Breaking Down Toxic Families: Household Types and Roles
Breaking apart the specific household types and roles of toxic families.
Disclaimer: Although I have personal and professional experience in the mental health field, I am not a licensed mental health professional. The information contained in this article is meant for educational and entertainment purposes only. The contents of this article are not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any disorder.
I grew up in a toxic family. My days were filled with conflict, emotional turmoil, and anger. Overall, the toxic family I grew up in ruined my childhood.
I have not allowed the pain I suffered to turn me sour — I will not carry on these toxic behaviors. I had to learn to survive and adapt; I will never be like my family was.
I am a product of a toxic family, but I am not my toxic family.
Through my budding adulthood, I spent a lot of time away from my family. I wanted to explore what else was out there — without their influence. Through my time, I learned that my family wasn’t typical.
I devoted much of my studies to child development, which led me to study family relations. My courses based on families highlighted the dysfunctions present in my own; I was so embarrassed.
I learned that there were names for these toxic families through my courses. There has been established research conducted on toxic families. Toxic families are different, but specific characteristics can be identified. These characteristics are used to identify the types of toxic families.
Toxic Family Types
The parents are the leaders of the family. The reinforcement of the behaviors in the family lies in the parents’ control.
The parent’s actions or inaction within the family can set the stage for a toxic family to form. There have been five types of toxic families that have been recognized as presented by the clinmedjournals.org:
Chronic conflict family
There is always conflict, no matter what. My family specifically fell into this category. We were always labeled as the family with conflict. But it was true–there was always an argument brewing.
There are multiple mental health disorders and/or substance use from the parents in this household, specifically personality disorders or schizophrenia/bipolar.*
* Please note that not all households with parents who are bipolar or who have a personality disorder are inherently toxic. Many factors, such as support, treatment, treatment adherence, and many other factors, need to be considered.
The chaotic household
The kids are not looked after well, and there is little parent involvement or control. Essentially the children are free to do as they please without structure, guidance, or oversight. So this leaves the family in a chaotic state.
The dominant-submissive household
There is an imbalance of power within the family where there is a ‘dictator parent’. Everyone within this family is unhappy. Typically there is a large amount of conflict and negative emotions.
Emotionally distant families
This family does not prioritize love and affection for their children. So the children do not grow up knowing what love and affection should be. In fact, it teaches the children that their feelings and emotions should be repressed.
Throughout each family — no matter the type — there will be specific roles that each person plays.
Toxic family roles
Toxic families grow and morph into toxic relationships that we carry without throughout the rest of our lives. So let’s understand that all toxic families are different, but the roles will typically be the same.
The roles help people understand what their part is within that toxic family. Now, if you see yourself in one of the roles this does not mean anything on you; we all are trying to survive.
There are scientifically-backed roles and family types of toxic families within this article. I will be adding my input along the way. There are specific roles within toxic families that have been identified:
Hero or responsible child
Self-sufficient, responsible, perfectionist, and an overachiever. They seem to put together and seem to be the shining star. Still, they are carrying the burden of toxic behaviors from their parents.
Scapegoat or trouble maker
The scapegoat is the one who takes all of the blame in the family. The scapegoat child is the one who is deemed the source of the problems within the family. Underneath all of it, they are emotionally sensitive and are emotionally and psychologically hurt by their toxic parent’s behavior.
Lost child or dreamer
This child is withdrawn and stays with their nose in a book. They like to stay away from the family and spend lots of time in solitude. I resonated with this the most because I was the dreamer in my family. The environment I grew up in was so toxic that I needed to get away to feel safe.
Mascot or class clown
The mascot is the entertainer in the family that can lighten that mood at the drop of a hat. I learned to be the mascot to bring up everyone’s spirits. I learned how to be that tension breaker.
Enabler or caretaker
Typically the enabler is a spouse, but a child can assume this role. The enabler or caretaker will be passive and submissive in order to avoid conflict. Their behavior will allow for other toxic behavior to occur within the family.
The research conducted around toxic families is very informative. It reassures those living in a toxic family that they are not alone. Toxic families can take on so many different types and roles that the combinations are endless. If you recognized any of these types within your family — know there is help and hope.