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.

Keep reading

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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The 6 Paradoxical Human Needs

Anthony Robbins suggests there are 6 human core needs. He divides these needs into personality needs and spiritual needs. Within the personality ones, he identifies the needs for certainty and uncertainty, the need for significance, and the need for love and connection. As for spiritual needs, Anthony talks about the need for growth and the need for grounding. Although it’s not an extensive categorization of human needs, this framework makes sense to me and it is a simple way to start to get to know ourselves a little bit more.

How can a person need certainty and uncertainty at the same time? It’s part of our dual nature and the reason why we say these needs are “paradoxical”.

The peculiarity of these pairs of needs is that they contradict each other on a surface level. How can a person need certainty and uncertainty at the same time? It’s part of our dual nature and the reason why we say these needs are “paradoxical”. I believe the more we accept our own duality, the more we can accept ourselves, especially when we feel restless and confronted with the polarity of our needs. Let’s have a closer look at them.

The Need for Certainty and The Need for Uncertainty

We like to have some control over our life and work. Imagine how stressed you would feel if I told you that tomorrow morning you need to pack all your office stuff and leave. Or imagine you return home just to find a notice saying your building is about to be demolished in one week. How much would your life suddenly change thanks to this unpredicted news? We do like to have some predictability. We need some of it to remain sane. However, we also like to be surprised from time to time. We like to feel the mystery of the unknown and have some unexpected (good) news knocking on our door.

The Need for Individuality and The Need for Connection

We want to feel and be seen as unique, special, or even one of a kind. We want to be acknowledged for our personal talents and our own character. We want our individual experiences to be validated. However, we also want to connect with others and be part of a group. We want to have a sense of belongingness and be part of the whole.

The Need for Growth and the Need for Grounding

We have a natural tendency to want to develop ourselves. Our human curiosity is present in us from a very early age. Just think about all those babies who look at the world for the first time. Their eyes screen reality with intense curiosity and admiration. As we grow up, such curiosity takes different shapes and forms, but it remains within us, making us expand in different areas of life. But while we may have the need to grow, expand and learn new things, we also have the need to ground ourselves, to have a reference and core sense of who we are. We like to have some inner experience which we can call “home” and come back to it whenever we need to.

Concluding Thoughts

All human beings have needs. Some needs seem to be universal, and there are needs that even seem to be conflicting with each other. Tony Robbins believes the 6 human needs above are the main human behavior drivers. It’s a simple approach to human needs yet it can be useful to help us think about what motivates us and what might be missing in our life.

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.

Keep reading

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