Unhelpful Families Cause Emotional Abandonment

During difficult times, you appreciate the help of those closest to you. However, there can be moments when your family, instead of helping, makes things worse with their criticism or an uncaring attitude.
Unhelpful Families Cause Emotional Abandonment
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

When you go through tough times and your family doesn’t help, you simply have to accept it. However, sometimes, as well as not offering any support, they might make things even worse by judging and criticizing you. In fact, they can actually undermine your psychological resources for dealing with the difficulties you’re facing. Unhelpful families can be a real problem.

Leo Tolstoy once said, Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way “. That’s certainly true. Indeed, these micro universes called families that are forced onto you when you come into the world have their own peculiarities. No two families are alike, and some can even be really quite strange and unnatural.

Unhelpful families

Some families, instead of nurturing and providing safety, can actually limit your potential and hurt you. This could cause scars that you’ll carry with you throughout your life. That’s why, as all adults know, part of the maturing process requires cutting the umbilical cord from the family unit.

You do this to exercise your own freedom and create your own life choices. Sometimes, you might fail. These are the times that you appreciate the understanding and closeness of your family.

However, there are families who, instead of supporting you, allow you to sink even deeper into despair. They discourage, undervalue, and even make you feel guilty with their emotional coldness.

A back view of a man sitting down.

Unhelpful families make you feel emotionally abandoned

It’s often said that families hold you hostage. It’s certainly true that all your day-to-day experiences with your family members are part of your emotional and psychological baggage. Sometimes, even having a place of your own doesn’t help because that family influence continues to exert a very strong hold over you.

For this reason, it’s common for people to seek psychological help from a therapist because they’re carrying around unresolved conflicts. Furthermore, they’re still suffering the wounds from dysfunctional families where reproaches, criticism, and disagreements are all too common. Salvador Minuchin, a renowned structural therapist, said that a family should consist of tolerance, commitment, and support.

When these are missing, everything collapses. In fact, when a family doesn’t help and shows no understanding or empathy towards its members, that micro-universe simply breaks down.

When times are tough, you need to know that you’re not alone

When you’re facing tough times, you don’t necessarily want those around you to solve your problems for you. After all, problems can’t always be solved with money or material resources. However, you need to know that you’re not alone.

Thomas Wills conducted a study at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with interesting results. It states that the psychological benefit that helps you the most is the help you can’t actually see. In other words, the love from those closest to you. Indeed, it’s comforting just to know that you’re valued, loved, and understood.

In fact, it’s that genuine closeness from your own family that generates the utmost feeling of well-being inside you. Consequently, when your family doesn’t help or, even worse, turns its back on you, you feel completely alone and hurt.

Families who think they help can be unhelpful

There’s another family situation that can be just as harmful. In this case, your family chooses to help but they do it in the wrong way. Thus, their actions end up intensifying your suffering.

You need to remember that there’s an art to providing help and not everyone knows how to do it. In addition, if they don’t know how to help, it’s better for them not to do anything at all. They need to know what to do, what to say, and what not to say. This requires skills that not everyone possesses. In fact, there are times where you might end up in an even worse situation due to the actions of parents or siblings who think they’ve done the best for you.

Two women talking.

Who do you ask for help when you need it?

In our culture, family tends to be a lot more than an institution. It’s an almost sacred icon that defies definition. However, it’s within this often overrated scenario that most conflicts, friction, disappointments, and trauma arise. As Tolstoy rightly said, the world is divided into happy and unhappy families. Some of us come from happy families and others from unhappy ones.

What can you do when you encounter tough times? What do you do if your family doesn’t help? Often, your own experiences will tell you who’s likely to help and who isn’t. Because everyone has their own experiences, and some can help you more than others. For this reason, you need to think carefully about who to ask for help. In fact, you’ll often find the most valuable support from people who aren’t related to you at all.

Therefore, in tough times, keep a clear head and think very carefully about whose shoulder you choose to lean on.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Shrier, D. K. (2003). The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry36(2), 298. https://doi.org/10.1097/00004583-199702000-00025
  • Willis, T. A. (1985). Supportive functions of interpersonal relationships. In S. Cohen & S. L. Syme (Eds.), Social Support and Health (pp. 61–82). Orlando: Academic Press.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.