Dysfunction in families shows up as does everything else – on a continuum. Sometimes the chaos and abuse is obvious, other times the dysfunction is more subtle. Through my work with clients, I have learned that the roles we are given in childhood, based on some level of dysfunction, has the ability to be carried into our adult lives as it begins to weave itself into our identity. Here are some common roles we carry from childhood:
- The Caregiver. Most often, this role is created when an older sibling is expected to care and look out for younger siblings. Sometimes this may happen out of necessity (single parent), other times from neglect. It can also occur when children feel they must take care of their parent, either physically or emotionally. In any case, the child is placed in this role with little say on the matter.
- The Golden Child. This occurs when a family either directly or implicitly deem one child in the family as “the child that can do no wrong.” Parents will deny it – yet all the kids in the family will easily identify who the golden child was.
- The Overachiever – Sometimes this role comes from a parent’s need to associate love with success. For the type A child, combining the two can easily lead them into overachieving as they seek their parents approval in order to feel accepted and loved.
- The Black Sheep – in large, dysfunctional families, you always tend to find the black sheep – the “child that does everything wrong.” Unfortunately, this child is also the scapegoat for everything the family senses is wrong within its walls.
- The Mediator – when there is conflict in the family, one child is usually drawn to being the mediator or peace keeper. This can lead to leaning into being a fixer.
- The Sacrificer – this is the child that learned it was safer to fly under the radar, not rock the boat, ‘do as you’re told.’ This can often lead to the feeling that your opinion or needs didn’t matter as sacrificing your own needs was tied to survival.
Childhood roles can become an engrained part of how we function as adults. But they don’t have to be. Once we have identified a role that was given to us as a child, we can begin to give ourselves permission to re-identify ourselves. We can begin to see ourselves in a more objective light, while choosing new skills to avoid defaulting into our old roles. After all, the story is ours and we are free to write a new narrative 🙂
Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@kyleunderscorehead