One of the interesting things about working with adults raised by emotionally absent parents is that they form the foundation for the next generation, unless the adult child does something to change their way of being in the world. And it’s important that those changes happen before the next generation is very old, so the babies aren’t caught up in that same drama.
For those of you who have noticed some of these roles in your friends and families, it is a fairly safe bet that the roles existed in the previous generation. Consider my grandparents. They were born in the late 1800’s in the state of Washington. Neither of them had time to worry about the emotional well being of their four boys – they were working too hard to keep them fed and clothed. They raised children through the depression. Survival was the issue, not emotionally healthy children.
Regardless of the cause of the roles forming in a family, some of the lessons learned in these emotionally barren families continue for generations. Why would that be? There are many reasons, but mostly because we seek out what we know or its exact opposite. So if you’re the family hero, you are guided by a need to help, succeed, work hard and be in charge. Who better to partner with than any of the other three roles? Another hero would be too much competition and would not provide the emotional satisfaction of saving the partner. But a rebel? Oh my goodness. Consider the emotional rewards from ‘saving the bad boy’, from bringing the lost child out of his shell or bringing the mascot off the stage and into the richness of a fully funcitoning adult life.
A rebel who has gone deeply done the path of social resistance (beyond fighting the family but fighting society) will usually connect only with other rebels . That is the only group of people they’re in contact with, which leaves them with limited choices. And once the rebel is so far down this path that their relationships are also rebels, it’s hard to pull them out of the hole.
Under the right circumstances, a hero may try, but the circumstances have to be perfect. For example, let’s say a rebel is convicted of a crime but his sister hero believes he’s innocent. She will do anything she can to ‘help’ him: keeping in touch when he’s in jail, standing as a reference when he’s released and providing support and encouragement as he rebuilds his new life.
This is a risky point in time for the hero who can easily slip into enabling if strong boundaries aren’t placed and maintained. If you look around, you will see people, usually women, (in my experience), who are working overtime to ‘help’ someone find themselves. If they’d put half that time or energy into building their own life, they’d be a massive success.
The lost child may find a hero to nurture and care for him or her. Or they may stay single. Remember this person is an extreme introvert and wants to be left alone, so it’s easy to see how they could end up alone. Sometimes the person living in this role may hook up with the mascot, looking for someone to bring them out of the shell of isolation they’ve crawled into.
The mascot sees him or herself as a performer who almost disappears without an audience. They feel worthless on the inside, so they need to pair up with someone who appreciates them and their way of being in the world. Alternately, they may hook up with a hero, who will fix them, or a rebel who is worse than them.
Obviously, this is one version of the possibilities of match ups and relationships. It is my contention that the emotional climate of many, many families lends itself to the solidification of these roles. The depth of the ‘hardening’ will be determined by many factors. And as I began this series, I would remind everyone that this is only one view of how families evolve and develop. No one is ever exclusively one role. And a death in the family, particularly among the siblings, can change the dynamics.
But one thing is clear, once a role becomes the learned response to life, it is very hard to unlearn. Ask me.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this post or the series. If you have something else you’d like to explore with me, i’m happy to give it a whirl.