As a therapist who primarily conceptualizes from a family systems perspective, the idea of family roles is far from new to me. However during a recent meditative retreat, I was struck anew by how pervasive the roles instilled in family of origin can feel. It is one reality to help another person with their family role rigidity and another to personally confront the emotional struggles of my own role despite years of contemplative growth.
In my family of origin I was socialized into the role of caretaker. While at a couple of times I believe my older brother and I swapped roles, the caretaker role stuck with greatest fervor. During this retreat I found myself drawn to meditating on the instances when the helper role has been difficult to put away at the end of the work day. It was a logical progression from family role to profession, but the hazards therein lie when a crisis occurs and I feel the temptation to let boundaries grow fuzzy. This is like a drug of choice to my psyche and if not for mindfulness, I find myself pulled back into that family of origin role.
By way of review, in traditional family systems theory, a dysfunctional family has there are four major roles a person may take in their family.
Experiencing this draw in helping gives me more empathy for my clients as they also struggle against the seemingly pervasive characteristics of the roles they often are rigidly socialized into in their own families of origin. While seeing my own struggle I appreciate the pain and difficulty in their struggle a bit more completely as I experience my own anew. I ask my clients to practice healthier patterns in contrast to the role rigidity they were taught as children, so moreover I must do the same and maintain healthy boundaries that push back against that role I have felt pulled toward since childhood.
Stephen Ratcliff is a Counselor in private practice in Albuquerque, NM. He specializes in helping Children and Adolescents with Addiction, Psychological Trauma, and Attachment Disorders. For more information or to contact Stephen, please visit www.familiesfirsttherapy.org