When a family is in chaos, each member takes on a role that affects everyone else. These roles can be typical and healthy or dysfunctional and toxic. A dysfunctional family doesn’t just impact one person—it impacts everyone in the home. For example, when one person becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, their addictive behavior affects every other family member by creating stress and tension within the home environment. The following are eight common dysfunctional roles that people play in an unhealthy home.
The role of the addicted individual is to create chaos and destruction. They are selfish, self-centered, have no regard for others, and are incapable of love. They lie, cheat, and steal to get their fix. Their behavior can be so extreme that it resembles an abusive parent or spouse; however, it can be difficult for loved ones to accept that their family member is addicted to substances and needs treatment. Many family members might live in denial that the addicted individual needs help.
The addictive family member typically has a high degree of charisma which makes them very attractive, but they are also masters at manipulation. They may use this skill as protection against being discovered as being at fault for anything wrong in their lives because no one wants to believe that such a charming person could be capable of causing harm intentionally - especially when there are other people involved.
The hero is the one who takes on the responsibility of taking care of everyone else. They may be responsible for the family’s financial well-being and may even be the only one who works.
A hero may find that they have difficulty asking for help, which can lead to burnout and isolation. They want to save the day and make everything right.
The lost child is often neglected and ignored. They aren't given attention, love, or care. Instead, they're left to their own devices and often have to fend for themselves.
The lost child learns to be independent at a young age because they have no other choice. But unfortunately, this can lead them down a path of addiction later in life because they don’t have anyone who cares or watches out for them enough to help them stay sober. They may experience low self-esteem and have trouble with anxiety in social settings.
You’re the life of the party, always making people laugh. You’re constantly making jokes and seeing how far you can push things before someone gets offended or angry. You often find yourself in situations where things go wrong, but you always make light of it with a joke or funny story.
You have so much energy that sometimes it feels like you are hyperactive. The problem is that no one knows what triggers this hyperactive state for you. This state of euphoria has caused many problems in your life because others can never keep up with your energy levels, which leads to resentment and anger towards them for not being able to keep up with your pace in life.
The scapegoat is the child blamed for all of the family's problems. Scapegoats are often the youngest children but can also be the oldest or middle children. The scapegoat is usually sensitive, creative, and intuitive. They may be targeted for emotional or physical abuse by other family members.
The caretaker is often the child closest to the parent and has a lot of similar qualities. However, this child typically takes on more responsibilities than other siblings and may have less fun or enjoyment in life.
The caretaker's role can develop into codependence, leading to addiction.
The Enabler/Appeaser. This family member tries to protect the one who has an addiction by minimizing problems, making excuses, and deflecting blame away from them.
They may be in denial about the severity of the problem and try to convince themselves that everything will be okay if they just keep things under control. They might also take on more responsibility than usual for their loved one's problems to make up for their inability to handle life as an adult.
Enablers are typically afraid of losing their loved ones through abandonment, so they'll do whatever it takes—even put others at risk—to keep them from leaving.
Family members who play the role of the addicted individual are often referred to as “problem” or “identified” individuals because their behavior is what brings attention to their family problems. In addition to having addiction issues, they may exhibit other symptoms, such as depression or anxiety.
Family members who play a role as a caretaker provide help for the one with addiction issues through everyday tasks like cooking meals and cleaning up after them; helping them take medication if they're chronically ill; coordinating transportation when needed; making sure that bills are paid on time; ensuring that children have what they need at school, and going out of their way to do things to cover all bases, so no one has to worry about it later on in life.
A caretaker is often viewed negatively by others outside the family unit because it may seem like they enable someone else's bad behavior rather than confronting them about it directly. Caretakers believe there must be a reason their loved ones act out.
They are often willing to sacrifice their own health and well-being to care for everyone else in the family, which often leads to many self-destructive behaviors.
Dysfunctional family roles are a way of life in many families that struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. To break the toxic cycle, it is essential to understand that each role affects everyone else's role. For example, the family member with addiction issues often plays this role because they are dealing with trauma from childhood or adolescence. We hope that by understanding these roles and how they affect each other, families can begin to heal together through outpatient therapy or enrolling your loved one in inpatient addiction treatment at Passages.