In the early 80’s, when I had a series of 3 tragic events, I sought out every bit of help and support I could find. My adopted son had been raped at age 12, my brother-in-law with whom I was very close had driven out to Death Valley and blew his head off with a shotgun at age 19, and my husband at the time decided to come clean about all the affairs he had been having that spanned over a decade. I was devastated…which is an understatement. I began seeing a counselor and attending 8 meetings every week, many of them based in 12-step programs. I also began attending a variety of retreats.
Through this process, I learned about the different roles we play in families.
1-“Responsible Child” – “Family Hero” This is often the oldest child. However, if there is a gap of 4 or more years between children, another can also fall into this role. The ‘Family hero’ often is the one that succeeds at everything. He/She may be the ‘fixer’ in the family. Under the surface, however, the ‘Hero’ can also have a difficult time facing any shortcomings within.
2-“Acting out child” – “Scapegoat” This is often the 2nd born. They are often the ‘family clown’. They can either find themselves getting into trouble, or they can be the one that gets blamed unjustly when things ‘go wrong’ in the family. This child is often the most sensitive and caring; he/she will tend to internalize deep pain. They are the ‘romantics’ who often suffer from self-hatred and can be more prone to becoming self-destructive. They are often also the 1st to reach out for help. They may express themselves through music and poetry.
3-“Placater” – “Mascot” – “Caretaker” This is often the 3rd born child. Although this child may attempt to ‘keep the peace’, they often have a tendency to reflect what is truly going on between the parents. They may become the ‘mirror image’ of any turmoil that exists behind closed doors, reflecting it to the outside world in their own behaviour.
4-“Adjuster” – “Lost Child” This is often the 4th. This child escapes by attempting to be invisible. They deal with reality by withdrawing from it. They deny that they have any feelings and “don’t bother getting upset.” They may escape from reality by immersing themselves into a world of fantasy as a means of survival and coping. They are withdrawn, shy, become socially isolated to protect themselves and often suffer from low self-esteem. It’s these children who often become writers in order to express their deep emotions.
My son who died was the Scapegoat. When my abusive husband could not get to me on any specific day, usually a day in which I somehow mustered up the strength to not be intimidated, I would go to my son and warn him in advance to be careful cause he may be coming after him today. Surely, it was this son who received the most abuse from their dad. He was also his dad’s ‘namesake’ which made him even a bigger target because a batterer hates himself, but blames everyone else around him for his own shortcomings and never takes personal responsibility. It’s ALWAYS someone else’s fault.
On one of the 12 step women retreats I attended one weekend, the speaker decided to do a role-play of a ‘dysfunctional family’. Let me 1st say that all families are dysfunctional to some degree or another for no family is perfect. Also, these ‘roles’ are similar to Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief in that they are only an outline. They are not written in stone; they are simply guidelines and they often overlap.
When the speaker asked for volunteers for this little role-play, I raised my hand. I often participated in such things at workshops in my training, and was part of a team who acted out role-plays in inner city schools for young children in the hope that a child living in an abusive home might step forward so we could get them help. When asked, I volunteered to be the ‘lost child’…for it was the role I had lived and knew quite well.
As we all began falling into our roles, I slipped away and hid behind some very large old curtains. As all the interaction ensued between these ‘family members’, along with ‘acting parents’ and others, I remained hidden behind those curtains. It all went quite well having a great impact on the ‘audience’. After they received their applause, taking their bows, and all were laughing and beginning to return to their seats, there was only one that became aware that I was missing from the group. It was the ‘Hero’. Only then did I emerge from behind the curtain. No one had noticed that I had slipped away. No one had noticed my absence.
It has taken me a tremendous amount of work and energy to come out of the shadows. I pour my heart out in these little articles I began writing in July 2016. I often shed many tears in doing so. Writing my book was no meager task for me. I spent many sleepless nights and often went entire days not bothering to eat. But I did it anyway for a few reasons. 1- I wanted to give God the Glory for His Redemption in my life that has been filled with much abuse, sorrow, and deep grief. 2- For 18 yrs. since my son’s demise, I have wanted to get my son’s poems published in his honor. 3- Cause at 63, I’m getting old and quite “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” (‘Gone with the Wind’).
I admit, I get hurt when folks don’t read them. I internalize it and often feel like that ‘lost child’ all over again that nobody notices. However, God has led me to do so, so I will persist in obedience to Him…expending the cost, and laying it all at the foot of His Cross. There are a few that read the articles regularly; they are my ‘heroes’ for whom I am deeply grateful.
I’m OK with being Invisible now, for the most part. It still hurts, but:
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
God has a purpose for every one of us. We truly are as different as snowflakes and no one is more valuable to God than another. I truly do pray that we somehow, some day, can respect those differences and place equal honor on each member of the Body. Whether one is called to be a great preacher in front of thousands, or one is called to sweep up the room after all have left…in God’s eyes, all are loved equally and are honored without partiality to God. It’s not about building one’s own self-esteem…that actually can get in God’s way. For it is Christ that must be lifted up and Who is the only One who deserves the Glory. He earned it on the Cross. Even if He had not gone to the Cross, He is the Creator of the universe, the Creator of you and me…hence, still deserves all Honor and Glory. Truly, He alone is worthy.
Let it be so in all that we do and say.
(((HUGS))) Jude Gibbs, Author of ‘Gifts from the Ashes’ available at:
Also, a Contributor on ‘The Mighty’: https://themighty.com/2017/03/the-pain-of-holidays-after-the-loss-of-loved-ones/
Please help spread the word…TY!!! (((HUGS)))