Surviving An Alcoholic/Dysfunctional Family

Children in alcoholic/dysfunctional families take on different survival roles that at times interfere with intimate relationships in adulthood. Individual counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. can help you recognize the strengths of the survival roles and minimize the negative impact on your intimate relationships.

Children in alcoholic/dysfunctional families take on different survival roles that at times interfere with intimate relationships in adulthood. Individual counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. can help you recognize the strengths of the survival roles and minimize the negative impact on your intimate relationships.

In the last article, I discussed the structure & dynamics of an alcoholic/dysfunctional family. Children that grow up in such families often take on various roles to survive the emotional & physical chaos that dominates their home environments. These roles serve to protect the child in an unsafe and unpredictable environment. Each role has its benefits and limitations. The purpose of this article is to describe the different survival roles in alcoholic/dysfunctional families and discuss how individual counseling can be helpful when these roles negatively impact relationships in adulthood.

As a child: The Golden Child/Hero/Overachiever

The oldest child in a dysfunctional or alcoholic family takes on the role of the hero or the golden child. This is a child that is burdened with taking care of parents or siblings. The hero child is very focused on goals and is always striving for perfection. He/she is extremely reliable and is an overachiever when it comes to school or any other activities that make the family look good. The overachiever has a strong fear of failure and more times than not, feels like a failure. Self-worth and self-esteem is derived from accomplishments, achievements and popularity. The golden child is often disappointed with self, feels less than and inadequate. This child has a strong predisposition for feelings of guilt while engaging in self-care and the needs of others are always a priority.

As an adult: Workaholic/Caregiver/Afraid of Intimacy

As an adult, the golden child tends to be a workaholic, is a great leader but not good at being a team player. Hero children as adults in romantic relationships struggle with the need to be in control, inability to have fun or be spontaneous, the need to be right, discomfort with intimacy and often pair up with partners that facilitate a co-dependent relationship.

How can counseling help

Individual counseling can help these adults to become comfortable with intimacy, be more tolerant of failure, pursue relationships that are fulfilling and fair, learn to have fun and express different emotions and an acceptance of self and others despite flaws.

As a child: Scapegoat/ Acting Out

This child usually engages in negative behavior to draw attention away from the problem of alcoholism in the family. The acting out child struggles with feelings of anger, hostility and guilt. Being the scapegoat, this child is usually seen as the problem by the rest of the family and has a difficult time with academic performance. This child is usually the first one in the family to openly acknowledge the elephant in the room: alcoholism and the alcoholic. Despite the angry exterior, the acting out child is a highly sensitive individual.

As an adult: The Black Sheep/Troublemaker

As an adult, the scapegoat child often runs into problems with the law because of disruptive behavior and is highly predisposed to abusing drugs and/or alcohol. The acting out child continues to act out in adulthood, at jobs, in relationships, can be abusive towards partners and has a tendency to act out feelings of anger and hostility instead of verbally expressing them.

How can counseling help

Individual therapy can help with alcohol and drug abuse recovery, forming healthy social and personal relationships, improve self-image, channel the inner sensitivity into artistic expression, become comfortable with expressing love and empathy in intimate relationships and learn problem solving and conflict resolution skills.

As a child: The Lost Child/Withdrawer

The lost child is usually the middle child in an alcoholic and dysfunctional family. Usually very uncomfortable with any attention and goes out of their way to become invisible. This child is able to compartmentalize and also shut out the chaos of the alcoholic home, is extremely uncomfortable and scared of conflict and struggles with decision making skills. The withdrawer is the child that does not want to create any waves and feels comfortable staying in his corner and staying out of other’s way. This invisible child feels lonely and unimportant.

As an adult: Loner/ Invisible

The lost child grows up into an invisible adult that isolates often and fears attention. This adult struggles with taking initiative and does not reach his/her full potential, chooses relationships where he/she is able to stay invisible and continue to feel helpless. The invisible adult is very gullible, has low self-worth and may abuse drugs or alcohol to gain a sense of control.

How can counseling help

Individual counseling can help the invisible adult to embrace being social and become comfortable in social situations. Forming healthy relationships, becoming comfortable with intimacy & emotional connection, gaining an authentic sense of control over one’s life, being one’s own strongest advocate, improving self-worth are some of the many goals that individual therapy can help the invisible adult accomplish.

As a child: Mascot/Clown

The mascot of the alcoholic/dysfunctional family is usually the youngest child and uses humor or clowning to hide feelings. This child is petrified of any type of conflict and is always trying to be the peacemaker between family members. The ability to tolerate stress is very low and tends to be hyperactive. Feelings are scary, especially anger and making other people feel better is the primary focus.

As an adult: Pleaser/Joker

The mascot child often grows up to become a people pleaser. As an adult, the mascot struggles with boundary setting, has no sense of self, is overly dependent in relationships and often tends to pair up with a partner that is overly self-involved. The pleaser struggles with stress intolerance and is often not taken seriously by others.

How can counseling help

Individual counseling can help the adult mascot to develop an authentic sense of self, become comfortable with expressing feelings and needs, pursue relationships based on fairness and equality, engage in self-care and lessen the need to use humor to cover up hurt feelings.

Written by: Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C. specializing in sex therapy,  couples therapy & marriage counselingpremarital counselingindividual relationship therapy LGBTQQI couples counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay, in Dublin & Oakland.

If you grew up in an alcoholic, addicted or an otherwise dysfunctional family and would like to know how it impacts you today, individual counseling & therapy at  Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay can help.

Call 925-400-3541 or email to schedule a free 30 minute phone consult or fill out the contact form and you will be contacted within 12-24 hours.