Role Play with Anita Arrunategui

Let’s face it, we all have a degree of codependency. Not one of us comes from a perfect family. In a highly codependent family the stress and denial amongst the adults is so great that, as children are born, they grow up and assume these various roles necessary to keep the family system ‘functioning’. The individual creates a “self” that can cope in the dysfunctional environment. These are masks to appease the adults in the room. Their true self wasn’t getting the love and attention needed so they constructed a false self, that can draw the attention necessary (whether positive or negative). It’s emotional survival. There is no safe place to express needs so they are camouflaged and repackaged. They then display a different facade; a different person emerges to the surface.

Unhealthy role-play:

“It just wasn’t fair. How could it be? Here we are, taught of the proper moral behaviors we should live by as kids. Then why is there one family member who got away with anything? Maybe it was birth order or circumstantial? Who knows? It just posed a terrible injustice to the rest of the family.”

There was definitely something wrong with this picture…..

He played the scapegoat role. He could cut out of class, do drugs in the house, avoid working, act out with destructive behaviors and make fools of the rest of the family. Sure, the adults complained of this destructive behavior but nothing was ever done to stop it. The spotlight of negative comments and threats followed him but not one boundary was placed.

It seemed we all had a role to play….

I became the lost child. It didn’t matter the achievements nor the deficiencies; I never had a chance. I remained silent in my pain and found a few work arounds to get my needs met. Hey, there was no one available so why bother? I spent most of my days out with friends on the block until sundown, I tended to my school responsibilities alone. I was so independent and steady on my feet, that by age seven I could practically “fend for myself.” No one had to wake me up for school. I was dressed and ready! I recall one day falling outside on the concrete while playing with my friends. I got up to look at my damaged knee: it was blackened with dirt and oozed with blood. I nursed it myself with some water and a bandaid and never told a soul. Needless to say the next morning I had a full- blown pus festering wound infection. (Funny, I never thought to tell my mom). My unconscious motto: the less demanding I was with my needs, the easier for them.

Some other roles utilized by the other siblings were the little parent, the hero, the jester and the enabler.The eldest had a life that was not her own. She was ‘in charge’ of the younger children. Her responsibilities were more than she designed to handle; at least emotionally. Her responsibilities extended even into the night as the cribs were set up in her room so could attend to their needs throughout the night. We also had a hero in the mix. I really looked up to her, even to this day. She pulled herself out of the burning building and made a name for herself. She was the first to graduate college and find a suitable career. This achievement afforded the family a sense of worth, at least. Very impressive!

We had a jester who could mimic anyone and had us rolling on the floor. He was hysterical! His role was to lighten the stress and tension in the family unit. He was often the subject of his own jokes. Wonder how much pain he needed to hide? Now the enabler was kind. He tried every way to ‘help’ with anything that needed attention even if his help fostered destructive behaviors.

According to David Seamands, “It is not just as if a child consciously decides to become a different person. The decision happens deep in the personality, below the level of awareness.”

“These unhealthy roles produce unhealthy adults. Their love tanks are so empty that they are set up for many compulsive addictions and patterns as they try to get their needs met. Many people find great release and new horizons as they throw off these dysfunctional roles and come into their own sense of who they were created to be by God.” (Jean LaCour).

In the prologue of  “The Process,” Tony & Francis Pappalardo wrote, “They say that “the Roman Empire fell from within”. We weren’t working to live, we were living to work and it began to show in our marriage. As business partners, we were working like a well-oiled machine. But as life and marriage partners, we were dying on the vine. Having been disconnected from our authentic selves, we were blinded by the layers of emotional wounds and childhood scripts that we thought were normal and until we were triggered, we became exceptionally good at wearing our masks and sweeping things under the rug.”

Counseling is where the mask is removed, the emotions healed and the true self emerges, provided the work is done. It’s that simple…..

Anita Arrunategui/ Canva Pro



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