Codependent Families & Family Roles: What’s Yours?

Codependent families are dysfunctional families, and there is no way I can sugarcoat this. Believe me, I tried to in the past because no one really enjoys waking up one day and realizing that their most secret suspicion – something is not right about their family – is a reality. Please know that there are no perfect families, as there are no perfect individuals, but there are definitely families that are less psychologically healthy than others, and that can cause a great deal of trauma and negative consequences for a person’s development and growth.

My family has codependency issues and this is a problem that goes from at least three generations back. And just because you can identify this problem in your own family it doesn’t mean you haven’t been affected or even display codependent tendencies on a regular basis. Once you’re born into it, it takes continued effort to heal unhealthy behavioral and relational patterns. It takes inner work and maturity to learn and accept that such tendencies have shaped who you are and how you see the world. Let’s dive deeper into the concept of codependency first though.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, codependency is a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition. This pathological condition can go from addiction (e.g. drugs) to personality disorders (e.g. borderline personality disorder) and personality traits (e.g. authoritarianism). When codependency is part of a family’s psychology, there are power struggles between its members and a good amount of control and manipulation.

In codependent families, it’s not unusual to find that each member assumes a certain role within the family dynamic. The role can change from time to time, depending on the family’s dynamic as a whole. Sometimes one family member may have more than one role. According to Wegscheider-Cruse, there are 5 different roles: the enabler, the hero, the lost child, the scapegoat, and the mascot. Although unhealthy, these roles have a survival value and they allow family members to experience less pain and stress on a daily basis. Within my family, for instance, I have played different roles to reduce the cognitive dissonance that results from living and growing up within a codependent family.

Unless some sort of therapy is initiated, people have usually no idea they are living and breathing from such roles. They may experience and sense that there is something wrong with the family dynamic, but might not be able to point out exactly what. People may even prefer to live in the delusion that everything is alright just to keep the status quo and what’s familiar. The cost of keeping these roles active is, nonetheless, very high since they are psychologically unhealthy and, if not healed, can be passed to the following generation.

The Enabler

The Enabler is usually the member who is emotionally closer to the person who struggles with addiction or personality imbalances. There is a clear relationship of dependence between the enabler and that person. As situations become more chaotic and less controllable over time, the enabler tends to compensate the addict/unhealthy person by trying to control and manipulate reality, because the enabler feels extremely responsible for the family and therefore must keep it together at all costs. Enablers are usually the members of a family who extend themselves beyond measure to fulfill different chores, responsibilities, and both the physical and emotional needs of the whole family. People who play this role are very keen on hiding their fear, hurt, anger, guilt, and pain by displaying self-blame, manipulation, and self-pity.

The Hero

The Hero is usually the oldest child and the person who knows more about what is going on with the family. They know the family has issues and therefore they try to improve or make things better by becoming super achievers, providers, or surrogate spouses (when children are used to fulfilling a parent’s emotional needs). The Hero tends to look older than he/she is because they learned they had to act responsibly from a very young age in order to survive. Heroes are often keen on hiding their loneliness, hurt, confusion, unworthiness, and anger by making their best to be special, competent, and confident. They often develop an independent second life away from the family.

The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat is usually identified in the family as the problem child since they are keen on finding themselves in trouble both at home and in school. This is the family member in which the other family members place their anger and frustration. By focusing its attention on the problematic child, the family keeps the illusion that everything else is alright and healthy. Their role is to create a distraction from the root problem. Unlike the Hero, the Scapegoat seeks validation not within the family but in his peer group. Scapegoats are very keen on hiding their pain and rejection feelings by withdrawing from the family, engaging in risky behaviors, acting out, and displaying aggressive behaviors.

The Lost Child

The Lost Child tends to manifest withdrawing behaviors but instead of withdrawing to a peer group, they withdraw into themselves. They may protect themselves by retreating to their fantasy world. They often don’t act out, like the Scapegoat does, and they don’t seek achievements as the Hero. As such, they may go invisible and don’t get much attention from the family. The Lost Child’s role is to provide relief to the family by not giving others the chance to worry about them. Lost Children are very keen on hiding their loneliness, pain, and sense of inadequacy by being quiet, distant, and super independent.

The Mascot

The Mascot is usually charming and pleasant. They often make others laugh and their role is to provide light entertainment. The Mascot is often the family member who knows the least about the family’s root problem and they are rarely taken seriously. Underneath their distraction attempts lies a great amount of fragility. Mascots are keen on hiding their fear, insecurity, and loneliness by being hyperactive, cute, and doing funny things to grab people’s attention.

What now?

If some of these roles rang a bell, the first thing I recommend you to do is to discuss this with a close friend or book a session with a professional who can help you process this information. I know it’s a very sensitive and sometimes overwhelming topic. I have personally dealt with generational codependency and I know what it’s like. Healing can bring hurt in the first stages but it’s the only way to gain psychological freedom and break the cycle. If you would like to book a session with me, you can do it here.

Is Happiness a Realistic Goal?

realistic goal and a desirable one. It is rather impossible to be happy all the time, of course, and it is rather difficult to be in a pure state of bliss on a regular basis. However, we can aim to develop skills and strategies that enhance our level of consciousness.

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The 4 Jewels of Well-being

According to neuroscientist Richard Davidson, well-being is a skill, and it can be developed with practice. It’s like learning to walk or playing the piano. The more you practice it, the more you strengthen the neuronal circuits associated with well-being, and the better you get at it. These neuronal circuits are plastic and thus can be expanded and trained. They are awareness, connection, insight, and purpose.

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Relationships As A Spiritual Practise

According to Terry Real, relationships can and should be treated as a spiritual practice. Terry believes there is a natural harmony, disharmony, and repair cycle within relationships. Conflicts can be an adaptive step towards greater relational maturity. Yet, contemporary culture does not prepare us for long-lasting relationships based on truth and love. We keep operating based on reproduction and power rather than empathic skills. These skills include active listening, compassion, and awareness. Altogether, these allow us to understand which part of us – the adult or the child – is interacting with reality, at any given moment.

Continue reading “Relationships As A Spiritual Practise”

What is Your Love Language? Make Your Relationships Easier

Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving.

Gary Chapman

The 5 Love Languages was written by Dr Gary Chapman. It is a book that had been on my reading list for years. Recently, I decided to plunge in and I also took the love language test.

Understanding the way I love and perceive to be loved was life-changing. Since finding out what my main love languages are, my past experiences started to make more sense to me.

Learning about love languages has also allowed me to rethink relationships. I learned each one of us has a primary love language, which may be different from our partners, family members, or friends.

Many issues can arise when love languages are not understood or cared for. Such differences can impact the quality of our relationships and the way we feel and give love.

The 5 Love Languages

Click here to find out what your primary language is

In total, there are 5 love languages. We are usually more fluent in one or two of them. For instance, my primary and secondary love languages are physical touch and quality time. You can find yours here.

People may say I’m a good writer, a good listener, a good this or that. However, none of these has a massive impact on what Dr Gary calls the “love tank”. They are not representative of my primary language.  

Here is what usually happens to me. An I love you not backed up by concrete actions or focused attention doesn’t make much sense to me. It may work for a little while, but it doesn’t usually fulfil my need for love.

We understand and feel loved more easily when it is expressed in our love language. That’s why loving someone and making that person feel loved are two different things.

Do you want to learn even more?
Get the book here:

Before getting familiar with Dr Chapman’s work, I had no idea that I had a particular way of feeling and experiencing love. As a result, I used to rationalize my unmet needs a lot.

My partners did not appreciate the importance of quality of time as much as I do. They had different love languages. As a result, I simply assumed I was hard to love. I thought I was demanding and too complex.

I just have a particular way of feeling and expressing love, which I was not aware of. On top of this, I also understood not everyone around me shares that same perception and feeling.

For me, love is about sharing time with another in a significant and thoughtful way. It requires intention and positive regard. It asks for undivided attention and sensitivity toward one’s likes and dislikes.

Love Language

Something in our nature cries out to be loved by another. Isolation is devastating to the human psyche. That is why solitary confinement is considered the cruellest of punishments.

— Gary Chapman

Being involved in something physical during that time is equally important to me. I will give you a specific example. I crave adventure and newness, so going for a walk in the wild or having a good laugh fills up my heart.

I’m sure there are more ecstatic things for other people. Otherwise, the other love languages wouldn’t exist. Maybe love would be easier, but the truth is that each one of us gives and receives love differently.

According to Dr Chapman, to make sure love lasts we must find ways to understand, respect, and honour our partner’s love language. We must commit to knowing one another.

To give you a head start, here is the worst and the best you can do to show love to your partner based on their primary love language:

Love LanguageThe Worst You Can DoThe Best You Can Do
Quality Time
“Being there” is paramount, quality conversations, quality activities
– Not actively listening
– Engage in distractions
– Postpone dates
– Make eye contact
– Put the technology aside
– Share an Experience/Activity
Physical Touch
Physical touch and accessibility bring safety, security, and reassurance
– Neglect
– Abuse of any kind
– Cuddles & Kisses
– Play with their hair
– Be nearby
Acts of Service
Actions speak more than words
– Being lazy
– Break commitments
– Giving them more work
– Help them proactively
– Do things for them
– Fix things around the house
Words of Affirmation
Words speak more than actions
– Criticism
– Insults
– Say “I love you”
– Send loving text messages
– Make compliments
Receiving Gifts
The perfect gift or gesture means being seen and remembered
– Miss birthdays or important celebrations
– Thoughtless gifts
– Give them a “Recuerdo” from a special occasion
– Bring them their favourite treat
– Offer them a trip
Summary of the 5 Love Languages, Do’s, and Don’ts

Concluding Thoughts

Giving and receiving love should be relatively easy, right?

We know that reality is more complex than that though. People perceive and feel love differently. Gary Chapman’s work teaches us that.

Whether you are in a romantic relationship or not, you can benefit from identifying your primary love language. You will know more about yourself and potentially improve the way you give and receive love.

Watch this and other educational videos here.

If you wish to take a step further and learn more about love languages, I strongly recommend The 5 Love Languages book by Gary Chapman.

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