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WISE UP: Step Three

Identifying Our

Childhood Family


For those of us raised in dysfunctional families, we discover there are certain roles that we, as children, took on to in order to survive. These roles can be defined in five categories:


  1. Hero

  2. Problem Child/Addict

  3. The Rescuer/Caretaker

  4. Mascot/Clown

  5. Lost Child


Here’s a link to a full picture of these roles: 



When we discover this for the first time, we are often incredulous that millions of us can be categorized into so few groups. However, it is clear for many of us that these roles fill a purpose, and we can see traits of ourselves in some of them. These roles create a dance between family members to ensure that no one is allowed to be their true selves.


The problems occur when, as adults, we revert to these roles in times of crisis. Our adult thinking is distorted by our past, but we can use these roles as an indicator that we are hitting another rock bottom. A rock bottom happens when we hit a point in our life when we can no longer continue in the same way. We become willing to seek help. Once it becomes impossible to deny our ongoing pain and confusion, we are ready for change. Understanding these roles help us identify how a current crisis (as adults) can precipitate a certain behavior which then prompts us to use coping skills from our childhood.


Recognizing which role we played in our family as a child, means we can take steps to stop “feeding” the same behavior as an adult.

At the same time, gaining this understanding of roles and engaging in correct work may make us feel disloyal to our families. This is common as we step away from what we were taught. However, it’s important that we start to talk about these roles and how we had to take them up to fit into our family systems. We can overcome the doubt of our misplaced loyalty by employing our adult self to question these roles and how they no longer serve us.



Look at the roles and identify which one(s) apply to you. You may have played one or more roles as you were growing up. Examine at how you continue to re-enact these roles as an adult:

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