Presenting the "Roles" in detail:
Please remember that these are defensive, adaptive and "normal" reactions
(Coping Strategies) to severe dysfunction (especially from alcohol). But ones that
become dysfunctional because they begin to interfere with leading a positive,
constructive, successful and satisfying life). These are not psychiatric categories
* 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. * The major "victim", The Lost Child has a separate page:
|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.
The Responsible Child * The Family Hero
* The Good Child
This child is an achiever, this is usually (but not always) the
oldest child. This is the child who is "9 going on 40."
This child tries to transcend (rise above) the sickness of
family the environment by behaving like an angel. In taking
on adult responsibility at a young age, the Responsible Child
strives to excel at everything.
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
FAMILY HERO – An achiever
These Hero children give the family self-worth because
they look good on the outside. They are the good students;
the sports stars; the prom queen. In childhood, the parents
look to this child to prove that they are good parents and
The "Hero" is usually (but not always) the oldest child. As adults they are often
workaholics who can identify other’s needs and meet them, but is without an
understanding of their own needs. This is often a child who uses their success to find
a sense of belonging — the one who shows the family is “all right,” but who is unable
to feel the benefit of his/her achievements. They feel like a fraud and are subject to
depressions which they hide from those around them.
In adulthood, the Good Child/Family Hero is rigid, controlling, and extremely
judgmental (although perhaps very subtle about it) - of others, and secretly of
themselves. They achieve "success" on the outside and get lots of positive attention,
but are cut off from their inner emotional life, from their True Self.
They are compulsive and driven as adults because deep inside they feel inadequate
and insecure: they have an inferiority complex, because of their "success" in con-
forming 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.
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 unappreciated.
* 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
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.
THE SCAPEGOAT or FAMILY JERK – This child 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” by being the focus of all that is “not okay” which all members of the
family vaguely sense. This is the child that the family feels ashamed of - and the most
emotionally honest child in the family. He/She acts out the tension and anger the
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.
This child provides distraction from the real issues in the family. The scapegoat usually
has trouble in school because they get attention the only way they know how - which is
negatively. They often become pregnant or addicted as teenagers as a way of expressing
their anger at the family. This child takes responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of
the family and works at minimizing the negative feelings.
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 scape-
goating, 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.
THE RESCUER-Fixer – 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 frequent betrayals. The
rescuer has a deep seated self-hate that drives them to their role as a savior, 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
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, etc. 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").
THE MASCOT – Often a younger child who uses humor or other distracting behavior,
such as being exceptional clumsy or always in trouble, to take the focus of the family
away from the problems of the family dysfunction. If the parent is violently drunk, the
Mascot may take the abuse to “save” the rest of the family, or may be able to crack a joke
at the necessary moment to take everyone’s mind off the pain of their reality.
THE ADJUSTER – The one who is never bothered by what is happening; there is no
reason to be excited because everyone had to live with family problems. The child never
becomes too attached to goals or a desire because they have learned to change their
direction at any moment. They float, knowing something is wrong but coping, often
successfully, with one chaotic situation after another by surrendering their identity to
the needs of the moment.
THE DOORMAT – The abused child who survives by lying down and letting others
walk all over him/her, rather than risk an unpleasant or dangerous confrontation. This
child is very understanding of the need someone else may have to injure him/her, but
cannot identify his/her feelings about the abuse in the past or present.
THE ACTING OUT CHILD or THE REBEL – This child is in action at the slightest
provocation, whether as an heroic action 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 and who may adopt alcoholism, drug addiction or other
compulsive behavior early in defiance of the family system.
THE LOST CHILD (See Lost Child) – Often a younger (or the youngest) child, this
personality type has learned to stay out of the way, not make his/her wants known
and to expect nothing. They avoid feeling by denying that they have feelings. They
adopt whatever behavior will allow them to stay invisible within the family, at work,
at school or in a relationship. This is the child who can assume whatever personality
those around him/her find least threatening. No wonder they are such consummate
actors/actresses - and so disconnected.
An Adult 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
"Roles" are coping strategies taken by children growing up in negative environments. 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
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
environmental "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 our 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
Dawn Cove Abbey
Deerfield, Nova Scotia 2010:
Meaford, Ontario - revised 2019
If you are one that this fits one of the roles in this description fits, and are searching for
a way to heal, and it was your parents who were involved in bringing about this
situation - the following might be helpful: "I didn't stop 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")
NOTE: This page, like most pages on the site, describes and explains behaviours and
circumstances. They can bring understanding, and while understanding by itself does
not 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 dysfunction.
The good news is that although it seems difficult, anyone can dig down deep past set
behaviours and change their core responses. If you're curious as where you place on
the dysfunction scale, or whether you are on it or not, please take this Quiz.
|Regardless how long your behaviour pattern and circumstances may
have 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 serve me any longer. Each morning I am
resurrected into new life, again and again – if I so choose."
(adapted from the chapel's prayers).
"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." -Unknown
|Dawn Cove Abbey
"Roadside assistance" For Your Journey Through Life
From the eBook: "One! The Journey hOMe", by Klaas Tuinman M.A. © 2007-2019
Questions and comments welcomed.
|Adult Children Roles: Detail
Adaptive Coping & Survival Strategies
Child Roles: - an introductory description
* Not all Children will have all of the traits and characteristics described on their
respective pages. The Roles and Behaviour Patterns have far-reaching
consequences for their later personal life, and the lives of those around them. Recovery
and healing are always possible, and although sometimes it is a long journey, which
can be difficult, many people succeed. Regardless of their survival, these individuals
ultimately tend become scarred victims of their backgrounds: their Inner Child was
Adult Children adopted “roles” in childhood as a coping or survival strategy. "Survival"
at that time simply meant to avoid being hurt, damaged or killed as much as possible.
These roles basically were automatic, reflex coping strategies adopted, and then
developed into more permanent behaviours by children growing up in negative
Because these were automatic, the child was hardly aware of them - the responses just
became a "way of life", and the reason for them, let alone the reason for any particular
"role", faded away over the years. Many adults are not aware of it even having happened
because it was insidious: gradual and subtle: they just kind of slowly slipped into them.
They did not invent the names for the various roles - others who observed and
experienced them learned to distinguish between them - and give the names.
* There are many different roles children in these circumstances and
environments take on. This page deals with the most severe and
devastating one: “The Lost Child”. A separate page describes the others.
* Each of the personality types has special needs - each "type" can recover if they are
willing to take the risk in believing they can change and heal.
This includes the Lost Child.
always) the oldest child. As adults
they are often workaholics who
can identify other’s needs and
meet them, but is without an
understanding of their own needs.
This is often a child who uses their
success to find a sense of belonging
— the one who shows the family is
“all right,” but who is unable to
feel the benefit of his/her achieve-
ments. They feel like a fraud and
are subject to depressions which
they hide from those around them.