Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a family therapist and former founding chairperson of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, discovered that children who come from dysfunctional families learn to take on certain roles in order to cope with toxic behaviors in their household. The roles she mentions isn’t a way to place labels on people. Instead, she came up with them to illustrate how alcoholism affects their childhood and what traits and habits they carry into their adulthood. Children who come from a background of alcohol or drug abuse often experience a turbulent and unpredictable upbringing that can make them feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it. As a result, they learn to cope with their family’s toxic behaviors by playing certain roles to alleviate the sadness, humiliation, or anger they may feel.
Family dynamics that include other compulsive behavior, such as gambling or overeating, overly strict and religious attitudes, narcissism, and physical, emotional, or sexual abuse may also affect children to take on the same roles. People are layered and complicated and you may find that you have played more than just one role if you come from a chaotic upbringing. Psych2Go shares with you the 5 types of children from toxic families:
1. The “Hero” or “Responsible Child”
The hero or responsible child is often wise and mature beyond their years. They are self-sufficient, perfectionistic, and over-achievers. Typically ambitious and constantly striving to be better and successful, they often seem composed and look like they have it all together. In reality, though, they suffer silently and carry the burden of sadness from their parent’s toxic behavior.
They are afraid of becoming like their parent, so they learn to be the exact opposite. If the hero has a narcissistic parent, they are often that parent’s favorite child. The narcissistic parent often inflicts abuse onto them, whether it’s physical or emotional. As a result, the hero relies on performing well in order to feel and receive love.
2. The “Scapegoat” or “Trouble Maker”
The scapegoat or trouble maker is often angry and defensive. They tell the truth by acting out the family’s problems that are usually denied at home. The scapegoat is often the child that toxic parents are the most ashamed of. They come off as rebellious, distrustful, and cynical, but beneath their hard exterior, they are the most emotionally sensitive. The scapegoat has been hurt and damaged by their abusive parent and can be self-destructive.
They often get in trouble in school because that’s how they learn to get the most attention and are typically leaders within their social groups. But because they have many walls built around them due to fear, the relationships they have with others can often be superficial or shallow. Scapegoat children vary from one another, but typically, they are either the loud, rebellious type or the one easily picked on.
3. The “Lost Child” or “Dreamer”
The lost child or dreamer is a role I strongly identify with. They are often invisible in their family and try to cope with their family’s struggles by disappearing and focus their attention on reading books, daydreaming, or watching movies. They rarely get in trouble and because everyone sees them as a good kid, it’s often assumed that they also have a good, healthy life at home. The lost child is typically very shy and enjoys having a lot of space and solitude. Others may even view them as loners. Because they withdraw themselves from others, they struggle with developing important social skills and relationships with others, and often suffer from low self-esteem.
4. The “Mascot” or “Class Clown”
The mascot or class clown is another role I can strongly identify with. Typically known as “the cute one,” they are always ready to lighten the mood by cracking jokes or putting on an entertaining show for others. Often, the mascot feels powerless from the family’s dysfunctions and tries to cope by breaking the anger, tension, and conflict with fun and humor. Behind the mascot’s cheerful demeanor, they usually suffer from anxiety and depression.
Mascot children often struggle with low self-esteem issues and can exhibit workaholic tendencies to make up for their insecurities. They have a friendly disposition and enjoy being kind, giving, and reliable individuals. People often describe them as “overly nice.” Mascot children enjoy helping others with their problems because it’s a way to distract them from their own. They also find it painful to ask for help when they are suffering, so instead, they put on a brave smile for the world.
5. The “Enabler” or “Caretaker”
The enabler or caretaker is typically the addict’s spouse, but it can also be a child. The enabler often makes up excuses for the addict’s alcohol or drug problems and denies that they exist. They are the martyr and good at masking the family’s downfalls and dysfunctions, making sure that the public sees that they’re a happy, well-rounded family. They listen and console the addict and encourage other family members not to force negative consequences onto the addict for their problems. It’s painful for the caretaker to come to terms with what happens behind the scenes. As a result, they don’t know how to cope with addict’s problems, so they put on a convincing show for the world to see, hoping one day it’ll become a reality, and not just an act.
Do you identify with one or more of these 5 types? We understand that this is a difficult topic to discuss, but we’re here to listen without judgment and want to offer support. Please leave a comment down below.
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If you enjoyed this article, then you may also like 10 Ways to Deal with Toxic Parents or 8 Common Characteristics of a Dysfunctional Family from Psych2Go.
Burney, R. (1995). Roles in Dysfunctional Families. Joy2MeU. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
Dysfunctional Family Roles. (2014). Out of the Storm. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
Martin, S. (2017). How Addiction Impacts the Family: 6 Family Roles in a Dysfunctional or Alcoholic Family. Psych Central. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
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