All of us are born with a certain personality. Frequently expectant parents will experience that the name they had chosen for their unborn child, turns out to be a misfit upon meeting the infant baby, who clearly comes into this world with a personality of his or her own. However, growing up in a family, regardless of the size, all members of the family come to occupy a role; a family role. The trouble with family roles is that at no point did we actively decide our own role, and in some cases our family role has become so entangled with our personality that we lose sight of our true nature. Family roles thus become a big part of our self-identity and can in adult life come to hinder personal growth and personal expression.
Naturally, we all assume different roles in various contexts of our lives. Where humans come together and form bonds and connections, roles will emerge. Our role within the family might not match the role we occupy in our professional lives, and not being rigidly stuck in one role, can be a good thing. Broadly speaking, we can identify four distinct family roles, each carrying a potential for an unhealthy and a healthy expression and each promoting certain expressions in adulthood.
The ‘Family hero’ is the child who is 9 going on 40. This is the child who becomes very responsible at an early age, and who lets the parents look good on the outside. They are generally good students and typically excel at sports or other hobbies. The ‘Family Hero’ child will likely grow up to be controlling and judgmental of others and secretly of themselves. They tend to become compulsive and driven as adults, as deep inside they feel inadequate and insecure.
The role of the ‘Scapegoat’ refers what is often the most emotionally honest family member. However, other family members often feel ashamed of the ‘Scapegoat’ as he or she has trouble in school and attracts negative attention. In fact, this child provides distraction from the real issues in the family. The ‘Scapegoat’ adult will often carry a lot of self-hatred that sees them engaging in self-destructive behaviours, and many addicts will have occupied this role as a child.
The ‘Mascot’ on the other hand, takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family, in this way also diverting the family’s attention from the pain and anger. The ‘Mascot’ adult tends to struggle with feelings of low self-worth and guilt that they work very hard to overcome by being exceptionally nice to other people. In some cases this leads to co-dependent behaviours.
Finally, the ‘Lost Child’ seeks to escape by attempting to be invisible, through day dreaming, fantasising, reading or watching a lot of TV. The ‘Lost child deals with reality by withdrawing from it and deny having any feelings and therefore don’t become upset. Adulthood for the ‘Lost Child’ is often marked by an inability to feel and for fear of intimacy some become altogether love avoidant. Many actors and writers are ‘lost children’ who have found a way to express emotions while hiding behind their characters.
Family roles are an inescapable part of the family system. Importantly, neither one of these aforementioned roles are more superior to the other, and as such, each have their own qualities and their own negative consequences. However, where the identification with our family role is strong and our personality melds with the role we adapt in the family dynamic, we likely develop a twisted, distorted view of who we really are. This can see us continuously reacting to our childhood wounding and old tapes and can keep us stuck in behaviours that are not serving us. Becoming aware of your family role growing up might bring revelations and understandings of why you behave the way you do. And with awareness comes choice. Creating some fluidity around the various roles that we occupy in life, can allow us to be more of who we really are.