How the family can hurt or help part 2: The Roles the family play
Part 2 of How The Family Can Hurt or Help: Teen Substance Abuse-Prevention & Treatment Options.
The typical dysfunctional roles played out within the context of the family
Elisabeth Escobar and Kathryn Staron cite Claudia Black in analysing the nature and significance of the typical dysfunctional roles played out within the context of the family.
It is a myth that substance use disorders affect the user alone.
There is a large impact on the family during active use and early recovery. The severity of family dysfunction are affected by:
- How long the family has lived with the loved one’s substance abuse
- The user’s role/responsibility within the family unit
- The stage/severity of addiction
- The shame/secrets surrounding the addiction.
Family Roles that usually develop within a chemically dependent family are important for every therapist to know. Taken from the work by Claudia Black, it is prudent for parents, therapists and educators to be aware of these roles. The dysfunctional roles that develop within the family unit can aid in relapse if they are not addressed. Consider the following explanation of the different unhealthy roles in a family with a loved one who has an addiction:
An addict is only as good as the enabler. This role/relationship is often coming from a place of love. The enabler is acting as a cushion between the addict and the natural negative consequences of their using behaviors. The enabler’s behaviors are often provoked to relieve some of the tension in the family. “I have to help and to protect” is a common thought for the enabler.
The scapegoat draws attention away from the active addiction by engaging in unhealthy behaviors themselves. These behaviors are a manifestation of the family’s frustration and anger. The individual in this role often abuses substances themselves and struggles with the thought of “I’m just like him.”
The hero draws attention away from the active addiction by representing the family in a “perfect” light. This role often becomes a perfectionist and struggles with control issues. “We are not so bad after all, are we?” is a conflicting thought for this family member.
The mascot is the role that draws attention to the active use but does it in a way that is unsupportive and hinders treatment/recovery. Hurtful, sarcastic humor is at the heart of this role. “Here comes Cousin Pete, everybody better hide the alcohol if you want to save some for yourself!”
The lost child is child is the family member who will avoid conflict at all costs. She is attention avoidant and and often suffers from feelings of hopelessness with a fatalistic attitude. “This will never change” is often a re-occurring thought for this family member.
When the family members are able to see the “role” they play in the addicted family system and learn to overcome this role, family healing can begin. Keep in mind that it is not uncommon for one person to play several roles (though one would be primary) or change their role over time. Having this knowledge is a powerful incentive to be open to doing one’s own emotional work and thus, enhancing positive family relationships.
In conclusion, remember to have the loving talk, set the limits, plan and discuss the consequences of use and tell your child/student that you care about them and you trust they will make the right decision.
Kathryn Staron is a Licensed Therapist who specializes in Addiction….