Family Roles and Their Connection to Codependent Behaviours

The family ‘role’ that may have been assigned in childhood could be explain why codependent behaviours are experienced in adulthood.

Finding Clues

We can look to our childhood family for clues as to how we may, or have, developed a codependent relational style. Families can be viewed as an emotional unit which operates within their own unique complex system. ’Roles’ for each member of the family system can exist. These roles are mostly flexible and members can drift towards one or more. However, when there is dysfunction present – perhaps difficult issues that are not being addressed – these roles can become rigid and later, impact behaviour in adult relationships.

Below are those roles that could be linked to codependent behaviours in adulthood:-

The Hero

Often singled out for their great sporting ability, academic achievement, good looks or ‘perfect’ behaviour, The Hero is the family favourite. The Hero gives the family something to hide behind – problems can be denied or ignored because The Hero is proof that the family has clearly got something right.

The Scapegoat

All the family problems are blamed on The Scapegoat. This child may be disobedient, or there may be some other reason why they stand out as the ‘black sheep’ of the family, or there may be no good reason at all. Regardless, what is certain is, that by having a scapegoat, the family can ignore or deny any bigger issues.

The Lost Child

The Lost Child falls below the family radar which is too busy focusing on the Hero or Scapegoat. Expected to be compliant, sensible and undemanding, The Lost Child is overlooked when it comes to family attention and is often left feeling very lonely. The Lost Child learns to care for themselves and finds asking for help difficult.

The Mascot

The clown of the family system, The Mascot intervenes to lighten the mood distracting from deeper issues that may be present. The Mascot learns to ‘read the room’, sensing when humour may be needed to diffuse any potential conflict and allows for the avoidance of real problems being addressed.

In Conclusion

Each of these roles share the same message; that the individuals’ needs don’t matter. The individuals’ voice is only heard when their role is being played. Having no sense of self or of their innate value leaves the individual vulnerable to developing codependent behaviours such as people-pleasing, taking responsibility for others’ mistakes and having weak boundaries.

Changing scripts with mindfulness and compassion

The Antidote

Childhood roles, or their effects, do not need to remain fixed into adulthood; the script can be changed. We can learn to say ‘no’ more, speak up more, uncover likes and dislikes, practice mindfulness and generate a compassionate inner voice that offers a daily reminder of our true, innate value.

About the author
Counsellor Penni Osborn
Penni Osborn
Penni Osborn is a counsellor working at Anglia Counselling Ltd where she meets with adults, offering kind and compassionate help with anxiety, depression, CEN and difficult or overwhelming emotions, both online and in person. Penni also offers non-judgemental support and guidance for those seeking to explore their experiences in order to achieve enhanced personal growth, positive change and greater happiness.