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"Dysfunctional families are the product of an emotionally dishonest, shame based, patriarchal society based upon beliefs that do not support Loving self or Loving neighbor." - Robert Burney
"The point that I am making is that our understanding of Codependence has evolved to realizing that this is not just about some dysfunctional families, our very role models, our prototypes, are dysfunctional.
Our traditional cultural concepts of what a man is, of what a woman is, are twisted, distorted, almost comically bloated stereotypes of what masculine and feminine really are. . . . . . .
When the role model of what a man is does not allow a man to cry or express fear; when the role model for what a woman is does not allow a woman to be angry or aggressive - that is emotional dishonesty. When the standards of a society deny the full range of the emotional spectrum and label certain emotions as negative - that is not only emotionally dishonest, it creates emotional disease.
If a culture is based on emotional dishonesty, with role models that are dishonest emotionally, then that culture is also emotionally dysfunctional, because the people of that society are set up to be emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional in getting their emotional needs met.
What we traditionally have called normal parenting in this society is abusive because it is emotionally dishonest. Children learn who they are as emotional beings from the role modeling of their parents. "Do as I say - not as I do," does not work with children. Emotionally dishonest parents cannot be emotionally healthy role models, and cannot provide healthy parenting.
Our model for what a family should be sets up abusive, emotionally dishonest dynamics."
(Quotes in this color are from Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls by Robert Burney)
"There are four basic roles that children adopt in order to survive growing up in emotionally dishonest, shame-based, dysfunctional family systems."On this page is a column by codependence counselor about how dysfunctional family dynamics set children up to play certain roles.
"As an adult the Family Hero is rigid, controlling, and extremely judgmental . . . . . of others and secretly of themselves. They achieve "success" on the outside and get lots of positive attention but are cut off from their inner emotional life, from their True Self."
"The scapegoat 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."
"A lot of actors and writers are 'lost children' who have found a way to express emotions while hiding behind their characters."
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Robert is the author of the Joyously inspirational book
The Dance of Wounded Souls
Roles In Dysfunctional Families
"We 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 an individual."
The emotional dynamics of dysfunctional families are basic - and like emotional dynamics for all human beings are pretty predictable. The outside details may look quite different due to a variety of factors, but the dynamics of the human emotional process are the same for all human beings everywhere.
The basic roles which I list below apply to American culture specifically, and Western Civilization generally - but with a few changes in details could be made to fit most any culture.
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.) An only child may play all of the roles at one time or
"Responsible Child" - "Family Hero"
This is the child who is "9 going on 40." 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 people.
"Acting out child" - "Scapegoat"
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.
"Placater" - "Mascot" - "Caretaker"
This child takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family. They become the families 'social director' and/or clown, diverting the family's attention from the pain and anger.
"Adjuster" - "Lost Child"
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 "don't bother getting upset."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. As long as we are still reacting to our childhood wounding and old tapes then we cannot get in touch clearly with who we really are.
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 - everything in life involves various shades of gray. Recovery is about getting honest with ourselves and finding some balance in our life. Recovery is about seeing ourselves more clearly and honestly so that we can start being True to who we really are instead of to who our parents wanted us to be. (Reacting to the other extreme by rebelling against who they wanted us to be is still living life in reaction to our childhoods. It is still giving power over how we live our life to the past instead of seeing clearly so that we can own our choices today.) The clearer we can see our self the easier it becomes to find some balance in our life - to find some happiness, fulfillment, and serenity.
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I wrote this column years ago adapting several different lists that I had. I do not remember the original sources. If anyone knows the original source of any of them, I would be more than happy to give credit where credit is due.
6/9/08 I received an e-mail from Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse pointing out that the four roles originated in her book Another Chance --Hope and Health For The Alcoholic Family published in 1981. I acknowledge her on my recommended book page as one of the Pioneers of the Adult Child / Codependence recovery movement.
(The Column "Roles In Dysfunctional Families" by Robert Burney originally appeared in the Information Press of San Luis Obispo California)