The Roles of the Dysfunctional Family Dynamic

If you have already attended a family week with your loved in primary treatment, you learned the entire family usually has some dysfunctional patterns.  A few characteristics are listed below.  Sometimes it is hard for an individual to see these characteristics within themselves.  Parents, siblings and significant others have set up their survival skills, and some of these characteristics have become a way of life.  We often don’t see it is a problem because we justify behaviors with “It’s how I grew up” or “It’s just who I am.”  It helps to get out of ourselves and get curious.  A pattern may be what has made you successful in your career but is it negatively affecting your family.

Dysfunctional Family Characteristics:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Poor communication
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear and unpredictability
  • High anxiety
  • Denial
  • Disrespect of boundaries
  • Control
  • Excessive criticism 

In order to understand the family system, it is helpful to understand the six primary roles family members often take in a dysfunctional family.  These roles perpetuate the cycle and when we can start to identify we have a better understanding of our behavior and our loved ones.  

The Addict – The Addict becomes the focal point of the entire family due to outrageous behavior and choices.  The whole family is focusing on this person as the root cause and often keeps other family members from looking at the role they are playing to perpetuate the behavior.

Enabler  The caretaker likes to keep everyone happy.  This individual often avoids conflict and usually covers up the consequences of the other family members behavior; this is especially true with the addict.  This role keeps the addict from creating personal responsibility and self-supporting life.

Hero – The hero is usually over responsible and overly self-sufficient.  They often feel if they are perfect enough it will balance out the behaviors of the addict and bring the family peace.  

Scapegoat – The scapegoat can be the addict or if the family system is large enough it could be a sibling who is trying to take the focus off the addict and their bad behavior.  This role is especially familiar if the addict is one or both parents.

Lost Child – The Lost Child flies under the radar, keeps to themselves and avoids entanglement with all the other roles fulfilled by their family members.  They described as being introverted, depressed, and sometimes have suicidal ideations.  They have a hard time individuating and finding where they fit in the world.  “Everything is fine” is their primary response to everything that happens.

Mascot – The Mascot is balancing the energy with lightness and humor.  They feel if they are funny enough it will remove the stress from all the other family members and take the focus off of the addict and the pain their choices are causing.

Rising Roads understands the entire family unit must heal for ultimate success.  Every client who comes to us has an individual therapist and a family therapist.  Individual and family sessions are both held weekly throughout the clients stay at Rising Roads.  In our work, we have seen families shift in the way they communicate and relate to each other.  Some family members have begun their own healing journeys.  Regardless of the patterns in your family, we will work through what is no longer serving you.  Here are some examples of family communication styles we put into practice.

Functional Family Characteristics:

  • Respect
  • Emotionally Safe Environment
  • Resilient Foundation
  • Privacy
  • Accountability
  • Allow reasonable expression of emotions
  • Gentle on teasing and sarcasm
  • Allows people to grow and change

Healing takes time, perseverance and challenging action.  Your time with Rising Roads as a family is maximized to create real lasting change.  It took a long time to get to this point; most change will not happen overnight.  We support both you and your family member at Rising Roads every step of the way.

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