incredible-marketing Arrow

An In-Depth Look at the Six Dysfunctional Family Roles

According to an article from Future Child, the important people in your early life, like parents, are both your caregivers and role models. You form healthy and unhealthy behaviors from the attachment figures in your life. These behaviors can have an impact on your wellness as you mature. Moreover, while every family is different, there are six dysfunctional family roles that can impede your well-being. The dynamics of your family play an important role in understanding your self-defeating behaviors now.

At The Guest House, we know self-defeating habits and behaviors often stem from traumatic experiences. Whether the trauma occurred recently or in your adolescence, traumatic experiences are not an uncommon part of life. From car accidents to overly critical parents, trauma can come in many different forms. Your ability to be resilient to trauma is informed by the coping strategies you witness in your family. Unhealthy family dynamics that rely on maladaptive coping mechanisms increase the likelihood of the six dysfunctional family roles.

Yet, you may be wondering what are family dynamics. For example, how do unhealthy family dynamics relate to family dysfunction? Furthermore, what role do family dynamics play in the six dysfunctional family roles?

Understanding Family Dynamics

According to Family Dynamics by Bahareh Jabbari and Audra S. Rouster, family dynamics are the “patterns of interactions among relatives, their roles and relationships, and the various factors that shape their interactions.” Your family is often your main source of emotional, physical, and economic support in your life. Moreover, the types of interactions you have with your family can influence your overall family dynamics.

As noted in the publication, here are some of the factors that can influence healthy and unhealthy family dynamics:

  • Healthy dynamics:
    • Individuation
    • Mutuality
    • Flexibility
    • Stability
    • Clear communication
    • Role reciprocity
  • Unhealthy dynamics:
    • Enmeshment
    • Isolation
    • Rigidity
    • Disorganization
    • Unclear communication
    • Role conflict

Meanwhile, family dynamics are an important part of your functionality in life. They can have a profound impact on your physical and psychological wellness. Healthy family dynamics can lead to secure attachments that support mental and physical well-being, including influencing higher self-esteem and self-worth. On the other hand, unhealthy family dynamics can lead to more conflict and stress, which supports negative health outcomes. Chronic stress responses can increase blood pressure, anxiety, and unhealthy coping mechanisms that further deteriorate your health.

Moreover, unhealthy family dynamics can create family dysfunction in which the six dysfunctional family roles are formed.

What Is Family Dysfunction?

To understand the six dysfunctional family roles, we must first understand what is family dysfunction. According to “Dysfunctional Family” by the American Psychological Association (APA), family dysfunction is when relationships or communication are impaired, and members are unable to have closeness or express themselves to each other. As noted by Jabbari and Rouster, unhealthy dynamics and family dysfunction is born out of stressful family relationships.

No family is perfect, and every family has some level of dysfunction. Moreover, many families experience tension and stress in their relationships at different times. For example, tensions rise, and communication may break down between parents traveling with small children during the holidays. In addition, there may be arguments between siblings who have outgrown sharing a bedroom.

Still, the relationship between the parents and siblings returns to a healthy dynamic when the stressor is removed and or when they utilize adaptive coping strategies. What causes some families to engage in healthy dynamics and coping strategies and others to engage in unhealthy dynamics and unhealthy coping strategies?

Causes of Family Dysfunction

As noted in the article “Cost of Growing up in Dysfunctional Family” from the Journal of Family Medicine and Disease Prevention, healthy families can return to normal functioning when a life and or family crisis passes. Meanwhile, dysfunctional families tend to have long-lasting issues that impair the family’s daily functioning regardless of a crisis. Many of the issues within the dysfunctional family stem from the negative behaviors of the caregivers, which in turn likely come from the caregiver’s own experiences with trauma. Unhealthy behaviors are observed and mimicked through each generation of the family to create a cycle of trauma and dysfunction.

Furthermore, here are some of the traumatic interactions that can lead to family dysfunction:

  • An abusive parent:
    • Physical abuse
    • Emotional and verbal abuse
  • A strict and or controlling parent:
    • No space for self-expression
    • Restricted from making decisions
    • Feelings of resentment
    • Dependency
  • A soft parent:
    • No rules or disciple
  • Substance-dependent parent:
    • Unpredictable interactions
    • Unclear rules
    • Physical and emotional neglect
    • Children are more likely to use substances
    • Higher risk of child abuse
  • An absent parent:
    • Fail to or are unable to meet children’s physical and emotional needs
    • Deficient reaction to the children’s needs
    • Children often take on parental roles and responsibility for younger siblings

Other contributing factors could include:

  • Family size:
    • Parents may have difficulties giving everyone adequate attention in a large family
    • Conflict can arise from receiving parental guidance in a large extended family
  • Culture and values:
    • Conflict over beliefs and expectations within the family
      • Gender roles
      • Parenting practices
      • Power dynamics between family members
  • Unfortunate life events:
    • Can lead to a breakdown in the family dynamic
      • An affair
      • Divorce
      • Death
      • Job loss
  • Mental health:
    • Untreated mental health disorders can impair family relationships
    • Symptoms from some mental health disorders can cause disruptions in the family dynamic
      • Personality disorders

Finally, some contributing factors could be related to:

  • Disability and other health conditions:
    • Caring for a child with a disability or chronic illness can be stressful
    • Caretaking can limit the caregivers’ ability to manage the needs of others in the family
    • The needs of others in the family get ignored
  • Attachments:
    • Insecure attachments
      • Feeling insecure in your relationships and interactions within the family
  • Generational dysfunction:
    • The traumas and unhealthy coping strategies of one generation get passed down to the next generation as they repeat the same negative behaviors
  • Systematic instability:
    • Increased societal stressors
      • Social
      • Economic/Financial
      • Political

Moreover, the causes of a dysfunctional family can be broad and in some cases unavoidable. Stressors like finances, job loss, death, and conflicts over changing family values and beliefs are common experiences. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of family dysfunction can support opportunities for growth.

Signs and Symptoms of Family Dysfunction

According to “Cost of Growing up in Dysfunctional Family,” some of the signs and symptoms of family dysfunction include:

  • A lack of respect for other family members’ boundaries
  • Little to no empathy for other members
  • Invading other member’s privacy without permission
  • Borrowing member’s possessions without consent
  • Destroying other member’s possessions without permission
  • Extreme levels of conflict and hostility between family members
    • Verbal assault
    • Physical assault
  • Emotional and verbal abuse
    • Ridicules other members’ behavior
    • Blames things on other family members

Older family members may use children as weapons for revenge against each other, this could create:

  • Role reversal or role confusion
    • A child takes on the role of the parent
    • The parent takes on the role of the child
  • Family isolation
    •  Members are restricted from friendships and other relationships outside of the family
  • Stifling other family member’s voices by denying others the right to their opinions
  • Suppressing other members’ right to feel emotions like sadness and happiness
  • Extreme levels of secrecy, denial, and rigid rules
  • Perfectionism
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Conditional love and support

Furthermore, recognizing the signs and symptoms of a dysfunctional family can give you insight into how the six dysfunctional family roles are formed around substance use.

The Six Dysfunctional Family Roles

According to the article “Coping With Addiction: 6 Dysfunctional Family Roles” from Alvernia University, addiction can have a profound impact on family dynamics. The erosion of important family dynamics like unity, mental and physical wellness, and financial security are additional stressors substance use can put on families in crisis. To cope with these stressors, many families might find themselves taking on six dysfunctional family roles.

Listed below are the six dysfunctional roles and how the six dysfunctional family roles interconnect with each other:

#1 Actor-Outer

  • Commonly, the source of the family conflict
  • The family attempts to cope with the addict’s unhealthy behavior and choices

#2 Caretaker

  • Also known as the enabler
  • Enables the actor-outer’s behavior
  • Will cover for the actor-outer’s problems and responsibilities to keep everyone happy
  • Seen as the martyr of the family for also shielding the actor-outer from the consequences of their actions

#3 Hero

  • Seen as over-responsible
  • Perceived as self-sufficient
  • Sometimes seen as a perfectionist
  • They attempt to restore the dysfunctional home life in secret
  • Dedicates their time and attention to helping cover up the actor-outer’s mistakes to keep up appearances

#4 Scapegoat

  • Seen as the problem child
  • They use acts of defiance and hostility to divert attention from the actor-outer’s behavior

#5 Mascot

  • Seen as the comedian of the family
  • They use humor and silliness in an attempt to lessen the stress in the family brought on by the actor-outer’s behavior
  • Typically in constant motion

#6 The Lost Child

  • Seen as the quiet one in the family
  • Stays out of the way
  • Avoids all interactions
  • They go unnoticed while the rest of the family play into their roles to deal with the actor-outer’s behavior

Hence, looking at the six dysfunctional family roles highlights how these coping behaviors only serve to disguise the substance issue. While these six common roles may appear to reduce some stress, they can become maladaptive behaviors. The longer you engage in these six dysfunctional family roles, the more likely the family will become codependent in their behaviors.

For example, imagine there is a leaky pipe under the kitchen sink. The family tries to stop the leak by wrapping tape around the pipe. Family stress continues to increase every day when they open the sink cabinet door.  The leak keeps growing no matter how many times they make repairs. These six dysfunctional family roles encourage you to continue playing catchup to mask an increasing number of issues rather than addressing the core problem.

Moreover, the six dysfunctional family roles showcase the harm these maladaptive behaviors can cause each member of the family.

Behavioral Characteristics of the Six Dysfunctional Family Roles

As noted by the Government of Oklahoma, within the six dysfunctional family roles, there is a behavioral mask and the feelings the mask is hiding. There is a consistent pattern within the six dysfunctional family roles of each member attempting to cope with the addiction in the family. They become the six dysfunctional family roles because their mechanisms for coping with these stressors are maladaptive.

Here are some of the seen and hidden behavioral characteristics of the six dysfunctional family roles:

  • Actor-outer:
    • Mask:
      • Charming
      • Grandiose
      • Aggressive
      • Self-righteous
      • Inflexible
      • Blames others
    • Hidden:
      • Fear
      • Guilt
      • Despair
      • Feelings of worthlessness
      • Loneliness
  • Caretaker:
    • Mask:
      • Responsible
      • Virtuous
      • Martyrdom
      • Shames others
      • Manipulative
    • Hidden:
      • Guilt
      • Exhaustion
      • Rage
      • Dependency
      • Victimized
      • Feelings of paranoia
  • Hero:
    • Mask:
      • Successful
      • Has their life together
      • Independent
      • Helpful
      • Perceptive
    • Hidden:
      • Guilt
      • Confusion
      • Feeling needy
      • Fear of failure
      • Feelings of inadequacy
      • Fear of success
      • Difficulty living up to assumed status as the “golden child”
  • Scapegoat:
    • Mask:
      • Defiant
      • Hostile
      • Acting out
      • More loyal to peers than family
      • Blames others
    • Hidden:
      • Fear of rejection
      • Difficulty trusting
      • Confusion
      • Loneliness
      • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Mascot:
    • Mask:
      • The peacemaker
      • Lovable
      • non-serious
      • Attention seeker
      • Fragile
    • Hidden:
      • Feeling left out
      • Fear of being alone
      • Feeling helpless
      • Confusion
      • Feeling small
      • Becomes anxious or depressed when they take a moment to slow down or stop
  • The lost child:
    • Mask:
      • Mellow
      • Extremely independent
      • Loner
      • Withdrawn
      • Reticent
    • Hidden:
      • Loneliness
      • Feeling valueless
      • Rage
      • Feeling powerless
      • Fear of exposure

Furthermore, the behavioral characteristics of the six dysfunctional family roles give some insight into how harmful these roles are. Not only is addiction harming the user, but the whole family is caught up in a cycle of self-defeating behaviors. With that, you may wonder how you break the cycle of the six dysfunctional family roles. For instance, how do you move from an unhealthy family dynamic to a healthy family dynamic?

Ways to Build Healthier Family Relationships

According to an article from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, building healthy family relationships can help each other endure the many challenges of life. With all the daily pressures of work, school, and other responsibilities, it is not surprising that we can lose sight of opportunities to deepen our connections. While there will always be excuses to avoid addressing issues, taking the time to dedicate yourself to the long-term health of your family can be impactful.

In addition, listed below are some ways you can invest in building healthier relationships within your family:

  • Build good communication skills:
    • Focus on listening and understanding your family members
    • Find time to work on your communication skills together
    • Put away phones and other devices during family time
    • Use specific daily activities as opportunities to talk to each other
      • Dinnertime
      • Weekend breakfast
  • Form traditions, values, and goals together:
    • Build on the traditions you already have
    • Invent new traditions together
    • Reinforce your values together
    • Work together to form a plan to accomplish your goals
  • Try out new things together:
    • Play a new board game or video game together
    • Try new art and craft project together
    • Explore new foods and or recipes
    • Build a tradition for movie and or game nights
    • Let children participate in the decision-making process
  • Engage in physical activity to help reduce stress and promote bonding:
    • Have family dance parties
    • Set exercise goals together
    • Go on weekly walks together
  • Deepen connections with long-distance family members:
    • Make time to connect with family members
      • Phone calls
      • Email
      • Video calls
      • Social media
  • Find ways to laugh together:
    • Watch funny movies together
    • Have a joke of the day
    • Start a family book club

Building healthy relationships with your family requires time, effort, and patience from everyone. The work you put into your family together is well worth the source of strength you can be for each other.

Healing the Six Dysfunctional Family Roles at the Guest House

At The Guest House, we are committed to helping you dismantle the six dysfunctional family roles to support healthier family dynamics. We understand that the core of the six dysfunctional family roles stems from building unhealthy coping strategies around addiction. Moreover, the six dysfunctional family roles and family dysfunction, in general, are often born out of traumatic experiences.

Within these traumatic experiences, self-defeating behaviors are developed and sown throughout the family. Thus, the seeds of trauma grow and entangle themselves in a dysfunctional cycle from generation to generation. Here at The Guest House, we specialize in treating trauma as a tool to uncover, treat, and heal dysfunction. With a wide range of therapeutic modalities and holistic healing, we can support you and your family.

Having some level of family dysfunction is not uncommon. As stressors can lead to a breakdown in healthy coping strategies like clear communication. However, many families can return to a healthy family dynamic when the life/family crisis ends. Whereas, families with unhealthy levels of dysfunction experience persistent unhealthy behaviors whether there are additional stressors or not. Therefore, unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns can lead to further dysfunction like the six dysfunctional family roles. Moreover, the six dysfunctional family roles can have a negative impact on the whole family’s well-being. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing a wide range of therapeutic modalities to support you and your family’s long-term recovery. Call us at (855) 483-7800 today.