Tag Archives: Family Scapegoat

8 Dysfunctional Roles Within The Dysfunctional Family

 

 

According to Wegscheider-Cruse, Sarir and Kellogg, within dysfunctional families, each family member develops a dysfunctional role. These roles are as follows :

  • THE ENABLER
  • THE DO-ER
  • THE HERO
  • THE MASCOT
  • THE LOST CHILD / LONER
  • THE SCAPTGOAT
  • THE SAINT
  • DAD’S LITTLE PRINCESS / MOM’S LITTLE MAN

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

THE ENABLER : The enabler maintains the family status quo, irrespective of the costs, and tries to keep family conflict to a mininmum. The enabler may be motivated by fears of abandonment and / or a conviction that other members of the family cannot cope independently. S/he also tends to be in denial of the family’s problems and makes excuses for family members’ destructive behavior rather than confronting them. The enabler may be a child in the family but, more usually, is a spouse.

THE DO-ER : The do-er takes care of the family’s practical needs and is driven by unhealthy guilt and a heavy burden of responsibility. However, s/he has little energy or time to meet other requirements of family members such as their emotional needs. S/he gains self-esteem from being the one to fulfil the family’s practical needs but also feels exploited and lonely. Other family members spur him / her on to maintain his / her role via either direct or indirect means.

THE HERO : The ‘hero’ is the person who is good for the family’s public image and detracts from the dysfunction that lies at the heart of the family. S/he may have been very successful at school and may also have gone on to have an impressive career. However, his / her own mental well-being is poor as s/he carries around the knowledge that the image of the family s/he represents to wider society is deeply misleading. S/he is a driven, Type A personality, a workaholic and a perfectionist which can put him / her, eventually, at risk of developing stress-related illnesses due to the inner anxiety s/he carries around. Normally, the ‘hero’ is the oldest child.

THE MASCOT : The mascot, desperate for approval, is usually the youngest member of the family who is a kind of ‘court jester’ who provides ‘comic relief’ for the family with jokiness and light-heartedness ; however, beneath this thin veneer s/he conceals his / her own emotional pain and vulnerability  ; despite this superficial joviality when interacting with other family members, the family’s fundamental dysfunction remains unresolved.

THE LOST CHILD / LONER : The lost child / loner isolates him/herself from the family (e.g. the child who spends all his / her time in his / her bedroom) and is motivted to do so by his / her family’s need to be apart and separate from him / her. Therefore, the child’s isolation is not, at the fundamental level, his / her own personal choice and, as such, s/he feels deeply lonely. S/he is withdrawn, lacks social confidence and tends to experience relationship difficulties in later life or lives a solitary existence

THE SCAPEGOAT : The ‘scapegoat’ or ‘black sheep (usually the second oldest child) of the family’ is the one who later ‘acts out’ (usually the male acts out through violence and the female by promiscuous sex) the family’s dysfunction. S/he is the one the other family members (wrongly) blame for their dysfunction.

To learn more about this you may wish to read my prevoiusly published articles ‘The Dysfunctional Family’s Scapegoat‘ or ‘Family Systems Theory And The Family Scapegoat’ or ‘Did Your Dysfunctional Family Make You The Identified Patient?’ You may also wish to read my article : ‘Acting Out And Childhood Trauma.’

THE SAINT : The ‘saint’ is (tacitly) expected to personify the family’s religious / spiritual dimension and to refrain from sexual activity although this is not explicitly stated and the other family members’ encouragement that s/he will fulfil this role operates on an unconscious level.

DAD’S ‘LITTLE PRINCESS’ / MOM’S LITTLE MAN : When a parent puts a child into this role it is often referred to by psychologists as emotional incest or covert incest and constitutes a serious form of emotional abuse.  It involves the adult exploiting the child for his / her own emotional needs which, in turn, robs the young person of their childhood. This often leads to severe interpersonal difficulties when the child becomes an adult and makes him / her extremely vulnerable to revictimization as s/he is likely to have developed a lack of understanding about personal boundaries. A closely related concept to emotional / covert incest is that of ‘parentification’ of the child.

Not all dysfunctional families, of course, will incorporate individuals who fit each of these roles and, within any particular family, the same individual may fulfil different roles at different stages of development ; for example, the ‘lost child’ may later become the ‘scapegoat.’

FAMILY THERAPY :

A family who experiences these sort of problems can find family therapy extremely helpful. Family therapists may offer various approaches to treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Techniques family therapists use include ‘reframing’, setting families ‘homework’ (e.g. changing their responses to other family members), role-play and family situation re-enactments (and subsequent analysis).

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Considering Seeing A Therapist? An Overview Of Talking Therapy.

talking therapy

What Is ‘Talking Therapy’And What Conditions Can It Treat?

The term ‘talking therapy’ refers not to one specific therapy but to a category of therapies. As the phrase strongly implies, ‘talking therapies’ involve a client talking to a therapist with the aim of ameliorating their particular psychological difficulty (e.g. depression, anger, addiction, eating disorders, phobias, childhood trauma, relationship problems and family problems). Studies show that in many cases ‘talking therapies’ can be at least as effective, and, frequently, more effective, than medications for the treatment of a wide range of psychological problems.

Examples Of ‘Talking Therapies’:

As stated above, there are a variety of ‘talking therapies’ from which to choose. These include the following :

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • counselling
  • psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • behavioral activation
  • mindfulness-based therapies
  • family therapy
  • interpersonal therapy
  • dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

(NB The above list is not exhaustive).

Let’s briefly look at each of these eight examples of ‘talking therapy’ in turn :

talking therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy :

This type of therapy is currently widely used to help individuals with psychological difficulties and is evidence-based (i.e. supported by empirical research findings). It is a short-term therapy within which the therapist and client work together to help the client identify dysfunctional behaviors and thinking processes that may be contributing to his/her problems and then to change these behaviors and thinking processes into more helpful ones.

To read my previously published article about how cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help those of us who have suffered childhood trauma, click here.

Counselling :

Counselling involves the client talking to a trained therapist about emotions and feelings ; the therapist will listen to the client in a non-judgmental and non-critical  manner.

Usually, the therapist does not provide direct advice to the client but, instead, aims to facilitate the client’s insight into, and understanding of, his/her own thinking patterns and, also, to help him/her discover his/her own solutions to his/her problems.

Counselling has traditionally been a face-to-face activity but is now becoming increasingly available online.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy :

This type of therapy aims to discover, and make the client aware of, how his/her (previously) unconscious mental processes, strongly influenced by early life experiences, have, historically, adversely affected his/her behavior.

To read my previously published post about how psychodynamic psychotherapy can help those who have suffered childhood trauma and, as a result, gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD), click here.

Behavioral activation :

This therapy is used for the treatment of depression and, encouragingly, has been found to have a good rate of success (even, more encouragingly still, in the case of those suffering from depression who have not responded well to other therapeutic interventions – i.e. those who were previously found to be ‘treatment resistant’).

It is often used in conjunction with CBT (see above) or other therapies and, in particular, can help clients who are isolated and avoidant.

To read my previously published article  about how behavioral activation can effectively alleviate depression, click here.

Mindfulness-based therapies :

Mindfulness-based therapies have the goal of helping the client to become aware of his/her feelings, thoughts and experiences in the present moment and to accept these, as a kind of disinterested observer, without judging them . Once the client, with practice, starts to master this skill (which takes time), s/he should experience significantly less distress, or, even, in the ideal case, serene equanimity, when unwanted thoughts and feelings arise in his/her mind.

To read my previously published article about research into mindfulness meditation, click here.

Family therapy :

This therapy aims to resolve dysfunctional family dynamics, particularly by focusing upon how communication can be improved between family members and how conflicts can be overcome.

To read my previously published article on family systems theory and the family scapegoat, click here.

Interpersonal therapy :

This form of therapy aims to help individuals who have interpersonal problems (i.e. find it hard to form and maintain relationships with others). The effectiveness of this kind of therapy is supported by empirical evidence.

To read my previously published article about the process by which are adult relationships can be ruined, click here.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT):

This is an evidence-based therapy for the treatment of individuals who suffer from borderline personality disorder (BPD). To read my previously published article about how DBT can help people with BPD, click here.

 David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Family Systems Theory And The Family Scapegoat

family systems theory

FAMILY SYSTEMS THEORY :

FAMILY SYSTEMS THEORY was developed by the American psychiatrist, Murray Bowen (1913-1990). The theory proposes that :

a) The family acts as a highly complex system

b) This system is made up of family members who are emotionally intertwined

c) The ‘units’ of the system (i.e. the emotionally intertwined family members) interact in highly complex ways

d) Family members, through emotional interaction, affect each other’s thoughts, behaviors and emotional states (though are often unaware of the degree to which this process is taking place)

e) Some family members are more emotionally interconnected than others, but all are emotionally interconnected to some extent.

THE EFFECTS OF ANXIETY PERMEATING THE FAMILY SYSTEM :

When one or more of the family members become anxious, the anxiety becomes ‘contagious’ and ‘infects’ other members of the family. As the level of anxiety increases, so, too, do the emotional interactions between family members become correspondingly, increasingly stressful.

Eventually, a particular family member (the most sensitive and vulnerable) starts to absorb the majority of the anxiety produced by the family system which puts this person at risk of developing various forms of mental illness including depression and anxiety disorders. In this way, this individual acts as a kind of ‘container’ or ‘vessel’ into which the lion’s share of the stress and anxiety generated by the entire family system is poured ; this process, in turn, can result in him/her becoming the ‘family symptom bearer‘ / ‘family scapegoat’ / ‘family black sheep’ (see related article recommendations below).

I provide an example of how this can play out below :

Let’s take a hypothetical family consisting of four members : mother, father, oldest son (age 16), and youngest son (age 14). Now, let’s imagine the following scenario :

The family functions relatively well until the parental marriage comes under strain. The stress and anxiety generated by this marital friction permeates the whole family.

In response to the increased anxiety in the family home, the father spends much more time at the office, becoming a workaholic; the mother, to distract herself and bolster her self-esteem and self-image, throws herself into charity work and religious activities; the oldest brother cuts off from the family, spending his time in his bedroom listening to music or doing homework (when he is not bullying his younger brother); the youngest son responds by getting drunk, taking drugs, getting into fights and becoming involved in petty crime.

The family then identify the youngest son as being at the root of the family problems and decide they should all attend family therapy sessions.

However, the family therapist points out that the youngest son is NOT, in fact, the source of the family’s problems, and that therapy can only work if all family members face up to their own specific problems.

However, the father, mother and older brother do not wish to entertain the idea that they might have anything to do with the way in which the family has become dysfunctional, insisting, instead, that it is the youngest son who needs to be ‘fixed’, certainly not any of them!

Having made their feelings on the matter abundantly clear, the family then terminates the family therapy. Permanently.

Because the family is still convinced that the youngest son is, as it were, ‘the root of all evil’, the family pack him off to a psychiatric hospital for a couple of months.

Due to the fact that the youngest son is now away from the malign influence of the family atmosphere (rather than due to any treatment the hospital attempts to provide proactively) the youngest son’s psychological condition improves considerably. Eventually, therefore, his family (magnanimously, in their own grossly distorted and self-serving view) grant him permission to return home.

However, when the son does return home, because the other family members have failed to acknowledge, let alone address, their own issues, the youngest son’s psychological condition deteriorates again and things go from bad to worse…

In other words, it is the system as a whole that needs to be ‘repaired’, not just one part of it (i.e. the family member displaying the most inconvenient, and least socially acceptable, symptoms / psychological defenses).

You may like to read two related articles from this site (see immediately below) :

eBook :

emotional abuse book

Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. Click here or on image for further information.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Did Your Dysfunctional Family Make You The ‘Identified Patient’?

 

‘The person [in the family] who gets diagnosed is part of a wider network of extremely disturbed and disturbing patterns of communication’

R.D. Laing

BATESON PROJECT :

It has been theorized (originally in the 1950s as part of the Bateson Project, led by Gregory Bateson), that in many dysfunctional families an individual within the family is, largely unconsciously, assigned the role of the ‘identified patient’.

Essentially, this process comes about as a result of the dysfunctional family  projecting onto a family scapegoat.

What Is ‘Projection?

Projection is a psychological defence mechanism by which people avoid facing up to their own unwanted feelings, such as aggressive impulses, by displacing and seeing them in others) 

An example of projection would be a very selfish person who constantly accuses others of being selfish and, indeed, sees selfishness in others everywhere she or he looks.

In this way it is a type of blame-shifting – the family displaces their own psychological difficulties onto one specific family member, who, as a result, becomes the family scapegoat, diverting attention from the rest of the family’s mental and emotional problems.

Often, the identified patient is unconsciously selected as she or he is the youngest, most vulnerable, weakest and sensitive member of the family .

If we were made to be the identified patient in our family, our family may have:

As our family will have a vested interest in continuing to keep us in our role of identified patient (namely to prevent them from having to face up to their own failings and contributions to the family’s dysfunction), they will go to great lengths in order to do so. In fact, if we, the identified patient start to recover,  they may be unconsciously driven to prevent this recovery, and thus, by such means, maintain the family’s status quo.

Externalization:

It is likely that, in such families, the identified patient has been psychologically abused by some, or all, other members of the dysfunctional family and that any problematic behaviors she or he does display are, in fact, externalizing behaviors brought on by the family’s mistreatment of him/her.

Indeed, one school of thought has been of the view that in families in which an identified patient has been unconsciously designated, it is not the identified patient who is ‘mad’; on the contrary – it is the other family members. In relation to this view, R.D. Laing put forward the notion that such families suffered from ‘a distorted and disturbing pattern of communications.’

And, indeed, the anti-psychiatry movement of which R.D. Laing (see above) was a leading part, suggested that, frequently, it was the family of the identified patient who were ‘mad’, and the identified patient the ‘most sane’, having insight that is lacking in the other family members.

THERAPY :

It follows from this that therapy, in cases where an identified patient seems to have been selected, should involve ALL family members.

Indeed, one such therapy, based on the views of Virginia Satir, is called FAMILY SYSTEMS THERAPY and it emphasizes the idea that the identified patient, although having been consciously or unconsciously selected by the family to distract attention from the dysfunction of the family as a whole, may also hold the key to gaining insight into the family’s so-called ‘secret agenda).

 

SEE ALSO MY ARTICLES BELOW :

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Childhood Trauma Recovery