Addiction does not only affect the addict. It also affects the entire family. Substance abuse can cause tremendous disfunction within every member of the family unit. This disfunction can cause family members to take on certain roles within the household just to survive. Unconsciously or not, these roles are developed with the best intentions and the goal to help the addict. Family roles and addiction, however, often result in family members neglecting their own personal needs and, in many ways, enabling the addict’s use.Families that develop these roles often result in the members developing mental health issues, such as trauma, depression, and anxiety, along with developmental issues. This blog will discuss the 6 main family roles developed in households with addiction. Identifying which roles you have / or will assume is essential in unlearning these behaviors.
6 Family Roles in Homes with Addiction
It was the late, great Dr. John Bradshaw who popularized the different roles that a dysfunctional family can take. In his research he identified 3 unhealthy rules households with addiction follow that deeply impact everyone involved:
- Don’t feel
- Don’t trust
- Don’t talk
These rules are followed by members of the family unit in an attempt to minimize the pain and guilt associated with the addiction they are experiencing. These rules, however, force members of the family to adopt toxic and rigid roles within the family that can not only affect how they behave within the household but also outside in the world. Here are the 6 roles family members tend to take on within a home with addiction.
Usually the oldest child, the hero is most often the overachieving, perfectionist of the household. He or she tries to control what is happening at home and overcompensates in other aspects of their life to try to bring some normalcy to their life and their family. The hero often puts too much pressure on themselves and develops anxiety, stress, and depression as a result. Oftentimes, they will become addicts later in life after their role has been fulfilled within the family dynamics.
The enabler is also known as the caretaker or the codependent. Codependency can be understood as excessive reliance on another individual, typically on someone who requires support. The codependent’s goal is to protect the addict from experiencing the consequences of their use and to keep the family dynamics hidden and appearing functional. The enabler will cover up, lie, or make excuses for the addict. Moreover, the enabler neglects their own well-being and needs and instead focuses their attention and energy on the addict.
Oftentimes, the enabler is a parent or partner who may feel responsible for the addict. Over time, this individual will lose their sense of self and most likely develop mental health issues due to neglecting their own needs.
The mascot uses humor to relieve tension or to calm stressful situations. This role is usually taken on by a younger child or sibling. This individual’s job is to make others laugh and cover up the pain they themselves are feeling. The mascot uses humor whenever possible to avoid feelings and confrontation. The mascot finds their purpose in providing comedic relief and is desperate for approval. When this individual can no longer use humor to avoid uncomfortable or distressing situations, they find it hard to cope. The mascot often ends up self-medicating with alcohol/drugs and continues the cycle of addiction within the family.
The Scapegoat or Rebel
The scapegoat is typically the older or middle child who takes on the blame and resentment from the family. This individual offers the family someone else to direct their feelings at, sheltering the addict from the family’s anger and the consequences of their behavior within the home. The scapegoat tends to grow up and engage in risky behavior and act out. These members of the family ironically enough tend to be the most in tune with their feelings and it shows in their self-esteem. While the scapegoat rebels against the family, rebels also internalize their poor opinion of themselves and thus fails to acknowledge their talents. They will gladly boast that they are “screw-ups.” It can often take years for those in this role to see their way out.
The Lost Child
The lost child is just as the name states. They most often are the middle or youngest child. This individual gets lost in the chaos due to their shy and soft-spoken nature. They tend to feel invisible and neglected within the family. They tend to spend a large portion of their time alone. They see their role as just staying out of the way so as not to cause trouble. As a result, this individual often fails to have their emotional needs met and may have trouble with decision-making, developing meaningful relationships, and socializing.
The addict is the role in which the other roles revolve around. This individual is struggling with addiction and may lie, cheat, steal, or manipulate others in order to use. The addict may blame others for their addiction or even deny the existence of their addiction altogether. They may not even realize they are causing chaos in the house as they are so wrapped up in their addiction.
Although these roles may feel deeply ingrained in your family unit, they can be overcome. The first part is education. This includes identifying which role you have adopted and unlearning the behavior. This will allow you to live a much more fulfilling and free life. If your family is ready to break free from these roles, family therapy is a great way to heal together. If not, addressing your own unhealthy behaviors and tendencies can significantly improve your life and can help break the cycle of addiction within your family.
Breaking Free from Family Roles
If you’ve realized you’ve adopted an unhealthy role within your family, San Diego Sober Living can offer you a safe environment to first learn and then unlearn these behaviors. San Diego Sober Living is a sober living home for women located in San Diego, California. While living in San Diego Sober Living’s structured, safe environment, you can begin to reap the rewards sober life has to offer. Residents work hard daily to develop new skills, values, and coping mechanisms for approaching life in early recovery. Allow San Diego Sober Living to help you become your own person and break free from those imposed family roles. We can and help!