Rules and Roles

I am continuing today on the topic of dysfunctional families. It’s not because I’m an expert, or that this is a fun topic to write about. It’s not about placing blame or pointing fingers. It IS about becoming educated in order to stop the cycle, tear down the walls of dysfunction and re-build s sound structure to allow healthy communications to be the most important rule of the family belief system.

As my friend Mary always says: “Garbage Out, healthy in”.

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Some dysfunctional family rules can look a little like this:

1. Control – One must be in control of all family interactions, feelings and personal behaviors. Control is the major defense for shame.

2. Perfectionism – The perfectionist rule involves a measurement that is being imposed on the family. The members of the family live according to these rules out of fear in order to avoid negative factors that may occur.

3. Blame – Whenever things don’t go as planned, blame is the way to go. Blaming oneself or others. This is a defense to cover-up shame. Blame helps balance things out when control has gone awry.

4. Denial – The unspoken rule is you shouldn’t perceive, think, feel, desire or imagine the way you do. Instead, comply to the perfectionists ideal demands.

5. The No-Talk Rule – This rule prohibits full expression of any feeling, need or want. In a shame-based family all members have to hide their true feelings, needs or desires. Therefore no one really knows what is going on within the family.

6. Don’t Make Mistakes – Mistakes reveal flaws, is the belief in the dysfunctional family. To make a mistake opens one up to scrutiny. Cover up your own mistake and shame anyone else who makes one.

7.  Unreliability – Don’t expect anyone to be reliable in any relationship…EVER. Don’t trust anyone so you won’t be disappointed. Parents in dysfunctional families didn’t get their dependency needs met and will not be able to meet the emotional needs of their kids. Therefore, the distrust, dysfunctional cycle continues.

Understanding that these rules are unspoken but exist nonetheless is imperative in coming to terms with your dysfunctional family and breaking the cycle.

Seeing the roles that make up a dysfunctional family and discovering the role(s) you play is important in trying to break out of an unhealthy family system. You can find yourself in many of these roles at various times, and depending upon what role the other family members are playing at any given time.

Family Hero: This is the caretaker of the family. On the outside they look like a good kid, high achiever, follows rules, seeks approval, very responsible. On the inside they feel guilt, hurt and inadequate.

Scapegoat: This is the problem child. They appear hostile, defiant, rule-breaker, always in trouble. On the inside they feel rejected, hurt, jealous and angry.

Lost Child: This is the forgotten child. They are usually quiet and shy, have a vivid fantasy life, are often alone, appear mediocre, attaches to things, not people. On the inside they feel rejected, hurt and anxious.

Victims: These are the chemically dependent or addicts and alcoholics. They are often hostile, manipulating, aggressive, self-pitying, always blaming others, charming, and have rigid values. On the inside they feel shame, guilt, fear, pain and hurt.

Chief Enabler: This role is usually closest emotionally to the victim. They appear self-righteous, super-responsible, sarcastic, passive, physically sick, the martyr. On the inside they feel: angry, hurt guilty and have a low self-esteem.

Mascot: This is the family clown, and oftentimes the baby of the family. They are typically immature, fragile, cute, hyperactive, distracting. On the inside the are fearful, anxious and insecure.

These roles and rules are unconscious but required to help the unhealthy family belief system remain intact. No one role or rule is unimportant.

To have knowledge is to help us understand and break free from unhealthy systems and will allow us the ability to grow as individuals.


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