Quotations in maroon are from
The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney (Copyright 1995). Quotations
from columns & articles (Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999) written
by Mr. Burney are noted and in blue text. Blue text material that is not
in quotes is from Robert's upcoming book Wounded Souls Dancing in the
Light (Copyright 1998) unless otherwise noted.
There are several authors quoted in excerpts from The Dance of Wounded
Souls, those are noted with copyright acknowledgment at the end of the
This is a column by Robert Burney
Roles In Dysfunctional Families
by Robert Burney M.A.
žWe have come to understand that both the passive
and the aggressive behavioral defense systems are reactions to the same
kinds of childhood trauma, to the same kinds of emotional wounds.
The Family Systems Dynamics research shows that within the family system,
children adopt certain roles according to their family dynamics.
Some of these roles are more passive, some are more aggressive, because
in the competition for attention and validation within a family system
the children must adopt different types of behaviors in order to feel like
There are four basic roles that children adopt in order to survive growing
up in emotionally dishonest, shame-based, dysfunctional family systems.
Some children maintain one role into adulthood while others switch from
one role to another as the family dynamic changes (i.e. when the oldest
leaves home, etc.)
Codependence: The Dance of Wounded
Souls by Robert Burney\
It is important to note that we adapt the roles that are best suited to
our personalities. We are, of course, born with a certain personality.
What happens with the roles we adapt in our family dynamic is that we get
a twisted, distorted view of who we are as a result of our personality
melding with the roles. This is dysfunctional because it causes us to not
be able to see ourselves clearly. The false self that we develop
to survive is never totally false - there is always some Truth in it.
For example, people who go into the helping professions do truly care and
are not doing what they do simply out of Codependence. Nothing is
black and white. Recovery is about getting honest with ourselves
and finding some balance in our life.
žResponsible ChildÓ - žFamily HeroÓ
This is the child who is ž9 going on 40.Ó This child takes over the
parent role at a very young age, becoming very responsible and self-sufficient.
They give the family self-worth because they look good on the outside.
They are the good students, the sports stars, the prom queens. The
parents look to this child to prove that they are good parents and good
As an adult the Family Hero is rigid, controlling, and extremely judgmentalof
others and secretly of themselves. They achieve žsuccessÓ on the
outside and get lots of positive attention but are cut off from their inner
emotional life, from their True Self. They are compulsive and driven
as adults because deep inside they feel inadequate and insecure.
žActing out childÓ - žScapegoatÓ
This is the child that the family feels ashamed of - and the most emotionally
honest child in the family. He/she acts out the tension and anger
the family ignores. This child provides distraction from the real
issues in the family. The scapegoat usually has trouble in school
because they get attention the only way they know how - which is negatively.
They often become pregnant or addicted as teenagers.
These children are usually the most sensitive and caring which is why
they feel such tremendous hurt. They are romantics who become very
cynical and distrustful. They have a lot of self-hatred and can be
žPlacaterÓ - žMascotÓ
This child takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family.
They become the families Žsocial directorÓ and clown, diverting the familyŪs
attention from the pain and anger.
This child becomes an adult who is valued for their kind heart, generosity,
and ability to listen to others. Their whole self-definition is centered
on others and they donŪt know how to get their own needs met. They
become adults who cannot receive love, only give it. They often get
involved in abusive relationships in an attempt to žsaveÓ the other person.
They go into the helping professions and become nurses, and social workers,
and therapists. They have very low self-worth and feel a lot of guilt.
žAdjusterÓ - žLost ChildÓ
This child escapes by attempting to be invisible. They daydream,
fantasize, read a lot of books or watch a lot of TV. They deal with reality
by withdrawing from it. They deny that they have any feelings and
ždonŪt bother getting upset.Ó
These children grow up to be adults who find themselves unable to feel
and suffer very low self-esteem. They are terrified of intimacy and
often have relationship phobia. They are very withdrawn and shy and
become socially isolated because that is the only way they know to be safe
from being hurt. A lot of actors and writers are Žlost childrenŪ
who have found a way to express emotions while hiding behind their characters.
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Copyright 1997 by Robert Burney PO Box 977 Cambria,
(The Column "Roles In Dysfunctional Families" by Robert
Burney originally appeared in the Information Press of San Luis Obispo