There are lots of theories about how families operate. Most agree that individuals assume certain roles within the group. You’ve got the Pretty One, the Smart One, the Peacekeeper, the Organizer. Many families also pick a scapegoat who then becomes responsible for anything that goes wrong. This unfortunate is known as the Problem, or, as we call him in the Biz, “The Identified Patient.”
If anyone in the family is going to get counseling, it is usually the Problem. By the time I see them, they have spent years trying desperately to prove their innocence. But this particular dysfunction has nothing to do with reality. It doesn’t matter that older sister got pregnant or younger brother is into drugs. My client is THE PROBLEM and no amount of success is going to change that.
Sometimes The Problem is the girl in the family who has to be locked up at home while her brothers ride roughshod over the countryside. I’ve heard parents justify this by saying, “Well at least they won’t come back pregnant.” When the girl finally breaks free she often DOES act irresponsibly, out of revenge or lack of experience, and so she keeps her title of Problem, even if her brothers end up in prison!
And that’s the real heartbreak here. Family roles often become self-fulfilling prophesies. The Pretty One develops anorexia, the Smart One and the Organizer exhaust themselves in a hopeless quest for perfection, and the Peacekeeper puts everyone else first so much he ends up a quivering shell. All of them are very prone to depression and substance abuse.
The Problems are alienated, angry, anxious. A dark cloud of guilt hovers over their heads and blocks out any possible satisfaction. They’re locked in an endless struggle to prove their worth. “What should I do?” they cry.
I shrug. “Give up.”
“What! That’s your advice? That I just shouldn’t TRY any more?”
“Yup. Your family is never going to see you as anything but the Problem for as long as you live, even if you develop the cure for cancer. They’d still be telling everyone how you wet the bed even if you were awarded the Nobel Prize! So give up. Quit trying to prove who you aren’t and start being who you are.”
It’s as easy – and as difficult – as that. Don’t let a bunch of jerks make you miserable. The best way to get back at those idiots is by having a really great life. So stop worrying about them and get started. What are your strengths? What are your dreams? What are your values? Put your energy there. Decide what YOU want out of life and go for it.
I like what Aunty Mame said. “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”