Family roles in dysfunctional families (which is all of us are part of at one time or another) were introduced by Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse in her book, The Family Trap.
The following is an update on family roles from ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics). I call ACA Adult Children of Addicts because that covers most of us. Most of us have experienced some dysfunction in our family of origin.
The reprint begins with:
“Some of the personality types are:”
FAMILY HERO – An achiever, usually (but not always) the oldest child. Often a workaholic who can identify other’.4 needs and meet them, but is without an understanding of their own needs. This is often a child who uses their success to find a sense of belonging — the one who shows the family is “all right,” but who is unable to feel the benefit of his/her achievements. They feel like a fraud and are subject to depressions which they hide from those around them.
THE RESCUER – Similar to the Family Hero, -but without the visible success. The Rescuer finds those in needs, lets them move in or marries them or finds a job for them while supply other needs and is very understanding of the frequent betrayals. The rescuer has a deep seated self-hate that drives them to their role as a savior, because they know that anyone not already at the bottom of the barrel would have nothing to do with them. They tend to feel inadequate in their giving and unable to accept help for their own needs.
THE MASCOT – Often a younger child who uses humor or other distracting behavior, such as being exceptional clumsy or always in trouble, to take the focus of the family away from the problems of the family dysfunction. If the parent is violently drunk, the Mascot may take the abuse to “save” the rest of the family, or may be able to crack a joke at the necessary moment to take everyone’s mind off the pain of their reality.
THE ADJUSTER – The one who is never bothered by what is happening; there is no reason to be excited because everyone had to lie with family problems. The child never becomes too attached to goal or a desire because they have learned to change their direction at any moment. They float, knowing something is wrong but coping, often successfully, with one chaotic situation after another by surrendering their identity to the needs of the moment.
THE DOORMAT – The abused child who survives by lying down and letting others walk all over him/her, rather than risk an unpleasant or dangerous confrontation. This child is very understanding of the need someone else may have to injure him/her, but cannot identify his/her feelings about the abuse in the past or present.
THE ACTING OUT CHILD or THE REBEL – This child is in action at the slightest provocation, whether as an heroic action to prevent abuse to someone else (by distracting the abuser) or to protect himself/herself with wildness. This is the child who is most visible to the outside world and who may adopt alcoholism, drug addiction or other compulsive behavior early in defiance of the family system.
THE SCAPEGOAT or FAMILY JERK – This child takes the blame and shame for the actions of other family members by being the most visibly dysfunctional. This child serves the family by being sick or crazy to allow the other members of the family to ignore their own dysfunction. This is also the child who holds the family together — the family rallies to help the family jerk. He/She learns to remain dysfunctional to continue receiving the little attention available in a dysfunctional home by making the family “okay” by being the focus of all that is “not okay” which all members of the family vaguely sense.
THE BULLY – This child is usually the victim of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, who successfully makes the mental transition to stop being the victim by victimizing others. Often the Bully is genuinely remorseful for the pain and suffering caused to others, but will continue inflicting that abuse rather than face his/her own pain.
THE LOST CHILD – Often a younger (or the youngest) child, this personality type has learned to stay out of the way, not make his/her wants known and to expect nothing. They avoid feeling by denying that they have feelings. They adopt whatever behavior will allow them to stay invisible within the family, at work, at school or in a relationship. This is the child who can assume whatever personality those around him/her find least threatening.
THE LAST HOPE – Similar to the Lost Child, the Last Hope is the caretaker for the family when all other members have become unable to continue their roles. Often the Last Child is raised on comments like “You’ll never hurt me like so-and-so.” These children may work themselves to death trying to do “what’s right” for blood relations or adopted families, no matter what the expense to their own life.
Each of the personality types has special needs in Recovery, and each type can recover if they are willing to take the risk in believing they can change and heal.
Because the personalities of the family are mangled, the character traits of the children can be equally blurred. An Adult Child may have several of the above characteristics at one time, or may play a different role within the family at different times or depending on who they are responding to.
The Solution is to become your own loving parent.
As ACA becomes a safe place for you, you will find the freedom to express all the hurts and fears you have kept inside and to free yourself from the shame and blame that are carryovers from the past. You will become an adult who is imprisoned no longer by childhood reactions. You will recovery the child within you, learning to accept and love yourself.
The healing begins when we risk moving out of isolation. Feelings and buried memories will return. By gradually releasing the burden of unexpressed grief, we slowly move out of the past. We learn to reparent ourselves with gentleness, humor, love and respect.
This process allows us to see our biological parents as the instruments of our existence. Our actual parent is a Higher Power whom some of us choose to call God. Although we had alcoholic parents, our Higher (don’t know where the rest of this is—will research at later date.)
As some of you know, ACA used to be ACOA. When I found ACOA years ago, I truly felt home in a way I never had felt home in AA. I was drinking a six-pack of beer on Fri and Sat night when I quit drinking. I was fortunate enough to see my father’s progression and to know that that would happen to me, too.
I finally see myself in the Rescuer. I have a hard time asking for anything. I know now that I am in my addiction when I just want to keep giving and giving and hiding from my own needs.