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Unveiling Dysfunction: The 6 Roles in Dysfunctional Families

Emily Turinas

4 min read

Jun 16



Understanding Dysfunction: Exploring the 6 Roles in Dysfunctional Families

Families are the building blocks of our identities and emotional well-being. In healthy families, love, support, and communication flow freely, fostering growth and resilience. However, in dysfunctional families, patterns of behavior and communication can lead to lasting emotional wounds. Research has identified six key roles within dysfunctional families, shedding light on the complex dynamics at play.

6 dysfunctional family roles

  1. The Enabler: Nurturing Dysfunction

The enabler plays a pivotal role in maintaining the status quo within a dysfunctional family. Typically, this role falls on one parent who enables destructive behaviors such as addiction, abuse, or neglect. They may make excuses for the perpetrator, cover up evidence of dysfunction, or minimize the seriousness of the issues at hand. The enabler often sacrifices their own well-being and boundaries in an attempt to preserve harmony within the family, but this comes at a significant cost. Over time, the enabler's actions can perpetuate dysfunction and prevent meaningful change from taking place.

Impact: The enabler's actions normalize destructive behaviors within the family, hindering the development of healthy boundaries and emotional regulation skills. Children raised in such environments may struggle with trust issues, have difficulty recognizing healthy relationships, and may repeat patterns of enabling in their own adult relationships. The impact can include a lack of accountability, emotional neglect, and challenges in forming secure attachments.

  1. The Hero: Striving for Perfection

In contrast to the enabler, the hero takes on the responsibility of being the family's "savior." They strive for perfection in all areas of their life, whether academically, professionally, or socially. The hero presents a facade of strength, competence, and success to the outside world, masking any internal struggles or pain. This role often emerges as a coping mechanism to cope with the chaos and dysfunction within the family. However, the pressure to maintain perfection can lead to high levels of stress, anxiety, and a constant fear of failure.

Impact: Heroes often internalize the belief that their worth is tied to their achievements and external validation. This can lead to a constant fear of failure, anxiety, and perfectionism. The pressure to maintain a facade of strength and success can result in burnout, feelings of inadequacy, and challenges in seeking help or showing vulnerability. Heroes may also struggle with intimacy and authentic self-expression, as they fear being perceived as weak or imperfect.

  1. The Scapegoat: Bearing the Blame

The scapegoat becomes the family's designated troublemaker, bearing the brunt of blame for the family's problems. They are often criticized, marginalized, and held to unrealistic standards. This role can be isolating and damaging to one's self-esteem, as the scapegoat internalizes the negative messages projected onto them. Over time, the scapegoat may develop rebellious behaviors, low self-worth, and difficulties forming healthy relationships outside the family unit.

Impact: Scapegoats often struggle with low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and a negative self-image. The constant criticism and blame can lead to self-destructive behaviors, rebelliousness, or a sense of alienation from others. Scapegoats may have difficulty trusting others, forming healthy relationships, and may carry unresolved anger or resentment from their experiences within the family.

  1. The Lost Child: Seeking Solitude

The lost child copes with dysfunction by withdrawing from family conflicts and emotional turmoil. They become emotionally distant, retreating into their own world of hobbies, interests, or fantasies. The lost child may appear quiet, shy, or introverted, preferring solitude over engaging with the chaotic dynamics at home. While this role offers temporary relief from the stress of family dysfunction, it can also lead to feelings of loneliness, detachment, and difficulty forming close connections with others.

Impact: The emotional withdrawal and isolation of the lost child role can lead to feelings of loneliness, social anxiety, and a lack of assertiveness. Lost children may struggle to express their emotions openly, form meaningful connections with others, and may develop coping mechanisms such as avoidance or dissociation. This role can impact self-esteem, interpersonal skills, and the ability to engage in healthy social interactions.

  1. The Mascot: Using Humor as a Shield

The mascot adopts a role of humor, charm, and attention-seeking behaviors to diffuse tension within the family. They use laughter and lightheartedness as a shield to divert attention away from the underlying issues and conflicts. The mascot often feels pressure to be the family entertainer, constantly seeking approval and validation through their comedic antics. While their humor may provide temporary relief, it can also mask deeper pain, insecurity, and unresolved trauma.

Impact: Mascots often rely on humor and charm to cope with underlying pain and trauma. While this can provide temporary relief, it may also lead to difficulties in addressing serious emotions, avoiding conflict, and maintaining superficial relationships. Mascots may struggle with authenticity, vulnerability, and may use humor as a defense mechanism to avoid confronting deeper issues or seeking meaningful connections.

  1. The Caretaker: Putting Others First

The caretaker assumes the role of the responsible, nurturing caregiver within the family. They prioritize the needs of others over their own, often neglecting self-care and personal boundaries in the process. The caretaker may take on excessive responsibilities, such as caring for younger siblings or supporting a struggling parent. While caregiving can be fulfilling, it can also lead to burnout, resentment, and a lack of fulfillment in one's own life.

Impact: Caretakers may experience burnout, resentment, and a diminished sense of self-worth as they prioritize others' needs over their own. This can lead to feelings of guilt, exhaustion, and difficulties in setting healthy boundaries or expressing personal needs. Caretakers may neglect their own well-being, leading to physical and emotional strain, and may struggle to prioritize self-care and fulfillment in their own lives.


It's important to note that these roles are not fixed or static; individuals within dysfunctional families may shift between roles depending on circumstances, family dynamics, and personal growth. Breaking free from dysfunctional family roles involves self-awareness, therapy, setting boundaries, and cultivating healthy relationships outside the family unit.

Recognizing and acknowledging these roles is the first step toward healing and creating a more fulfilling life. If you resonate with any of these roles or are navigating the challenges of a dysfunctional family dynamic, know that you are not alone. Seeking support from a qualified therapist can provide invaluable insights, coping strategies, and a safe space to explore and heal from past wounds. See if Emily Turinas PhD is a good fit for you. She is a psychologist who specializes in intimacy and relationships for those in Austin, Texas and Denver, Colorado. Schedule a free consultation today to see how Dr. Turinas could help you build clarity and direction in this next step of your life.

Emily Turinas

4 min read

Jun 16





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Emily Turinas PhD


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