During active addiction, the family members may take on a variety of “survival roles.” These roles help them cope with situations within the family, but in the long run often prevent people from interacting with others in healthy ways. The following are some common survival roles:
The Enabler: This person is usually the closest to the addicted person. They do things that allow the addicted person to continue their behaviour without facing the consequences. For example, they might take on added household responsibilities, or some of the responsibilities of the addict . They do it because they want to protect themselves and their family.
The Hero: This person is usually the oldest child in the family. This person is helpful inside the family and seen as a success outside of the family. Heroes are seen as “having it all together.” They may be involved in many activities and do well in school, but they often do not feel good on the inside.
The Scapegoat: This person is usually the other focus of attention in the family; the Scapegoat often gets into trouble and seems not to care.
The Lost Child: This role is usually taken on by the quietest child; They go unnoticed and can disappear for hours; they learn not to ask questions because people become upset, and they recognize that the best way to stay out of trouble is to be good. Because they are “out of sight, they are also out of mind”, and usually feel unimportant.
The Mascot: This role is often taken on by the youngest child in the family. By this time, things have deteriorated further, and the older siblings are already playing other survival roles. Everyone may try to protect this youngest child by withholding information, but he or she is aware that something is not right.
When the addict goes through recovery, their family also needs to go through a change process. There is a lot of uncertainty, fears, expectations and hopes, and the family faces a variety of difficult and mixed emotions. These emotions are a common part of recovery. It is important for families to acknowledge , express, and work through their feelings . If they are stuck, and can’t resolve some of the old conflicts or past issues, it may be useful for them to seek help through support groups or counselling. Some of the most common emotions that families experiences are: sadness, unhappiness, discouragement, dissatisfaction, and apathy; They also experience the following:
- Guilt: We often feel responsible for a family member’s addiction. This can lead to feelings of guilt.
- Anger When facing the never-ending challenges of addiction, family members may feel overwhelmed, frustrated and angry at the world, or at the addict.
- Denial and shame addiction is frequently hidden from others. Family members feel the need to “protect” their family and keep addiction secret, or help cover it up.
- Stress Family members suffer physical and emotional distress from being caregivers to the addict
- Old or unhealthy patterns of behavior: In times of stress, people may fall into unhealthy patterns of behavior that interfere with effective communication and decision making.
Living in a dysfunctional environment for an extended period of time can result in low self-esteem, and:
- irrational beliefs
- disabling guilt
- a inability to trust others
- a sense of personal insecurity
- a fear of being vulnerable
- an inability to take risks
- fear of failure
- fear of success
- an inability to let go
- an inability to have fun and play
- immobilizing fears
- an inability to manage stress
- an inability to accept personal responsibility
- problems with denial
- unresolved anger
- problems handling the despair of loss
- problems accepting change
- problems in interpersonal relationships
- problems in handling conflict
- problems in problem solving
- fear of rejection
- an insatiable need for approval
- an inability to be assertive
- a problem being victim and/or martyr
- problems with power and control issues
- problems with intimacy
- problems with competition
- an inability to forgive and forget
- a tendency to develop an overactive fantasy life
- problems in communication
- compulsive behavior, e.g., perfectionist, very orderly, meticulous, inflexible
The following are descriptions of the nine personality traits most commonly occurring in unhealthy environments:
1. Looking good: an overresponsible pattern of high achievement and denial of the environments problems. It contains the elements of the hero of Wegscheider-Cruse, the responsible one and placator of Black, and the placator of Satir.
2. Acting-out: an irresponsible pattern of low achievement and much trouble making that diverts attention from the troubles in the environment. It contains the elements of the scapegoat of Wegscheider-Cruse, the acting-out child of Black, and the distractor and blamer of Satir.
3. Pulling-in: the withdrawn behavioral pattern of a loner who resorts to a low profile to hold in emotions in order to survive in the high stress environment. It contains the elements of the lost child of Wegscheider-Cruse, the adjuster of Black, and the computer of Satir.
4. Entertaining: a diversionary pattern of drawing attention away by clowning, amusing, hyperactivity, or ill health. It contains the elements of the mascot of Wegscheider-Cruse, the acting-out child of Black, and the distractor of Satir.
5. Troubled Person: an irresponsible pattern of problem behavior, often the cause and focus of great stress in the environment. It contains the elements of the lost person and dependent of Wegscheider-Cruse, the alcoholic or dependent of Black, and blamer of Satir.
6. Enabling: an overresponsible pattern of protecting, assisting, and cajoling the troubled person so as to reduce the stress in the environment. It contains the elements of the enabler of Wegscheider-Cruse, the non-alcoholic spouse of Black, and the placator and blamer of Satir.
7. Rescuing: an overresponsible pattern of helping others in the environment so as to reduce the tension, anxiety, hurt, and pain. It contains the elements of the hero and enabler of Wegscheider-Cruse, the placator of Black, and the placator of Satir.
8. People Pleasing: an overresponsible, approval seeking pattern characterized by excessive social appropriateness and immobilized decision making. It contains the elements of the hero of Wegscheider-Cruse, the responsible one and placator of Black, and the placator of Satir.
9. Non-feeling: a non-emotive, stoic pattern of denial of problems and feelings that assists an individual in surviving the high stress environment.