When we think of a DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY it's like a machine which is run by gears with weak or cracked cogs. As one cog breaks it puts more stress on the other cogs of that gear and then on other cogs of other gears. Eventually the whole machine shuts down. DYSFUNCTION means just that: unable to FUNCTION properly. Each individual in a family is like a gear and each perceived responsibility is like the cog. The main or original DYSFUNCTIONAL person may show their DYSFUNCTION in many ways: they may have difficulty coping, may yell, rage, isolate, verbally abuse, physically abuse, chemically abuse, gamble, cheat on their partner, threaten to leave, threaten suicide, give the silent treatment etc. This causes everyone to walk on eggshells and lots of CRAZY MAKING goes on.
The grown-ups or parent figures assume two roles: DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON and the other plays the ENABLER. You decide which applies to your situation. In some cases the mother may be the DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON and father the ENABLER and visa versa in other cases. Both roles play off each other. The DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON is trapped in self delusion. They actually believe that they are justified in what they do and how they act. They have very distorted thinking. They seem to find ways to strengthen their own credibility and weaken everyone else's in the family. Therefore, if anyone were to tell someone outside the family who the DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON really was, many people would not really believe them because of the way they present themselves to the public.
The ENABLER also has distorted thinking and believes that they are basically responsible for the other person's DYSFUNCTION. And they are therefore very fixated on the other person and often times appear to be uncaring or neglectful toward their children. But this person has only so much energy to go around and most of it goes toward the "squeakiest wheel," the DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON.
The children in the family may play more than one role at a time or only one. Each role gives the child their basic identity and shapes their script and future. The role also gives them their sense of worth and value. So they too get trapped in their roles and also develop distorted thought patterning. This is how the tapes, to be carried through life, about who we are and who we will become, begin to develop. Each role carries some aspect about the DYSFUNCTION of the whole family.
The child who provides the self worth for the whole family and keeps the secret the best of anyone is the HERO. As you can see the inner feelings of the HERO are related to their feelings of guilt and inadequacy which they cover up by overachieving and people pleasing. The stress and responsibility of their role is incredible. The task they have set up for themselves is way beyond them but they keep plugging away thinking that they will eventually be able to make everything in their family "all better". This child usually grows up to become an ENABLER and co-dependent. They slowly learn to put their needs last and their life on hold for others. It's possible that this child could be a HERO for one parent and a SCAPEGOAT for the other.
The SCAPEGOAT provides the focus for everyone. No one dares confront the DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON but needs to vent their frustration somewhere and it is on the SCAPEGOAT. The concept of a SCAPEGOAT originated around Biblical times when people of a village would get together and symbolically put their sins on a goat and then throw it off a cliff. They were then, clean and felt good about themselves . The child who plays the SCAPEGOAT serves a similar purpose. Because everyone is feeling so powerless about the DYSFUNCTIONAL PERSON they need a focus; someone who looks worse that they do. The phrases the SCAPEGOAT might hear are: "Now look what you've done." If it weren't for you..." Now you've spoiled it for everyone." "Can't you do anything right?" This child hears only negative things,becomes and angrier and may eventually begin to act out.
No one in school says the HERO must come from a Dysfunctional family because they get all A's but they do recognize that the SCAPEGOAT is troubled. They are always acting out and getting sent to the principal's office. They are the last to get chosen on a team. It's as if they carry the anger of the family. You can see why it would be very confusing for a child to play both the HERO and the SCAPEGOAT.
The MASCOT is the opposite of the SCAPEGOAT. This role hides all of the ugliness of the family. The whole sense of identity and value is about being cute or handsome or funny. There is alot of insecurity and fear in this child. What happens if no one thinks they are cute or funny. Who are they then? This role provides a distraction. They are like the comedy relief person. When things get tense in the family, that's their cue to act funny. It is very confusing for this child in school as they are often the class clown. The kids laugh but the adults don't think they are funny. But at home the adults encourage the same behavior that they get punished for in school. There can be alot of friction between the SCAPEGOAT and the MASCOT because it seems the MASCOT gets everything that the SCAPEGOAT gets deprived of. When the child isn't playing any role they probably become the LOST CHILD. Or one child may play this role all of or most of the time. This child provides relief for the family. "At least there's someone in this family who doesn't cause any problems. This child gets very lost in school. They usually sit in the back of the room and no one, including the teacher, notices whether they are there or not. They are invisible.
These roles may be very prominent when the child has to deal with a bully, who immediately goes for the SCAPEGOAT and LOST CHILD. If there is a HERO around they might be rescued in time.
It is often the children from dysfunctional families who are chosen by the bully for the same reasons these roles are developed. The bully somehow seems to know that the child will have no one to tell about the bullying. The parents are either unavailable physically and/or emotionally.
Because this is a problem which seems to be growing worse, certainly more insidious and sadistic, I have developed a curriculum on bullying which you can check out on the link below. Think: What role or roles did you play? What roles do you still play? What roles did the rest of your family play? What roles do you see your children playing?
Core Beliefs of Co-Dependent People
Back to the Effects of Violence on Children
Vulnerable Kids & Sexual Abuse
Intro to Curriculum on Bullying
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