Family dynamics: The patterns of individual roles in a family part2
Last week we have been looking at two roles that children are easily adopting in any family.
The roles themselves aren’t bad, they are simply part of a family dynamic.
However, the more we as parents understand what’s happening, the more we can reach out to our children and prevent them to get lost in one of these roles.
These are the four main roles in a family:
The lost child goes unnoticed and can disappear for hours. Often this is the third, sometimes the fourth child.
Because it is “out of sight, it is also out of mind”, and usually feels unimportant.
Its philosophy is to “disappear and not cause trouble.”
The positive characteristics of the lost child:
Can work independently, good listener, good manual skills, dexterity, hobbyist, resourceful, creative, good observer, well-read, imaginative, nonconformist, never a behavior problem, enjoys solitude
Negative characteristics of the lost child:
Fears reality (may live in a fantasy life to escape) , indecisive, low self-esteem, feels invisible, sad, depressed, blames others, withdrawn, overly quiet, shy, lonely, solemn and passive, mediocre, attracted to things, not people
Inner Feelings of the lost child:
Loneliness, hurt, anger, rejection, anxious
Major hidden feeling of the lost child:
In a healthy family, such a child will simply be the one that doesn’t need to be around its family all the time and enjoys spending time on its own, being creative and content. However, it will not do that to escape, but simply because it likes having that freedom and getting resourced by it.
Parents will reach out to that child, teaching him to speak about its feelings and to learn to speak up when something is bothering it.
However, in a family where the parents are absent or absorbed with their own problems – or in case the family atmosphere is filled with conflict, such a child escapes by attempting to be invisible. It daydreams, fantasizes, reads a lot of books, watches a lot of TV or chooses any activity that helps it not to be “seen or heard”. It deals with reality by withdrawing from it. It denies having any feelings and “doesn’t bother getting upset”.
The lost child makes few demands on its parents – and because the lost child is rarely in trouble, the family can say, “He’s a good kid. Everything seems fine in his life, so things can’t be too bad in the family.”
A child that grows up trapped in this role will never have a chance to develop important social and communication skills. As an adult, it often has poor communication skills, difficulties with intimacy and in forming relationships. It is very withdrawn and shy and becomes socially isolated because that is the only way it knows to be safe from being hurt.
These children grow up to be adults who find themselves unable to feel and who suffer from very low self-esteem.
Ways to help your child not to get lost (or start recovering) in such a role:
- Spend a lot of quality time alone with the child
This creates that setting of trust and closeness it needs to open up and talk about feelings and other things that are on its mind
- Offer a structure of liberties and responsibilities
Integrate the child into group activities and but also purposely offer times to be by himself/herself.
- Help the child to express its momentary feelings
A lot of times when our children cry, we try to describe to them the situation that just happened and also their feelings and ask them if this is what’s hurting them. They usually nod with some more sobbing and then stop crying in no time. We believe this will greatly teach them for their future to identify their inner feelings and hurt. In order to deal with feelings and hurt, you have to identify them first.
- Acknowledge the creative work it did during its time alone
Usually the “lost child” is very creative and will build, paint and do marvelous things during its free time. It is of utmost importance to acknowledge and praise the creativity of the child.
Why? Because it helps it to accept, love and like itself the way it is. This is especially important for the “lost child” because not being integrated in the group comes with a tendency to feel like being a nerd or at least an outsider.
“Placater” – “Family clown” – “Caretaker”
This role is usually taken by the youngest child.
The mascot is the family clown, the comic relief in a stressful situation. Mascots try to joke their way out of anything serious.
The positive characteristics of the mascot:
Playful, joyful, active, charming, sense of humor, keeps the peace in the family, cute
Negative characteristics of the mascot:
Immature, disruptive, short attention span, confused, feels crazy at times, accident prone, fragile, may have learning disabilities, hyperactive, distracting
Inner Feelings of the mascot:
Feels the need to provide fun and humor as distractions for the family, insecurity, anxiety, fear
Major hidden feelings of the mascot:
Is afraid that they will be judged “dumb”, has very low self-worth and feels a lot of guilt which it works very hard to overcome by being really “nice” (i.e. people pleasing)
In a family with severe struggles, the goal of the family mascot is to break the tension and lighten the mood with humor or antics. The child takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family and tries to interrupt tension, anger, conflict, violence or other unpleasant situations within the family by being the court jester. The mascot seeks to be the center of attention in the family; often entertaining the family and making everyone feel better through his or her comedy.
Children who live fully trapped in that role often become adults who are valued for their kind heart, generosity, and ability to listen to others. They go into the helping professions and become nurses, social workers and therapists.
This sounds like a beautiful thing. And it is. Children like that growing up in a healthy environment can fully enjoy being that way, knowing themselves and having that capacity to have fun in life, even while facing challenging situations and emotions life.
However, back to the adults who have been trapped in that role as a child. They become adults who cannot receive love, but only give it. Simply because their whole self-definition is centered on others and they don’t know how to get their own needs met. They often have superficial relationships rather than friendships – and get abused in relationships while attempting to “save” the other person.
Ways to help your child not to get lost (or start recovering) in such a role:
- Through validation that the ideas of the mascot are sound
A mascot will communicate his ideas/feelings trough some sort of joke. Take that idea behind the joke, ask the mascot if it’s that what he meant, and validate him for his thoughtfulness, for his idea.
- Appreciate the mascot’s sense of humor
In my family of origin, the sense of humor of the sibling that played that role was often denigrated and cut back. However, this same sibling to this day, having dealt with the issue of being trapped in that role, still has this amazingly funny sense of humor and is able to make a whole group of people laugh uncontrollably.
- Validate the mascot in being able to take care of himself
A mascot will often come through as the one that needs help and the one that can’t take a wise decision – since he’s turning all into a laugh. Here again, don’t stop by that appearance, but teach him to handle life situations seriously, what doesn’t mean he can’t implement his humor and laughter into it as well.
That brings us to the next point:
- Teach that child to learn to accept responsibility and not escape into humor to avoid conflict
As I said, often these children do really have a pronounced sense of humor. It’s not our task to make them serious and long-faced. But we can teach them to not use it as escape, by talking it through with them, taking them from the situation through their feelings and thoughts until you find a solution together. That way, a mascot will learn the process and grow into an adult who is able to accept responsibility and deal with conflict situations.
It is important to mention that a child is so much more than any roles it can play, more than any result of a personality or IQ test.
With his or her unique, special blueprint, like we all have, there is no way to specifically categorize any person into just one scheme like the four roles in a family.
However, there are patterns we can observe and traits that repeat themselves which can be tremendously helpful for parents as well as teachers to understand. It gives us the insights we need to be able to discern what’s going on.