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  • Writer's pictureEmily Piette

Dysfunctional Family Roles

In every dysfunctional family system, each family member plays a role. Their role can change in the family depending on the context and roles each take. The roles are as follow:



Role 1, The Scapegoat: The person in the “scapegoat” role is the identified “problem” and is usually blamed for all the family’s issues, whether they are actually the problem or not. This role is typically (although not always) held by one of the children.


Role 2, The Hero: This person is high-functioning enough that the family uses them to convince themselves there is “no issue” within the family. This person justifies the presence of “the scapegoat”, and carries the burden of presenting the facade of the family being functional.


Role 3, The Mascot: This person plays the role of emotional “referee” by stepping in with humor and positivity to diffuse or distract from serious issues.


Role 4, The Caretaker: This individual attempts to keep everyone in the family as calm and happy as possible, even if it covers up deeper issues and dysfunction. While this helps the family to operate on a daily basis, it ends up preventing the family from healing and functioning in a healthier way.


Role 5, The Lost Child: This family member tries to “blend into the background” in order to avoid being involved in or creating conflict. This person is usually more of a “loner” and usually struggles with self-esteem.


Role 6, The Golden Child: This is the child that the parent(s) project all of their positive qualities onto, which often makes this child the “favorite.” This child also adopts and lives out the parents’ moral codes.






Once you recognize that you’re in a dysfunctional family, how do I get out of these roles?

Self-care and boundaries!


  • it’s critical to make sure you’re taking care of your own emotional needs.

  • Remember that while you’re doing introspective work, your family might not be doing that same work and may not change

  • When you’re noticing yourself getting emotionally dysregulated by different interactions, set a healthy boundary or use that situation to inform yourself of the boundaries that you need to set in the future.

  • Focus on how to direct all your individual relationships with family members to being more healthy relationships, including focusing on good communication, having fun shared experiences, and being authentic with others.


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