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Dysfunctional Family Roles Part 1: Are You an Enabler or a Jester?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified 

Regardless of if your family is biological or chosen, you have a role in your family. Your role may be healthy, unhealthy, or perhaps a combination of both. There are many factors that contribute to which role(s) you adopt and which one(s) you do not. It’s important to assess and change any dysfunctional roles in order to support your emotional health and improve your family relationships. 

Ask yourself, do I embody any of these dysfunctional roles in my family? If so, are you ready to change them? 

The Enabler

Aliases: “The Martyr,” “The Caregiver,” “The Strong One” 

On the outside, the enabler appears as a strong and positive member of the family. This role can be adopted by any member of the family – adult or child. The enabler can serve as a caregiver, a protector, and a rescuer. They manage intense responsibilities and obligations that are often too much for one person. They are unable to establish and maintain boundaries with family members and, as a result, they are always on call to the needs of their family. Enablers can become angry, resentful, anxious, or depressed due to the amount of responsibility that they manage. 

Family members might feel that they are being helped by the enabler. Yet, they are actually being denied opportunities and experiences necessary for their growth. Enablers make it difficult for family members to make their own contributions to the family system or to feel as if they need to contribute. If you know someone who is going to do something that you don’t want to do, why would you do it? Since enablers shoulder all or most familial responsibilities and thus tend to make other members of their family dependent upon them, they can hinder their family members’ ability to learn interdependence and necessary life skills. 

If you are an enabler, try these methods in order to practice a healthier role:

  • Allow your family members to contribute to the family system and/or caretaking duties by stepping back. You can say “no,” limit your participation, or delegate responsibilities to other family members. 
  • Meet your needs first before providing support to family members. Take steps to make your self-care a priority. 
  • Establish fair compromises with family members. If you do X, then I’ll do Y. But, if you refuse to do X, I will not complete Y. 

The Jester

Aliases: “The Comedian,” “The Cute One,” “The Class Clown”

Families love jesters. They’re the ones who can ease tensions in the family with humor, hyperactivity, and/or cuteness. They can make family gatherings entertaining and can be the life of the party. They can also be encouraging and supportive motivators and cheerleaders for their family members. 

 In order to ease tensions in the family, jesters are rarely emotionally honest with family members. They struggle to identify and express their genuine feelings, as they fear that doing so may cause or contribute to conflict within their family. When they experience negative emotions such as sadness, anger, or anxiety, they tend to cover it up with a smile or a joke. As a result, jesters deny their family members opportunities to experience and resolve conflicts that require genuine emotional expression. Families often need to have difficult conversations in order to healthfully address and resolve simmering tensions.

If you are a jester, try these methods to embrace a healthier role:

  • Allow tension to occur in your family. Remember that tension is healthy. You don’t need to fix or manage tension in your family. Just let it unfold and allow your family  opportunities to express their honest emotions and to engage in difficult conversations. 
  • Take a break if you feel overwhelmed by tension in the family. You may need to physically leave a situation or seek support outside your family unit. 
  • If you feel unsafe to express how you are actually feeling to family members then let them know how the family dynamics are impacting you. 

Family therapy can help you identify and change dysfunctional family roles. Symmetry Counseling provides family therapy addressing parent/child conflict and sibling conflict. Schedule your appointment today!


McClanahan, K. (2019, October 30). 5 Unhealthy Family Roles in an Addict’s Life. Retrieved from

Schafler, K. The 6 family roles in addiction. [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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