Unhealthy Family Dynamics

In my practice, I have found that one troubling aspect of communication in dysfunctional family patterns is the act of colluding, sometimes as referred to as triangulating.


Addiction often at the heart of the issue

You typically see this behavior when the paternal and/or maternal head of household is struggling with addiction or significant mental health issue. This can include having problems with a gaming addiction. This type of communication involves lies, secrets, and an intent to exclude or hurt another. The addicted individual and his or her subordinates are unable to openly express their thoughts and feelings for fear that they will lose their power or position in the family, that the real self will be revealed to others, or simply to hurt another with emotional blackmail (i.e., the withholding of emotional connection with you).

An example would be that they do not call you or do not send you birthday cards. This can be an example of passive-aggressive behavior as well. Other behaviors may include withdrawing their emotional support from you but not from others in the family. They may judge you in error and are unwilling to discuss their perceptions and why they have them. They may alienate you from family events and communication but share that information with others. Again, the goal is to grasp onto some false sense of power or to avoid being held accountable for other addictive behaviors that are the cause of the deteriorating family relationships. They triangulate with others to develop a venue to direct or place gult and shame onto you. If you find yourself in the presence of such patterns, it is important to reassure yourself you are not the cause but that you find yourself in the addicted family system .

You may benefit from attending an Alanon group or processing through how you feel with a clinician competent in the area of addiction. I have seen patients benefit from detaching as well. I would not suggest trying to confront the situation. The addicted individual and their subordinates are often defensive and may try to further guilt and shame you. Find a healthy support system where you can feel accepted for your individual thoughts and feelings.

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Jonathan Beyer

Doctor Beyer

Dr. Beyer has been helping individuals and families as a psychologist in the Duluth area for over 30 years and has been a licensed psychologist in Minnesota since 1992. After receiving his licensing he spent nearly a decade helping at-risk youth, and their families, with behavioral and emotional challenges.

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