Families come in all shapes and sizes. They are unique systems that deserve respect and reverence. As systems, families have multiple levels of interactions and dynamics. These interactions and dynamics have long been a rich field for researchers to explore. Some of these findings have become a part of our culture’s common vernacular; or the way we communicate with each other about family roles. Generally speaking, these roles are identified as hero/heroine, mascot, scapegoat, and the lost child.
Families often have a heroine/hero. The vernacular refers to a person who, in the face of danger or adversity, displays courage, self-sacrifice, or moral excellence. They represent the cultural ideal. Family Systems Theory identifies the hero (gender neutral) as the family member who represents the family ideal, sometimes called the “golden child”. The family hero is someone all can be proud of, who represents the face of the family in public.
Another role often represented in families is that of the mascot. According to Webster’s, a mascot is any person, animal, or object thought to bring luck, or anything used to represent a group with a common, public identity. In family therapy dialogue the mascot is the family member who deflects tension and conflict with humor or distraction. Like the hero, the mascot may also represent the family to the community. Many comedians once played this role in their families.
A family with a hero may also have a scapegoat. Both are often found in the same family system. Scapegoating, derived from the verb “to scapegoat”, describes the practice of singling out any party for unmerited negative treatment. A family may need a “fall guy” to place blame and disappointment upon in order to keep the focus off of other family members. In therapy we call this person the identified patient. Human beings love attention, negative as well as positive. A family with a hero receiving the positive attention may have another child who finds it is easier to be good at being bad; not to compete with the hero at being good. Society sometimes inadvertently reinforces this by celebrating the “bad boy”.
The final common role is that of the lost child. This individual is not really lost; they simply choose to avoid difficult family interactions using socially approved methods. They may always be reading a book, at the neighbor’s house, or at the church volunteering. Interestingly, this role is not limited to children. An adult may take a second or third job, work the night shift under the guise of needing to make more money, but they are effectively isolating themselves from the rest of the family, thus avoiding having to interact with them.
These descriptions are not meant to point fingers, but rather to generate discussion about the roles we play in our own families. None of the roles described here occur in isolation, but in concert with each other and, thus, they cannot change in isolation. Change must occur within the entire family, and must involve each member’s willingness to assist and support change for the benefit of family. Edmond Family Counseling offers a full range of counseling services for families. If we can help yours, give us a call at 405-341-3554. To support us in our mission, log on to www.edmondfamily.org, and follow us on Facebook!