Families all over San Diego County are sometimes caught in the throes of the family disease of alcoholism. One of the family members drinks the alcohol, it changes their internal mood and thus, their behavior positively or negatively, and the other family members consciously and unconsciously react to the effects of the substance. After years of adaptation to this emotional and behavioral distortion, all the family members develop roles, or habitual emotional and behavioral reactions within the family to the high levels of stress produced within the family unit. Once learned, these almost predictable roles are experienced as coping patterns and become integrated into one’s personality, often times becoming problematic in future relationships.
The Alcoholic whose drinking used to produce positive effects and now negative, is likely to be experiencing quite a bit of pain and shame, guilt, inadequacy, fear, and loneliness. To hide these feelings, he or she develops a number of defenses that may include irrational anger, social withdrawal, hostility, and depression.
The Codependent/Enabler/Caretaker which can be a partner or child, steps up and takes control if the person suffering from alcoholism is no longer able to fulfill his or her familial responsibilities. The enabler attempts to protect the chemically dependent person from the consequences of their actions. The codependent often loses their sense of self in household tasks and neglects his/her own needs and feelings.
Caretaker’s purpose: to maintain appropriate appearances to the outside world.
The Hero is a high achiever; takes focus off the alcoholic because of his/her success; perfectionist; feels inadequate; compulsive; can become a workaholic and often the oldest child who feels responsible for fixing the family pain. This Hero child excels in academics, athletics, music or theatre and gets self-worth from being “special” but inner needs are not met causing internalized feelings of inadequacy, pain, and confusion.
Hero’s purpose: to raise the esteem of the family.
The Scapegoat goes against rules; acts out to take the focus off the alcoholic; feels hurt & guilt because of behavior. In reality the misbehavior of the Scapegoat serves to distract and provide some relief from the stress of the chemically dependent family member. He/she may show self-pity, defiance, and hostility or even suicidal gestures due to anger and pain.
Scapegoat’s purpose: to take the focus away from the alcoholic.
The Lost Child brings relief to the family by not bringing attention to the family. He/she often feels lonely. This child has much in common with the Scapegoat. Neither one feels very important. His/her feelings are not vocalized and this behavior is reinforced for not causing problems. These children hide their hurt and pain by losing themselves in the solitary world of short-term escape – favorite places for the lost child are in front of the T.V. or video games as well as in his/her room. Due to the sedentary lifestyle, a lost child tends to have issues with weight. They feel confused and inadequate in relationships.
Lost child’s purpose: to not place added demands on the family system; he/she is low maintenance.
The Mascot/Cheerleader/Clown uses humor to lighten difficult family situations. He/she feels fear; others see him/her as being immature; however, the mascot brings humor to all situations even if inappropriate. This individual learns to work hard at getting attention and making people laugh especially when the anger and tension of substance use are dangerously high. They are often hyperactive, charming and/or cute. Inside, they feel lonely knowing no one really knows the real person behind the clown’s mask. Humor serves to hide inner painful feelings but the laughter can prevent healing.
Mascot’s purpose: to provide levity to the family; to relieve stress and tension by distracting everyone.
The examples listed above are not exhaustive but help to demonstrate the amount of energy that loved ones use to placate alcoholic family systems. In essence, alcoholism dominates the family members. Family members often times take on unhealthy roles in order to survive. In time, members lose the ability to coalesce as a united force. At that juncture, alcoholism has won the battle.
Using positive and proven treatment protocols that are both evidence-based and wellness-focused, the experienced clinical staff at Lasting Recovery will aid you and your family in acquiring the skills you need to return to a sober, serene, and sane life.