Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Roles in dysfunctional families

Today I wanted to take a look at different roles children tend to take on in dysfunctional families. There are four different roles that they tend to take on: Hero, Scapegoat, Caretaker, and the Lost Child.

The Hero is the child that takes on the parent role becoming self sufficient and responsible. This child is rigid and is very judgmental of other families members and secretly of him/herself. These children receive a lot of praise because they are doing what is expected of them, but they are often cutoff from their inner emotions and push away from it. These children often grow into insecure adults.

The Scapegoat is the child that the family is ashamed of. This child acts out the anger and tension that the family ignores. This child is the distraction of the real family problems and becomes the one that is most self destructive. They are the most sensitive to emotions and are hurt most because of this.

The Caretaker is responsible for the emotional well-being of the family  by becoming the social director or clown. They distract the family from the pain the family is feeling. These children become caring adults whose whole self-definition is thinking of others, but they don't know how to get their own needs met. They generally have low self-esteem and feel a lot of guilt.

The Lost Child is the child that becomes invisible and withdraw from reality. They deny having feelings and don't get upset, "Why bother no one will hear me." These children grow into adults who are unable to feel and have very low self-esteems. They are withdrawn and shy and socially isolated. An interesting note is a lot of actors are the lost child because they can act out their emotions by hiding behind their characters.

Interestingly enough like we discussed in a past post when the family dynamics change the roles can shift as well. The scapegoat child goes to juvenile detention and another child takes up the role of the scapegoat. You may find yourself thinking that your family falls into these roles, but these roles are generally extreme and may appear in other families, but generally they are not lasting and are not to the extreme that you would see in a dysfunctional family.

When applying this idea to our characters we can use it as a tool to make sense of why a character behaves how they behave around family and around others.


  1. Wow, you have a whole Greek tragedy right here. Spelled out as they are, one can already imagine stories! Nice summation.

  2. Good summaries. They are extreme, but as Elizabeth said, they would make great stories.

  3. this is def a fluid thing...there are some kids that may actually fit a few of these together...

  4. I like how you talked about how the children grow into adults. This is a great way to give the adult characters background to explain the way they have become. Nice job.


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