Dysfunctional family roles: The 5 Child Roles In Dysfunctional Families

The Minds Journal
3 min readMar 14, 2023

Dysfunctional families are more common than most people realize. These families usually have one or more parents who are either addicted to drugs or alcohol or suffer from a Cluster B disorder, which includes Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD), or Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD). Dysfunctional families typically have different roles for children, such as the scapegoat, the golden child, the lost child, the mascot, and the enabler. Hence, dysfunctional family roles are discussed below!

The scapegoat is often the child who is blamed for the family’s problems and is the one who gets punished the most. The golden child, on the other hand, is often the favorite and is given preferential treatment. The lost child is the one who is ignored, and the mascot is the one who distracts everyone from the family’s problems with humor or acting out. Finally, the enabler is the child who is forced to take on the responsibilities of the parent and act as a substitute for them.

These roles are not always fixed, and children can move between them depending on the situation. The dynamics in a dysfunctional family can be harmful to children, leading to a range of issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and difficulty forming healthy relationships in the future.

The Cluster B disorders are prevalent in dysfunctional families, and NPD is often the disorder that dominates. Narcissists require attention and admiration, leading them to be manipulative, emotionally abusive, and controlling. They tend to be self-centered and lack empathy for others, and their behavior can be damaging to their children.

BPD is the second most common disorder seen in the head of a dysfunctional family. In most cases, it is seen in the codependent, passive partner. BPD is characterized by unstable moods, self-image, and relationships. Those with BPD often struggle with abandonment issues, leading them to be overly dependent on their partners or other family members.

ASPD is less common in dysfunctional families because psychopaths and antisocial people tend to avoid raising children. However, parents with Malignant Narcissism, which is a combination of NPD and ASPD, can be seen in these families. People with pure ASPD lack empathy and manipulate others to get what they want. They are less emotionally abusive than those with NPD or BPD.

In dysfunctional families, the non-afflicted parent is usually codependent on the mentally ill or addicted parent. The codependent parent often suffers from PTSD or Complex PTSD. They can also develop Stockholm Syndrome, identifying and colluding with their abuser.

Growing up in a dysfunctional family can be challenging for children, leading to long-lasting emotional and psychological damage. It is essential to seek help and support to break the cycle and heal from the trauma.