4 basic Family ROLES for ACoAs

    (ACoAs = Adult-Children of alcoholic, abusive, abandoning, narcissistic families)

   These ROLES are unhealthy, limiting, false-self personae assigned to &

   taken on by each child, in one of several ways: 

   The eldest boy or eldest girl is usually the Hero, who is aligned with the

   non-drinking parent ( if there is one). The next child becomes the

   Scapegoat, identified with the drinker. The Lost Child is mostly ignored

   (3rd wheel) & the Mascot is last, who keeps things light.  If there are

   more children, roles double up.                                                            ➜


PURPOSE: To keep the family intact, to make 

   everything look normal, to bring esteem to

   the family through their accomplishments,

   to prevent the community from seeing their  

   severe dysfunctionality 

DEFENSES: Too serious, work hard for approval, 

   super responsible, over-achiever, develop

   ‘better’ lifestyle than family, marry an

   alcoholic or other 'problem' type, feels 

   special/ superior, compulsive @  cleaning, 

   gathering info, appearance, career...

DEFICITSPerfectionist, unable to relax or

   to follow, can’t listen, unable to play, not    

   spontaneous, inflexible, won’t ask for help,  

   high fear of mistakes, unable to play,

   extreme need to control

EMOTIONS: “I must stay in control of my 

   feelings”. Confusion, loneliness, guilt, hurt,

   deep sense of inadequacy, anger

COST TO SELF: Denial of a wide range of

   emotions, an intense feeling of inadequacy

   (fear of being found out as a ‘fraud’), & an

   over-all sense of failure (mainly for not

   having fixed the family problems).

RECOVERY NEEDS: Learn to ask for & take what 

  you need, to accept ‘failure’ / imperfections

  (occasionally) to relax, just BE

STRENGTHS: Successful, leader, goal oriented,

  organized, decisive, self-disciplined, caring  

  nurturing, thoughtful, attentive


PURPOSE: To draw attention away from

   the 'problem' parent, to make the family

   problems anything other than the alcoholism,

   to protect the family from any outside 

   interference & prevent change/growth

DEFENSES: Defiance, chemical abuse,

   strong peer value, withdrawal, sullenness,

   acting out -- unwanted pregnancy / trouble

   with the law / suicide attempts, addictions

DEFICITS: Inappropriate use of anger, intrusive

   won’t follow directions, self-destructive, rebel,

   defiant, irresponsible, underachiever, social

   & legal problems at young age

EMOTIONS: “I’m angry about it, whatever it is”

   Loneliness, fear, inadequacy, self-hate,

   frustration, hurt, hopelessness

COST TO SELF: Unaware of any emotion other

   than rage, denies self legitimate opportunities,

   accomplishments & success or the ability to 

   connect with others in a genuine way,

   can't live peacefully

RECOVERY NEEDS: To  work through the anger

   to get to the enormous hurt, sorrow &

   loneliness underneath, learn to negotiate

   instead of rebelling or fighting, sobriety

STRENGTHS : Ability to see reality, has good 

   insight, less denial, more straightforward, can 

   read people, sense of humor, close to ones 

   feelings, courageous


PURPOSE: To not cause family any additional

   burden, bringing some relief by not making waves

DEFENSES: Quiet, aloof, 'invisible', overweight,

   bulimic or anorectic, under-employed, super-

   independent, depressed / suicidal, easily feels

   rejected. Buried in books, internet, church

DEFICITS: Unable to initiate, withdrawn, lack

   of direction, fear of making decisions, ignored,

   forgotten, follows without question, hard time

   seeing choices / options

EMOTIONS: “Why should I feel? It’s better I 

   don’t”.  Loneliness, rejection, fear, sadness, 

   suppressed anger, hurt, depression

COST TO SELF: Afraid to express need & wants 

   including need for personal connections, has

   social phobia so stays invisible but feels ignored 

   & unappreciated, hard to get credit for abilities,

   may become suicidal

RECOVERY NEEDS: To reach out, deal with 

   loneliness, face one's pain, make a few deep 

   relationships, give up victim position

STRENGTHS : Patient, creative, independent, 

   scholarly, detail-oriented, flexible, able to

   follow, easy going, quiet, understanding

 When a child leaves home  
 (usually the Hero going off  
 to school or to work)  
 someone else takes on the  
 missing role. If there are 
 only 2 kids, each takes on 
 more than one role, 
 depending on gender, birth 
 order & personality. 

 For an only child, all 4  
 weigh on them, with one   
 role often being dominant, 
 so one person may become 
 mainly Lost Child, while 
 another may be mainly 
 Mascot, etc.


PURPOSE: To lighten the heavy painful 

   atmosphere of the family by being funny,

   silly, a way to cover up the depth of the  

   family pain &  sickness 

DEFENSES: Immaturity, clowning, humor,

   hyper-activity, being super-cute, making

   fun of self, become an actor, do anything

   to get attention, act dumb, addictions

DEFICITS: Attention seeker, distracting,

   immature, difficulty focusing, poor

   decision making ability, superficial

EMOTIONS: “I must take their pain away”. 

   Loneliness, confusion, insecurity, fear,  

   sadness, pain

COST TO SELF: Denies all painful emotions

   which may later show up as illness, denies 

   the right to know the true self, to be

   competent or to ever be taken seriously

RECOVERY NEEDS: To take responsibility,

   risk being serious and to being taken

   seriously, learn assertiveness, learn

   something in depth, feel all emotions

STRENGTHS : Humor, knows how to play &

   enjoy, quick witted & witty, entertaining, 

   adaptable, brings joy to others, flexible

4 Toxic ROLES

                ORIGINAL source :
        by Don Wegscheider, 1979

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Adult-Children of alcoholics & other narcissists

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