Understanding Family Roles


 In order to produce a true addict there are certain roles to be had in the family.  Like growing a specific crop, you need the right fertilizer or bullshit.  Well you can’t make a real addict by having a loving orderly home. Just like in a 3- act play, everyone gets assigned a character to develop and a copy of the script.  People with lots of degrees have written many books about this stuff.  I’ll condense it for you to keep it palatable.

A dysfunctional family is based on three main rules:

  1. Don’t Trust
  2. Don’t Tell
  3. Don’t Feel



We need either one or the other to be missing physically or emotionally. Usually, this unavailabity is due to drugs, alcoholism, mental illness, gambling, or work-aholism. Take your pick; the behaviors and symptoms are basically the same.

“Devastated” is the addict who has both parents missing.  That’s a real tough break. Let’s consider the people performing the trauma on the potential addict the perpetrators.  Oh yeah, the perpetrator can be someone other than a mom or dad in the family, but that’s rare.

The perpetrators have to be protected by telling lies or keeping secrets.  They may come home drunk or have spent all the grocery money at the casino.  They might be beating on you or your mom. This means that when you go to school you have to be careful what you say about the home.  The constant shame and feelings of less-than begin to wear on you.

The burden of this shame and guilt produces major self-doubt. The kid thinks; if only I was smarter, prettier, or more athletic.  Then mom and dad wouldn’t fight so much and everything would be all right. Similarly, if I wasn’t born they would get along so much better; etc.

To make a good addict you need to make someone grow up feeling ashamed, always hiding secrets, give them big fears, and make them feel less than.  There’s your simple recipe. So in order to make it through the day, the child develops survival techniques. They might overachieve, underachieve, hide, or commit crime.  This all depends on the type of family and their role in it.




This is the person that’s often in more denial than the addict themselves.  I can’t tell you all of the crazy stories enablers support and believe till their dying day.  The easiest way to avoid something is to deny it.  The problem is that people who want blue eyes don’t generally deny their true eye color.  It would be stupid.  Anyone could see that the person had brown eyes and was full of shit.  This sums up the enabler.

Even when the boss knows, the teachers know, and the neighbors know, the enabler will still try to believe that everything is all right.  Remember the old thinking of wishing for something strong enough will make it true?  Most of us out grow this by age 5!

The enabler also provides the money and safe house for the practicing addict.  It’s hard to get high without money and a place to stay.  Some of the enablers would rather know where the addict is, than let them roam loose and worry about them all the time.  These aren’t bad people; they’re just stuck in a real bad situation without coping skills.

Their world is wrapped up and enmeshed with the addict.  The constant drama and development of crisis can itself become addicting. This is the world of the enabler, “troubled thoughts and troubled times.” Ask the enabling wife with her alcoholic husband sitting by her side, “How do you feel today Mary?” She looks intensely at her husband, “How are you doing?” Her last thoughts before she dies; are of her husband’s life, flashing before her.


In order to take the heat off the family, the hero will do things to divert the attention to him / her.  They will excel at sports or get straight A’s. The hero can be the Quarter Back of the football team or a member of the national honor society. The hero probably won’t smoke cigarettes and will dress conservative.  They will look like a sober, honorable young citizen of the community.  By doing this the Hero is saying, how can there be anything wrong with my family if I turned out so good?  The hero role clearly isn’t the worst one to have.

The hero will distance himself from the family by high achievement, dress, and conduct.

Further, the hero is prone to care taking and rescuing under the right circumstances


Since the family is screwed up, someone needs to take the heat.  There must be somebody guilty.  Since the perpetrators won’t “cop” to a guilty plea, we must find someone else. Well here comes the scapegoat.  This person will be accused and blamed for everything.  Since they can’t do anything right, well they must be doing everything wrong.

The scapegoat will not have much in social skills.  They don’t feel confident and actively avoid conflict. Further, the scapegoat won’t be doing much smiling.  This is a very heavy cross to bear.  They can be considered the punching bag of the entire family. Even if they aren’t verbally blamed for all the misery and shame of the family the understanding is clear:  You “Scapegoat” are the problem. Venting out on them can be a family pass-time to relieve stress in the dysfunctional home.


Bad is bad only because it is worse than good.  There is definitely someone or something bad at the house. So what happens? Someone needs to react to the chaos.  So the rebel gets real angry. Sometimes even developing a death wish. The rebel can also be thought of as the “bad boy” of the family.  “Trouble” is his middle name. If someone was to be real bad and incorrigible in the family, maybe no one will notice the person or people who are really messed up.

The parent getting wasted, beating up the kids, or molesting them, may not really appear quite so much the villain.  The bad kid could have made him that way. Accordingly, the rebel will break windows down the street for no reason.  Ah yes, but there is a reason. The police will know him well. I shouldn’t keep saying him because it could be a female. He / she will be in trouble at school and might even have tattoos and piercings.  Anything and everything required to be anti-society will be this kids bag.

He / she will bring so much negative attention to themselves that the rest of the family will look like angels.  After years of being in trouble, the kid will actually begin to convince himself that he really is bad.  Being known as a troublemaker is a difficult role to get out of.  Rebels usually don’t get much of a break.  You can’t enjoy life when you constantly have to break the rules.

The rebel is prone to rage and anger.  They often seek out victims to vent their frustrations.


This kid is so sick of all the insanity at home that they basically shut down.  You might find them reading books in the corner or playing with imaginary friends. Similarly, T.V. and video games also work well to avoid the chaos. Anything to avoid the reality of the home will be their coping strategy.  This delicate soul avoids in order to escape the pain.

Avoiding contact with the family is effective; so they are often away at sleepovers.  When they are old enough, they will leave for anyplace else.  Usually on the run, they move from the state or even leave the country.  The more miles away from the insanity the better.  Getting married early is not uncommon. The lost child is prone to criticism and blame.  Often times they have eating disorders and choose to avoid conflict.  Their quiet disposition and shyness is a survival technique. They are not keen on intimacy, making friends, or socializing.

Overall, they prefer to keep a low profile.


Another technique to keep the heat off the family is to keep the attention on you.  This kid is the comedian.  They are the life of the party. Usually, they will have great social skills and seem pleasant all the time.  Don’t be fooled. This is a front.  The mascot is in a hell of a lot of pain.  One way to keep daddy from beating mommy is to keep him laughing. This role is a hell of a lot of work. In some ways the mascot is the opposite of the lost child.

Remember, some of the greatest comedians came from some of the most screwed up families. Richard Pryor grew up in a whorehouse.  Jim Carry basically didn’t have a physical home and was dirt poor.  Evidently, constant joking is another form of self-medication to ease the pain. Instead of taking drugs to mask their suffering, mascots can keep the endorphins running high with smiles.

The mascot is prone to patronizing and people pleasing. And they enjoy being high profile.


This phenomenon is just what you think it is.  Usually you got a female who can’t tell the truth.  They are so programmed with sickness that they lie about everything.  I asked her, “Did you cheat on me?”

“No. I love you.”  See! That last quote had 2 lies in it. The liar will continue to lie even with serious consequences.  They aren’t as common as the other roles, but they are just as dedicated.  These are the kind of people who love soap operas.  They are usually manipulative and lazy. I identify and describe the liar because in my first hand experience, they are personally the most hurtful and irritating.

Homer = Alcoholic

Marge = Enabler

Bart = Rebel

Lisa = Hero

Maggie = Lost Child

Steve Farmer Symptoms of Family Dysfunction

1. Inconsistency and Unpredictability =

Parents have no solid pattern in disciplining a child or dealing with stress. These types of parents are frightening to children because they never know what to expect.

2. Role Reversals =

The parents act like kids, so the kids have to act like parents. Parents may be so immature and irresponsible that their children end up performing many of the parenting functions. Young children may cook for the family, baby-sit at a very young age, handle adult tasks and assume adult roles to create stability in the family.

3. Closed Family System =

Outsiders are feared and parents discourage relationships with others.  This breaks off the process of normal socialization and friendship important in childhood development.

4. Lack of Empathy =

Feelings are not validated.  If you cry, you are told not to cry.  If you are sad, you are told not to be sad.  Feelings are deemed unacceptable, so children try to avoid all types of feelings.

5. Mixed Messages=

Parents may tell their children not to lie. However, they lie when making excuses to their boss, lying to authority, etc. Parents may punish children for stealing, while parents steal from stores or each other.  Children may be punished for drinking or smoking while parents drink and smoke in front of the children.

6. Withholding  =

Love may be withheld based on a child’s behavior.  Parents may withhold praise, attention, or money as well– in inappropriate ways. This “conditional love” confuses children and makes them feel unloved or unimportant.



Hybrids exist. They are combinations of all the different roles wrapped up into one. Those people are of course more complex.  Often, the roles will not be so clear-cut.  Other times, you can see them coming from a mile away.

Once the roles in the family have been defined, it is very difficult to change your position.  Just like a mobile or a scale at center, too much on either side makes the whole thing unbalanced. Other family members will push you back into the role where they feel you belong.  It even happens subconsciously and can be sanctioned by people outside the family. This delicate balance of the dysfunctional family will get completely out of whack if the rebel decides to become the hero.  Therefore, role shifting is nearly impossible.  I even believe that there is sub-conscious plotting by various family members to keep roles as they are.

Healthier families have less defined roles and allow for more fluid movement in and out of the categories. Due to various circumstances, a person should be able to be a hero one day and a lost child the next. This is acceptable in a healthy family. However, the sick family prefers permanent and extreme roles.

The two best methods for dysfunctional families to “get better” are individual / family therapy or individually develop themselves spiritually.  Awareness of the various roles helps to create an opportunity for change. Families that have members seeking a Higher power, a better way of life, and a better way of living, can heal remarkably. It is essential for family members in crisis to seek treatment with or without the addict.  No matter if the addict is clean or not, it is your responsibility to take care of yourself.  For those who love an addict, going to Nar-anon or Al-anon is a great way to learn about yourself and addiction.

The disease of addiction infects and effects family members even if they don’t use any drugs.  Everyone needs to be treated.  The problem is convincing someone who doesn’t exhibit clearly pathological symptoms, that they need to review and treat themselves.

Sadly, there are a huge number of people traumatized by addiction who won’t take care to heal themselves.  Statistically, an addict directly effects 1 in every 5 people. You have an addict in your life? Well, you have witnessed “life and death trauma.” Those memories and incidents have changed you and harmed your psyche.  “Stupid ass therapist, He has the problem!” shouts the wife. Well, yes but his addiction has shredded up your world and dreams in so many ways.

Addiction harms all types of “civilians” in numerous negative ways; from jobs, to relationships, to health, and to depression. You name any aspect of your life and it has been harmed by addiction. If you have dealt with an addict or are the victim of a dysfunctional family, you should consider getting help.

Well, who the hell is going to fix you if you don’t fix yourself?