau, she merely suggested that time would heal all wounds (Gen. 27:42–45). Perhaps she was more concerned for her own situation than for either of her sons.

What a web of evil!

The patterns of trickery and manipulation continued into the next generation. Jacob’s sons committed such evils as destroying an entire city out of revenge (Gen. 34:1–31), and selling one of their brothers into slavery and then lying to their father about what had happened (Gen. 37:23–28, 31–35). Apparently they had learned from their father and grandmother that the way to deal with sin was not to acknowledge it, but to hide it.

Such is the nature of sin and evil. It binds people the way a spider wraps a fly in more and more threads until no escape is possible—no escape, that is, apart from divine intervention. God’s response to sin was to offer Jesus Christ as a sacrifice for us. He took on Himself the penalty for sin that we deserve. Therefore, He is able to break the bonds of sin that ensnare us (Rom. 5:6–9).

Have you taken God up on His offer to deliver you from sin? Are there continuing patterns of evil and destruction from which you need to be set free? Are there things for which you need God’s forgiveness? Apart from Him you can be sure—things won’t get any better with time.

The conflict between Esau and Jacob (Gen. 27:41) was eventually patched up (Gen. 33:4, 10–11). Nevertheless, the two brothers set a precedent for their descendants that grew into a centuries-long feud between the Edomites and Israelites.[1]


[1] Thomas Nelson Publishers. (2001). In What does the Bible say about… The ultimate A to Z resource fully illustrated. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

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