By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Were you the good kid or the bad kid?
It’s common in dysfunctional families for people to be assigned roles. It’s almost as if the family had a closet full of hats and when you were born you were given one of those hats. Just like every person may become depressed sometimes, every family will have a little bit of dysfunction. The more dysfunction the family, the more rigid the roles are likely to become.
Discussion of dysfunctional family roles is common, in substance use disorder treatment, but these roles may occur in any family with noticeable dysfunction. Various authors have used alternative names for these roles. In large families, additional roles may be created, and in small families, one person may have to play several roles.
Having these defined roles takes the attention off the family dysfunction. Do you recognize some or all of these roles from the family you grew up in? Which role did you play?
The black sheep – the bad child.
Dysfunctional families often select one person to be the scapegoat. That might be, the oldest child, the one whose conception forced the couple into a relationship. Other times it was a younger child who came along as the dysfunction became apparent. The black sheep could have been sickly, overactive, or had difficulty in school. Ever after this child is blamed for everything that goes wrong in the family.
Hero – the good child.
Were you the hero in your family? The one who was expected to get all A’s, be a star athlete, and still help around the house. The hero child may have worked a part-time job to help with the family expenses.
The clown – comic relief.
Some families had a resident comedian. The clown makes funny noises, tells jokes, and acts crazy, anything for a laugh. Some families combine the clown job with the black sheep role.
The lost child – missing in action.
The lost child never got noticed. They may have been a great student. Or the lost child may have spent their childhood anxious and depressed, hold up in their room. When the lost child turns eighteen, they may pack their bags and move to France. They will be gone for months before anyone notices they are missing.
Junior mom, or Junior dad, might be eight years old, and in the third grade, but they rushed home to change their baby brothers diaper and feed their younger siblings, because, by the time school let out mom would be too drunk or high to function.
The over functioning person – codependent or enabler.
Some families had one person, usually a parent, who tried to do everything. Mom may have worked, managed the finances, took care of the children, and still found time to provide care for dad, whose drinking prevented him from functioning at all.
The under-functioning person – alcoholic, addict, or the compulsive gambler.
At the heart of every dysfunctional family is the under-functioning person. That may have been the mother, the father, a grandparent or any other family member. These dysfunctional family roles, like hats, could have been handed out to any family member, regardless of their age.
How about you?
Did you play one of these roles? Did you come to believe the role was who you are? For some people, over time, they played several of these roles. You may have been the black sheep who later became the alcoholic. The hero may grow up to marry an addict, and they become the codependent. Dysfunction families have a way of repeating these roles, generation after generation.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
David Joel Miller MS is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC.) Mr. Miller provides supervision for beginning counselors and therapists and teaches at the local college in the Substance Abuse Counseling program.
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller
Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.
Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.