Today I would like to talk about different toxic family roles that affect dysfunctional families with one or more narcissistic parent.
You might have heard about the phrases scapegoat, black sheep of the family, caretaker et cetera et cetera. These are all roles that are given to each child of narcissistic parent(s) and are fixed to the extent you may believe this is your role in life. But what do these toxic family roles mean and how did it happen?
Stay tuned to the end of this article with your Journal and a pen handy to help you work through some of the information you will hear today.
The Benefits of Roles in a Family
Throughout all sections of society, there are systems processes, and ways of working together. The country you are living in is one large system and process and you will also find them in different organisations and companies as well as each and every family.
Like different countries, companies, and organisations, families need the following in order to function well. They need clarity of who is in charge and the person in charge needs to know what they are doing. The people in the organisation need to feel they belong and that they are part of something higher than themselves. They also need to feel secure and safe as this builds confidence in who they are as an individual.
In other words, being part of a healthy family builds confidence in yourself and others. It acts as a mirror for who you are and how you fit in your family. Thus, helping you to fit into the world.
For the family and any other system and organisation, we all need our roles for the whole system to work well. We all need to play our part to contribute to the well-being of the family.
You may feel that your family is so fragmented there is no way we are working together in any form of way at all. Even if you are not working together as a family, it still affects you, even if it does affect you in a negative way.
The Different Toxic Family Roles
According to John Bradshaw’s book The Family, you have the role of the scapegoat otherwise known as the black sheep of the family. other roles are the caretaker, hero or the golden child, the lost child, and the mascot.
The Scapegoat will often act out or verbalise the problems in the family which everyone is trying to deny. The Scapegoat’s problems are also a great distraction away from the main issues at hand. They could be seen as the “sick” child or the “angry” child always causing trouble and are often picked on by their Narcissistic parents as never getting anything right.
The caretaker can be seen as the surrogate parent if one or both of the parents is impaired in some way. Who they are is based on what they provide for others. They often enable, unwittingly, their parents’ behaviours so their parents never experience the negative consequences of their actions.
The Hero’s job is to make the family look as normal as possible based on how they appear to the outside world. They can become over-responsible and are often perfectionists. The parents rely on this child to prove they are good parents and good people.
The Lost Child known as the dreamer or the quiet one tries to escape the family problems. They are similar to the hero as they never cause any problems.
The Mascot known as the cute or the funny one tries to defuse tension, anger, conflict etc in the family. They entertain the family by being funny and trying to make everyone feel better. They try so hard to be the nice one by trying to “save” people.
The difference between Healthy Family Roles and Toxic Family Roles
We all have different roles in our individual families whether or not your family is toxic or healthy. The difference between a toxic and a healthy family is that those roles are rigid in a toxic family. In other words, once you’ve got that role you are stuck with it until you decide through your healing journey to move away from it.
There is nothing wrong with any of those roles within the family from time to time. In a healthy family, these roles change according to different circumstances. If someone needs to play caretaker for a short while, they understand and know that this position is temporary, and it doesn’t define who they are.
They don’t get their self-esteem just from being the caretaker in other words.
However, in a toxic family, as children, you may think that how your family works are normal and the role you play may even give us some self-esteem. But if we are stuck in those individual roles and continue with them as we get older, it may start to affect your life in many ways I will explain more about how it can affect you, later on in this podcast
The different Toxic Family Roles using Real Life Examples
I will explain these different roles in the form of a story by looking at a typical family in suburban Britain.
You have mum and dad Tony and Marie who have five children. Tony works full time often long hours as a carpet fitter while his wife Marie is a stay-at-home mom. Their children are aged between 18 and nine years old and are all in full-time education.
While these children are at school during the day, mom often gets through two bottles of wine. she’s a functioning alcoholic not many people know the full extent of her drinking. The children were taught not to say anything to anyone else.
Of the five children we have John, the Hero who is the eldest and at college is doing five A Levels. He is the hero as he consistently gets amazing grades and is so ambitious. He would often do homework till midnight and miss socialising with his friends. He plans to be a Doctor and has been accepted at a good university.
Beverley is 16 and is doing her GCSEs. She tries hard but never quite matches up to John. She struggles with her school work as her parents expect John to do well and have ‘put’ everything into him.
Bev is the Caretaker but she is the one who they don’t have high hopes for is so domesticated and so good around the house. Her younger siblings aged 8-year-old twins and 10 adore her. They are in many ways closer to her than their mum.
They will go to her when they want something to eat. When they need help with their homework or they just need a cuddle.
Bev also finds that mom has drunk more than she should when she comes home from school. She is the one to clear up after her mum and get dinner ready. The house is immaculate by the time dad gets home.
Jackie is the Lost Child. She is a 10-year-old, but no one notices her really. She is quiet and is usually in her room reading or coloring in. She keeps herself to herself most of the time. She loves Enid Blyton and constantly imagines herself in the Magic Faraway Tree having adventures. She often gets told of at school for daydreaming and has very few friends.
The eight-year-old twins Robert and Jack. Robert is Scapegoated as he tends to get in trouble at school and is a bit of a rebel. His parents think he has ADHD due to his erratic behaviour. The only time mum sobers up is when she tries to speak to the school and her doctor about getting him help for his behaviour.
Robert is often compared to his older brother John and told that he needs to behave like him.
Jack is like a miniature Robin Williams. He is soooo funny. He just those the daftest things to make everyone laugh. Even when things are difficult, it seems that he is so quick to try, even at eight-year-old to change the mood around to make his family happy. To try and put a smile on their face.
Exceptions to the Rule
None of these roles are black and white as number one, you can play more than one role for individuals in your family. For example, your mum may see you as the scapegoat, but your dad sees you as the Hero. Or your siblings see you as the hero because they felt you were the favorite but you feel invisible as the Lost Child.
Number two is that you some roles slightly cross over in that the Caretaker can often feel like the lost child. They might only feel visible as an individual when they are doing things for others.
The third point is that these roles vary depending on the composition of your family. If you have more or a lot less children. Even if you have one child, this will vary as well.
How Toxic Family Roles can affect you
How could all this affect your life? We would look at that in relation to John, Beverely, Jackie, Robert and Jack
With John, who is the Hero. He never feels good enough. He is a hardened perfectionist that is constantly striving to do better. As an adult, he continues to work extremely long hours and is almost burnt out. He is brilliant at his job but as a human being, he sometimes makes mistakes. He finds those mistakes unforgivable.
Beverley is what we call a People Pleaser. Everything she does is about what others need for her to do and she rarely takes time out for herself. She still enables her parent’s behavour in an attempt to keep everyone happy and is in complete denial about the real issues at hand. She didn’t do that well at school and continues to look after her parents and her siblings.
Some caretakers become codependent as well. Read more about it here.
Jackie is a loner. She struggles with relationships and friendships. She still feels invisible but now this invisibility, she feels keeps her safe.
Robert, the Scapegoat unfortunately continues to struggle. He has issues with alcohol and drugs living on the streets sometimes. His parents wonder why things are so bad with him while they have done so well with the others.
Jack seems to be drawn to relationships where it is dysfunctional and he is the fixer. He continues his role of diffusing conflict and tries so hard to make everyone happy and be the funny guy. He is exhausted buy it and has bouts of depression and anxiety.
What to do next
Judging by what I’ve said in this article, write in your journal which role do you think you were assigned as a child.
Was it the Scapegoat, caretaker, hero, Lost Child, or Mascot?
Also, explore in your journal how you think it affected your life.
Also, if you found that you were struggling with some of the information you hear, try and write down the areas you are struggling with and why you think you found it difficult.
Subscribe to this channel to learn how you could move past these roles you can get support to do this through good therapy or through a healing process of learning more about yourself and learning how to take care of yourself.
Again, feel free to share this with someone that would benefit from reading this.
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