Dysfunctional Family Roles Tiring You Out?

Dysfunctional Family Roles

Family Systems have always been interesting to me.  The dysfunctional family roles like Hero, Scapegoat, Enabler, ya, it’s that stuff that always caught my attention.  The concept that our parents, and even generations before us can have lasting impact on who we are, who we become, is intriguing. Perhaps, frightening.

The song “Hero” by Family of the Year has really gotten my attention in relation to dysfunctional family roles. Some how this song, like others I write about, go deep to my core. It’s always interesting to read others’ comments on what they think the lyrics mean…I’ll give you my impression.


SuccessIn Family Systems theory a hero is typically the child in the family that the parents like to talk about and emphasize as their pride and joy.

As Friel (2010) wrote: “The hero provides self-esteem for the family. He goes to law school and becomes and internationally known attorney, but secretly feels awful because he has a sister in a mental hospital and a brother who has died of alcoholism.  But he carries the family banner for all the public to see. He makes the family proud; but at a terrible price in terms of his own well-being.”

The SOng: “Hero” by Family of the YEar

No harm, no foul in being successful. But with the pressure of carrying the family banner for all to see, this role becomes largely unwanted over time. The lyrics state:

Let me go
I don’t wanna be your hero
I don’t wanna be a big man
Just wanna fight like everyone else

Take off the pressure:

There’s a sense that “I don’t want to be what you want me to be, I just want to be me.” This person doesn’t want the added pressure of their family to be something more than they are. There’s a sense that I just want to be me, not some bigger, grander ideal of yours.

maskYour masquerade
I don’t wanna be a part of your parade
Everyone deserves a chance to
Walk with everyone else

When I hear “masquerade” it reminds me of family secrets and putting on a front that is more positive, polished, and pleasing than it really may be behind closed doors. Again, this person seems to be saying, “I don’t want to be a part of your ideals, your ways of functioning. Stop showing me off as the poster boy of our family. I just want to be normal”

Oh, to just feel “normal:”

In the following stanza’s I hear this person striving for a sense of normalcy by keeping a job and building a new life with his girl. And perhaps a sense of “I’m just trying to figure this all out like everyone else, which may entail screwing up, so don’t hold me to being a hero.”

While holding down
A job to keep my girl around
And maybe buy me some new strings
And her and I out on the weekend

And we can whisper things
Secrets from my American dreams
Baby needs some protection
But I’m a kid like everyone else

Protect me:

heroProtection is an interesting word choice here. In dysfunctional family systems there is often no protection for the child. Children endure the pain and abuse of the adults in their world. Hearing and/or seeing the fights, the alcohol or drug use, the compulsions, the lies, whatever it may be… How could this person offer protection when he’s a kid like everyone else? Perhaps never receiving protection himself?

In the final words of the song he repeats again:

Everyone deserves a chance to
Walk with everyone else


walk with everyone elseIn this statement I hear a cry to be free of the family dysfunction allowing for the opportunity to embrace the health of walking with others. By “walk with everyone else” there is a sense of “don’t put me on a pedestal where I’m above everyone else, I want to be among them.” Perhaps it’s a wish for “don’t put pressure on me that is greater than what others at this stage need or deserve.”

A difficult role to play

Being in the role of a hero, one dysfunctional family role, makes for a complex and confusing state.

On one hand there may be a feeling of “thank God I’m not like the rest of my family, thank God I made it out, or thank God I’m doing better for myself than my family did for me. There is pride and the feeling of success in being a hero.

However, on the other hand there may be feelings of responsibility and pressure to the family. “I have to take care of them, it’s my responsibility to overcompensate for them since they can’t do for themselves.”

There’s also the pressure of “there’s no room for me to fail or mess up because I have to uphold the image of our family name.” And furthermore, a hero has the haunting reality of knowing and holding all the family secrets. He knows the reality of his heritage which is often in stark contrast to the image he now upholds. Feeling like a fraud may bubble up at times.

By no means am I suggesting a rally of blame on your family. There’s no benefit in that. Nor am I suggesting cutting your family off, there’s generally no benefit in that either. However, what would it be like to identify your role in your family, the role you continue to endure? What if you could recognize the effects this role has on you? How would it be to explore new ways of living without the dysfunctional expectations and coping that comes from these dynamics.

How would it be, just to be you?

To read more on dysfunctional families and roles you may be interested in “Adult Children: The Secrets of Dysfuntional Families.” by John & Linda Friel (2010). There are lots of roles other than Hero. Perhaps you are not a hero, but you know a hero. Some other roles include The Do-er, The Enabler/Helper/Lover, The Lost Child/Loner, The Mascot, The Scapegoat, Dad’s Little Princess/Mom’s Little Man, etc…

No matter the role you’ve played (and nearly all of us have a role to some degree or another) my hope is that you’ll find personal growth and change by exploring this phenomenon.

Find me here:


Listen to “Hero” by Family of the Year here:

About Heather Smith, LPC

Heather Smith, LPC offers marriage counseling and couples counseling, as well as treatment for Trauma, Depression, and Anxiety in Alexandria, VA. Heather’s passion for counseling comes out in her avid pursuit of continuing education and specialty training. Heather actively trains in the model of Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) and has substantial specialized training in psychological trauma to include completing her Certificate in Level 1 Trauma Training from the Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training and Education.

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