Knowing the role we play in our families is key to so much understanding about how we operate in the world. Adults and children often play out certain Family Roles. It’s not always easy to determine who has been assigned what role, as roles do change.
THE LOST CHILD: The Lost Child prefers to not stand out and would rather just blend in, often becoming invisible to the other family members. Whilst the Lost Child is very independent, they can also be rather withdrawn and at times even isolated from the rest of the family and the world.
Their strategy for avoiding conflict is by avoiding any interaction at all. They become loners and over time this lack of comfort around people affects their ability to communicate with others and they have real difficulty relating to people in a meaningful way.
THE ENABLER: Often the most common role within families dealing with dysfunction and also aptly known as “The Caretaker “. These martyrs of the family are primarily focused on protecting their family member from the negative consequences of their actions.
They will cover up problems caused by their family member's bad behaviour or even pick up the slack of their responsibilities. Often times even blaming themselves for their family member's issues.
Their primary focus is to limit the damage caused by their dysfunctional family member and perpetually try to keep the family on the right path and looking as 'normal' as possible. As a result, the dysregulated family member feels little or no responsibility for their actions and hence is never motivated to change.
THE HERO: Also known as The Star, this role is often taken on by the oldest child in the family, although not always. They tend to fixate on bringing praise or stability to their family in an attempt to mitigate the hidden pain. As a result they become over-achieving perfectionists who look very good to the outside world, whilst inside they have a compulsive drive to succeed at any cost, that often leads to stress-related illnesses and compulsive disorders. At the very least they will become workaholics.
They feel a constant pressure to even the scales by countering the family's dysfunction with excellence and achievement and will do this academically, on stage or the sports field.
A parent could be the hero too. In this instance they will be a super successful parent who is always happy and shows no signs of, or makes any acknowledgement of, the family's dysfunction.
THE MASCOT: Also known as The Clown, this family role is all about satire and comic relief. Their unconscious drive is to break the tension with humour due to a feeling of powerlessness in the family dynamics. The Mascot entertains the family, often by making light of the dysfunction in humorous ways. Whilst this may bring temporarily relief to stressful situations, it does not actually repair any emotion wounds.
A common side-effect of this family role is that when The Mascot becomes an adult, nobody takes them seriously. They tend to have difficulty in the real world when confronted with situations where humour is not the right approach (eg: applying for a job).
THE SCAPEGOAT: The Scapegoat is also known as the 'problem child'. This family member always seems defiant, hostile and angry because they are often cast aside or blamed for problems that have nothing to do with them. The Scapegoat is one of the family roles who are very much aware of their role and as a result feel rejected and resentful.
Scapegoats manifest in various ways but the most common are a child who is often sick or even has a chronic condition or is constantly in trouble at school, be it academically or socially.
Their unconscious drive is to get attention the only way they know how, which is negatively.
THE ADDICT: Also known as the Identified Patient. This family role involves embodying all the family's issues. Family members will rally together to help The Addict get the therapy or help they need.
This allows them to disassociate from all the other family issues, as helping The Addict becomes the main focus. The Addict will often resist seeking treatment or help as they feel their addiction protects the family and also helps to bring them together around a common cause.
This is the same reason why The Addict tends to fall into a perpetual pattern of relapse, as the core family issues causing their addiction are never addressed.