Remember the last family gathering you had? You know, the one that exhausted you and made you want to just go home and read instead. We all fall into “roles” in our family. Because we’re all human and no one is perfect, many families are dysfunctional. That doesn’t have to mean there was rampant, obvious abuse — often dysfunction inside of a family is extremely covert. So sly are these dysfunctional relationships that you’re simply left with a feeling of hurt, confusion and exhaustion after that oh-so-fun holiday gathering.
Often, we will unknowingly take on specific stereotypes which determine how we act (or react) to a situation. Our role-playing fits into a specific place in the family and just creates a strong bond of unhealthiness. Your family role can define who you are, how you relate to others, how they relate to you and influence every aspect of your life. Crazily, you will replicate your family role in every relationship: as an employee, student, spouse, parent, friend.
Don’t think you have a predetermined role in your family? Check yourself against the six basic roles (you can take on one or more roles):
• The Hero (also known as the Good Child): This kid assumes the authority of a parent. They think it’s their job to make the family look good. They ignore the problem and put a shiny face on the family and their problems as if any issues within the family did not exist. The Hero is the perfectionist, rarely showing emotion. The hero takes care of everyone else, making sure problems are fixed, bills are paid, school is attended and everyone thinks they are uber-responsible. Beneath it all, they feel fear, guilt, and shame.
• The Problem Child (also known as the Scapegoat): This is the child who is blamed for most problems – sometimes accurately, but sometimes unjustly – in spite of often being one of the most emotionally stable ones in the family. Why? Because it’s easy to blame them. They usually run away or adapt an “I don’t care” attitude, thus allowing the rest of the family not to phase them. Unfortunately, sometimes the scapegoat, playing their role wonderfully, will make bad decisions just because they are expected to, so why not?! The Scapegoat often acts out in front of others. They will rebel, make noise, and divert attention from the real problem. Inside, they feel shame, guilt and empty.
• The Caretaker (the Enabler): Much like the Hero takes care of the family’s physical needs, this person takes inordinate responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family. They try to keep everyone happy. They make excuses for all behaviors and actions. To the enabler, they would rather die than allow anyone outside of the family see their problems. But inside, they feel inadequate, fearful and helpless. They are exhausted.
• The Lost Child (or the Quiet One): This inconspicuous one needs love and support but is usually ignored or hidden. The Lost Child is the silent, “out of the way” family member, and will never rock the boat because they don’t want the attention. They are quiet and reserved, careful to not make problems. The Lost Child gives up their own needs and makes efforts to avoid any conversation about family problems. Their underlying feelings are guilt, loneliness, neglect and anger.
• The Mascot (also called the Performer or Class Clown): This family member uses comedy to divert attention away from their increasingly dysfunctional family. They are a master jester. They often make inappropriate jokes about the family, but underneath they feel embarrassment, shame, and anger.
• The Mastermind (the Addict, sometimes is the baby): Intentionally, or unintentionally, this person capitalizes on the other family members’ faults in order to get whatever he or she wants. The world revolves around this person. They manage to be the center of attention – even if another family member is in crisis. They gain this ringmaster status by controlling the other members with rage and fear or helplessness and manipulation.
Charades are so over.
If you have followed my past blogs, you know you can’t change anyone else but yourself. Amazingly, when you start to break out of your “role” in the family, they usually start to follow along – mainly because you’ve thrown the whole system out of whack, so they don’t have a choice. If you’re the scapegoat and mascot, and start to shed those acting roles, the family then has no one else to play that part.
Unfortunately, deeply dysfunctional families may refuse to change their expectation that you maintain the role you play (“You WILL be the mascot, and you’ll like it!”). Take heart, it’s very possible to reclaim your identity and get your own life!
Imagine a life where the Scapegoat is caring, peaceful, easy going instead of rebellious and troublesome. The Hero can have and admit strengths and flaws, dreams, fears and emotions. The Lost Child could actually experience their life and feel it. The Caretaker take care of themselves for once. See, when you stand up for the real you – you gain respect. Respect from yourself for yourself. When you accept who you truly are and realize you’re ok, you can then accept that you’re worthy of love and respect and able to fully experience your life. Pretty cool, huh?
How? First, be real with yourself and admit you’re playing a role. Playing roles, and the power that comes with being able to control that part of your life can be intoxicating. That’s a hard habit to break. (Note: What’s the difference between playing the mascot and just being genuinely funny? It’s ALL in your motive! If you’re clowning around to distract from family tension, to get attention or to cover up your true feelings, then that is a ROLE and not your true self!).
Second, recognize and take responsibility for your own behavior!
For the Scapegoat, instead of pointing out the flaws of your family and friends or constantly rebelling against management – sit back and let it go. Work on your own flaws and decide to let everyone else worry about theirs. Ask yourself “Do I really need to be involved in this and why?”
For the Heroes in the crowd, stop refusing to help or do something themselves for fear it won’t be done “properly.” Realize you aren’t perfect and no one really wants you to be. Allow for imperfection. It’s human and freeing.
Psst…Lost Child, stop isolating and immersing yourself in your own private world. Get out of the house, socialize, enter into relationships and try not to put up a wall or “fade out” when the going gets tough. Take any given situation and constantly ask yourself how you FEEL and realize emotions don’t own you — they are just feelings.
Hey Momma Caretaker, try saying “No” to someone; you’ll see the world didn’t fall apart. Make a date with yourself – go read a book, take a walk, get a coffee, do your nails, go fishing or hiking… and when others want a piece of that time, say “No.” Then go read my blog about boundaries.
It’s going to be hard work and sometimes feel defeating, but you can take control of who you really are. By making some changes you’re finally going to show up for your own life.