Roles and difficult relationships in the family

In many families over the millennia, they are played, reproduced and consolidated, and then often transferred – various roles that later become entangled in difficult relationships, which are a bane and an obstacle to the volitional development of independent human individuals. It is possible to make some systemic simplification and select four most common roles that children from families with dysfunctional (not only alcoholic) families take, but also those families that are considered as exemplary, but only outside.

The development of a child’s personality in a dysfunctional family.

The term “personality”, like many other basic concepts of the humanities, despite many attempts to define it, retains ambiguity and ambiguity. The term is used in a variety of meanings, both in everyday language and in philosophy, anthropology, history, psychology, sociology and many other humanities.

Personality definitions formulated by psychologists often stress the determinants of the properties of the human psyche, and sometimes are even limited to them. When analyzing the personality, it should be noted that it is not a human species characteristic, but an individual and cultural feature, referring to the pattern that the process of upbringing and self-education aims to achieve.

Human personality is shaped by biophysical features as well as through the process of socialization, which adapts man to live in the community, enables communication and intelligent action within it, teaches how to behave to achieve life goals.

Family – is a small social group consisting of parents, their children and relatives. Parents have a marriage bond, parents and children have a parental bond. Family is the basis of family education. Defines the responsibilities of parents and children towards each other.

The family is defined as a dynamic psychosocial system, which includes parents, children or distant relatives living together. It is therefore dynamic because there are still some processes and changes in it (e.g. children of different developmental age).

A dysfunctional family:

This is a family that does not fulfil its tasks towards children.

A dysfunctional family is (dysfunction has a source in the parent’s behaviour):

– a family with an alcohol problem,

– a family with a problem of sexual abuse,

– a family with mental terror (emotional violence),

– a family with physical violence,

– a family with a chronic illness he blames the household for his condition, becomes a central figure in the family, terrorizes her, enforces certain behaviours.

In a dysfunctional family, there is a lack of:

  1. Self-acceptance – members of such a family usually have low self-esteem, guilt, not accepting themselves, it is difficult for them to withstand good relationships with other people.
  2. Reciprocity – not all family members fulfil their obligations, contracts are not kept.
  3. Open communication – there are topics that should be overlooked or kept secret. Family members are afraid to reveal their weaknesses.
  4. There are closure and isolation from the outside world – the most important thing in this family is a problem that must be hidden from the environment. There is no open communication between the family and the wider environment.

In a dysfunctional family, contact between parents and children is disturbed. Parents exhibit incorrect parental attitudes.

These attitudes are:

  1. avoiding – the parents’ emotional indifference is noticed, being with the child does not please them, it can be felt by them as difficult. Contact with the child is loose, seemingly good and masked, e.g. by excessive freedom.
  2. rejective – the child is perceived as a burden that limits parents’ freedom. Parents have a distance to him. They apply severe penalties that are out of proportion to the child’s fault. They still show him their dissatisfaction, criticize, tease.
  3. too demanding – parents have high aspirations towards the child, want to shape them according to an ideal pattern, not counting on his abilities and abilities.
  4. overly protective – parents tend to maintain constant and close contact with the child. On the one hand, parents allow the child to do everything, while on the other they are in a constant cure for his health and safety.

Mothers who have a negative impact on children:

– aggressive (they aggress the children)

– excessively meticulous and anxious

– perfectionists (check and control every step of the child)

– for whom the child is a means of compensating unfulfilled dreams, disappointed life hopes. They are able to reject a child emotionally when they do not fulfil their hopes.

Fathers who have a negative impact on the development of a child’s personality:

– absent who are not interested in the child’s affairs

– stringent and strict excessively enforce the requirements for the child

– dangerous we often meet in families who use alcohol excessively

– It is often the case that the mother cannot cope with a child he refers to the father’s punishing hand, which makes him a scared guy, despite his true attitude towards the child.

Each of the parental attitudes presented through mental frustrations affects the shaping of behaviour and certain features of the child’s personality. The atmosphere of family life is of great importance for the child’s development process, which also consists of the personalities of the mother and father, their mutual intercourse, relations prevailing between family members.

A dysfunctional family does not fulfil its tasks towards children. It mainly meets the needs of parents, not children. The emotional bond between family members is disturbed, relationships are not based on equality. There are more important people in the family who need to be subordinated. Rules are imposed, rigid, often unreasonable, mistakes are not forgiven, but reproved, you cannot express all your perceptions, feelings, thoughts and desires. The atmosphere in the family is full of tension and the family system does not serve all its members, does not support them and even inhibits individual development.

Children in a dysfunctional family play four basic roles:

– family hero – (small parent, parent of parents, guardian, friend, confidant, strongman)

– scapegoat – (flagship victim of a parent, black sheep, foster partner, rebel, villain)

– mascots – (clown, self-sacrificing person, judge, stalker of the family)

– invisible child – (an invisible, graceful person, lost child)

The hero is usually the oldest child in the family who takes over the responsibilities of adults and does everything he can to fix the existing situation and keep the family normal. He is responsible, takes care of his siblings, takes care of the whole house, adheres to the rules, always finishes his task at the set time. He tries to be perfect in everything he does. The hero lives in constant tension, panics in spontaneous, unpredictable situations.

The scapegoat diverts attention from real family problems, becoming the embodiment of family frustrations. He gets into a fight, comes into conflict with the law, runs away from home. In the group is the most disturbing child. Scapegoats are difficult to function in social systems. By behaving unacceptably by others, they are constantly disapproved.

The child mascot diverts attention from the family problem by focusing it on himself, ripping, coaxing, fooling around. His role is to relieve the family in a difficult situation, cheering her up with his humour and jokes. The mascot will stop at nothing to cheer up others. In social life, mascots are the soul of the party, but they pay a high price for it – no one takes them seriously.

The invisible child stays on the side of the family, never causing any trouble. Isolated from his family, he lives in his own world, feeling lonely and hurt. It is an unnoticed child that no one remembers. Participating in teamwork can be difficult for him. Shy and reserved outside, the invisible child is unable to face the problems.

The roles adopted in childhood often echo in adulthood. – It may happen that DDD and DDA will re-enter them, especially in difficult situations.

People coming from dysfunctional homes after moving out of their parents and starting their own life, often notice that they have problems in relationships with others or duplicate certain patterns of behaviour. These can be various reactions, such as taking excessive responsibility, constantly seeking recognition, acceptance, the need for control, avoiding conflicts (related to conclusiveness) at all costs, or fear of abandonment or loss.


American psychotherapist P. Mellody distinguishes five characteristic features with which a child is born.

They are:

– Evaluability

– Imperfection

– Helplessness

– Dependence

– Immaturity

Functional families help the child develop each of these features so that in the future it will be fully independent, self-satisfied, able to function properly in the community.

However, in a dysfunctional family, parents – children are quite shaken. Which is not conducive to the proper development of the child’s personality, and more.

These five traits are transformed into dysfunctional self-preservation traits.

PROPERTY – the child is not made aware of it. The child has no feeling that he is loved, on the contrary, he feels unnecessary, underestimated. This type of behaviour may make it difficult for the child to make contact with other people, show them feelings, etc. in the future. Such a child has low self-esteem.

DEFENCE – in turn in the dysfunctional family is heavily abused. Parents do not care about the child, do not provide adequate care for him, they do not teach how not to be abused by others. Therefore, the child in adulthood will be completely defenceless, exposed to humiliation and abuse by others.

IMPERFECTION – the child is also violated. In a dysfunctional family, there is no room for the child’s acceptance as he is. On the contrary, it is sometimes attacked for its imperfection and otherness. This shapes the child’s “skewed” self-image, low self-esteem etc.

DEPENDENCE – the child as a defenceless being is completely dependent on his parents. It is not able to satisfy its basic needs on its own, which is why its parents should do it for them and this order of things takes place in a functional family. However, in a dysfunctional family, the child’s dependence is often ignored, or parents attack children for expressing their needs and desires.

INSURANCE – it is also not enforced. Parents demand more mature behaviour from children that exceed their age capabilities.


  1. Maria Ziemska (1997) “Family and personality”, Wiedza Powszechna
  2. Susan Forward (1992) “Toxic parents”, Publishing Agency
  3. Wincenty Okoń (1998) “New pedagogical dictionary”, Wyd. akademickie Żak


Peter Po

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