In a dysfunctional family, one or more of the parents or siblings had some issues that they did not deal with in healthy ways. Instead, the rest of the family had to adapt to survive and make sense of the family. If you came from a dysfunctional family, then neither you nor any of your family members could escape this adaptation. This adaptation can be thought of as a role. As you know from a job role, it is limited. It is ok to have a role at work because each person is there to do what is asked.
However, in a healthy family, you should be free to be all of what you are. You are not limited by a role that was an adaptation to the family. Instead, the parents encouraged you to express yourself fully. They have the ability to embrace all of who you are even if it made them feel uncomfortable sometimes. In other words, they adapted to your true self and you had the freedom to explore multiple aspects of yourself. If you recognize yourself in one of these roles, fear not! You can go beyond your inherited role and I will discuss how in another article this month. You may have another role that I did not clearly list and discuss. Feel free to let me know what your role was and of course feel free to share any comments. Here are the 5 roles that I readily see in my private practice:
1) Enabler/codependent – In this role, you gave up your own needs and wanted to protect and take care of another member of the family that had issues that seemed more serious than yours. You may have grown into an adult who is not even in touch with your own desires and preferences. Example: You had a chronically ill parent and you became the person that your parent can count on and you sacrificed much of your childhood.
2) Responsible – You did everything well; you may have even felt like you had to be perfect. You did everything to make your parents proud and may unconsciously have had the pressure to keep up the self-esteem of one or both of your parents. Typically, you did very well in school and extracurricular activities and would rarely if ever relax and just be a normal kid. You may have grown up into an adult that very much fears disappointing people, which can lead to a persistent low-level anxiety.
3) Aloof – You inherited the role of aloof child and may have been perceived as the most “selfish.” This was your mostly unconscious way of dealing with unresolved pain on the family. It is a defense so that you can get through the days and nights with a family that is unhappy, volatile, violent, abusive, neglectful or a combination of these. As an adult, you may have become one of those people that live on the surface of life, not getting too involved with other people’s lives and not letting them too close to yours.
4) Problem child – Having the role of problem child could have been your unconscious way to make other family members’ issues fade into the background. Or it could have been a way for you to act out the pain you were feeling in your family of origin. The individual rarely falls into these roles alone. There is usually some unconscious family dynamics that push you into that role. This is not an excuse for your problem behavior but could be an important factor. By looking deeper at the underlying dynamics, you can learn healthier options for dealing with the underlying reasons you slipped into that role. These problem children can become problem adults unless there is an intention to become more aware and to break out of obsolete patterns.
5) Placater – This person is always trying to cheer people up. His or her job is to regulate everyone else’s emotions even to the detriment of him or herself. Like the codependent, they do not let others go through the normal pains of life. The placater is a people pleaser and avoids conflict and can be overly agreeable even if he or she deep down disagrees. This person ignores his or her own anger or thinks feelings away.
In 2 weeks, I will be writing about how to get out of each role and how to become more of who you are. There is a time to be responsible, to placate, etc. but people in these roles are not choosing these behaviors. They are on automatic. I help many individuals go from being automatic to choosers. These people learn to give permission to themselves to abandon those inherited roles so that they can be more well-rounded individuals. Stay tuned and again feel free to comment.