Members of families naturally take on different roles. In a healthy family, roles are flexible given the situation. In unhealthy family environments, roles become fixed or rigid.
The dysfunctional family organizes itself around a problem. The problem shapes the family’s interactions, while members deny the problem exists. The common goal of each role is to escape pain, gain self worth,and avoid reality.
Listed below are some of the dysfunctional roles that develop.
The enabler keeps the family unit together no matter the cost. The enabler vows to keep the family secret in order to keep peace. They constantly bail others out of trouble, which keeps others from experiencing the consequences of their behavior. They exert much energy trying to fix the family. They confuse love with pity.The underlying emotion that fuels this unhealthy behavior is the fear of being abandoned.
This is usually, the first born child. The hero is the overachiever. Their achievement takes the focus off the family’s problem. The hero bases their value on performance. They become caregivers. The dysfunctional parent may even look to this child for advice instead of getting their needs met by another adult. The hero has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. The hero makes the family proud but at the expense of having his/her own needs neglected. The hero’s unhealthy guilt and need to be accepted keeps him/her going.
The mascot may be referred to as the family clown. The mascot will attempt to keep the peace by telling jokes. Comedy becomes a means of coping with pain. Their playfulness and silliness brings the family a “distorted” kind of joy. They are the life of the party. The mascot is very in tune with how others are feeling. The cost to the mascot is that his or her true feelings of pain and isolation are never expressed and therefore they develop “frozen feelings.”
The Lost Child
The lost child deals with the family’s problems by denying they exist. They will spend a lot of time away from the family. The lost child will never want to do anything to draw attention to themselves. This is the one who spends a lot of time locked in their room. The lost child becomes a master of being unnoticed. Other may think that the family’s problems don’t even affect this child because of their quiet nature. The lost child feels an overwhelming sense of loneliness, a need to be loved, and to belong.
This is the child who “takes the heat” or gets blamed for the family’s problems. The scapegoat will almost always rebel and seek attention in unhealthy ways. The scapegoat gets attention by getting into trouble. The scapegoat usually resorts to such things as drugs, sex, alcohol or stealing. Their behavior takes the focus off the family’s “problem”. The cost to the scapegoat is obvious.