Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Dysfunctional Family Wheel

Through my years of counseling, it wasn't uncommon to visit with someone who was struggling with changes in their spouse who was working at leaving an addiction behind.  One would think that they would be elated; however, I was recently reminded of the interesting cycle that takes place which causes great turmoil for the one who is ultimately addicted to their spouse’s addiction.
Fighting back tears, a wife recently shared that she was tempted to leave her husband who had been off drugs for several months and was now spending a tremendous amount of time in God’s Word and prayer.  We were in a public setting not conducive to much dialogue, but having heard a similar story hundreds of times, I knew that I could almost write her book.

The best description I’ve found is that of a wheel.  The rim represents the family unit.  The hub represents the addict.  The spokes represent the other family members, whose lives are connected to that of the addict.  Through the years, each member takes on a specific role as a means of survival.  They come to understand what their position must be in order to maintain a sense of balance and consequently function accordingly.  As unhealthy as it may be, their role becomes familiar and feels safe to them.

Common roles within this dysfunctional family wheel include:
  • Enabler:  Feels responsible for the emotional well-being of others.  While they tend to be peacemakers, inwardly they are angry and self-righteous.
  • Scapegoat:  Acts out the unspoken family conflict through disgraceful behavior causing the focus to be taken off of the foundational family issues.
  • Hero:  Their worth is dependent upon fulfilling values and dreams of others, regardless of their personal needs or wishes.  Performance-oriented, overly responsible and likely a workaholic in an effort to maintain the coveted family role.
  • Mascot:  Family clown attempts to find and offer relief from the emotional pain through joking and silliness.
  • Critic:  Faultfinding, sarcasm and mean-spirited teasing are their weapons for gaining power and self-preservation.
  • Lost Child:  Withdrawing into their own world through T.V., reading, etc., they cause little problem within the family.
  • Manipulator:  Knows every trick to use for controlling each family member in an effort to assure that they get what they want.

When one member of the family begins to find healing and wholeness,
especially the hub,
it throws the entire wheel off balance.
The remaining family members scramble to maintain equilibrium in this new family environment.
A typical reaction is to get angry at the one who has shifted
in an effort to force them “back into alignment.”

It is important to remember that behind every angry heart is fear.  Out of this fear, family members may attempt to sabotage the recovering addict’s efforts because the resulting sense of disequilibrium feels threatening to them.  They are afraid of the unknown, afraid of not being needed any longer; afraid of what their new role may be and afraid of not liking the “new person” who is emerging into their family.  This is why it is so very common to find someone who leaves one addict only to “hook-up with” another.  Without realizing it, they are seeking that which is familiar to them.

How can this wife respond in ways that are most helpful to herself and her husband?  How can her husband continue to find healing, yet help her adjust to the changes she faces?  I hope to offer some suggestions in next week’s “Searching for the Whole Hearted Life”.


P.S.  Please feel free to contact me with questions, thoughts, topics you’d like to ponder or to read past articles at:  You may also contact me at:
             Bonnie Jaeckle
             In Search of the Whole-Hearted Life
             Diagonal Progress
             505 Jefferson St.
             Diagonal, IA 50845

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