Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Roles Played Within the Dysfunctional Family

People who grew up with a parent who had a substance abuse problem often wonder how their brothers and sisters turned out to be so different. After all, everyone grew up in the same household, so why aren’t all the siblings alike? In all families, substance abusing or not, brothers and sisters need to claim their own unique identities. We need to find ways that we are not like others in the family, and this helps us to form our own identities and sense of self.  In the alcoholic or drug-abusing family each sibling finds his or her own unique way of coping with the conflicts. Claudia Black, an expert on adult children of alcoholics, and others have identified different roles that can emerge among siblings, each of whom tries to make sense of the chaos.

The Hero
These children try to make sure that the family appears normal to the rest of the world. They develop a strong sense of responsibility and project an image of competence and achievement. This is often the first-born child, but not always. They learn as children that someone has to be responsible for the family, and if the parents are inducing chaos, it is up to the “hero” to provide stability. These people often grow up to be academically or professionally successful, although they often deny their own feelings and may feel like impostors.

The Adjuster
In order to cope with the conflicts within the family, these people adjust – but often in inappropriate ways. They often become invisible and avoid taking a stand or rocking the boat. They learn never to plan or to expect anything, and they deal with conflict by avoiding it. In adulthood “adjusters” may feel that their lives are out of control and that they are drifting meaninglessly.

The Placater
These siblings are the ones who learn early to smooth over potentially upsetting situations in the family. They develop a good ability to read the feelings of others, but at the expense of their own feelings. They tend to go into care-taking professions later in life, even though this may reinforce their tendency to ignore their own feelings.

The Scapegoat
These are the children who become known as the family problem. They have a tendency to get into trouble, including alcohol and drug abuse, as a way of expressing their anger at the family. They serve as the “pressure valve” in the family: when tension builds, they misbehave as a way of relieving pressure while allowing the family to avoid dealing with the parent’s drinking problem. When they grow up, they tend to be unaware of feelings other than anger.

Did you or someone you love grow up dealing with the substance abuse problem of a parent or family member?  

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