Family members often take on certain roles within the family system. These roles are not set in stone and family members often take on different roles at different times in their life. Some of the most common roles are:
Enabler: The enabler is usually the individual emotionally closest to the addict. They watch over, protect and hide things to “help” the addict.
Hero: Usually the oldest child in the family takes on, or is given, the role of the hero. They are often perceived as being helpful within the family. Getting attention early in their life gives them a partial sense of worth and they often continuously strive to achieve approval and recognition. The hero is often the beacon of the family and represents for the family what is right with the family. Underneath the successful and confident exterior lies a sense of inadequacy and guilt. Part of these feelings are a result of the hero’s inability to fix the family and the addict.
Scapegoat: The scapegoat is often the second child in the family. Since much of the family attention has been directed to the hero, the scapegoat gains attention by acting out and getting in trouble. Since they perceive they can never get the praise the hero receives, negative attention is better than receiving no attention at all.
Lost Child: The lost child is usually the middle child in the family. By the time the lost child enters the family, the family members are too preoccupied with their own behaviors and roles to allow for quality time. The lost child is often shy, introverted and withdrawn. Since they never had the opportunity to learn to socialize within the family, they find making friends difficult. To cope, the lost child turns inward and develops a fantasy life. The lost child is particularly vulnerable to the development of an addiction as they often use alcohol or drugs to comfort themselves.
Mascot: The mascot is usually the last one born into the family. The way they receive attention is to be funny, cute, and entertaining. When there is pain in the family they divert attention through making light of the situation. The mascot finds difficulty with growing up because they have been rewarded for their childlike behavior. Since they have not been taken seriously in the family they often grow up feeling unimportant and inadequate.