• Nicole Arzt

Understanding The True Costs Of Dysfunctional Family Roles



Addiction doesn’t emerge from true isolation. It evolves from a variety of genetic and environmental factors- many of which are unconscious. As a result, the family system can unknowingly trigger or accelerate addictive behaviors.


All families have some stress, but when members take on dysfunctional family roles, the system becomes even more compromised. If someone in the family has an addiction, these rigid roles can become detrimental to everyone.


Understanding Dysfunctional Family Roles In Addiction

There are no perfect families. While addiction looks different for everyone, research shows that the family plays a paramount role in reinforcing unwanted behaviors. Let’s review some of the common parts family members play.


The Scapegoat

Many times, the addict is the scapegoat of the family. They are the black sheep, the one person who assumes all the problems for the system’s dysfunction. Scapegoats may present as hostile, defiant, and impulsive.


That said, the scapegoat actually holds the truth of the family. Their “acting out” is simply “acting out” the family’s dysfunction. Because their behavior often results in negative attention, the focus remains on them- instead of on the family as a whole. In other words, the scapegoat is sacrificed for the family. Because they know the “truth,” they tend to be self-destructive, pessimistic, and attention-seeking.


The Hero

The opposite of the scapegoat, the hero is the one who makes the family look good. They may be an excellent student or star athlete. They are usually level-headed and responsible, but they also struggle with control issues and perfectionism.


The hero receives constant praise from the family. However, this praise comes at a steep cost. From a young age, they often believe their worth only comes from external accomplishments. As a result, they tend to overwork to meet such high expectations.


The Enabler

The enabler acts like the martyr of the family. They don’t just support addict behavior- they tend to encourage it. The enabler struggles with immense codependency. They spend a great deal of time worrying, fixing, and rationalizing the family’s dysfunction.


The enabler doesn’t have much of a sense of self-worth outside of what they can do for others. Subsequently, they often feel insecure, lonely, or worthless. Although they may recognize that they aren’t improving the situation, they often feel compelled to keep trying.


The Mascot

The mascot lives to lighten the mood with a corny joke or other humorous tricks. They are charming and charismatic, and they depend on these traits to distract the family from their dysfunction.


However, the mascot often struggles to confront emotions directly. They may have a series of shallow relationships in their adult life. They may measure their self-worth by how well they can entertain people. Inside, however, they may feel profoundly insecure or even empty.


The Lost Child

The lost child is the most unsuspecting family member. They tend to be quiet, well-behaved, and they prefer spending time alone. People pay the least attention to them, as they keep a relatively low profile.


The lost child disappears when family stress becomes evident. They may spend most of their childhood reading, playing video games, or doing solo activities in their bedroom. In adulthood, they tend to be shy, and they also have difficulties with intimacy and connection.


How Do You Change Your Dysfunctional Family Role?

The first step is awareness. Often, people have played these roles for many years- starting in their own childhood with their family-of-origin. They haven’t recognized the magnitude it has had in their lives.


Start by thinking about the different ways your family role has impacted your:

  • Self-esteem.

  • Personal relationships.

  • The overall level of satisfaction with your family.


Do you notice any patterns? This reflection can help you better understand how and why this role has protected you. Even if it’s dysfunctional, it’s important to remember that it has served a purpose as well.


Changing your role can be incredibly hard. That’s because your family members will likely resist your efforts. Families want to maintain their status quo- if someone changes, they have no choice but also to reflect inwards. That process can feel terrifying.


You must believe that you are worthy and deserving of the change. This compassion will keep you on the right track, even if your motivation wanes. Remember that all change takes time. It’s normal to experience some setbacks and apprehension along the way.


We Can Help Your Family

At The Resurface Group, we believe that family work is the cornerstone of all healing. We know the devastating costs of dysfunctional family roles. We know how tiring it can be to feel stuck in such a stressful dynamic.


We’re here to help. Our family work focuses on coaching, therapy, and continuous support for loved ones. Everyone in the family has the opportunity to heal. Are you interested in learning more? Contact us today!




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Orange County Addiction Recovery • 2900 Bristol St Suite 320, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 • Main (509) 319-0845

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