Part of healing and recovery from addiction is learning about your past. It’s healing, although not always easy, to learn about the family dynamics that existed in your upbringing. Learning the ways that your siblings, parents, and other relatives related to one another can bring insight to your childhood. It can make clear the reasons why you relate to others in relationships, friendships, and authority figures the way you do.
For instance, learning the typical roles that family members play in a family with addiction can create these insights for you.
Since addiction has been a subject well researched in the mental health field, there are patterns in the life of an addict as well as in the lives of an addict’s family that have been well documented. Part of drug addiction therapy may include learning about some of these patterns.
Although there is much more to understand, there are typical patterns and roles in a family of addiction that continues to be observed by clinicians time and time again. These roles and patterns are discussed below.
The family member who has an addiction is often the center of attention. The world seems to revolve around the addiction and the member of the family that seems to be the “problem”. However, the addict is the center of attention in an unhealthy and dysfunctional way.
The other members of the family unconsciously attempt to compensate for the problem in a variety of ways, which lead to the different roles that each family member might play.
Sadly, because these compensatory roles are created out of a perceived need for survival, the other family members might take these family patterns into other relationships later in life.
This family member wants to make the family look good. He or she will ignore the addiction in one way or another.
The Hero is the perfectionist and uses his or her overachievement to cover up for the problem in the family. The Hero’s aim to excel in life is a way to block emotional pain and family disappointments.
Instead of excelling and overachieving, another member of the family will attempt to steer attention away from the addiction by creating other problems. He or she will rebel, act out, or misbehave in order to keep eyes off the real problem in the family.
The Lost Child
This is the “good” member of the family who remains distant and ignores the problem altogether. He or she will get lost in books or personal activities and tends to be quiet, reserved, and “out of the way”.
Although this is not an attention-diverter, the Lost Child will give up his or her needs in order to stay out of the chaos of the problematic family relationships. The Lost Child will often not marry and will have difficulty with maintaining intimate relationships.
This is often the youngest of the family who tries to get everyone to laugh. He or she is the jokester, unconsciously attempting to make light of the dysfunction in the home. The Mascot might perpetually avoid problems, even in adulthood, and eventually turn to alcohol or drugs as a continued way to avoid problems.
This is the enabler in the family. He or she is the one who facilitates the addiction by “helping” the addict in an unhealthy way. The Caretaker might do things for the addict that he could be and should be doing for himself. This member of the family feels the need to keep the family functioning and will take on more responsibilities than he or she can handle.
Central to the roles of a family with addiction is codependency and powerlessness. The belief in being powerless in life leads to a dysfunctional relying on others for things that one can and should do on their own.
To the extent that powerlessness is woven into the fabric of a family’s daily functioning, it can lead to patterns of caretaking, low self-worth, controlling, denial, poor communication, weak boundaries, anger, and lack of trust.
Fortunately, becoming aware of these roles and patterns can facilitate changing family relationships. Perhaps, learning more about these roles and patterns can be a part of your drug addiction therapy.
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