Sick Family Roles
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The roles were first recognized in families of alcoholics. They have since been identified in just about every other dysfunctional family dynamic as well. PTSD and BPD are common in such families. It is a corporate re-enactment of the inner struggles of someone dealing with traumas. And because codependents unconsciously change and shift roles, they emerge in adult relationships also. Roles that functioned satisfactorily as coping mechanisms in the original family simply do not work in adulthood, when all the interpersonal relationships change. If they aren't altered, they destroy happiness and peace with God.

The hero is the fixer-upper, the glue man. The hero keeps the dysfunctional family functioning and takes up the slack where the parents don't have it together. The hero may get the laundry done, fix meals, mind the smaller kids, perhaps even nurture a disabled or dysfunctional parent (as when the hero child tends to the needs of an alcoholic mother or father). The hero may or may not receive praise and support within the family -- but from the outside, the hero is acknowledged as the trustworthy, conscientious, mature, capable kid.

The scapegoat is the black sheep. Regardless what sweet words of denial the scapegoat hears from his parent's lips, he knows down inside that this household just isn't cutting it. He probably cannot articulate his loss, but his love tank is staying on empty. He can't live up to how the Hero does it. Obviously someone is to blame, and children, you will recall, are quick to assign any anomaly in the universe to their own fault. The scapegoat deserves to be punished for this mess. Besides, when he takes the blame he also gets attention. Ask any celebrity; bad press is better than no press at all.

The mascot is the black sheep with a white reputation, the family clown. He earns his attention by grabbing it. Problems? Dissolve them with a laugh. Pain? Joke it away. Distract, bring a smile, present a happy face. The mascot is out to make you -- and himself -- forget for a few moments that life hurts dreadfully. Frequently the grinning little guy who makes the tension bearable with his zany humor is sadder inside than any other family member.

The lost child makes the perfect hero in a classic western or romance novel, the loner who keeps his own counsel. While the hero is excelling and the mascot is goofing around, and the scapegoat is getting into scrapes, the lost child simply isn't noticed. Not there. Overlooked. The lost child might be alone in her room or playing out in the garage. She doesn't say much, doesn't stick out in the bunch, probably enjoys escapist reading. The lost child is nice. Constantly, unbearably, doggedly nice.

If it weren't for the enablers, a family's dysfunction could not long exist. The tragedy is that the enablers can't grasp that fact. Every member in a dysfunctional family plays the enabler role to some extent. This role was first identified in families where a "normal" spouse was married to an alcoholic. Let's say for convenience only that Dad is the alcoholic and Mom is not. She's keeping the family together -- heroic, martyr Mom. She keeps his drinking a secret and enlists the children's cooperation in deceiving the world. Thus he need not face public approbation for his behavior. She lies to the boss for him when he calls in sick. She bails him out of scrapes and sometimes out of jail itself. She cleans up the messes, both physical and situational, that he's constantly making.

The children, regardless of the other family roles they assume, become enablers also. Assuming in their innocence that everything happening in the family is somehow linked to their behavior, they accept just as much guilt and responsibility as Mom. They learn to keep their mouths shut. They play intensely the roles described above. That is all enabling. By adjusting everything to the alcoholic, they all make it easier for him to be one. The kids have no choice. This family is all they have.

Even a very small child can adopt the placater role. The placater is going to make it all better somehow. He might distract and heal by being the clown. He is often the hero. The placater knows what words to say to reassure siblings, soothe Mom, get around Dad. A born negotiator, the placater recognizes in advance the waves that might rock the family boat and tries to still them and may even use an occasional white lie to keep the family friction to a minimum.

The martyr will pay any personal price to alleviate the family situation. The martyr sacrifices time, energy, and happiness to keep the family together, to try to get the dependent to quit drinking or shooting up. She will stick it out for a hundred years and go to any extent to make things work out right. By "right" the martyr means "the way the martyr wants them to." She will burn out or go nuts or both. The only thing the martyr will not be able to do is make a difference in the dependent's habits.

The rescuer is going to salvage the situation, whatever it is. The rescuer will get a second job to pay the bills. He will bail out the dependent, hire the attorney, pay the estranged teen-aged child's rent, do the jobs that would otherwise go undone.

Persecutor says, "It's all your fault!" The persecutor lays blame liberally everywhere but on the self. He tells all the family members exactly what they are doing wrong and why they have not achieved perfection. The persecutor is not a pleasant person to be in the same county with.

Oh, poor victim -- she didn't ask for any of this. The victim could be happy if only all this weren't happening. She is the soul most to be pitied, because she is so very nice down inside that none of this is deserved. This role is not to be confused with actual victimization. True victims usually do not perceive themselves as victims in this intensely self-pitying sense.

from Love is a Choice by Dr.'s Hemfelt, Minirth, and Meier

But this is not the end of the story!  you can be free from acting out these unconscious roles.  Not by your own strength, but by the Word of God -- Jesus Christ of Nazareth speaking truth and love to the lies we learned in childhood that bind us.  He can set us free to enjoy the fruit of the Holy Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.  See this page for how this works.  See this page for assistance in doing this.  If you are a parent, you can use the power of family blessing to reverse this curse. A new page has been written to deal with the traumas that have been driven down into our heart - Trauma Aid.

last edited: April 19, 2017