This blog post is the second in a series contributed by Rachel Evans, LMSW, of the Center for Recovering Families at The Council on Recovery and Ashley Taylor, MSW, LMSW, of Heights Family Counseling. Read the first post here.
When someone has a substance use disorder, the people within their close circle – whether it be family, friends or a combination of both – adapt to the associated behaviors. Many roles that these people embody contribute to the functionality of the system itself. There are a few adaptations of these roles, but the most common are the hero, the scapegoat, the addict, the mascot, the caretaker, and the lost child.
(For a breakdown of these roles and their impact on the system, read our blog post.)
While someone in the family unit might outwardly display particular character traits, there are also feelings that exist beneath the surface that are harder to recognize. Not every family system will reflect these roles, but oftentimes, these roles are displayed in some form or fashion. By taking on these roles, people within the system are able to assert some control over the outcome of their situation and maintain a sense of normalcy in a situation where one can feel a loss of control.
In families that deal with substance use disorders, there are also unwritten rules that members abide by in order to prevent disruption within the system. These rules are: Don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel. People within the system follow these rules to maintain the status quo. “Everyone in the system often begins to believe that their needs no longer matter,” says Rachel Evans, Family Therapist at the Center for Recovering Families. These rules are adaptations made beyond the roles that people within the family unit follow that help protect their goal, which is to manage life with someone struggling with a substance use disorder.
Family members can come to understand it like this: We don’t talk about the addiction. Secrecy allows the addiction to thrive. We cannot trust the person with a substance use disorder. Addiction often comes with inconsistent behaviors, so family members often learn not to trust their loved one, and often suppress their emotional experiences of the addiction. Because of these learned rules, recovery often begins with talking openly about the addiction safely, rebuilding trust, and identifying emotions in every family member.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, or if you recognize any of these roles and rules in your own life, contact us today to inquire about counseling and treatment options.