The 5 Ways Growing Up In A Dysfunctional Family Changes You — And How To Break The Cycle

Photo: getty
dysfunctional family roles

In a healthy family dynamic, you are free to be yourself, to grow up and to find out who you are.

However, growing up in a dysfunctional family sometimes forces you to play a role. And, unfortunately, these dysfunctional family roles can follow you to adulthood. 

RELATED: You May Be From A Dysfunctional Family If You Played One Of These 5 Roles As A Child

Here are the 5 most common dysfunctional family roles and how you can break from them at last, in order to become your authentic and true self:

1.  The Enabler

In this role, you gave up your own needs and wanted to protect and take care of another member of the family that had issues that seemed more serious than yours.  

You may have grown into an adult who is not even in touch with your own desires and preferences. For example, you had a chronically ill parent and you became the person that your parent can count on and you sacrificed much of your childhood.

How to break free: Start by asking yourself, "What desires do I have that I ignore? What do I avoid doing for myself because someone else may have to sacrifice for me?"

Start replacing "you time" — the time that you do things for others — with "me time" — time that you spend doing something for you. Start with just a few minutes a day if you are one of those people who doesn't spend any time with yourself or for yourself. The goal is to work your way up to more of a balance.  

You are at your best for others when you take care of yourself.

2. The Responsible One

You did everything well; you may have even felt like you had to be perfect.  

You did everything to make your parents proud and may unconsciously have had the pressure to keep up the self-esteem of one or both of your parents. Typically, you did very well in school and extra-curricular activities and would rarely if ever relax and just be a normal kid.  

You may have grown up into an adult that very much fears disappointing people, which can lead to a persistent low-level anxiety.

How to break free: Think of something you have never done or that you know you are not good at that you might enjoy if you were not so concerned about doing it well... and just do it. Enjoy doing it badly. Realize that you are unchaining yourself from a very restricted rule that says you have to be perfect or always do things well.  

Rejoice and be playful, no matter how good or bad you are at what you're doing. It also helps to find someone with whom you can share your flaws openly with, so you can experience their acceptance — even when they find out how far from perfect you really are.

3. The Aloof One

You inherited the role of aloof child and may have been perceived as the most "selfish."

This was your mostly unconscious way of dealing with unresolved pain in the family. It is a defense so that you can get through the days and nights with a family that is unhappy, volatile, violent, abusive, neglectful, or a combination of these.

As an adult, you may have become one of those people that live on the surface of life not getting too involved with other people’s lives and not letting them too close to yours.

How to break free: Decide to get more curious about the lives of your significant others and friends. Notice your tendency to be aloof and keep things shallow and instead practice asking open-ended questions.  

Also, be willing to risk sharing more about you. Don’t let your role of being aloof keep you from the joy and meaningfulness of having relationships with depth.

RELATED: How To Stand Up To The Person In Your Family Who Bullies You

4. The Problem Child

Having the role of problem child could have been your unconscious way to make other family members’ issues fade into the background. Or, it could have been a way for you to act out the pain you were feeling in your family of origin.  

The individual rarely falls into these roles alone. There is usually some unconscious family dynamics that push you into that role. This is not an excuse for your problem behavior but could be an important factor. By looking deeper at the underlying dynamics, you can learn healthier options for dealing with the underlying reasons you slipped into that role.  

These problem children can become problem adults unless there is an intention to become more aware and to break out of obsolete patterns.

How to break free:  First, know that this role of problem child or problem adult is not you. You inherited the role to balance out some dysfunction in your family and you did it unconsciously in the beginning. Now you need to consciously get out of it.  

Being responsible, self-reliant, and capable usually involves grieving once and for all that your parents will never be those people that you hoped they would be. Your parents are and were who they are. Now you need to parent yourself (with the help and support of others) to become the truly capable adult that you are.  

I had a client once who kept losing jobs and he was 29 years old. In therapy, he discovered that his instability and flakiness was an unconscious way to get his parents to finally be there for him. He realized that they weren't there for him as a child and weren't going to save him as an adult. He grieved his unconscious (and now conscious) fantasy and became a stable and financially secure man in his very early 30's.

5. The Placater

This person is always trying to cheer people up.  

His or her job is to regulate everyone else’s emotions even to the detriment of him or herself. Like the enabler, they do not let others go through the normal pains of life. The placater is a people pleaser and avoids conflict and can be overly agreeable even if he or she deep down disagrees. This person ignores his or her own anger or thinks feelings away.

How to break free:  First, practice disagreeing with people. Be genuine and look for those opportunities. Be a force to be reckoned with. Have a dissenting opinion.  

Second, if someone is hurting, keep in mind that pain is part of life. People develop strength from it. Don’t rush to make them feel better. Instead, look for — and appreciate — conflict, and let even those you love suffer. Your job isn't to fix their problems; it's simply to love them.

This is all good news because you do not have to stay stuck in your roles.  

At first, it may feel awkward, strange, or "wrong" to go outside those roles you've adapted to over the course of your life. Just know that it is your right to expand past these roles so that you can be more of your authentic self.

Stephen Covey, a noted author, once said, "Every breakthrough requires a break from."

Allow yourself to break from old, limiting roles so that you can break through to more joy, more aliveness and more abundance in all areas of your life.

RELATED: 6 Signs You Were Raised In A Dysfunctional Family

Todd Creager is an expert in relationships. For over 30 years, he has worked as a relationship therapist, specializing in marriage, sex, and couples counseling.

This article was originally published at Todd Creager's website. Reprinted with permission from the author.