“Family has the potential to be our safe place to land and at the same time be a battlefield of pain and triggers”
~ Faith Agugu
Most of you know that I recently returned from a 3-week visit to my family in London. To say that things did not go as planned is an understatement and once again, the adage, "If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plan" rang true.
Prior to 2020 I travelled to London twice a year and was fortunate to be there three times in 2019. The outbreak of COVID put an end to our plans across the globe. This visit was the first in nearly three years.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and I believe that I missed my family so much that I romanticised our reunion.
A week into my trip, I lost my mobile phone. Although this experience would be stressful for most people, the experience was exacerbated because it triggered an old belief that was enforced in my family dynamic. The belief that I was broken in some way, and that bad things always happen to me.
In my family system, I was the family scapegoat and I internalised a belief that I could never do anything right.
So losing my phone took on a deeper meaning and intensity because I was with my family. I don't know if I would have had the same experience if I had lost my phone in Australia.
Then a day later, I tested positive for COVID and had to isolate myself from my family for 9 days. Again, this experience would be challenging for most people but for me, because it happened back home, it activated my family of origin wound.
Many of you know that I was separated from my family from the age of one to nine years old. From the age of 5, I clutched a polaroid picture of my family, daydreaming about when they would come and rescue me from my abusive guardians.
Being in isolation brought back the feelings of despair, separation and abandonment I felt back then. To make it worse, I took a RAT every morning looking for a negative result that would mean a reunion with my family. Every day from day 5 onwards, my heart sank when I saw the positive stripes on the white stick. My mind kept telling me that I did not belong, that I was the outcast, that they all belonged to the family and I was the odd one out.
Even though I understood what was happening, the pain was real and forced me to use all my mental health and self-care tools.
I thought I had healed my family dynamic wound, but this trip showed me that there is always an opportunity for deeper healing.
The term family dynamics refers to the ways in which family members interact. These dynamics may differ with each family member, and they can overlap and influence one another.
The dynamics between a mother and father can alter the dynamic of an entire family; if they are not getting along, it can create tension that is felt by all members and hurts the family as a whole.
Family dynamics are important in the growth and development of each family member, having the ability to affect the way that they see and interact with the world. Family dynamics can also play an important role in our mental health and well-being.
In her article, What are the family dynamics, Jo Amy Rollo, shares that certain family dynamic roles can signify whether or not a family is healthy or dysfunctional. These roles are assigned to different members of a family, and they affect how members interact with one another. The roles control the expectations other members have for each other and can help to maintain balance. They can be positive or negative, depending upon how they are fulfilled.
Hero: The hero role is given to the family member who is seen as the ''golden child.'' They are typically well-behaved overachievers. They may go overboard in their attempt to maintain the image of perfection. They often are organised leaders with big goals and plans to achieve them. This role is usually played out in dysfunctional families as unattainable expectations are placed on a child. They feel the pressure to be perfect and always do what everyone else wants them to do.
Rescuer: The rescuer is the family member that is always doing everything for everyone else. They place all of their energy on helping others, making sure others have what they need, and trying to ensure that no one does anything they should not do. They seldom focus on themselves and what they need. In dysfunctional families, this person serves as the one who is left to fix everyone's problems.
Scapegoat: This family member is the one that is usually labeled the ''trouble maker.'' They are the ones that the family can easily blame for their issues. They fail to follow the rules and often exhibit self-destructive behavior. This role is seen in dysfunctional families. The other family members often choose the weakest link and place all of their blame on them, pretending everything is that person's fault.
Switchboard: The switchboard is the family member who has all of the information. They are likely the ones keeping up with everyone's schedules for work, school, and appointments. This family member is present in both healthy and dysfunctional families. In healthy families, this person ensures that all the family members get everything they need and make it to all of their commitments. In a dysfunctional family, this person may do these things because they feel the weight of everything is on their shoulders and that they have to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Power broker: This is the family member that controls everything. They make sure that they remain in the top spot so that they can maintain control. This person is present in both healthy and dysfunctional families. In healthy families, they share some responsibility and do not wield their power over others. In dysfunctional families, they thrive on controlling everyone.
Lost child: The lost child is the member who makes themselves invisible to avoid conflict within the family. They go along with whatever is expected of them to maintain peace and order. They often have a hard time standing up for themselves and making personal decisions because of their role. This role is typically seen in dysfunctional families. An example of this is when a child is subservient and afraid of not complying out of a fear that they will make home life worse if they do not comply. They think that always being good and following the rules makes things easier and better.
Clown: The clown always makes jokes and kids around to lighten the mood. They attempt to make things amusing so that they can deflect from real problems the family has. This person can be seen in both healthy and dysfunctional families. In dysfunctional families, they may feel pressure to always save the day by making everyone laugh in problematic situations.
Cheerleader: This family member supports and encourages others. They are similar to the rescuer, in that they help others, but they do not neglect their own self-care in doing so. Cheerleaders are seen in healthy families.
Nurturer: This person is the one that emotionally supports others. They are there for everyone to help them through their problems. They often mediate between different members. Nurtures are seen in healthy families.
Some people will recreate the same family dynamics in their friendship groups or at work. Other people discard the roles they were assigned within the family when they leave home. These people can find themselves reverting to the old roles whenever they visit their family.
It is also interesting to note that over time, some family roles can evolve and change. As I moved out of home and travelled the world, I began to discard my 'scapegoat' role and move into the 'hero' role. I used to be considered the problematic outcast in my family, but I'm now seen as the responsible, dependable and successful one.
Finally, if you are an only child, you will probably play a number of the above roles or you may shift roles depending on the situation.
Having healthy boundaries and good work relationships is vital for mental health and well-being so take the time to develop both. If you want some support around boundaries, check out my self-paced workshop, Boundary course. Saying No Without Apology! today
Lots of hugs until next time.