You may have heard of the five “survival roles” often taken on by alcoholic families–Chief Enabler, Hero, Scapegoat, Lost Child, and Mascot. Sharon Wegsheider-Cruse is credited with identifying these roles within families living with chemical dependency in 1976. I learned these roles in high school when I attended a meeting for children of alcoholics to support a friend. Imagine my confusion when, in the course of the meeting, I began to recognize at least a few of the characters within my own family, even though none of us were chemically dependent. (The survival roles have since been applied to the broader scope of “dysfunctional” families.)
A family is a single, cohesive unit (no matter how loudly some members may protest to the contrary). When part of the family doesn’t function as it should, the other parts adapt in an effort to retain or regain that function as a unit. Every member contributes in some way. Unfortunately, even the youngest members of a family take on roles when the need is sensed.