Within a healthy family unit, people can embrace certain roles while also having the freedom to step outside of them. For example, a parent might spend most of their time in a leadership role, yet they also have opportunities to relax, enjoy their own interests, and maintain their identity outside of parenthood.

Roles exist within dysfunctional families, too. Many people who fit into a specific role in a dysfunctional family become enmeshed within this identity—they may be trapped within this role and feel that they have no right to change or explore outside of this role.

Here are a few examples of roles that you might find within a dysfunctional family, and how people who fill these roles can step out of them.

The Hero

“The Hero” feels like they have to meet an impossible standard of perfection. They might be viewed as an overachiever, and they believe that they always have to be right. They can’t afford to make a mistake and risk disappointing their family. Although they often receive praise and positive attention, they also harbor a deep-seated fear of failure.

The hero might feel like they have no choice but to let their family control their choices. Otherwise, they might let down those who are depending on them. They might grow resentful towards their family because of this. To heal, the hero must learn to accept mistakes and get comfortable with saying “No.”

The Scapegoat

“The Scapegoat” often feels like the black sheep of the family. They might be singled out when things go wrong, and others blame them for family problems. Therefore, they internalize the belief that they simply can’t measure up. When family members target them, they might lash out angrily or act impulsively.

The black sheep may lack the motivation to change and grow because they have been taught that they are intrinsically “bad.” This makes them feel guilty, ashamed, and rejected.

They worry they are responsible for family crises. By developing a more balanced perspective of themselves and learning to take appropriate risks to achieve their goals, the scapegoat can let go of these negative perceptions.

The Lost Child

The family unit often ignores “The Lost Child”. They are treated as invisible, and they can be very quiet and reserved as a result. This treatment leaves them with low self-worth and a lack of personal identity.

The lost child often feels lonely and misunderstood, even when surrounded by people. Their family does not encourage them to cultivate their talents. In fact, they might come to believe that they don’t have any unique talents or strengths. They are not pushed to succeed.

In order to grow, the lost child must discover what they bring to the table and cultivate pride in their own valuable contributions. Over time, they can learn to express themselves with confidence.

The Clown or The Mascot

“The Clown,” or “The Mascot,” provides comic relief for their family. They feel like they have to lighten the mood and give others permission to avoid difficult conversations. The family rarely takes the clown seriously, which might bother them more than they admit.

They might silently carry the burden of depression, yet feel like they need to keep a smile on. To move forward, the clown must start accepting their own wide range of emotions and understand that they have more to offer than jokes. They must also start to assert themselves and cultivate leadership qualities.

Do you feel you’re enmeshed within your role in a dysfunctional family? Talking to a therapist can help you break free. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.

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