What role are you?

Families operate as a system, no matter how functional or dysfunctional that may be perceived to be.  Each family member has a role.  It is not necessarily an assigned role, it is often an assumed role based off of learned actions and reactions.  Families which have one or more members who suffer from addiction will most likely find the entire system to be organized by the disease.  When someone is suffering from addiction it is often the family members who notice and experience the consequences first before the actual person does.  The consequences felt by others are real; they are not perceived and therefore in an effort to adapt family members begin to change their role to lessen the consequences they experience.  Change is slow, especially for the one suffering from the disease, so as a result the family balance begins to shift.  Think of it as a baby’s mobile above a crib, not all the toys hanging from the mobile hold the same weight yet it hangs in the balance in its own unique way.  What this looks like in real life is a family which is trying to increase consistency and structure in a system which is becoming more and more unpredictable and chaotic.

This manifestation of specific roles is not always noticeable while it is happening; incremental change is hard to see while it is happening.  A common way a family comes to realize this shift is once the family member suffering from addiction decides to start on the road to recovery.  They may go off to treatment and be ready to work a program only to come back to their family and realize the new role they want is not conducive to how the family system was functioning before.  A similar example is a veteran who returns home from war and has trouble reintegrating into their family and society.  The family and the individual do not always know how to adjust, even if the desire to change is positive.  Claudia Black Ph.D. has taken the work of Virginia Satir on family roles and adapted it to the addictive family.  People do not always fall into one category or another cleanly; sometimes family members take on different roles for different situations.  Where do you see yourself fitting into these categories and what implications can you draw from them?



1. Successful

2. Organized

3. Leadership Skills

4. Decisive

5. Initiator

6. Self-disciplined

7. Goal-oriented


1. Perfectionist

2. Difficulty Listening

3. Inability to Follow

4. Inability to Relax

5. Lack of Spontaneity

6. Inflexible

7. Unwilling to Ask for Help

8. High Fear of Mistakes

9. Need to be in Control




1. Caring/Compassionate

2. Empathic

3. Good Listener

4. Sensitive to Others

5. Gives Well


1. Inability to Receive

2. Denies Personal Needs

3. High Tolerance for Inappropriate Behavior

4. Strong Fear of Anger or Conflict

5. False Guilt

6. Anxious

7. Highly Fearful

8. Hypervigilant




1. Creative

2. Less Denial, Greater Honesty

3. Sense of Humor

4. Close to Own Feelings

5. Ability to Lead


1. Inappropriate Expression of Anger

2. Inability to Follow Direction

3. Self-Destructive

4. Intrusive

5. Irresponsible

6. Social Problems at Young Age

7. Underachiever

8. Defiant/Rebel




1. Independent

2. Flexible

3. Ability to Follow

4. Easy Going Attitude

5. Quiet


1. Unable to Initiate

2. Withdraws

3. Fearful of Making Decisions

4. Lack of Direction

5. Ignored, Forgotten

6. Follows Without Questioning

7. Difficulty Perceiving Choices and Options




1. Sense of Humor

2. Flexible

3. Able to Relieve Stress and Pain


1. Attention Seeker

2. Distracting

3. Immature

4. Difficulty Focusing

5. Poor Decision Making Ability


As mentioned, roles are assigned and assumed based off of learned behavior in the past.    It is important to understand how roles can be restricting in our life.  The label alone has implications for how someone is perceived by others and in turn views themselves.  There isn’t a specific role which someone should strive to be, each role has strengths and deficits.  It is more beneficial to be self-aware of our own strengths and shortcomings so we can attempt to use the information to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives in our day to day life.  The disease of addiction affects the whole family, there are some things one can control and there are others that one cannot.  If you are a loved one of someone who suffers from addiction consider reaching out to a 12-step fellowship near you such as Al-Anon or Families Anonymous:




At New Hope Recovery Center, we involve family and friends as a key component of addiction treatment. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact us at 773.883.3916.

You may also be interested in reading: Addiction in the Family: The Roles We Play

Written by: New Hope Recovery Center