Dysfunctional Family Roles


  • We all grew up with families, relationships, and experiences that played a part in our sense of identity and set rules for life that have remained with us throughout adulthood.
  • While growing up with these unique windows of perspective, we knew only what we were taught, and automatically assumed it was right and true.
  • As children, we were born with a “fantasy bond” to our biological parents. We believed subconsciously that our parents represented the ideal for all areas of our lives.
  • As we approached adulthood, we still lived our lives based on those acquired beliefs. What we did seemed to simply be a byproduct of who we had become, whether it was right or wrong.
  • Some of us, though, reached a point where we realized that the foundational ways we believe, think, feel, behave, and live in our relationships are causing us pain.
  • This common struggle affirms in us that we aren’t alone, and that it is okay to step out and pursue this journey with God.

Woman silhouette shameResponses to A Shame-Based Childhood

Having been raised in a shame-based family brings out certain behaviors and patterns that are very abnormal, but necessary for survival. Historically, the name for this has been “codependence.” But, as presented in an ear-lier chapter, I have renamed this “identity dependence,” which is much more reflective of its true meaning. When children of such a home become adults, they frequently feel worthless and have great difficulty with close, intimate relationships. The tremendous emotional scars inflicted upon children grow-ing up in dysfunctional, shame-based homes lead directly to relationship dis-cord, emotional depression, vocational instability, and overall life dissatisfaction in adulthood.

Characteristic behavior traits and attitudes plague these individuals. In Chapter 3, I outlined Identity Dependence in great detail, and have re-presented a number of the most common of these here. These dysfunctional tendencies begin in childhood and continue into adulthood, and might include:

  • Difficulty knowing what “normal” is.
  • Difficulty completing projects or tasks.
  • Exaggerate or lie compulsively, even when there is no need to.
  • Are overly critical of themselves.
  • Take themselves too seriously, and have difficulty having fun.
  • Struggle with intimate relationships.
  • Have a great need for control in their lives and become frustrated or angry when this cannot be achieved.
  • Have a lifelong need for approval and affirmation.
  • Have a feeling of being different from other people.
  • Are overly responsible or overly irresponsible, or possibly both at the same time.
  • Have extreme loyalty, even when unwarranted.
  • Have frequent impulsive behavior, which only aggravates the exist-ing problems.
  • Believe a relationship with a significant other will fill the inner longing for love.
  • Depend on relationships with emotionally unavailable people to meet their needs.
  • Bound in relationships by performance (what I do) rather than core value and worth (who I am).
  • Overly caring for others at the neglect of self-needs.
  • Have difficulty saying “no”.
  • Tolerate mistreatment from others, while justifying their behavior and defending them.
  • Cover up for irresponsible people in life by lying or filling in their gaps.
  • Do for others what they should be doing for themselves.
  • Attempt to protect others from emotional pain or the consequences of their unhealthy behaviors.
  • Attempt to fix, manage, or control another person’s life, often with the best of intentions.
  • Have an overwhelming need to please people.
  • Drawn to people who need help, yet have difficulty receiving help form others.
  • Compromise personal belief systems to please another person, or in hopes of getting personal needs met.
  • Fear being alone, or withdraw out of fear of close relationships, or both.

Shame-Based Family Roles

Within “dysfunctional” families, there are several roles that typically emerge. No one signs up for these. Individuals just move into them during the course of life in this family. And usually in an attempt to emotionally survive the toxic environment.

These roles are generally not healthy, but are, in a sense, necessary for survival. Bradshaw describes this dynamic like a mobile, the childhood toy suspended over a baby’s crib, with multiple characters circling around a central point. If one character is removed, the entire mobile becomes out of balance and disabled.  I’ll go into detail about each of these roles in my next blog post


Soul health and spiritual maturity cannot be separated.  Our counselors are ordained Christian ministers as well as certified and licensed Christian counselors.  We are able to help you experience freedom from shame, anxiety, depression, or relationship conflict with methods that are purely Christ-centered.   Life Training offers convenient sessions at our office in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as online counseling via Zoom or FaceTime.  Our non-profit counseling practice has an outstanding track record for over a decade helping men and women who are ready to move beyond anxiety, depression, and conflicts in marriage or other relationships find hope and healing in their lives.  Contact us today at 502-717-5433, or by email at drdave@lifetrainingcounseling.org