I HAVE TO HOLD THINGS TOGETHER
or we’ll implode, & then what?
PREVIOUS: TFR (Part 1)
REMINDER: See ACRONYM page for abbrev.
TOXIC FAMILY ROLES (TFRs) are created when emotional bonds in a dysfunctional family are weak or missing. They’re used as defense mechanisms to help each person adapt to a difficult environment they can’t fix or escape. Such families revolve around a serious problem – whether alcohol & other addictions, a mentally or physically impaired person, someone in jail, infidelity, physical & sexual abuse, a parent who had left, disappeared or died…… causing such a severe burden that the rest of the family can’t get enough of their needs met to thrive. Children get pulled into parents’ personal or sexual problems, become a spousal substitute to one parent, an older child is forced to be physically & emotionally responsible for younger children or a mentally ill parent….
• TFRs are unhealthy because they are Rigid & the entire system is forced to participate – for them to work. Roles are assigned not chosen, fixed not flexible, are not created or maintained by a single person & have little to do with each person fundamental personality. Because TFR develop unconsciously, most members don’t even realize they’re hooked in, & yet roles always become deeply ingrained. To TEST this, try taking on someone else’s role in your family, or refuse to play your own. Immediate, intense pressure will be brought to bear on you to get back to your ‘job’!
• However, TFRs are formed & perpetuated because they serve functions within the diseased system, to keep it from disintegrating. There is an internal ‘logic’ keeping all the mobile pieces in their place. THEY:
— manage anxiety
— provide a sense of purpose in the chaos
— deflect blame form oneself
— minimize blowups & disintegration
— protect the family honor from disgrace while presenting a ‘good’ image to the world….
Unfortunately TFRs perpetuate the dysfunction, passing it down the family tree!
In families centered around addiction, the main roles are:
1. THE ADULTS
a. The Addict
The person with the addiction is the center of the family ‘universe’ & gets all the attention. It can be a parent, a teen or an adult-child. Al-Anon says: “The sickest person in the room wins!” & “The alcoholic has their arms wrapped around the bottle, while the co-alcoholic has their arms wrapped around the alcoholic.” Once this ‘dance’ has been established, what’s left is for everyone else to unconsciously fill in the rest of the roles, to complete the mobile.
• Inside the person, prerequisites for addiction are: genetic inheritance, personality traits, attitude, beliefs, history of trauma & their capacity for coping with life’s challenges
• Outside, addiction is affected by important relationships: family and friends, cultural beliefs and social influences / pressures
b. The Caretaker (Co-Dependent, Enabler/Rescuer, Martyr)
The Enabler, usually a spouse but sometimes an older child, makes all the other roles possible. They have to keep the family together, keep everyone happy, keep the addict from injuring or killing themselves, & maintain a semblance of cohesion & balance. They make excuses for bad behavior, emotional abuse & irresponsibility, avoiding any mention of the addiction or the possibility of Recovery. They make an enormous effort to present a problem-free face to the world but Al-Anon says: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
• As the long-suffering martyr, Enablers take on the addict’s problems & the blame for their failures, living on the highs & lows of another person. This Role allows them to covers up their low self-esteem, gives them a sense of purpose & staves off their fear of abandonment. Underneath, they don’t believe anyone healthier would want them, but may not admit it even to themselves.
• Enablers are consciously or unconsciously sought out by addicts, who then never have to face their problems or hit bottom. They don’t know that if they stopped Rescuing everyone, they would interrupt the codependent cycle, which could actually lead to healing. ARTICLE: “Being addicted to the Addict” by K. Capell-Sowder
2. The CHILDREN✶ Hero, Placater, Scapegoat, Lost Child & Mascot (covered in the next 5 posts). To understand the purpose of these roles, we first need to put them in context.
✶ These roles were originally identified in Don Wegscheider’s book, IF ONLY MY FAMILY UNDERSTOOD ME, 1979
NEXT: TFR (Part 2) – Categories for ACoAs