Family Roles


We all play a role in our family. When addiction or dysfunctional characteristics come into the mix, roles change. Susan Hanson wrote a book called Tools for your Toolbox. In it, she discusses the four roles that are split up to cover different emotional responsibilities with dysfunctional families. She discusses The Hero, The Scapegoat, The Lost Child, and The Mascot. When I read this, my family members were jumping off of the page. Let me know what you think of the roles she discusses:

The Hero: The perfect person. The responsible member who makes the family look good. People often are surprised the family has any issues because if the family has someone like this in it, how bad could it be? They serve the family by trying to take care of everything.

The Scapegoat: The problem member. The person who brings down the image of the family. This serves the family though. This person takes the focus off of the family’s true problem and people tend to think “if this person would just get it together, we would all be fine”.

The Lost Child: The one who stays out of the way and separates themselves from the family. This person is quiet and keeps their struggles to themselves. They may not be a perfectionist but they definitely aren’t a stress causer in the family. This person usually avoids conflict and people think since they are not a trouble maker, the family must be okay.

The Mascot: The class clown. This person lightens the mood with humor and light-hearted comments. They look carefree but they cheer everyone up. They are often not taken seriously because they are constantly trying to bring everyone out of the sadness. They push away their own needs and addressing the problem, which also serves the family.

Does this resonate with your family? It SCREAMS my family.

I am a mix. I am a mix of the mascot and the hero. I have always been a perfectionist and I strive to please people. I always did well in school, I graduated college with honors, I have my master’s degree, and I really try to impress my family. I ALSO am a goof. I make things light. I joke about everything. If you have read any of the previous posts, you should know that already. I try to lighten the mood when things get dark and I love my sense of humor.

My brother is the mascot through and through. He jokes about everything. He can’t take things seriously. When he does get serious about anything, everyone usually laughs it off because it’s goofy him. He uses his humor to push people away (I know, pot calling the kettle black). He can come across as immature even though he knows addiction better than most.

My sister is the lost child. She tries to keep drama out of the family. She doesn’t bring a lot of attention to herself. She likes to spend time with the family but she separates herself to spend time with her own family when things get too stressful. She keeps her emotions inside and she cannot confront anyone about anything. She would rather not talk to you for a month instead of actually telling you she is upset with you.

My dad is the scapegoat. A lot of people think if he drank less, my mom would be sober. He brings some negativity to the family with his antics but he’s struggling so much with my mom’s drinking and he often lashes out if people point the finger at him. “She’s the problem, not me”.  People like to blame him because it’s easier to blame him than to hold my mom accountable for her addiction. Don’t get me wrong, my dad needs to work on himself but it also needs to be acknowledged that he’s hurting too.

So what does this all mean? We have these categories, now what? This doesn’t mean you are bad if you are filling these roles in the family. It’s just nice to be aware of it in case the mascot does want to be taken seriously, or the hero is tired of being perfect, or the lost child wants to feel like they don’t need to be alone all the time, or the scapegoat needs you to understand they are just hurting.

These roles can also be used to your advantage. My brother is the first person I call when I need to be cheered up. My sister is who I talk to about things that I have kept to myself for too long. My dad is the person I talk to when I acted out of hurt. They understand those things because of the roles they play.

Mary Egan, who worked for Rosecrance in Chicago and Rockford, expanded and also included another role: The Enabler.

The Enabler: Someone who allows the addiction to continue and tries to keep the addict safe and from harm.

I think everyone in my family plays this role at different times. My sister does everything to keep my mom safe when she’s been drinking and will try to prevent any consequences from taking place, my dad fixes the consequences, my brother tries to blame outside things for my mom’s addiction, and I have filtered throughout all of those behaviors as well. It’s the hardest role to break free from in my opinion.

Look over these roles and if you want to know how to break out of these roles, check out Tools for your Toolbox.

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-Grumpy Sunshine


3 Replies to “Family Roles”

  1. I’m the mascot, I think. My dad had a good sense of humour but when he was drinking he would repeat the same jokes over and over. And if you didn’t laugh all hell would break lose. So I learned to be a laugher in order to keep the peace and for self preservation . He also didn’t like anyone to be funnier than him especially a female and even worse a female daughter. Once I figured this out I honed my humour just to piss him off. He would try to stifle his laugh to the point where he would have to leave the room. Eventually humour became our only common ground and we could banter a little bit (when he was sober) But we both knew the student had become the master. I’m a blast at funerals and crime scenes and am available for natural disasters and civil wars. Humour is a life preserver!

    1. It is a life preserver! But I also use it to push people away which I am working on. It’s hard though! It is such an instinct! Thanks for commenting. I love hearing from people!

      1. Yes, humour can also be a weapon. I misuse it as well. But it sure can come in handy!

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