Which Child Were You? Roles By Birth

The way our parents responded to us as children was based on factors beyond our control. Sometimes our relationship with family is based pure and simply upon where we are in the birth order. Sure, there are other factors; for instance the way parents relate to each other, including how they meet their own needs — not to mention each child’s unique personality. These factors certainly play a part in how family members interact with each other, however, it is widely recognized among family system professionals that a first born child will be received very differently than a second and so on.  And there are specific characteristics that apply to each birth assignment, regardless of the unique qualities or personality of that particular child.  In other words, not who we are but the order in which we are born will determine our place in the family and very likely impact us for the rest of our lives.

When our emotional and physical needs are met as children we grow up believing that we have a right to be here and that we are capable, lovable and able to take care of ourselves.  But getting those personal needs met depends on how well the needs of the family have been met. Inevitably the needs of the “system” (family unit) will take priority over the individuals within it. The system needs are essential for a family’s functioning and survival and they will be met even if it means ruthlessly sacrificing the well-being of the children. The family unit is most important because it provides a sort of check and balance that stabilizes and holds things together. For instance, if the head of the family is alcoholic, the system’s need for worth and respectability may be compromised. It has to look elsewhere to supply these vital missing ingredients. The firstborn child is the obvious choice. Without any kind of conscious “volunteering” this child may automatically feel the pressure to be the ultra responsible and respectable one in dad’s stead in order to fill the void or make up for dad’s lack.  Simply by virtue of being the first child, he or she becomes the family hero, whose job it is to do whatever it takes to ensure that the family is seen as whole and functional.  The child’s needs are not considered.  They have taken a back seat to the demands of the family unit.

What are the System’s Needs?

The home environment is supposed to be a safe harbor — a place to escape from external stress– a place where family members can relax and be themselves. It should be an enjoyable environment where fun, humor and entertainment can be had.  Worth, health, relief and stress-resolve are some of the more important needs that a system has. If the parents do not see themselves as having value and esteem, both individually and as a couple, than the system starts out at a disadvantage, causing the system to have to look elsewhere for its needs.  Each family has its own idea about exactly what will satisfy those needs.  One family looks to hard work as the way to gain a sense of worth for instance, while another thinks esteem comes through intelligence or being well-educated. But when adults from dysfunction with wounded histories come together and start a new family, they often have no idea about how to meet their unconscious need to “look the part” of functionality and health.  Instead they unconsciously look to their children to provide these vital needs. This means that rather than focusing on what’s best for their child, they, in one way or another, expect their children to supply their own unmet needs and then resort to blame when it doesn’t work.

Children are very impressionable. They pick up on often subtle clues from their caretakers and the environment around them and in this way they figure out what is expected of them.  Because they start out without a sense of identity they look to their primary caregivers for personal definition.  They gain much of this information from their interaction with family.  Children are continuously busy interpreting the messages they receive and from these sources they formulate beliefs that shape their idea of self.  In other words these interpretations become their self-definition. When a system is burdened with trying to meet its own unmet needs the child gets lost in the shuffle– their needs go unmet and this sends negative messages . One obvious message for instance is “My needs (therefore I) are not important”.  Instead of feeling loved and accepted for who they are, children turn instead to their assigned role (based on what the system needs at the time of their birth) to gain a sense of identity, belonging and validity. By the time children are three, four or five years old, their identity, based on their assigned family role is firmly in place.  Of course, none of this is conscious. Children have no idea that they are not the role they are playing –nor does the family.  They have become absolutely entangled and identified with an often maladaptive, even destructive way of relating to the world around them.
What are the classic “Assigned Roles”?:

It was Virginia Satir that originally recognized that particular roles with distinct characteristics occur in families. She found that these roles often occur by birth order and named and described them accordingly. It's important to remember that roles are unconsciously assigned as children are born into the family, not chosen by the individual child. These roles have nothing to do with what the child wants, nor is it based on a child's best interests or native characteristics.  Assignment is an unconscious determination made simply on a combination of birth order and the particular needs of the family at the time of birth. The “severity” to which a role is carried out is depends on the degree of family dysfunction. The more dysfunctional the more pronounced and therefore limiting the roles will be. In more functional families, family roles are less defined.  In really healthy families you will find an absence of roles — this is rare.  From a hierarchy of system needs, every role is assigned based on the most pressing need of the family at the time of each child’s birth. Let’s start with the firstborn whose assignment most often is to meet the system’s need for worth. These roles are not carved in granite, however.  Depending on surrounding circumstances, the order of roles may vary. Sometimes a first child will be the scapegoat for instance.  For instance, if there is already a primary hero in the family who might feel threatened by competition, another hero might be forbidden. Or if the first child is female in a family where males are more important … or vice versa, then perhaps the second child will be a hero and the firstborn will take on second born characteristics.  Also, when there is more than 4-5 years between children, the roles may start over.  In other words if there is two children born within a couple of years and then another child comes along ten years later, the third child may take on characteristics of a first born rather than a typical third born.  Twins are interesting.  I’ve never met a set of twins that did not know who was the oldest, even if it’s only a matter of minutes. Often the roles will go accordingly, but I’ve also seen it occur, especially in large families that the twins may both play the same role.


The Hero
Firstborn children, as previously noted, are very often assigned to a “Hero” Position. Characteristics of this role include being the responsible one whose job it is to bring worth to the family.  They may attain this by being an achiever; the family's “shining star”.  Whatever the family most values will be where this child excels. Often acting as a “little parent”, or parental confidante, these children are scripted to get their own personal needs met by becoming whatever it is their family esteems as worthy. People who have lived their lives in this role often have had to sacrifice their childhood. Eternally grown up, (even at age five) and in charge of taking care of everyone and everything around them, they are often seen as accomplished, capable problem solvers and achievers. The price paid however, is often the loss of knowing how to relax or enjoy life. Their spontaneity and passion for life had to be hidden away because of the overwhelming responsibility they took on. As a result they tend to be highly successful but serious and intense about life.  A typical message reported by one “hero” firstborn was; “Dad told me I had to be mom’s little man and that I was to take care of my younger brothers. That meant I got punished if they did something wrong”. It’s pretty easy to guess that this child grew up with a strong need to be always in control of everything and everyone around him.

The Scapegoat

Second born children often are designated as the “scapegoat” .Their role is to bring the family a sense of health and well-being by becoming the one who is unhealthy or simply “the bad apple”.  By becoming the primary problem, scapegoats take the pressure off the family to look for further dysfunction. regardless of what other problems might be going on family members can simply point at the scapegoat and say, “If it weren't for her/him …this would be a perfectly healthy family!” Being the one targeted as being sick, defective or unruly, this “bad seed” acts out the unresolved issues of the family. The degree of acting out will depend upon how much dysfunction there is in the family. The more disturbed the family, the worse this kid acts out. The assigned scapegoat sacrifices their own well-being in order to take on the underlying sickness of the family. By doing so, they, rather than the alcoholic or abusive parent, are targeted as being the problem. Their poor behavior is in actuality often simply a loud proclamation that the family needs help…. Often it is the scapegoat who gets the family in therapy and thus brings about a chance for healing. By acting out the family’s dysfunction, the scapegoat becomes a key, of sorts, for family intervention. Unfortunately more often, the child (and those around him/her) see only themselves as the problem. As one scapegoat reported, “I remember being five years old and wondering why I was so bad — what was wrong with me?” Scapegoats often feel misunderstood and like they don’t fit in.  “I spent my childhood looking for evidence that I was adopted because I was SO different than the others … I simply did not belong,” cited one typical second born client. These folks buy into the idea of their badness and often spend their whole life living out a self destructive script, including drug and alcohol abuse, poor anger management and extremely negative relating patterns.

The Lost Child

Third born children are most often designated as the “Lost Child”. This child comes along at a time when the energy of the family is spent. By the time the family has applauded all of the Hero’s achievements and exhausted their efforts trying to straighten out the scapegoat there is nothing left for the third-born child.  The message this child gets then is that they are supposed to need nothing — “Just be good, will ya? Be nice and quiet and take care of yourself”.  So this child often complies by emotionally withdrawing. As a matter of fact, most of us can recognize a lost child because they are the one whose name you can’t ever quite recall … or you’ll find yourself looking right over them as if they were not there. They are so good at retracting their energy, that they literally seem to disappear. These children are often loners who turn to fantasy through books or computers.  Because they have learned not to expect anyone to be there for them, they often repress their needs. This leads to a common complaint of feeling empty inside … “it feels like if you were to thump me I’d ring like an empty barrel”, said one client, a classic lost child. They may attempt instead to fill this void with food, leading to eating disorders and/or unconsciously take on illnesses, such as asthma or allergies in order to get the time and attention they need for survival in a barren environment.

The Mascot

Fourth born children are typically designated as the “mascot”. The primary assigned duty here is one of distraction. Mascots often become the family entertainer or clown, using humor or clumsy antics as a way to break tension when things get out of hand at home. Often, when they are the “baby” of the family, they are treated as if they are too little or too dumb to understand what’s going on in the family.  “I felt as if everybody else knew what was going on, except me.  I was always trying to catch up and catch on to life”, said one typical mascot. There is often a life time pattern of confusion about how to handle life for the mascot, as a result.  The family, buying into a notion that this child is fragile and needs protection often hides reality from them.  It’s been well documented that family secrets get passed down and acted out.  It is not uncommon for the mascot to live a totally chaotic life, even ending up in a mental institution depending on the amount of dysfunction with which he or she is unconsciously carrying and acting out for the family.  Dysfunction tends to “roll downhill”, so to speak, which means that the more unstable the family the crazier this child feels.
If there are five or more children in a family, the roles may start over, depending on factors such as the age difference between siblings. An only child may play each of the various roles at different times depending on the systems primary need of the moment, or children may combine roles. It’s common, for instance, for a scapegoat to take on the role of mascot when there are only three children in a family. Again it depends on the family needs. Role order and description are not carved in granite, however it is surprising how often individuals identify with them. What I have given here is a very brief description, but I hope it will help you begin to explore your own family role. We don’t have to be stuck in these roles forever. By bringing them into consciousness we can begin the process of challenging them and changing the way we relate … to ourselves and those around us.


29 Responses

  1. Hello Lynne…

    Is it possible to carry two roles at the same time? I am the firstborn but I feel very much like I carry two roles… One is definitely the scapegoat, but I am also the one who is responsible for caring for my 97 year old mother, who was the source of most of the abuse growing up. Incest existed within our family, and that was ignored and covered up… so it continued unabated for a number of years. I would say that all 4 of us were victims of this problem with the two girls being the most at risk and vulnerable. None of us are friends and I believe my mom pitted us against each other as we vied for what little attention we could get from her. My dad was not the dominant one as a parent, but complied with whatever my mom’s wishes were. He was the breadwinner tho and spent most of his time in the garage working on various projects. He was more involved with the boys than he was with the girls.

    I live today on the inside and avoid sharing much of myself with any family member simply because I don’t trust them and they see me as someone who is strange. I am the problem child. I’ve been the one to seek help, and to educate myself on these issues by reading and accessing various modalities of therapy…. but I was never able to fully unload the anger I’ve felt. I would say it has subsided to a great extent and I know why it has now. For that relief, I am so grateful…

    I feel my mom is a narcissist… and I also feel narcissists raise and create narcissistic children. So there is a part of me, that might see myself as one as well… and I also see these tendencies in 2 of my other siblings… as well as my daughter. I keep my walls up at all times and my distance from most people… but especially family members. I’ve created a sense of family outside of them… but they do not regard me with having any kind of serious intelligence worth listening too. I feel watched constantly… Whether that’s true or not. I have developed the ability to be self-reflective, but am often very hard on myself while I’m at it. Seriously, I do not want to be like where I came from…. but sadly, I’ve done my fair share of damage to my own daughter… I’ve always contended that child abuse is hereditary because we pass on what we learned to our kids. One thing that is different… My daughter can come to me and we can talk… I will NEVER NOT listen to her feelings or disqualify them as mine were. She and her husband are very good parents and they have achieved a measure of success as a family. They’re not perfect, but they are far more effective as parents than my parents or I was…. and I was also a single parent, which carries problems of its own into the situation of raising a well-adjusted child.

    Honestly, the only real thing that has saved me… is that I’ve discovered a saving faith in Christ. Had I not been intercepted by Him in 2015, there would be no hope at all… I spend my days with friends I’ve found online who have the same love for reading the scriptures and the same hope… That’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination because we’re all broken in one way or another. But, I have peace in my heart and a measure of comfort for the hope that lies ahead. That might seem strange for some to hear… but when you get to know Christ and all that He has done for us… You realize the depth of love that has been poured out on our behalf thru His purpose of coming to earth to redeem those of mankind who would listen to Him and be saved. I wish more people would come to Him… I really do. There is absolutely no better solution than what He offers to all who come to Him. Nothing on earth compares to it. You can trust Him with your deepest wounds and know that He hears you… and also heals your boo boo’s permanently…along with offering a lasting promise for the future! That’s real hope!

    Mat 11:28-30 
    28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 

    29  “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 

    30  “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 

    Thank you for this blog post… It was so helpful for me.

    Dear Rose, You have said so much here and spoken it with such clarity about where you are in life and where you came from… it is evident that you have come a long way on your journey to inner freedom.

    I appreciate the tremendous strides you have made uncovering your family set-up and love hearing about your personal search to find peace in your life – and finding it through Christ. What a beautiful testimony of Love. Thank you for sharing so openly … Beautiful …

    I have noticed that our journey continues to uncover (for the sake of our own growing awareness) old layers of emotional baggage from childhood … this process of peeling away layers of limiting beliefs and feelings is actually a journey we humans take (at our own speed) on the way to finding inner peace.

    Difficult situations and relationships are often our greatest teachers, for they trigger and bring to the surface whatever unconscious, limiting beliefs we carry still. For instance, when we project our childhood set-ups into life (something all humans do) we create a drama or “problem” which, should we but notice, actually brings into plain sight our own unconscious, limiting beliefs.
    Our “problems” turn out to be opportunities for growth … and alignment with Truth.

    Through dealing with our life challenges we eventually come to see that all, and especially our most challenging, relationships (siblings included 😉 come bringing gifts to us of awareness, often by showing us what we don’t want, what doesn’t work, helping us to gain clarity, and motivating us to set our priorities on what we value most.

    You, my dear Rose, speak as someone who has surrendered into trust and Knowing that ALL is well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me here.

    May Love Surround and Hold you. Lynne

    1. I need to make a correction. I am not friends with my siblings… They seem to enjoy a relationship with each other that I don’t have with them.

      1. Rose, I just wanted to comment. I was raised as a scapegoat and now am trying to care for my parents now too. My mother is now being treated as the scapegoat and I try to support her but sometimes I get hurt even when I try to help.
        I like you have found salvation in Jesus Christ. If it wasn’t for my faith, I would have given up living a long time ago. He is my rock and my strength.
        I am so glad to hear you are overcoming with faith.
        In Him we are more than conquerors.

        God bless you,

  2. This rang truth to me and my childhood, except for a few spots. I am the youngest of three, and while my middle sister was the bad seed she was never the scapegoat. Because she was very gregarious and well liked by her friends and their families that their parents would just do the things our parents refused to do for her, so she managed to escape home alot. I was the lost child and scapegoat for my family. My sisters actually bonded with each other through tormenting me and my parents just watched it happen and never did anything to curtail the behavior. They didnt actively participate in it until I was older, but when I was a young child they permitted it to happen unregulated.

    1. Yes, Brianne, This is a template to be used as a general guideline, but each family has its own unique application… I am imagining that your family was so in need of a scapegoat that you and your sister both were set up to play the scapegoat in different ways, perhaps. The more dysfunction there is in a family, the more scapegoating is required … scapegoating others is a way dysfunctional families escape being blamed and/or blaming themselves. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Our family to a tee, I am the scapegoat, the one who never cooperated in our enmeshed co dependent family. My role was to keep everyone happy and to use my vocal talents to make my mother famous. Thank God she never drove. If she had I am sure she would have become the stereotypical stage mother. I did have a successful music career, but on my own terms. My mother died this week. And now all the dysfunction is hitting the fan, with me taking the blame of course for every little thing as we try to figure out my Dad’s care needs. I hate this so much.

    1. Oh yes, it’s helped her understand why I am the way I am…..she sees it clearly. I am seeking therapy at my local VA hospital but it requires me to attend group meetings and I can’t do that RightNow and I’ll tell you why. About 2 1/2 years ago I was in the VA Domiciliary for being homeless do to me and the wife going through a separation. In groups there is where I met and befriended a young man who was there for addiction to drugs. I had been in the domiciliary some 25 years ago for the same thing and I offered all kinds of advice. Actually he was getting to know all about me, very personal stuff that he would try to use against me. He introduced me to his ‘uncle’ who was my age so we had a lot in common. Both of them very much the cons. 2 years later the ‘uncle’ texts me that he hadn’t eaten in 2 days and was in bad shape (he has one leg and on ssd) so I bought a $5 pizza and took it to him. The young man was there too (I had only seen him 2 times during the whole period). The uncle kept me occupied while the kid went through my Jeep stealing my credit card, using it, then when he knew that I knew he tried to blackmail me into not reporting it. A fellow vet pretending to be a friend. I told him he could say whatever he wanted to say to anybody. Now he’s on the run from the police and me. So….. I cannot be open and honest in a group…for now anyway. My first appt with a therapist is next Wednesday….it’s only once a week but it will have to do. Sorry for going off topic but had to put it in context.

      1. You may want to look into Family Constellations.
        Many books: Mark Wolyn : It didn’t start With You
        Wishing you peace and blessings

  4. Im 59 now and have recently learned that I was raised in a narcissist dysfunctional family. 4 failed marriages, addictions, and very low self esteem, low confidence, inadequate, the lesser of everybody else, self destructive, a failure. I can very honestly say that be I wish I had never been born. I am the youngest of 6….truly the Lost Child. My dad was my bully but I loved him. He was a teacher at my school and students loved him. But at home he was a very different person. He’d belittle me, shame me, glare hatefully at me, and got physically abusive with me. He tried to help me with my homework 1 time, but after 5 min got upset, standing up angrily, and said ‘cant teach you ANYTHING!’. At age 17 I wanted to kill him. I have failed at everything in my life. On the outside I tried to be the opposite of what I was inside. I was what I thought others wanted me to be never having a true identity. If someone thought highly of me i’d eventually have to prove them wrong. I am completely numb about all this. Silver lining is that now I know why I am like this….but it is much too late in the game….the wreckage has been done. I’ve cut loose on the oldest (Golden child) and on the hero, both who deny any dysfunctional in the family. Of the 6 of us 1 killed himself, and 3 of us have terrible emotional psychiatric issues and addictions.

    1. Hello Scott, it sounds like you had quite the childhood “initiation” in family dysfunction. I can definitely relate. 🙂 Being able to identify the dynamics we experienced in childhood and the impact those had upon our consciousness is important … but the real healing begins when we realize that it is not so much WHAT happened to us but what we tell ourselves those things mean, (about ourselves and the world around us) that truly determines their impact upon us. We learn to question the negative beliefs we take on and move towards freeing ourselves from the limited definition of a self who we see as being irreversibly damaged by our childhood. This then becomes our inner work – to free ourselves from the victim consciousness that goes with taking on unhappy beliefs about who we are. We use a process called the Reality FormulaⓇ. May your journey be heroic, and mind-transforming. Blessings, Lynne

      1. Thank you for responding Lynne. Im still digesting all of this. When I read about the role of the lost child I had to keep stopping and cry, the truth of it was overwhelming. It describes me so intimately, nobody had ever known me like that. I’ve never seen myself as a victim but this is different. I am a victim of psychological and physical abuse from my protector during my most influential years. Do I lie to myself until I believe im not ? My current marriage is on shakey ground because im emotionally dead, can’t relate to my wife’s needs. When I try to connect with her it’s never good enough so I believe what my dad said, ‘see? Your just no damn good’ and I quit trying. I had no childhood memories until this enlightenment but they’ve been flooding my mind recently. I asked my sister (scapegoat) what results she was seeking out of all this, an apology? To just make the family understand? What?. Everyone except the Golden child and the hero have estranged children…maybe to have them understand….not as an excuse but rather an explanation. My father has passed away so their is no confronting him. The hero said that dad
        had regrets…would of been heroic if he had apologized and helped to heal us. In a rare card he sent me he told me that there were good times and bad times, but he chooses to remember only the good times. Well good for him! Don’t confront yourself on it and help your kids. Coward.
        Maybe after im through the anger stage I’ll be able to somehow move on from all this, I just can’t see how any type of counseling/therapy can heal what is woven into my entire being. But what else is there…. suicide or try to get help when I have extremely little hope in being ‘fixed’. I’ll look into the reality formula. Thanks again Lynne.

  5. I have been searching and learning more about myself the past few years. Mine was not an addict/ abusive childhood experience as much as being born into a family in trauma. My brothers we 5 1/2 and 6 1/2 years older than me. The first was adopted, the second severely autistic. Autism was hardly recognized in the late 50’s/early 60’s and my parents had little place to turn for help. I fell into the hero/lost child role very early on, and these roles were emphasized with the arrivals of my sisters when I was 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 years old. It can feel like I was set up to be the unwitting partner in a very unhealthy marriage relationship. I am thankful to learn that not every circumstance/role was that of my own choosing, and also relieved to know as an adult I can make choices to turn those roles into something positive and life giving.

    1. Dear Judy, The only child can end up playing any and all of these roles depending upon the system needs and the degree of dysfunction in the family at any given moment. In other words, it just depends on what the family needs at a particular time. The only child can be the one who brings a sense of worth to the family when the family needs to be seen as a worthy family … can play the role of the problem, or scapegoat, when the system needs someone to blame for the dysfunction that is being denied by parents or family members, Or the only child may disappear when the system needs relief from tension, or distract during particularly stressful times of family chaos. Only children find themselves playing any and all of the roles, one at a time, for moments, or years, or sometimes they will rotate several roles at once – playing both the achiever and troble-maker simultaneously if that is what the system demands.
      Hope this helps clarify roles assigned to only children.

  6. Im the third girl of four siblings. My Mum was 4 months pregnant with my older sister when my parents married ( didn’t find that out until their 25th anniversary, and not from them!) Only 11 months between my two sisters, so they are close and close to Mum. I was supposed to be a boy, they even had the name picked out! I have always felt a disappointment to them. When I was 4, my brother was born and life changed for ever. I was a tomboy until about 10- trying to be the boy the desperately wanted. Im 56 now and live overseas from family and the dysfunction is glaringly obvious.
    I have always felt like I never fitted in and I’m certainly the family scapegoat. Even at 81 and 84, my parents still control and ” have a hand” in everyone’s life (apart from mine- I tell them as little as possible) I am wanting to write a book ( to have a voice) but so far, two years down the track it still hasn’t eventuated. I put it away for periods because Im frightened of their judgements and possibility of being shunned ( not that they bother much anyway)

    1. Thanks for sharing your family example of how the birth order dynamics played out in your family. What I shared is a template, and when there are variations there is usually a reason for it – as in your case … the “expectation” that you be the boy they did not have. And has that part of you (that decided you were their disappointment child) gotten in the way of you being able to accept yourself? Because that is the tendency … it is not THEIR disappointment, but YOUR Own, that stands in your way! I can here how beautifully you were spared through this family dynamic (although I do not want to minimize the pain involved in feeling like a misfit!). You were able to disengage from family dysfunction in ways that your siblings could not … and individuate from them! What a saving grace – albeit painful as I said! It is never too late (we often say in the work) to give ourselves a happier childhood … and for you, that means embracing that precious little girl in you that was willing to give up her little girl-self and be a boy, all for the love of her family! What a girl! Love to you and your sweet child! Blessings

      1. Thank you. I dont feel that my two sisters, or my brother suffered at all ( not that we ever spoke about it) We really dont have a lot in common. I was always the one who got into trouble ( not in a bad way) eg:being made to sit at the table for hours on end until I ate a particular food I didnt like. Being told that I would be sent to boarding school when my father got home ( he was away at sea a lot)
        The most humiliating- being 17 and studying, in the garage ( we had a large blackboard) constantly being interrupted by my brother until I locked him out and him telling my father, eho came storming in and gave me a thrashing, which at 17, was an awful experience. Every member of the family blames me for any problems. Im the “stubborn” one or the “bitter” one (their labels, not mine) I have done a fair bit of work on myself such as kinesiology and living more consciously- it has taught me a lot about family dynamics and just how how many generations family patterns go back. We learn a lot about how to behave and run our family from the generations before us and for the most part, because that’s what we know. Its like being told to do something or suchlike and questioning it, to be told “because I said so” – they don’t think about “why” its more that its the way it is and thats all they know. I do have an appreciation for myself and have always trodden my own path, even when criticized for it. I even had the courage to speak up to my Father (privately) a year ago when he “diagnosed” me as having 3rd child syndrome – all this while laughing at me and doing the “I told you so” speech.
        He went on to betray my trust by calling a family meeting ( he told me this a few months back) and
        “Telling the family our discussion and they now understand why you have the attitude you do, now the rest is up to you” end of conversation! I do not get included in anything and when I speak, my Mother, in particular, interrupts and talks right over the top of me, like I’m not even there!
        Nothing gets discussed (on an emotional level) and I do understand why- given both parents up-bringings.
        Often, incidents from when I was as young as four are bought up by various family members as a bit of a family joke – how naughty I was etc, its pretty weird.

  7. I thought I was just “bad” as a toddler and later having developed SUDs. I can see know that my parents were emotionally ill. I’ve tried to explain it to them and the family. LOL. They don’t want to know and worst I’m even more of a problem for insulting them. I notice the effects in acting out in what I read Carl Jung describe as a “tar bird”. AS such when you feel bad about your self you tend to full fill that mental brainwashing. I feel I had to work 2x 3x as hard to sucede as and engineer. I of course was never praised for my latent success. I was compared as slow across the finish line and invariably a loser in the end. I feel it deeply and reparenting embedded abuse talk is a constant mantra.

  8. So odd. I used to think that I was the scapegoat because I was the one who would stand up to my parents and call them out on their BS… always being beat for having too much mouth but the more I read about this I see my younger brother (the youngest of us all) is definitely the scapegoat, he was the problem child, really bad in school, was in therapy at a very young age and now today he’s in jail. I’ve always felt like he had a really big heart behind all his anger though. I was the lost child (I’d read books and imagine me living in their world. I’m still living an isolated life but on a road to recovery), my sister who’s the 3rd is the mascot/family clown and my older brother the hero.

  9. Middle of three siblings, now in my thirties here. Those dysfunctional family roles described are not news to me, being that I’ve been reading tons about this stuff over the years but they never cease to ring true. I have to say, though, that the role the author assigns to each sibling based on birth order is necessarily the same in every family and varies based on various factors for each family- gender, age difference, exact number of siblings, (as the author kind of touched upon) but I’m sure the author only meant this stuff in general terms anyway. I also can say from first-hand experience that sometimes a sibling can take on more than one of these roles. Me? Both the lost child and the scapegoat. Well really you could say I was the lost child who was treated as a scapegoat – I was very quiet and shy, retreated into the safety and escapism of books and TV, never misbehaved or rocked the boat, etc. However, while I was extremely well-behaved, really a little *too* we-behaved, I was treated as the scapegoat in that I was blamed for everything, punished for things that never happened and trouble I didn’t cause, etc. I used to go out of my way to prove my worth and show how good I was but I was still labeled as bad. I was given the guilty-until-proven-innocent treatment and even still treated as guilty after proving my innocence.

  10. As a parent with now adult children, I can see these family roles played out among them. The firstborn hero, the second the naughty one who threw tantrums, the third who was quiet and withdrawn, and who once told me he liked to be invisible. Then we had a clown and a mascot – I separate these two into separate roles because the behaviours and responses were quite different.
    When the eldest, the hero, suddenly became rebellious and left home, the second child took on the hero characteristics overnight.

  11. First born scapegoat. The younger three all shared the same role of golden child, despite them all being different ages.

  12. I was/am the scapegoat. I have a sister that is 6 years older than me that was definitely the hero. I have a sister that is 2 years and 9 months younger than me that is the loner and mascot.
    Starting when I was little, someone would always “get into something” as in eat snacks meant only for my mom or dad, take $5 or $10 from their wallets, open Christmas presents early and hide the evidence. I never found out exactly who was doing these things but my younger sister “didn’t know any better” and was never interrogated. My older sister (who I suspect) would just sit there while my parents yelled and yelled. My dad would start with me and we would get spanked hard and/or get the belt. I’m not sure if my sisters were ever hit with the belt. After several of these episodes I just started taking the blame, I would get punished anyways, and I figured better to just get it over with. One time when i was 14, I was outside and was called in, as soon as I walked in the door my dad backhanded me, I fell against the wall and nearly blacked out. They started yelling at me because someone ate a leftover piece of pie. I ran upstairs and barricaded my door and hide in the closet. My dad broke my door down and threw my radio (my most prized possession) against the wall. My mom coaxed me out and then asked me if I was on drugs. My mom even had me tested for a peanut allergy because of my behavior. My parents used to say “you can call CPS but just remember someday I will get out of jail.”

    I was never treated well, I was never allowed to be in sports or activities. Because my mom didn’t want to drive me or pay for the physicals. My older sister was in volleyball and track, took drivers ed, which for her was over $200. Law changes meant it would have been free for me.
    My younger sister got a car and gas money. She used to get secret spending money. I had to pay for things myself because I had a job and she didn’t.

    I once found a paper where my parents had written their predictions about how we would turn out. My younger sister was going to be a cheerleader, valedictorian, and a doctor. I was going to get pregnant in high school and be a minimum wage high-school drop out. I am now 24 married w/o kids, one year left on my BA psychology degree, I own a business, and according to my parents I am crazy and always have been. My younger sister dropped out of hs 3 months before graduation. Has attempted suicide at least twice, been institutionalized, and now works at a gas station. She has moved out of my parents house three times. And they still insist that they don’t know where they went wrong.

  13. Dear Lynne,

    The more I read the better I feel. I am a 39 year old woman who buried my father at 16 due to his alcoholism (age 60), just buried my mother the day after Thanksgiving, and now shunned by all my siblings (3) and one who is truly my sister and friend. Five kids and I’m the baby, scapegoat, hero, and the mascot. I feel such a release of energy. I’ve grieved for this broken family for a long time. I’m finally releasing them to God and moving with my pretty damn wonderful life. Even if they don’t see me that way. Thank you so much for your work already.

    In gratitude
    Kerry Gourley

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