On June 4th, we kicked off our summer sermon series, Becoming Whole. During the sermon John defined wholeness as an undivided, integrated life. Throughout this series we are considering what it means to be broken — or what happens when our public, exterior life is divided from our interior emotional and spiritual lives — and how we become whole by living with God from the inside out. This past Sunday (July 2nd), John shared the importance of integrating our past into the present as a part of our journey towards becoming whole.
Roles in Dysfunctional Families (from John and Linda Friel’s Adult Children):
- The Do-er: The Do-er does a lot of things. The Do-er provides most or all of the maintenance functions in the family. The Do-er makes sure the kids are dressed and fed. The Do-er does a lot. But because it is a dysfunctional family, that’s about all that the do-er has the time or energy to do. The Do-er’s own unhealthy guilt and overdeveloped sense of responsibility keeps him or her going.
- The Enabler/Helper/Lover: For the Enabler/Helper/Lover, keeping everyone together, preserving the family unit at any cost (including physical violence or even death) and trying to smooth out ruffled feathers and avoid conflict is the ultimate goal. Fear of abandonment and fear that other family members cannot stand on their own two feet are what often motivates this role.
- The Lost Child/Loner: deals with the family dysfunction by means of escape. This child is out in the woods, playing by himself. He or she is alone, but it is not a healthy aloneness. It is a deep loneliness that pervades those who have this role.
- The Hero: provides self-esteem for the family. He goes to law school and becomes an internationally known attorney, but secretly feels awful because he has a sister in a mental hospital and a brother who has died of alcoholism. He makes the family proud; but at a terrible price in terms of his own well-being.
- The Mascot: often one of the younger children, the Mascot provides the humor and comic relief for the family. He or she gives the family a sense of fun or playfulness, of silliness and a distorted type of ‘joy.’ The cost to the Mascot is that his or her true feelings of pain and isolation never get expressed….
- The Scapegoat: the scapegoat gets to act out all the family’s dysfunction and therefore takes the blame and the heat for the family. He gets drug addicted or steals, is the ‘black sheep,’ gets in a lot of fights, acts out sexually, etc. The family then gets to say, ‘if little brother weren’t such a delinquent, we’d be a healthy family.
- Dad’s Little Princess/ Mom’s Little Man: this role is a severe form of emotional abuse which many professionals call emotional or covert incest. This role feels good to a child, who gets to be ‘a little spouse’ to one of the parents in the system. This child does not get to be a child, though and is actually seduced into the role by a parent who is too afraid and too dysfunctional to get his needs met by another adult.
- The Saint/Priest/Nun/Rabbi: this is the child who expresses the family’s spirituality and is expected to become a priest, a nun, a rabbi or a monk, and not to be sexual. This child is unconsciously molded into believing that he or she will only have worth if they act out the spirituality for the family.
“Let’s say you are meeting your wife at the train station after work. As you walk up to her, you notice her facial expression. Immediately you sense a tightening in your jaw and neck muscles as your brain quickly adjusts to your interpretation that she is angry or upset with you. You have seen this expression a thousand times before, and you know exactly what it means. It is the universal sign for I’m angry at you, you insensitive slug who’s trying to pass as a human male, and now is the time to grovel. You suddenly and automatically (with the assistance of implicit memory input that you are unaware of) employ the appropriate counter-maneuver that consistently eases her (and your) pain: you look at your shoes.”
From a young age “since looking at your footwear effectively reduced the intense primary feelings you experienced at the time, you continue to repeat this behavior. Your brain (especially your right hemisphere) is wired in such a way that whenever it captures this same set of stimuli from nonverbal signals, it reacts with a similar, virtually automatic neural network firing pattern that leads to the behavior of avoidance.” ~Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul
“unfinished business is a present emotional reaction shaped by a past experience. It is a reactive response guided by strong emotional feelings based on past experiences of anxiety. Unfinished business does not allow for a thoughtful, creative response to a here and now situation; rather it triggers an emotionally reactive response to it. Whom we bring into our lives, our major life decisions, how we embrace important people, and the amount of closeness or distance we need emotionally are all shaped by the degree of unfinished business we carry into our adult lives.” ~David Freeman from his book Family Therapy with Couples
Additional Reading Resources:
- Barnes, Craig. Yearning: Living Between How It Is & How It Ought to Be
- Friel, John and Linda. Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families
- Palmer, Parker. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life.
- Thompson, Curt. Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections Between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices that can Transform your Life and Relationships.
- Siegel and Bryson. The Whole Brained Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind.