Children in homes where addiction is present tend to adopt relatively predictable family of origin roles or scripts. These roles allow children to draw positive attention, and sometimes are designed to avoid any attention at all. Each role seems to be focused on a universal primary relationship goal: an attempt to not feel pain. Our kids often play their roles with such fluidity that they go unnoticed. They do their best to help the chemically dependent home they are living in feel safe and structured.
The Responsible Child is the adolescent who acts like an adult. They try to produce predictability, tame tensions, and organize the outcomes. On the extreme end, these kids are planning and preparing meals. They may be cleaning the household, or making sure the doors are locked at night. If there are younger siblings, they may be checking backpacks for homework folders and ensuring that assignments are completed.
The Responsible Child often misses out on being a kid. Their apparent strength, which feels like it is keeping them safe, is also a sad vulnerability. They may let age appropriate opportunities pass by (an invitation to a sleep-over, an afternoon of ice-skating, etc.) because they know that the gap in the home life left by addiction must be filled by them. They are compensating for an impaired parent.
They seek to make consistency by trying to control circumstances. They do not know that they are powerless over another’s addiction, they cannot cure it through their hard work and efforts to ease their environs. They are trying to make safe, to make sense, to make structure out of chemically induced chaos. This child is often recognized and rewarded for their role as “helper,” reinforcing the script's dynamic.
On April 29th, Claudia Black, Ph.D. and national expert on the Family Disease of Addiction, will be presenting at a workshop sponsored by The Retreat which identifies this script and others, and will discuss the path for further healing. The workshop is titled: “Transforming Families: From Script to Choice,” and we’ll be exploring these scripts in this blog in the months leading up to her workshop.