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Most people in the world would say that nothing is more important than family. They say that you can choose your friends, but family is forever. If you subscribe to the philosophy of blood being thicker than water, then it makes sense that when those closest to you suffer, you suffer right along with them. For many, this concept is never more painfully clear than when living with an addict in the family. Even though plenty of people struggling with addiction say they are only hurting themselves, most of us know that addiction is a family disease.
While there are many obvious ways that addiction affects a family, like domestic violence, financial troubles or death, there are also some more subtle consequences. When someone is suffering, their loved ones will often develop specific family roles for dealing with addiction. Depending on the household, and how the addiction manifests itself, some people may take on multiple roles in order to try and create a balance at home. However, many of these family roles can cause adverse effects of personal development over time.
Here are 6 family roles people use when coping with addicted loved ones.
Addiction and its effects draw a lot of attention, so it may seem to the addict that the world revolves around them. They take on a victim mentality, often causing others in the family to feel the need to save them, or at least to avoid disturbing them.
The victim is central to all the other family roles that develop around it. As the roles are defined, the victims loved ones unconsciously take on other family roles to complete the balance after the problem has been introduced.
Although this person’s actions are the key to their own recovery and overcoming the victim mentality, it is important to remember they are not necessarily vital for a family to recover on its own.
In the family, there will be someone who tries to be the champion for the victim and the family. This is someone who needs the family to look good, and they will work hard to make it so. The problem with the Hero is that they try to ignore the addiction and its effects. Instead, they want to dress everything up and act as if all is well.
The Hero will present things in a positive manner as if the family roles don’t actually exist. They are often perfectionists and overachievers, who seek to unite the family and offer hope through their own accomplishments. But taking on all this pressure can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for this family member. Very often this is the child of an addict or alcoholic.
If the Hero is able to finally overcome this role, they can ultimately play a crucial part in the addiction recovery process, both for the individual and for the family.
The Mascot’s is often thought of as the comic relief. This is the member of the family who uses humor as a defense mechanism and a distraction tactic. They try to soften the impact of an addicts behavior or ease tensions between family roles through laughter.
On the bright side, the Mascot does bring humor to the family roles people use for coping with addicted loved ones. They have a talent for making others feel better, even in the worst situations. But ultimately, they are also people-pleasers to a fault, which can foster feelings of anxiety.
However, Mascots sometimes make inappropriate jokes about other family members or situations, which can causes friction. They also run the risk of avoiding their own feelings or being inconsiderate of the feelings of others. Sometimes their harmful humor can hinder addiction recovery.
Also, the Mascot is likely to self-medicate as they grow up, perpetuating the cycle of addiction.
The Lost Child
In every family that deals with an addicted loved one, there is usually someone who tries their best to disappear. They are silent, withdrawn, and avoid drawing much attention to themselves from other members of the family. This is the Lost Child.
The Lost Child is typically careful to not make problems. They avoid any kind of conflict, along with conversations regarding the addiction or the underlying family roles that take shape around the victim.
The Lost Child will spend as much time as possible in isolation or away from their family. They are the child who sits in their room playing video games or watching TV for hours without any interaction. The Lost Child will often develop feelings of neglect and resentment, which can lead to depression. They often grow up to have a very difficult time developing healthy relationships later in life.
The Scapegoat is a problem child. Usually, this is the black sheep of the family who often acts out in front of others. They take on this role, knowingly or subconsciously, to divert attention from the person who is addicted. They rebel home, get in trouble at school, make a lot of noise to mask the underlying issues in the family. Male scapegoats are often prone to violence, while female scapegoats frequently act out sexually.
This person may even adopt substance use in order to run interference for a parent or sibling. They may develop other issues as well, such as eating disorders or a tendency to self-harm.
The Scapegoat covers or draws attention away from the real problem. They grapple with feelings or anger and shame, and they often offer the other family roles a sense of purpose- being someone to watch out for or try to fix.
The Enabler is also commonly referred to as the Caretaker but is always the person who makes all the other family roles possible. Most often this is a spouse, but it can also be a child of an addict.
Caretakers will take it upon themselves to keep everyone happy, believing it is the best way to protect the family. Their mission is to maintain balance in order to make the family look good on the outside. They are notorious for minimizing the addiction, making excuses for all behaviors and actions. They have a knack for blaming everything on something else, without acknowledging the real problem.
This person protects the addict from consequences, while constantly cleaning up after their messes.
Additionally, the Enabler frequently embraces the other family roles when they are convenient for maintaining the family balance. They will laugh at the Mascots harmful jokes, or adamantly put the focus on the Hero’s achievements. They will support the Lost Child’s “independence”, and run interference for the Scapegoat, all while catering to and caring for the needs of the victim.
At the end of the day, the family roles people adopt as part of coping with an addicted loved one are a kind of functional dysfunction. It is a system that people create in order to survive situations at home that can be toxic and unpredictable. Human beings by nature will behave in accordance with their surroundings. Out of self-preservation, we will get used to unhealthy strategies for dealing with unhealthy relationships. Even if they are not effective, if they help us get by there is a lot of damaging stuff we will get used to.
All of these family roles demonstrate how important it is for families to be supported and involved in a loved one’s recovery from addiction. Because we can see how addiction impacts the family, we know that the family also needs help in overcoming those adversities. Having a recovery program designed specifically for family members and loved ones of people with addiction can make all the difference. Not only does it help the family support their loved one, but it helps the family recover on its own. Family can also play a very important role in relapse prevention. It teaches them what their loved ones may experience during the medical detox phase of treatment. It helps them better understand the science of addiction and the process of recovery, while also showing them how their own behaviors have an impact.
The Palm Healthcare Family Program is all about helping the family come together to face addiction and overcome all the unique challenges that come with it. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, please call toll-free now. You are not alone. We want to help your family be stronger together.
CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398
I’ve decided to touch on something that means more to me than there are words to describe it.
That is, my mom.
To me, the word mom is synonymous with every great quality I’ve ever known or could hope to have. My mother is fiercely loyal, devoted and courageous. She is also the most compassionate, considerate and loving person I know. She sacrificed all to give me a chance at having a full and amazing life, and she continues to do so. My mother gives her life to nurturing the ones she loves spiritually, mentoring me emotionally, and ensuring that I know, even when I did not believe in myself, that someone does.
Recently I was faced with a conversation about mothers and I was suddenly startled at a realization; in my addiction I put my mother through so much more than I ever gave credit, and she was still my hero. There is something to be said about the way a mom will care acutely and unconditionally, and my mom is a champion of the heart. I think it gives me even more reason to talk about this.
Sharing the Burden
Of course a mother is intrinsically protective. The lioness guards her cubs with ferocity; passionately committed to safeguarding her child. Of course we all become handfuls sooner rather than later, but thankfully mom is always there, trying to keep us alive and in check. My mom poured her heart into trying to teach me to be a man of integrity. So naturally, when I fell, her heart sank with me.
I will never forget having to tell my mom I was going back to drug rehab for the second time in a year. It was not the first time we had cried together, but it was different. The pain and fear in her face, the look of resignation and acceptance. That was all hard enough, but her words made it so much harder. She said:
“What didn’t I do right? Why have I failed my only son?”
She wasn’t asking me, she was praying out loud. It broke me. Even now, almost 4 years sober, reading those words makes my chest heavy. Those words really emphasize the idea that many parents of addicts will try and take responsibility for their children’s addictions.
Many parents have a habit of trying to carry the weight of their children’s burdens for them. They see their kids as reflections of themselves and their own actions. Just as they delight in the child’s every success, not matter how trivial it may seem, they also embrace the pain of their child’s mistakes. Thus, they frequently try to shoulder some of the accountability. They ask things like,
What if I had showed them more affection?
Was I too affectionate?
What if I was too tough?
Was I not tough enough?
How could I have done better?
When a child gets in trouble, or even sometimes when they become very sick, some parents want to assume responsibility for it all. They take on guilt and blame that doesn’t necessarily belong to them. I was both sick and in a world of trouble and my mom didn’t want me to do it alone.
My mom always believed in sharing the burden with anything I struggled through. She was trying to take as much of it as she could because she could see how hopeless I really was. My mom did not yell at me or ridicule me; she just wanted to protect me… even from myself. After years of hiding the truth and taking advantage of the kindness of her and my family, she never stopped trying to keep me safe.
Placing the Blame
Some might say (and I’m sure a few of my aunts and uncles do) that my mother would defend me to a fault. At first she wanted to believe it was the people I hung out with and the things they convinced me to do. Then, her focus turned on her. I could read it on her face; running through the last 24 years trying to figure out what had gone wrong and how she could have stopped it… asking herself if she might still be able to say something that fixed it.
Sure, there is some rationale to the concept that childhood trauma and emotional baggage can contribute to stress and depression, which can help inspire or influence substance abuse. But these factors are not guarantees or requirements. Neither are they the whole picture.
To put it simply… blaming a parent for a child’s addiction is like blaming a stop sign for speeding ticket.
In co-dependent relationships parents and children tend to get so used to sharing the burden that the blame naturally comes with it. Part of being a parent of someone recovering from addiction means you will eventually need to become comfortable with setting boundaries. For the co-dependent parent/child this can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, but in the long run it can alleviate unjustified guilt.
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And as much as my mom wanted to protect me, love me and save me… it wasn’t her responsibility to fix me either.
Never Your Fault
This is important for ALL parents who end up in this position to understand- your child’s addiction is NEVER your fault.
People do not become addicts because their home life was tough. We don’t become addicts because we think we are unappreciated, unloved or just misunderstood. There is a lot more to how people become addicted than their relationships with their parents, and it’s not just the drugs. Addiction is not something we decide to have; it is something that happens with the right combination of genetics, environment and repeated behaviors.
A parent may provide their child with the greatest of all privileges, opportunities and support, but that doesn’t guarantee they won’t become addicted to substances. Kids can also grow up in a broken home with addicted parents and never use drugs in their lives. You could teach your kids very empowering and stable values, but it doesn’t mean that they have a 0% chance of ever trying something that might change them.
The science of addiction credits a genetic predisposition that combines with a specific environment and a specific set of behaviors. It is a perfect storm that is unpredictable in many ways, because the specific ingredients of the addiction formula are exclusively unique to each individual. It isn’t anyone’s fault, and it definitely isn’t a parents.
To my mom…
Your love is the thing that kept me alive long enough to get here, so you should never question whether or not it was good enough. The problem wasn’t where I grew up, or the friends I had, and it definitely wasn’t how you raised me.
I was looking for a piece of myself I hadn’t had time to grow into. It was the piece I didn’t know how to look for in a healthy way, but you could not show me because no one can teach us but ourselves. Maybe the experience of looking itself is actually how we find it. Drugs and alcohol were a distraction from not having the answer to a much deeper question.
Mom, every loving and kind part of me came from you. You are one of the most powerful and influential women in my life. Still, the truth is my addiction was never up to you. I don’t say this to undermine your impact as a mother; it is to remind you that we are individuals, and that you have always done the best you could through every adversity. One day I pray I can be half the parent you are. I love you, and I only know what love truly means because of you.
To all mothers of addicts…
You are some of the most courageous and powerful women on the planet. It comes with the territory of bringing life into the world I guess. I can’t tell you how many other momma’s boys and mini-moms I’ve met in the recovery community. Even if your child is still struggling, always remember your strength and compassion. Always remember it is not your fault. You are amazing, and we are better because of you. Don’t give up.
Having a family member who has suffered can be harder on you than you know. Too many people don’t know how to get the help they need for their loved ones, and too many of our loved ones suffer for too long because they are afraid of the affects that the ones they care about most will face. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398