What role are you in the NPD zoo? – Childhood parts played in the dysfunctional family drama


Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.  Emily Dickinson

If you have had the misfortune to grow up with parents who are Narcissistic and Enabling, then as a child you were most likely ascribed a particular role in the family ‘zoo’ – a place of chaos and confusion.

The roles commonly played in Narcissistic and other dysfunctional or abusive families generally fall into the following categories:

  • Golden Child (or Hero)
  • Scapegoat
  • Lost Child
  • Mascot

The Golden Child is the favourite child in the family, the one who can do no wrong, for whom high hopes of success are fostered. Often they become overly-responsible, over-achieving excellers who raise the family name into repute, or into higher repute.

The Scapegoat on the other hand, is blamed for all the family’s problems – shame and blame is projected onto them. The Scapegoated child can become understandably more sensitive and defensive as the designated ‘problem child,’ and subsequently act out. Addiction, aggression and poor academic performance are some of the ways this lack of positive attention can manifest.

The Lost Child is an outsider, an outcast and largely ignored. They cut off from their feelings and spend their time alone in an imaginary world with escapist means such as books and art.

The Mascot is like the family clown, making jokes to lighten the energy of the family and to make others feel better. They like to be the centre of attention as long as any of their issues aren’t the focus, as their tactic is to divert attention away from problems – which are denied.

These roles are ways of coping with destructive family patterns and dysfunction, and can be interchanged.

The consequences of growing up in an abusive family are these children often have few friends and difficulties creating and maintaining intimate relationships. They are more likely to attract an abusive partner as well.

Practice self-care, educate yourself, get therapy and develop healthy boundaries and an effective communication style. Low contact and no contact may well be ways to deal with the enmeshment, minimisation and denial if discussions and awareness raising is ignored, therefore further disrespecting you. Above all, remain hopeful that life will improve.

The reality you are incarnated is testimony to the fact you are worthy and deserving of being here; to have your own feelings, thoughts, views and most of all, a separate identity.

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