Thursday, April 25, 2013

All in the Family

Each has his past shut in him like a book, known to him by heart and his friends can only read the title. Virginia Wolf

Family can be a wonderful place of acceptance, support, love and laughter, somewhere we retreat to when we just want to be ourselves.  It is also the place where we first learn to pretend.  

To a child the most important thing in the world is family, it represents safety and security.  If the family structure feels threatened, a child will do anything to save it.  Most of us at some time whilst growing up have experienced emotional stress and, in a misguided attempt at trying to save the family and as a coping strategy, assumed a role.

A role is just that - a part we play, a script we act out.  It isn't who we really are, it is something we do to keep the show on the road, keep the family together, to avoid feeling the vulnerability, fear and heartbreak of childhood.  There are 5 family roles.

The Hero
The 'Golden Child' who can do no wrong.  They go out and excel in a misguided attempt to bring a feeling of success to the family.  When there is a problem in the family they assume the lead position, wanting to be in charge and believing they have the answers or solutions.  'Okay, stand aside, I'll sort this out'. The Hero's golden status can cause the family to depend on him/her emotionally and financially and often needs to find someone in the family to criticize in order to reaffirm their own status.

The Martyr
'I'm fine, don't worry, you go ahead and enjoy yourselves.' The one who gives up on their own needs in order to take care of others.  They always know who is alone, feeling left out and suffering.  They are the helper, the pleaser, the 'little mother/father' who shoulders the burdens in order to keep the peace and stop the pain.  Martyrs feel their job is to help others and often prevent anyone else from being able to help.  When the problems go away they look for more in order to avoid the gaping hole that is their life.  The Martyr believes that once the problems are sorted the family will be saved; but because they don't include themselves, the family can never be saved.

The Scapegoat
The 'naughty' one, the troublemaker, the gang leader, clumsy, unruly etc etc.  The one who everyone points the finger at.  The Scapegoat acts out the bad feelings in the (hidden) hope that a higher authority will come in and sort the family out.  'If I get in to trouble at school maybe the teacher will come and tell mummy and daddy to stop fighting'

These three roles are driven by the guilt of not saving the family.  The next two roles are driven by a feeling of inadequacy - who they are is not enough to be of help.

The Charmer/Mascot
The one everyone loves, the one everybody enjoys spending time with.  They can be the life and soul of the party, the entertainer, the 'darling' putting on a great show and making everyone feel good.  But they go home alone.

The Lost Child/Orphan
'Where you there, I didn't see you?' The lost child will withdraw from the family in order to save everyone else.  They feel the burden of the family stress and believe that removing themselves either physically or energetically will be the best solution.  The Lost Child might starve themselves, get sent to boarding school, live overseas - even die - as an attempt to save the family.

Each of us has played all five roles at some time in our lives, but we also have our favourite - the one that is our default setting when stress levels build. They act as a kind of armour, a compensatory behaviour to mask any feelings of vulnerability.  But they also prevent us from growing, from healing and from building authentic relationships with others.

When we're young and have plenty of energy we can manage the weight of the heavy armour that comes with the role.  But as we get older we start to feel the burden and it begins to sap our reserves, we feel exhausted, depleted, burned out.  Depression, addiction, burnout, feelings of hopelessness are all signs that the role has outlived its usefulness and that it is time to shed the weight of old wounds.

It is never too late to have a happy childhood, it is never too late to find your true place within your family.  Under each role is a more genuine, authentic characteristic - a quality that you bring to the mix that allows you to take your true place not just in your family, in your life too.

Who are you, really?  Wouldn't you like to find out?  And isn't it time you knew?

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