A dysfunctional family is one in which bad behavior, conflicts, and, on a regular basis, abuse and neglect by one or both parents occur. Children from dysfunctional families frequently grow up believing that this is how every family operates behind the closed doors of their family home.
Dysfunctional parents often mimic their own dysfunctional parents. This is due to the fact that as children, we all imitate our parents to some extent.
It is passed down from one generation to the next. New generations will not question it because we have nothing else to compare it to as children.
We are molded, especially in the first ten years of life, learning how to respond and behave, and discovering what is morally right and wrong. This means that growing up in a dysfunctional family can have long-term consequences for us.
Anyways! Let’s move further:
Specific Roles of a Disputed Family
Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, Mascot, Caretaker/Enabler, and Golden Child are the six most commonly agreed-upon roles.
Roles can shift throughout a family’s lifetime. One child can also play multiple roles depending on what their family environment requires of them.
The jobs are not stated explicitly, and they are not consciously assigned by the parents. Instead, they are reinforced through a subtle reward and punishment system that occurs throughout the child’s upbringing. They are not so much offered specific roles as they are forced into them.
So, let’s take a look at what each role entails.
The Family Hero’s ‘job’ is to make the family appear well-adjusted and normal on the outside.
The Hero’s unspoken mission is to persuade outside observers that “that child MUST come from a good, well-adjusted family!” They are, after all, extremely successful!’ This is a massive burden to bear, but one that the Hero does so unconsciously.
And, indeed, this child frequently denies the flaws in their family, even to themselves. Focusing on outside accomplishments is an excellent way to keep the mind occupied and distracted from domestic dysfunction.
The Scapegoat’s ‘job’ is to be the family’s ‘problem child.’
The Scapegoat is frequently referred to as the ‘Identified Patient’ of the family. Parents may take them in for psychological testing or treatment on a regular basis, believing that if only this one child behaved, the family would finally be at peace. In this way, the Scapegoated child unconsciously protects the family image by accepting responsibility for the entire unit’s dysfunction.
The Lost Child
The Lost Child’s role is to keep their head down and pretend that nothing significant is happening.
Overwhelmed, under-resourced, and generally unsure of their ability to thrive on their own, this child discovers that staying quiet and refusing to make waves is the best way to survive their family’s dysfunction.
The Lost Child spends a lot of time alone and may frequently dissociate into fantasy. The Lost Child may struggle to assert themselves as their life progresses because they lack good communication skills and a strong sense of who they are.
The ‘job’ of the Mascot is to relieve family tensions through humor and positivity.
On the surface, the mascot child appears upbeat, jovial, and good-natured.
However, the mascot child understands that if something can be made light of, it is unlikely to upset anyone too deeply. As a result, if their family dynamic can be made fun of, the underlying tensions that come with it can stay where the parents believe they belong — beneath the surface.
This child’s ‘job’ is that of a mini parent,’ in which they may step in to care for the parent or act as a surrogate parental figure for their younger siblings.
The Caretaker believes that by cleaning up their parents’ messes, they are providing a valuable service to the family. They may soothe emotions after a fight, remind adults to pay their bills on time, or become acutely aware of the needs of everyone in the unit, acting as an all-around peacemaker and diplomat.
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The Golden Child
The ‘job’ of the Golden Child is to adopt and live out the moral code of the parents. The parent may unconsciously regard this child as a mini spouse,’ confiding in them to an inappropriate extent and relying on them for emotional support. This is referred to as emotional incest.
The Golden Child is frequently driven by guilt, in part because they feel responsible for their parents’ emotions, and in part, because they are aware, on some level, that they have avoided the more overt forms of abuse that one or more of their siblings experienced.
So! What should we do if we recognize ourselves in any of these roles?
We should go easy on ourselves.
While we strive to reclaim the parts of ourselves lost along the way, we cultivate compassion for the innocent children we once were.