• Paul Radkowski

Identifying Family Codependency Roles

If there are addiction or mental health issues going on in the family, many families will learn to play certain roles to help try to balance the family system. See if you or your family fits into any of these roles:

These roles that are played by family members can often become quite rigid and lead to codependency, where family members tend to make decisions concerning what the other person needs while often abandoning their own needs. Ultimately people "become" the part they are playing.

The goal of relationship and family health is to bring each member as a whole into a position where issues can be openly discussed and dealt with. Individual talents and abilities ideally are integrated into the situation and solution, allowing emotional honesty about the situation, without guilt or punishment.


People become familiar and dependent on the role they play in families. In overcoming the family roles, you will begin to overcome issues, and what could be classified as a dependency to your role. While overcoming the concerning behaviour is important to the person with the mental health or addiction issues, a point to remember is the concerning behaviour(s) is not necessarily the key to family recovery, removing the underlying roles are.


To begin the process of detaching from family roles, each family member must become proactive against their dependency to their role and learn to become their true self. The goal is for each person to become independent, and then approach issues as a group of individuals, rather than as people playing a part. Whole, independent people can more freely contribute to the recovery of the person overcoming the mental health concern or addiction, while a person playing a part can only perform the role.


Each family member must realize which role they play and then start thinking about how to release or change that role. Remember, each person is just as important as the other. Make a list of strengths and weaknesses then assess that list to see how you can use your strengths to help.


Prepare to be flexible. If changing your role seems awkward and unfamiliar, that’s ok… do it anyway! It just means that a change is taking place as you are breaking an unhealthy (albeit familiar) pattern.


Overcoming unhealthy patterns is a challenging journey – one that is often met with trial, error and bumps along the way. Be consistent in your change/recovery process. Things may initially become more difficult as roles and boundaries are tested, but with consistency it will get better.


Role Overview:

The Troubled One: This person is not necessarily the most important, however, they will be the center of attention. The rest of the family will assume other roles around this person helping, enabling or covering issues up in order to preserve the status quo.


The Hero: This is the person who feels they have to make all family members “look good” in the eyes of others. They often ignore the problem and present things in a positive light as if the problem didn’t exist. The Hero is the perfectionist demanding more of The Troubled One than he/she/they can provide.


The Mascot: The Mascot will often try to inject humor into the situation. Sometimes this humor is inappropriate and can hinder the healing process. The Mascot is also the cheerleader providing support where possible.


The Lost Child: This is the silent person who always seems to be in the way or left out. They are quiet and reserved not making problems and trying to avoid interactions with the family. The Lost Child gives up self needs and tries to avoid conversation regarding the problem.


The Scapegoat: This person often acts out in front of others. They divert attention from The Troubled One and the problems that the family is facing.


The Caretaker: This person is the enabler. They try to keep the whole family happy and keep all roles in balance. They often make excuses for The Troubled One’s behavior and put on a happy front for outsiders. The Caretaker denies that there’s any problem and usually never mentions anything about it.


The Rescuer: This person will try to be the saviour, in order to save the situation,

regardless of what it is. They will over function to compensate for the under functioning person. They will do such things as pay the Troubled One’s rent, get a second job to pay the extra bills, hire a lawyer, bail them out of all situations and basically do the jobs that would otherwise go undone.


The Victim: Not to be confused with actual victimization, in that actual victims typically do not move in a self-pitying way. “The Victim” is the role of the person who views themselves as the “poor victim who didn't ask for any of this” and the one who deserves everyone’s pity.


The Persecutor: This person is the blamer. They believe that it’s always someone else’s fault, never their own. They will make sure that every family member is told what they are doing wrong and why they haven’t been able to get it perfectly right.