For many years, family therapists have used the concept of family roles in working with dysfunctional families.
Those roles include the role of Scapegoat, Hero, Lost Child, Mascot, and Enabler. Families are asked to identify one role they played. By learning more about their roles, family members can better communicate with and understand each other.
In families suffering from addiction, roles become even more pronounced, separating family members and making communication and boundaries even more difficult. Family members sometimes feel forced into their roles. As as result, the family members of the addicted person often need therapy to help overcome their role and find freedom.
The Scapegoat is the person in the family who receives the anger and frustration of the entire family. They may be an active member of the family but their punishment for infractions goes from “your behavior is wrong” to “you as a person are wrong or bad.” The scapegoat receives a lot of psychological punishment and in some cases, severe physical punishment as well.
The Hero is the child or young adult who is popular in school and/or makes good grades. Given all the shame and failure in the family, the Hero has the pressure of making the family look good to hide their extreme dysfunction. The Hero must succeed, and even if he/she works tirelessly, the family is under so much stress that the Hero may be scapegoated for minor infractions.
The Lost Child is quiet, doesn’t cause trouble, and is very easy for the family to ignore. They don’t get any big rewards for not causing trouble. They just get no attention. Often they end up marrying someone exactly like the addict in their family and continue to be discounted in their adult life. This often leads to health problems and substance abuse in later life.
The Mascot makes everybody laugh and diffuses anger in the family. They become adept at hiding their real feelings and as adults are the people who will tell a story about something horrible in their life and smile as they tell the tale. They are not in touch with their own feelings and have a great deal of trouble with relationships and commitments.
The Enabler is the one that ignores all the detrimental effects of the roles and the addict’s behavior. The person in this role helps the addict stay in their addiction by covering up for them, supplying money and alternately shaming and denying addictive behavior.
Most people will fall primarily into one role, but it is not uncommon to have traits of all roles. These roles will interfere with all adult relationships until there is an intervention by counseling, treatment and/or 12 step work.
(n.d.). Characteristics of Codependency. Retrieved February 2017.
(2015, August 11). Addiction and the family: What are the roles that emerge?. Retrieved February 2017.