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Dysfunctional Family Roles Part 2: Are You a Scapegoat or A Hero?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified 

The Scapegoat

Aliases: “The Problem,” “The Bad One,” “The Crazy One”

The scapegoat is the person in the family who is obviously struggling. They might express unhealthy behaviors, such as participation in illegal activities or acting out in the classroom or in the home. They might be viewed as unstable or as a “rebel.” The scapegoat is often in the family spotlight because they are regarded as the family member who has additional needs. 

The scapegoat, like every other family member, is impacted by unhealthy dynamics in the family. On the outside, it often looks like scapegoats are causing stress in the family, but in fact scapegoats may be acting out or struggling emotionally because of preexisting family dysfunctions. Another aspect to consider is that scapegoats might create fixable problems in the family in order to distract from other family problems that are not as easily solved. For example, if a scapegoat has failing grades in school,  they can receive tutoring or additional support. This seems like a fixable problem, and it can deflect attention from other, more serious family problems, such as patterns of abuse or neglect. 

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

  • Build a support system outside of your family unit. This support system might be better able to provide you with the support that you need. 
  • Participate in individual therapy in order to identify your needs and how your actions/emotions are impacted by and contributing to your family dynamics. You can also participate in family therapy in order to improve your family’s dynamics. 
  • Establish and maintain firm boundaries with your family members in order to meet your needs and allow your family opportunities to address deeper issues in the family.

The Hero

Aliases: “The Overachiever,” “The Successful One,” “The Good One” 

The “hero” uses success, perfectionism, and/or achievement in order to cope with dysfunctional family dynamics. Heroes might earn perfect grades, excel in sports, have successful careers, or become the model parent. Heroes rarely cause  the family stress, as they are often seen as role models that other family members are encouraged to emulate. Yet, the success of the hero can cause a family to avoid addressing their core issues. For example, it is often assumed that if the hero is doing so well, then the system family must be working. 

On the outside, the hero can appear highly functional. Yet, inside they often feel shameful, inadequate, and insecure. Heroes rarely feel accomplished and proud of themselves. Their accomplishments are not driven by healthy motivations or by a genuine passion to thrive, but are rather used in order to cope with their own insecurities and masque underlying toxic family dynamics. The best accomplishments in the world cannot counteract shame or deep-seated sources of low self-esteem.

If you are a hero, try these methods in order to embody a healthier role:

  • Get off the pedestal. Family members might place you on a pedestal, and this can negatively impact your relationships with other family members. For example, some might say that you are ”The Good One” and that your sibling is ”The Screw Up.”  
  • Improve self-worth by addressing your shame. You deserve to experience self-worth regardless of your accomplishments. 
  • Participate in individual therapy, as this might help you improve self-worth and explore how your family dynamics contribute to your insecurities. 

Family therapy can help you identify and change dysfunctional family roles. At Symmetry Counseling, our licensed counselors specialize in family therapy in Chicago to address 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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