The “roles” we become accustomed to playing in the family tend to be repeated throughout or lives—impacting our adult relationships—including spouses, colleagues, bosses, friends, roommates, etc. Which of the following roles have you played in your family?
- The Hero (or Golden Child) is the family’s “solid” center—appearing to be high functioning and well-balanced, perpetuating the façade that all is well. As an adult, the Hero might enter relationships with partners who are emotionally unavailable—or they might experience difficulty with intimacy.
- The Scapegoat—often blamed for issues for which they aren’t at fault—might feel rejected or “unlove-able.” This person might also be a “troublemaker,” seeking out negative attention because positive attention is scarce. As an adult, the Scapegoat can have trouble connecting with others.
- The Lost Child aims to be invisible, fading into the background as a means of avoiding engagement in family dysfunction. As an adult, the Lost Child might have trouble with friendships and romantic partnerships because of difficulty with social skills and low self-esteem.
- The Identified Patient—who might struggle with addiction and/or mental health issues—becomes accustomed to being the “family’s focus.” The Identified Patient (while actually expressing the family system’s unresolved issues) might frequently be expected to fix what the family deems his or her “own” issues.
- The Mascot is the “class clown” of the family, so to speak, using humor and playfulness to diffuse volatile situations and distract from ongoing family issues. As an adult, the Mascot might engage in dysfunctional relationships where there is ample opportunity to diffuse conflict.
- The Caretaker (or Martyr) “picks up the pieces” when things seem to be falling apart. This person might feel responsible for maintaining a sense of balance, but the Caretaker is actually preventing the family from experiencing healthy growth. As an adult, the Caretaker might “take on” the issues of others around them and can be unconsciously drawn to people with mental illness, addiction or chronic pain issues.
Now that you have a better understanding of which of these roles apply to you, let’s talk about how to free yourself of the rigid rules that define the part you play in your family. If your family interactions are limited (weekend visits, holidays, etc.), the following tips can be useful:
- Define—and start living by your values: These are your current values, which might not be the same values with which you were raised.
- Create and enforce boundaries: Once you are clear about your values, you’ll have a better idea of what boundaries are important to set in your life.
- Preemptively problem solve: Consider the possible obstacles you might face when enforcing new boundaries. Develop some solutions prior to encountering these obstacles. If you know, for example, that your mother typically doesn’t “stay in her own lane,” have a plan for how you will address this when you see her at your next family gathering.
- Enlist support: Talk with a trusted friend prior to a family visit. And, after the visit, debrief with a trusted friend.
Though these tips are useful for brief encounters, if you currently live with members of your family of origin, a more in-depth strategy will likely be required in order to redefine and enact a new, healthier role.