They are defensive, adaptive and "normal" reactions to severe dysfunction
(especially from alcohol) - that become dysfunctional also (this means, they begin to
interfere with leading a functional, successful and satisfying life).
These are not psychiatric categories or classifications.
The ROLES: * The Lost Child * The Ghost * The Adjuster Children
* The Responsible Child * The Family Hero * The Good Child
* The Rebel * The Problem Child * The Acting-Out Child
* The Family Jerk * The Scapegoat * The Rescuer
* The Placater * The Mascot * The Caretaker
* The Clown * The Fixer * The Bully
* The Last Hope
Dysfunction & Roles - "Causes"
A dysfunctional family system is a family in which one or both of the primary
caretakers were unable to fulfill their family responsibilities - or simply didn't do
it; or one in which physical, emotional, or sexual abuse was experienced
|Yes, they can - and they do!
One young lady I know, who despite having
some dark days, writes excellent poetry.
You can find it on her blog site - click HERE
Also see - Survivors Podium on this site, with
brief stories from those who succeeded.
- please consider sharing your story -
Adult Children of Alcoholic Dysfunctional Families Coping Roles
In the dysfunctional family system, roles limit psycho-social development because individuality is discouraged
“What you are” becomes more important than “who you are”
Each family member’s personality is shaped by the dictation of the family system, and not through the
individual’s own needs, feelings, temperament and choices.
Dysfunctional family member’s perception of themselves, their family and their world is colored by the role
the family system has bestowed upon them.
ROLES: the effects of Dysfunction and Dysfunctional families are devastating to the child/children born into
it (also see "Inner Child").
These effects will last throughout their lives (some can be minimized and will not necessarily have major
negative residual effects). Unfortunately, that is not so for the Lost Child role.
Children in dysfunctional families adopt these roles as a means of coping with the day-to-day chaos of family
If you grew up in a dysfunctional family home, you most likely adopted one or more of the roles below.
- Roles are "normal" survival responses & strategies that become personality traits: this is an important
thing to remember.
- Each role is a recognizable separate behaviour pattern or strategy.
- Adult children will find it hard to act outside of the family roles they have adopted, for hidden inside,
the child feels shame, guilt and in crisis, and they often avoid expressing any feelings.
- The family roles in dysfunctional families are not chosen but adopted by children of dysfunctional
families as a means of survival. This is particularly evident during times of stress.
- The “taking on a role” is an unconscious act – it is not deliberate. These roles are played right through
adulthood: they are part of our learning process. They are products of our environment (family,
community & cultural)
It can be overcome - Healing and recovery are entirely
possible through coaching/counselling.
(The Lost Child definitely will require intensive
counselling/therapy, and working with Lost Child victims is
my professional specialty).
The “roles” (personality types) that emerge for children in
their attempts to make sense of the chaos: the
personality types are:
The Major victim: The LOST Child (The Lost Child, is
also called The Ghost & The Doormat and very similar to
the Last Hope Child) are collectively called the Adjuster
They are compulsive and driven as adults because deep inside they feel inadequate and insecure: they have an
The Family Hero children, because of their "success" in conforming to dysfunctional cultural definitions of what
constitutes doing life "right", is often the child in the family who as an adult has the hardest time even admitting that
there is anything within themselves that needs to be healed. They are emotionally stunted.
This child is often a workaholic who can identify other's needs and meet them, but is without an understanding of their
own needs. They are often the children who use their success to find a sense of belonging.
This is the one who shows the family that it is "alright," but who is unable to feel the benefit of his/her achievements.
They feel like frauds and are subject to depressions which they hide from those around them.
In group situations, the Good Child takes on too much responsibility, disallowing the empowerment of others. They run
things, but without much joy or satisfaction. The Good Child can get self-righteous or persecutory if they are feeling
|Walk with Me
Through darkened rooms we'll climb
Past covered dust-filled sculptures in the night
With hand in Mine we'll fight the shadows left behind
Till all that's hid within is brought to light
Nor tremble at the sights which you have seen
For if in Me you trust with all your heart
Then all the times of sorrow I'll redeem.
This child tries to transcend (rise above) the sickness of family the
They take on other people's problems and generally compensate for feelings of
inferiority, with a drive to accomplish and prove themselves.
This child takes over the parent role at a very young age, becoming very
responsible and self-sufficient. When this takes the form of parenting
younger children, the child becomes a junior mom or dad - they become
"parentified". See Dysfunctional Family for a brief overview of what
"parentified" is all about.
Then he/she plays out the "higher-powered" parent role in later relationships.
They are good leaders and decision-makers, but have difficulty listening to,
and negotiating with others
* The Rebel * The Problem Child * The Acting-Out Child * The Family Jerk
This child is in action at the slightest provocation, whether as an hero to prevent abuse to someone else (by distracting
the abuser), or to protect himself/herself with wildness. This is the child who is most visible to the outside world.
These children are often involved in unacceptable behaviour, such as fighting, stealing or acting out, and who may adopt
alcoholism, drug addiction or other compulsive behaviour early in defiance of the family system.
They get their attention in negative ways. These children often understand what is going on in their family better than
the others do. They tend to be strong leaders and creative individuals. However, they may have poor social skills and
have difficulty dealing with authority.
This child is the barometer of the family dynamics. As the Problem Child, he/she does poorly in school, gets into trouble,
turns to drugs, gets pregnant or otherwise causes problems that take focus away from the family problems. The child
does not do this consciously, but is driven by his/her own intolerable sensitivity.
In group situations the Problem Child/Member role may mix among a few people. They are often in crisis, which distracts
the group from moving forward. There is more permission to leave in a group than there is in a family, and the Problem
Child may do just that.
The group may then find that problems suddenly pop up in another member.
If the Problem Child does not leave, she/he may serve another function in the system: the Scapegoat.
get attention the only way they know how - which is negatively. They often become pregnant or addicted as teenagers as
These children are usually the most sensitive and caring; which is why they feel such tremendous hurt. They are
romantics who become very cynical and distrustful. They have a lot of self-hatred and can be very self-destructive.
The Scapegoat also takes the blame and shame for the actions of other family members by being the most visibly
dysfunctional. This child serves the family by being sick or crazy to allow the other members of the family to ignore
their own dysfunction.
This is also the child who holds the family together — the family rallies to help the family jerk. He/She learns to remain
dysfunctional to continue receiving the little attention available in a dysfunctional home by making the family "okay".
They do this by being the focus of all that is "not okay" which all members of the family vaguely sense.
Scapegoats are identified as the "family problem." They function as a sort of pressure valve. When tension builds in the
family, the scapegoat will misbehave as a way of relieving pressure while allowing the family to avoid dealing with the
drinking problem. Scapegoats tend to be unaware of any feelings other than anger.
The Scapegoat is the one who gets the blame for the dysfunctional system. ("Johnny/Suzy causes such problems, I can't
get anything done.") The family itself is rarely able to perceive that their whole way of functioning is sick. Instead, it
puts all its anger into scapegoating, which, of course, increases the problems.
In groups, the Scapegoat may be the newest member, the group leader, the editor of a newsletter, or the one who
generally has the most problems with the group process. Like the Problem Child, they may choose to leave;
but another person will quickly become the Scapegoat in their place.
This child takes responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of the family and works at minimizing the negative feelings
These children become adults who are valued for their kind heart, generosity, and ability to listen to others. Their
whole self-definition is centered on others. They have difficulty focusing on themselves, and they therefore don't
know how to get their own needs met. They are warm, empathetic and sensitive individuals, but they tend to put up with
inappropriate behaviour from other people.
The Rescuer/Fixer is similar to the Family Hero, but without the visible success. The Rescuer finds those in need, lets
them move in or marries them or finds a job for them, while supplying other needs and is very understanding of the
The rescuer has a deep-seated self hate that drives them to their role as a saviour, because they know that anyone not
already at the bottom of the barrel would have nothing to do with them. They tend to feel inadequate in their giving and
unable to accept help for their own needs.
Like the Good Child, the Fixer/Rescuer is constantly trying to smooth things out. They become a Codependent -- one
who is fixated on solving others' problems in a way that ignores their own, and allows the others to continue in
self-destructive behaviour. The Rescuer/Fixer often becomes codependent later in life.
As The Clown, this child keeps himself and the family distracted by playing the entertainer. The Clown denies that
there is any problem, gets attention for himself through bringing some joviality into a grim situation, and keeps the
emotional pain at a tolerable level.
Later in life the Clown is still distracting group process, often getting strokes for it because they do alleviate a dreary
situation, yet they prevent true work from being accomplished. No group would be complete without them, they are
often seen as the group's saviour, yet their fixing is more like an aspirin than a cure. They're the ones we can't live
with, and can't live without.
Placater children learn early to smooth over potentially upsetting situations in the family. They seem to have an
uncanny ability to sense what others are feeling at the expense of their own feelings. They tend to take total
responsibility for the emotional care of the family. Because of their experience in this role, they often choose careers
as helping professionals, careers which can reinforce their tendencies to ignore their own needs.
They become adults who cannot receive love; only give it. They often have caseloads rather than friendships. They tend
to get involved in abusive relationships in an attempt to "save" the other person. They go into the helping professions
and become nurses, and social workers, and therapists. They have very low self-worth and feel a lot of guilt that they
work very hard to overcome by being really "nice" (i.e, people pleasing, classically codependent) people.
The Bully: This child is usually the victim of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, who successfully makes the
mental transition to stop being the victim by victimizing others. Often the Bully is genuinely remorseful for the pain
and suffering caused to others, but will continue inflicting that abuse rather than face his/her own pain.
The Last Hope Child is similar to the Lost Child. The Last Hope child is the caretaker for the family when all other
members have become unable to continue their roles. Often the Last Child is raised on comments like "You'll never hurt
me like so and so." These children may work themselves to death trying to do "what's right" for blood relations or
adopted families, no matter what the expense to their own life (also "The Lost Child").
Each personality type has its special needs for healing, and each type can recover if they are willing to take the risk in
believing they can change and heal. Because the personalities of the family are mangled, the character traits of the
children can be equally blurred.
In adulthood, the child may have several of the above characteristics at one time, or may play a different role within
the family at different ages or depending on who they are responding to.
The patterns that occur are as many and varied as the people we are. The mistake comes from focusing too much on
the individual roles, and failing to see the dynamics of the system as a whole. We can focus on the plight of the poor
Scapegoat, or the burden on the Fixer, but we tend to focus on an individual, through the lens of our own roles,
instead of learning to think as a system.
In a family or group system, everything affects everything else. Scapegoat or Clown, Leader or Ghost, the whole
system is affected by each action and presence (or absence). Those who obviously have power are no more important
than those who appear to have less power, and all have equal ability to topple the system.
The “positive” aspects:
We adopt the roles that are best suited to our personalities (we are born with a certain personality).
What happens with the roles we adopt in our family dynamic is that we get a twisted, sick and distorted view of who
we are as a result of our personality melding (blending) with the roles.
This is dysfunctional - it causes us to not be able to see ourselves clearly. As long as we are still reacting to our
childhood wounding and old tapes then we cannot get in touch clearly with who we really are.
We can heal - any time we want to!
It is important to remember that the false self that we develop to survive is never totally false - there is always
some Truth in it.
For example, people who go into the helping professions do truly care and are not doing what they do simply out of
Codependence. Nothing is black and white - everything in life involves various shades of grey.
Healing is about getting honest with ourselves, and finding some balance in our life.
Healing is about seeing ourselves more clearly and honestly so that we can start being true to who we really are,
instead of to who are parents wanted us to be.
Note that reacting to the other extreme by rebelling against who they wanted us to be is still living life in reaction to
our childhoods. It is still giving power over how we live our life to the past instead of seeing clearly so that we can own
our choices today.
You are a child of the universe, and you have a right to be here: Victim No More
|Adult Children, including the
Lost Child, learn to be
Klaas Tuinman M.A.
Dawn Cove Abbey
Deerfield, Nova Scotia 2010
in bringing about this situation - the following might be helpful:
"I didn't stop my father, I couldn't save my mother, really, what was there besides fear.
Because when you think that fear is the only thing that you know and have, then suicide seems like a good alternative.
And so I tried three times.
And finally that third time, I realized that I had to either make a new choice, which was to give up my parents - not
give up my parents - or love for my parents, but have them quit running my life, and quit having fear in my life
or I was going to end up living in a psychiatric ward for the rest of my life." (Also see "Fear")
Each of the behaviour patterns, and the personality types that develop, has special
needs - and each type can recover if they are willing
describes behaviour patterns that were learned – and which can be changed.
- "Adult Children Of Alcoholics / Dysfunction" bePLEASE NOTE: in many ways all Adult
Children's traits and behaviours are a type of haviours in general: click HERE to read.
- Few people have all the traits of any of them - and sometimes they have a blend of more
than one role.
- Each of the personality types/roles has special needs - and each type can recover if they
are willing to take the risk in believing they can change and heal. This includes all Adult
- The information here describes a Personality Type: it describes the traits, behaviour
patterns and coping strategies of a particular child victim (who became an adult child) from
a sick, dysfunctional (alcoholic) family.
- The child did the best it could, with what it knew, what it had and the circumstances it
found itself in - it is not to blame.
- It is not an illness someone gets - it is a survival/coping strategy.
- It is a normal reaction to severe dysfunction - it became dysfunctional also (meaning it
began to interfere with leading a functional, successful and satisfying life).
- They lost their inner integration of Mind, Emotions And Spirit, leaving these unconnected
and in tatters - bits and pieces.
- It is a form of dis-integration - BUT - in a way where re-assembly is entirely possible!
The Lost Child is the most wounded inner child of all. I have devoted an entire separate page
to that role. Also see "Inner Critic" and "Inner Child - Child Within"
NOTE: The descriptions here are the categories: most will not display all the characteristics
- some may.
As well, some people will display characteristics of more than one of the "roles" - each person
develops their own personal coping style.
Coping ROLES as Survival Strategies
The Roles are not "persons"
- they are behaviour role patterns or coping strategies
Adult Children of Dysfunctional Toxic Families/Relationships - negative strategies.
Roles are primarily behaviour patterns people have, which were developed in childhood as coping and
survival strategies in dysfunctional circumstances.
While they are not illnesses or disorders, they do lead to problematical or dysfunction lives for them.
existed, and no matter how much you despair of healing: recovery - healing and
becoming a true survivor is possible at any time.
"Each night I die to old habits and to negative thinking and actions that do not
each morning I am resurrected into new life, again and again – if I so choose."
|Dawn Cove Abbey: A Place of Hope, Help and Inner Healing;
Helping Provide Emotional, Spiritual and Mental Re-Integration
Dawn Cove Abbey Transformational Outreach: Resource
- Your family role can define who you are, how you relate to people, how they relate to you and influence
every aspect of your life.
- People who are able to identify the role they played in their family have a powerful tool for changing their
lives and improving their relationships.
Family roles can be as varied and as individual as families are.
- A family may have "the sick one", "the peacekeeper", "the athlete", "the gifted one", "the victim", "the
genius" or any other role you can think of.
- This page describes all but one of the roles. The most severely affected child and the associated
behaviour pattern is described on a separate page, "The Lost Child”.
- The Adult Children's Roles are mostly behaviour patterns people have acquired or developed, that began as
coping strategies and became a way of life.
- The behaviours can be changed and new behaviours learned, behaviours and life skills that will improve the
quality of their lives, on their terms - not anyone else's!
As long as you keep thinking that it is not your fault (how you feel now); that
something else must change, you will continue to feel helpless and powerless. By
continuing to play the victim, you will be totally at the mercy of your environment.
circumstances. They can bring understanding, and while understanding by itself does not This
page, like most pages on the site, describes and explains behaviours and necessarily bring
recovery: it can bring a sense of relief.
Understanding is only the first step - it is not the recovery process itself!
The information on this page describes an 'extreme' of behaviour. Very few people ever display
all of them. Some of the behaviours listed here are actually ‘normal’ responses to certain events
and situations. These reactions usually subside and lose their power to disrupt life or create and
maintain chaos. However, when a person is deeply wounded they linger and contribute to
The good news is that although it seems difficult, anyone can dig down deep past set behaviours
and change their core responses.
Roadside Assistance for your healing and reconciliation Journey Of Life
|LOVE is caring about the freedom of the other.
If parents really care about their child,
they want him or her to be free to enjoy life.