The life roles we play – our many personas


By David Joel Miller.

How many role hats do you wear?

Role Hats

Role Hats.
Photo courtesy of Flickr (David Spender)

In each of our lives, we all come to play many roles. These need not be false or fake, they are all facets of who we. None of them defines us in our totality. We are each progressively children, lovers, parents and finally grandparents. We are employees, sometimes employers and eventually retirees. We may also need to enact the role of recovering person. Moving between roles can be full of challenges and danger.

There are also a host of dysfunctional roles we may get trapped into playing.

When we are children we play the role of child. Some families had a set of roles that everyone played. In family systems work, it has become common to talk about those varied roles you may have been asked to play and how they have affected the person you have become today.

Dysfunctional families keep these roles in the closet like a set of hats.

When someone leaves the family they may go to the closet get that hat out and pass it on to the next in line. Most families have a hero role. The child who does everything right and everyone gets compared to. One of the other people in the family may assume the Black Sheep role. Everything that goes wrong in the family is that person’s fault. But let the hero or the black sheep leave, by death or escape, and the family recruits a new person to play that role.

Were you the family hero?

Have you grown up believing that you had to be perfect to be any good? Do you need to rescue others to have a self-worth? You may have gotten locked into the hero role.

You may have been cast as the black sheep.

Were you told that everything wrong in the family was your fault, that you would never amount to anything? We you told you would end up an alcoholic just like your father? Just as we may try to live up to people’s expectations many of us have learned to live down. The result is that expected to fail we do just that.

It is hard to stop playing the child to your parents adult.

People also get locked into the child role. They find it difficult to disagree with their parents or make their own choices. Sometimes to escape the orbit of their parents these folks have to create some sort of explosion and force a rupture in the family so they can escape the child role.

Every new couple has to navigate this task. You leave a family so does your partner. Together you create a new family. The task becomes which families traditions do you follow or do you create your own traditions.

If your parents tried to protect you from life by keeping you a child and not allowing you to make your own choices you may find it extra difficult to assume the role of partner in this new family. You can be stuck in an old role that interferes with finding your new role.

Roles – recovery roles and role conflicts.

Many times roles come into conflict. Your children want or need you to do some things and you need to be somewhere else doing something else. Learning to juggle and balance all the roles you need to fill can take practice.

Recovering people also have to learn to include that role of recovering person in their repertoire. Do you do things to take care of yourself? Can you balance your need for self-care with your needs to care for others?

Some jobs include expectations that you will drink or do drugs like your coworkers. These roles conflict with the things you will need to stay in the role of a recovered person.

If you find yourself wearing many role hats, you may need to learn to make quick changes. You may also need to reexamine the roles you are playing and to discard some of those old role hats that no longer fit.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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