The Lost Child: Invisible and Unheard

Posted by in adult children, Louise Behiel, recovery, self help | 462 comments

The third of the four roles is the Lost Child.  Remember, in a family with an emotionally absent parent, the other parent is focused on the ‘missing’ one.  So no one is focused on the children.  As a result of their emotional absence, the children learn to cope by adopting certain behavior styles.  Unfortunately, these learned roles become their way of interacting with the world.  Although every one has a bit of every role, for these children, they become more comfortable with a specific one and as a result, live within its constraints for a life time.

The Lost Child understands or feels the strain the family is under.  As a result, they try to minimize their demands on their parents and siblings.  As a result, they are often overlooked but this leaves them feeling lonely, rejected and isolated.  The conundrum is they get what they want but that result leaves them feeling empty.

What does this look like?  This is the child who is never a problem.  They spend much time in these kinds of activities:




Watching TV

Playing video games

Studying lots

Playing in their room

Play ‘pretend’ behind the sofa or drapes

Building things with Lego or a similar toy

Hanging out at the library, playground or other place away from home

Every child does some of these, but for the lost Child, they excel at being ‘out of sight’ and end up being ‘out of mind’.  Their teachers try to get them to participate more in class. Their siblings and fmaily call them shy.  As adults they are called extreme introverts.

This child expects nothing and wouldn’t know  how to make his or her wants known if they could identify them. Ironically, their disconnection from their family and themselves leaves them without knowledge of what they want or what is reasonable to expect from life and relationships.

The purpose of this role is to hide from the chaos, condlict and stress of their family.  As a result they hide – often in plain sight, but hiding never the less.  In becoming invisible, they never have to take responsibility for others (because as children they know they can’t fix the family dynamic.)

This child can take one of two paths.  First is the super independent child, who can handle everything for themselves.  Leave me alone, I’ll do it for myself.  Remember the abiding belief for this child is that I must not burden anyone, ever.  So I’ll do it.

The other path is that this child becomes socially awkward and uncomfortable with others.  If the focus moves to them, they panic.  They are unable to express emotion, because they have learned it doesn’t pay.

These chidlren tend to become attached to pets and toys rather than people, although one super close friend is not uncommon.  Remember, they have learned that emotions are pointless in their family, because no one is paying any attention anyway.  So they shut down and hide, often in plain sight.

Because this child never learns how to forge normal, healthy relationships, seeming aloofness is their norm.  But people are not meant to live without social support and connection.

Sadly, this child may become depressed and suicidal, because of their isolation.  And yet if someone tries to befriend them, they withdraw, uncomfortable and afraid.  They don’t know how to accept the connections that humans need.  And in rejecting those overtures, they further confine themselves to a world of loneliness and isolation.

Remember, no fair to diagnose others.  If you feel a connection with this material, feel free to email me, leave a comment or contact a health professional.

The following websites provided information for this post:

So how do you feel as you read this? Can you feel the loneliness and isolation of this child? Can you empathize? Or is confusing?  I’d love to see your comments.


  1. I’ve been on here before with the experience of the lost child role and then the scapegoat for years. My brother the golden child moved into my mother’s house with his family when my father died and took over thirty years ago. I was constantly left out of family information like wills and went no contact a few years ago when my mother tried to manipulate me into taking her to a hospital visit. I knew she was doing it for my brother because he wanted to go elsewhere on that day. I have experience of him lying about fictitious funerals so he could go drinking with old friends. After my Aunt contacted me I maintained phone contact with my mother every couple of weeks or so for superficial chat to ask how she was. Last week she phoned me on my birthday said she was fed up starting making noises as if she was crying and put the phone down. I tried to phone back and nothing went to answerphone. So she totally spoilt my frame of mind on my birthday and guilt tripped me big time. I phoned my Aunt and told her and she phoned back few hours later and said she’s absolutely fine go out and have your birthday meal and enjoy yourself. My Aunt and myself have been meeting up every few months and we’ve both discovered we’ve been conned and manipulated over the years.
    My Aunt told me that my mother had phoned her recently and said she wanted to see her son John my cousin. John lives over a hundred miles away and is pretty busy, but said he’d try and make the time to drive up. When I phoned my mother up last night to see how she was she said her sister had phoned her and told her John wanted to come up and visit. So there is more manipulation John is coming up to visit under the impression that his Aunt wants to see him and my mother is telling me that John wants to come up here of his own intentions. What do I do tell my Aunt she’s being played like me or tell her the truth John is being encouraged to visit for either supply or to make me look bad for not visiting the house. During the last call to my mother she said my brother the golden child was a terrible child and teenager and I was always my father’s favourite. I found this baffling because my father was emotionally neglectful, violent, abuse and never played anything with me that I can remember. So is she now trying to do a golden child / scapegoat switch. My brother has taken thousands of pounds off my mother and the house, but to be fair he and his wife have had to put up with her for the last thirty years and she is now ninety five. She wants me to visit, but I dread the thought of entering the house especially if golden child is there with his big self righteous , know it all mouth.
    Anyway the guilt tripping has had it’s usual effect I am off my food and not sleeping well and trying to blot it all out. My phone is now on airplane mode till seven every evening so I can pick and choose when I get to make contact. My wife is not very sympathetic she is stronger than me. Her childhood as the eldest of six is truly horrifying as her five younger siblings have told me yet she gained strength from it where I have this guilt deeply embedded in my psyche.
    I know mother has little time left and dread the passing, but I feel things will be better when she’s gone. Maybe my brother and myself will reconcile because deep down I know Golden child is as much a victim as me. Meanwhile it drags on with me trying to convince myself I’m not responsible for the family dynamic mother created.

    • i wish there was something I could say to ease your pain. Unfortunately these roles are deep and hard to fix. please don’t count on developing a relationship with your brother after your mom is gone. it might happen for awhile but usually will dissolve into what has always been. All children raised in this type of environment learn how to live and handle life and it takes something major in their personal life to cause them to change.

      as for your mother, please remember she is an adult and her behavior is her responsibility. I know i probably sound harsh, but it is the truth – you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, and you can’t fix it. live your best life and succeed. that’s the best thing you can do.

  2. Louise, I love the way you write about this subject. I’m the lost child in my family and you’ve given me a voice for this experience. I can’t thank you enough for handing me the key to my locked door.

    I’m striving to overcome the more negative traits – I’m weary of being alone. What are some positive activities I can engage in to overcome my propensity to be a hermit?

    I’m using the anger I have at being ignored and treated as invisible by my family to fuel a healthy and healing path fit the rest of my life.

    Thank you, friend, for the helping hand!

    • Kristen, thanks so much for your kind word. i’m glad you’ve found value here. fight the good fight, there are resolutions for your situation. As I’e said here, it is imperative that you step outside your comfort zone in order to heal. it will be challenging and scary but is necessary. just as the hero has to not volunteer, the lost child has to learn to speak up, take the risk and make the opportunities count Join some groups (the 12 step fellowship – Adult Children of Alcoholics) is a great way to begin this process, even if there’s no alcoholism in your family. you will make mistakes but that’s how you learn – by trying and enlarging your skills and abilities and life.

      good luck and come back and let me know how you’re doing.

  3. I realized that I am the Lost Child of my family. The eldest was the hero child, my middle brother was the Scapegoat. I am the youngest. I recall saying to my therapist that I kept my mouth shut to avoid any punishment and have to this day kept quiet. However down a good year of therapy, I am finally finding my voice.

    I’ve realised though that I don’t want to lose some of those traits that come with being a lost child such as the ability to be extremely adaptable and flexible. The ability to spend hours on my own and actually enjoy it. The opportunity to create art or something special with my life and time. The ability that if I want to go and do something, I will go and do it, even if it means doing it by myself. The negative traits, however, I am shaking off and getting a nice balance of finding some great friends to spend time with.

    • I’m glad you’re able to take advantage of the good parts of this role. and it’s good to shake off the negative traits. good for you

  4. Wow, this is very eye opening to me. I am the lost child. I’m often called selfish and distant from the family, and I wish so bad that I could have an emotional attachment to my family, but I can’t. It’s hard to explain to them that I enjoy time alone, and I don’t want to go on a bunch of family vacations to avoid the stress and conflict. I’ve learned to just do my own thing and stay out of the way. I thought something was wrong with me. Why could I feel emotionally connected?

    Thing is, I tried expressing my self as a teen. I was usually described as overly sensitive and emotional, and they would say it was stupid or try to discredit me whenever I spoke up. As a result, into my adult life I’ve learned to feel nothing and not express myself because no one would care anyway and I just deal with it on my own or completely shut out the people/person that is causing my conflict.

    It’s an eye opening day for me to learn this, but also a sad one. I wish it didn’t effect me like it does.

    • being affected is normal and to be expected. Everyone wants to have deep, loving relationships with their family. But as you’ve learned, the combination of your family dynamics and you are not a good fit. It’s sad, but it’s important to continue on your path, taking care of yourself and holding your own best interests at heart.

      good luck

  5. I learned about the lost child on Dr.Phil today.I finally have the name to what I am.I’ve been searching for along time.I am 63 years father died when I was 8 and a half from illness.he was 48years old. my oldest brother was 19 years old when I was born my other brother was 10 years dad was 42 and my mom was 36. my mom called me a gift from God after my father died.I come from a Christian family.most of the time I remember my dad was ill.scary rides to the hospital in the middle of the night.I was never told what was wrong.everyone in the family knew but me.this was how it was after he died also.we moved to a new house in May my father died 6 weeks later and in September I started a new school and had to make new friends and my mom began to work and I had to come home to an empty house until she came home from work.that was around 1963.nobody ever explained to me what happened to my dad only that it was like he was sleeping.I was afraid to ask.I was invisible. I married when I was 18 and divorced 3 years mom and younger brother have oldest brother lives in another state.I’m a Christian and am semi retired.I am a good worker good friend honest and dependable.I have not remarried.I cannot seem to find the right one.the ones I come across are users or cheaters and liars like my ex husband.I have went to some good counselors but I still feel like the lost child.I’m not blaming anyone bit I ask myself didn’t any of my family think I needed to talk about this. I feel like not meeting the right man is connected somehow.just my story.still working on it.thanks for listening.

    • there has long been a feeling that younger children need to be protected from bad news. It looks like your family got caught up in this old belief. they wouldn’t have considered talking to you, a young child about death. they would have been afraid of scarring you, emotionally, for life. Unfortunately, their choices had the opposite effect on you – you were the child who needed the information. this is the great sadness of so many children/adults – the choices made on their behalf were the exact wrong choice and that went on to affect the child/adult for life.

      good luck on your journey

  6. I just learned about “the lost child” today watching Dr. Phil. I am the first born of two children, and the first born grandchild on my mother’s side. My brother was born 4 years after me, and as a boy, took precedence over me with my mother right away. My parents went through an ugly divorce when I was 9 years old because my father was unfaithful to my mother with a co-worker. Mom had never worked, and had to find a job to support us, because my dad was paying a very small amount of child support. I had always been an outgoing, happy child, but this event turned me into a lost child, as I had to prevent making waves so everyone would stay calm. Suddenly, I became a secondary mother to my 5-year-old brother: walking him, sobbing for mommy, to kindergarten. Fixing Hamburger Helper and Chef Boy-ar-D pizzas and spaghetti for our little family. One day, when I was around 11 years old, I “ran away from home”–really just about a mile away, and then returned, because my little brother was being a brat and I was tired of being his caretaker. I was a parentified child. My dad was emotionally–and physically–distant from our little family. He had custody of us on weekends, and my step-mother (he married her just months after the divorce) hated me because I reminded her of my mother. He and my step-mother were bowing coaches, and on the Sundays they had us, we had to be at the bowling alleys with them while they ignored us. We hung out in the bowling alley restaurants and tried to amuse ourselves any way we could. I have always hated bowling since then! My mother dated several men, and became very “sexy”–wearing see-through blouses to work and being obvious about sex with her boyfriends. A co-worker took my mother to her job, where she was a switchboard operator. I became friends with the co-worker’s two daughters, and that family basically adopted me. I even called the parents my “adapted mommio and daddio”. I was an extremely shy child, and loved to play alone or with my few girlfriends. I went out of my way to avoid playing with the neighborhood kids. When I was 14, my mother married a man she had only known for 6 months! He was a narcissistic, paranoid monster, who screamed verbal abuse at my mother, my brother and me immediately after the wedding. I was a freshman in high school, so I was allowed to complete that year by living with my maternal grandparents, who lived near the school. My grandparents, aunts and uncles were very kind to me, so I enjoyed that few months of calm, except for the weekends I had to spend with my mother/stepfather, father/stepmother. My mother consulted her minister about my step-father’s cruelty, only to be told that wives must submit to their husbands, so we were all stuck. Sophomore year, I started in the small, rural high school near my step-father’s home, and had to adjust, as a city girl, to country life. It was not easy. I was accepted at the art school that I had applied to for college, and so was able to move back into the city upon the first semester. I remained very introverted in college, but had a few work-study jobs that got me into a career in the museum profession. Fast-forward many, many years: I had a breakdown at work, crying and screaming, in deep emotional pain, and so was taken by a co-worker to a hospital stress center. From there, I began many years of psychotherapy, with a doctor who I can only describe as a saint. She gave me “homework assignments’ where I was to contact relatives to tell them how I felt. I wrote to my dad and explained how difficult my childhood with him had been. He and I met and talked about it at length, and he cried about the pain I had endured. We had several years of growth and love. My doctor told me to write off my mother, as she continued to be unkind, and frankly crazy, if I didn’t follow her instructions to the T on every family event. I was not–and still am not–to discuss anything uncomfortable with her. Thanks to my therapy, and antidepressants, I became much healthier, and met a man, who I really believe is also a lost child. We have been married for 22 years! It has not been without its difficulties, but we love and understand each other deeply. Here’s the thing: I AM VERY, VERY ANGRY AT MY PARENTS for everything they put me through as a child and adolescent, and I can really not stand to be around either one of them! I am nearing 62 years, so both parents are quite elderly, but I find that I can no longer forgive them for their parts in making me so very unsure of myself. I have forgiven me, but I cannot forgive them.

    • thank you for sharing. The good news is that there is no requirement that you have anything to do with your parents, ever again. You’re free. You’re an adult, you have a good life and they no longer matter to you.

      I understand your feelings – it’s hard to let go of all the crap, but spend as little time thinking about them and the past as you can. they won’t change and they don’t care. so be as happy as you can. If you find yourself starting to think about them or the past, re-direct your thoughts to the present and future and all the blessings present in your life. they are hard won. You worked hard and spent a lot of time and money to have the life you’ve got today. Don’t waste a moment of it thinking about them. They don’t deserve the mental energy you’ll put out, it won’t change anything and only raises your blood pressure.

      Don’t let their needs pull you back into their orbit – for they won’t change. live your best life and enjoy. It’s time.

      thanks for stopping by

    • thank you for sharing. The good news is that there is no requirement that you have anything to do with your parents, ever again. You’re free. You’re an adult, you have a good life and they no longer matter to you.

      I understand your feelings – it’s hard to let go of all the crap, but spend as little time thinking about them and the past as you can. they won’t change and they don’t care. so be as happy as you can. If you find yourself starting to think about them or the past, re-direct your thoughts to the present and future and all the blessings present in your life. they are hard won. You worked hard and spent a lot of time and money to have the life you’ve got today. Don’t waste a moment of it thinking about them. They don’t deserve the mental energy you’ll put out, it won’t change anything and only raises your blood pressure.

      Don’t let their needs pull you back into their orbit – for they won’t change. live your best life and enjoy. It’s time.

      thanks for stopping by

  7. I have been reading your blogs and learning about my family in a way that had never occurred to me before. I am the Lost Child. My older sister is the Scapegoat. My older brother became the Golden Child/ Hero.
    Strangely enough, our sibling relationship fell apart after our mentally ill mother died last year. After therapy, and learning from you, I am starting to accept and move past my upbringing. I now understand that ALL three of us children had our own cross to bear in the family.
    The important thing I am moving towards now is moving out of the invisible world and into the world where I can trust and depend on others. It is a frightening and exhilarating journey.
    I really appreciate the analytical data, because so much of what children from dysfunctional families draw from is programmed defensive; a faulty belief system that we bring out into the world. When in fact, the world is what we choose to make it, and the family we choose for ourselves as adults, has limitless possibilities.

    • I am glad these posts have been helpful. you are taking the initial steps of a truly frightening and exhilarating journey. it won’t always be easy. But I guarantee the end result will be well worth it.

      good luck

  8. I’m the lost child, I was actually so severely introverted and anxious I had selective mutism all through school. I also have Autism Spectrum Disorder, so as you can imagine I was very lonely child in school, I actually didn’t make my first friend until 4th grade, the times I did have one close friend I remember becoming very attached to them, I’d be with them so often their parents would become protective of me like I was their own. One friend I had, her mom put a key to the back door inside the top of clothesline post for me, I wondered what she assumed about me because I never spoke of the violence that went on in my house. I asked her a few months ago how long she kept that key there (I’m friends with her on facebook) she said she kept it up there for years after my frienship with her daughter faded. The times I had no friends, I was very lonely, depressed, and felt isolated like I couldn’t reach people. I don’t gain people’s trust fast, but I also struggle with lettong people know I’m interested in friendship. This could also be why I’m so anxious around children, because kids expect emotional responses, not silence and noticeable anxiety. And my parents weren’t the culprits, my oldest brother was. He’s severely bipolar, and became an addict by the time he was a teen, and frequently went into violent rages dircted at my parents, he never actually touched me but I still feared for my life when he was like that, I’d hide from him in closets and under beds.

    • there are no words to convey my sadness for you and your childhood. the things that happen to children is unimaginable and then we wonder, as a society, why individuals struggle. All I can say is keep working and keep holding on to the faith of recovery. good luck

  9. Thank you for making this information available. I grew up in an alcoholic/verbally abusive household. Most of the behavior described above is me and I was surprised to read this because I had never heard of this but it makes sense now. I’m 35 and have always been shy/introverted, have a hard time keeping or making friends; something always holds me back and I’m not really sure what it is but I worry about seeing people or them getting to know me (maybe they will get mad or leave, maybe say or do something un-kind, or mostly I think they won’t like me or be annoyed with me, etc). I would love to have a group of friends and a loving relationship but it’s really difficult. I have gotten a little better over the years and have forced myself to have a couple of friends that I see sometimes but it’s hard for some reason. This does make me depressed and struggle quite a bit. I have had relationships but they don’t last (usually they have betrayed me in some way, I’m not co-dependent). I don’t know what to do from here.

    • Keep trying with relationships. It takes time to find trustworthy people.

  10. Hi,
    I’m 20 years old and I’ve finally been able to identify myself as the lost child who felt the need to be invisible in the family. I think as the youngest in the family, I sensed that it wasn’t safe to express my emotions. I identify with having one really close friend and not knowing my own needs and wants because I tended to do what my older brother and sister did out of the inability to think and decide things for myself.

    • This is a very accurate summary of a lost child. One step forward is to repeatedly over the course of the day, to stop and ask yourself “What am I feeling right now?” You may need to get some information to help you identify those emotions, but the more you work at this, the better you’ll get. Step 2 is to then ask yourself what is causing those emotions. As you get better at these 2 steps and as they become more natural, you’ll begin to tell what you want, rather than doing what your siblings do. It takes time but is worth the work. H
      Good luck

  11. We are who we are. Isn’t spending decades trying to “fix” yourself simply another way of apologizing for existing? Work on this, work on that, increase your self esteem, form healthy relationships, build a future. All messages that the way I exist is deficient. From what I have truly seen in my almost 62 years, the phrase “normalcy flies out the window as you get to know someone” becomes the most apt description of what occurs when creating relationships.
    Who is to say what is healthy? Some people cannot stand to be alone and surround themselves with people and things and activities to avoid the silence.
    I will not apologize for who I am. I like the silence, it’s simply the way I am wired, whatever the cause.
    Even this font is apologetic!

    • Generally people who are looking for solutions to something in their lives start by defining what they feel can be enhanced or improved. It’s good you’re happy

  12. Hi Louise,
    Thank you for putting into words my reality. I am a woman in her early 50, who wonders what is wrong with her. I have had a few close relationships, but with men who truly and leglly not avialable. The one thing I want so much in my life before I die, is to experience love and connection, interestingly it is the one thing I am so terrified of. My dad, was an alchoholic and suffered from NPS, my mom, the chief enabler, my dad always came first, Even though he has passed, my mom has taken up with a new gent and he comes before her family and children.
    The last 2 relationships I have endeavored, both ended with me terribly hurt, emotionally and physically, both men entrenched in the legalities of their decisions. I do a good job standing up for myself, but I am afraid my motivation is off, I want them to see me, I want them to see that I bleed when they cut me, that I bruise when they hit me, that I cry, because of the emotional harm they have inflicted. Yet the intelligent woman in me, knows they can not, nor do they care to see me. I was a tool, my blood was not their issue.
    I like to believe I am a self-aware person, I know I bought into the childhood lies told by my parents, but I don’t know how to let go. Sometimes the alternative to life looks more appealing, but something keeps me hoping. I have been very close, but not really sure how to manage everything on my plate. My sister, the flying monkey, keeps me entrenched in the lie, she is oblivious. What do I do, where does the strenght come from?

    • We can’t solve these issues alone. Therapy, a 12 step group, or support group will help you figure out the traits of people before you get so attached…you won’t be attracted to men like those you describe. It’s hard work, but your dreams are on the other side.

      Good luck.

  13. Louise,

    A few weeks ago my sister sent me an article on family dynamics and I realised that I was a ‘Lost Child’. I’m 16 years old and I’m glad I realised it early in my life because I know it can be hard to find out so late in life and you find it really hard to change yourself. I fit into the mould of the ‘Lost Child’ almost exactly. I daydream and fantasize almost constantly, read, watch TV shows and movies, never leave my room, I’m usually known as “the quiet one” and considered a loner.

    My oldest brother, 35 is ‘The Scape Goat’ and my sister, 28 is ‘The Golden Child’. Our father is narcissistic and I’m not really sure about their mother but my sister says that her mother was neglectful towards her after becoming damaged by our father. I’ve begun to notice that my mother is kind of narcissistic and she gaslights me a lot. My father is an absolute narcissist and there’s no doubt about it. He’s not an alcoholic or anything like that but according to my sister when my brother was younger he always beat him, but I haven’t experienced anything more than a snap when I was a child.

    We lived in NZ most of my life then moved to AU and that when around when I started to notice that things weren’t quite right in our family, but I didn’t know what it was. My brother still lives in NZ and he stays to himself and he hasn’t talked to me in more than 9 months and I know that he went through a lot with our father, but no one tells me what. My sister moved to South Korea then to Costa Rica to heal herself over the last 2.5 years and I think that’s going well. She may be the ‘Golden Child’ but she doesn’t want to live with the emotional abuse our father put us through.

    After she left all I was left with was my parents and I started to get depressed, that was around when I 13 and I noticed it April 2016. In June of 2017, I had a suicide attempt and I’ve realised that it’s better to get help sooner than later and I was wondering if there’s a way to move past the ‘Lost Child’ phase without falling further into the rabbit hole of loneliness and isolation.



    • First of all, congratulations on finding your truth. Well done.

      First things first. Deal with your depression. Use whatever resources are available to you but use them. You have survived all this stuff so far. You’re almost old enough to make your own decisions and choices. Don’t let your dad’s narcissism take away your future! Beat jim at his own game. Get a therapist. Do the work. Read and learn about depression and help yourself. DON’T LET HIM WIN!!!!

      As you resolve the depression, then work on the lost child role. It is absolutely fixable but the depression comes first.

      Good luck

  14. I am dealing with this problem for last 38 years, my age. I am struggling to survive for the last 20 years.
    It was an accidental discovery while researching on my family’s behavarial issue that I stmbled upon this whole set of information. Thanks to you.
    I am the third son of my completely irrational parents. I used to think I have a unique family problem and tried to deal with them in every possible way to understand what is happening. Now i can comprehend my situation fully.
    I am doing OK in my career and having a very understanding wife. She helped me a lot to understand my psychological issues. The part of the world I am from (india), you do not discuss family issues outside your family. It is neighter encouraged nor understood. But I did mix up with my friend’s families a lot in my early years and could manage to save my soul with their help. So I believe there are good and caring people everywhere. I still fit into the lost child description 99%. Yes I am lost to my family as a child but to the outside would as a sensible human being.

    • Good for you. we can solve a situation once we identify and name it. work with your wife and continue to read and study. eventually you will resolve the role of lost child and be much happier.

      good luck

  15. Hi, reading your article seemed like I was reading about my own life. My whole family is narcissistic. So, growing up was tough, spent loads of time doubting my own sanity. However, fortunately, I had a pet dog to spend time with, so had atleast one friend to my name.

    Other than that, it was always me in my own world, building/fixing things, playing video games, reading/studying on my own. Being independent helped a lot my professional life though, my boss & coworkers still can’t fathom how I can accomplish so much on my own.

    On the personal front though its a completely different picture, I did manage to make a few friends in college, but still can’t figure out how to properly connect with them, and my life has been so different from their’s that even they can’t fully understand mine.

    Still, being a lost child seems way better than the rest of the types, atleast I know when somethings wrong, my sister (The Golden Child) still hasn’t figured it out.

    • Thanks for sharing. I’m glad for your success. You’ve found a way to use this learned behaviour to your benefit. What would happen if you used your mind and skills to learn how to be and have friends? It would be a challenge, but well worth it, I promise.

      And not impossible. Uncomfortable. Uneasy. But worth it do you can have a richer, more wonderful life.

      • Thanks, hoping for the best.

    • Ditto on everything. Been going through great loss after the death of a parent. I feel the loss now I think I was feeling all along but kept busy to numb it. I don’t want to be close to anyone right now I don’t trust myself even because I have always been surrounded by these narcissistic personalities. I was the scapegoat and am feeling a little numb some times right now. I think grief of the death of someone can bring out the grief of the lost childhood. I just wanted to relate to your sharing about being independent because you are not alone I was the go to person to fix things and figure out solutions.
      I agree that some how being the lost child has also allowed me to fine tune some survival techniques that likely has helped me. I just hate the depression right now.
      My mother likely had some borderline tendencies too and I know they tried at times but it seemed that she undermined anything to be good or successful. She left me alone most of my childhood and my father did too. If the bills were paid it was something to be grateful for not to expect much more. Again, I know they tried at times but overall my mother looked to dump me every chance she could and was in denial of it.
      Good Luck

      • The pain that adults perpetrate on children is never ending. Your grief is tangible and real. Take care of yourself. You sound like you’re moving in the right direction.

      • Hi Deanne, after all that, its understandable to be numb at times. I was numb for a long time so much I had grown accustomed to it, until the time when I got close to a girl back in college. It turned out to be completely one sided, though, she did let me know kindly and firmly. And suddenly it all came back, whatever I had pushed deep inside before. Struggled with it all, still do. Spent most of my time listening to Damien Rice’s It takes a lot to know a man. 🙂

        My parents were quite the same, I can summarize my whole conversations with my father in two words: Shut up!
        Thats all he ever said to me, in my whole childhood. Now, when I have started to do better, guess what he wants to re-initiate contact. He even had the audacity to tell me, “I won’t let you” when I decided to go on my own.
        My mother was more passive as long as I was the child with no needs, but whenever I needed something, she always had an excuse, she was either too busy, tired or just plainly not interested. I have learnt the hard way, just to let her be in her denial state, she just isn’t ready to hear it, she would much rather guilt trip me and remind me how great a mother she has been, how I am so much better off than kids who don’t even have a mother.

        But, I guess what we gain after it all, is the resilience that builds up inside of us, gradually. I can now spot narcissists with ease thanks to all that. Yea, trusting someone is still hard, but hopefully it’ll get better with time. Two weeks before, I wouldn’t have even thought of sharing my side, as I never truly felt, that anyone would believe a word I say, but thanks to you guys, thats changed.

        Believe in yourself, and keep going, you’re doing great, best of luck. and Thanks!

  16. Hi Louise,
    This is a very interesting article for me. I believe my daughter has married a Lost Child. He appears to stay in his very small world. He had one job that he held for four years, but was always stressed out and would take several sick days. He has since decided to start his own business from home, and it has already been 3 years with no success. At first my husband and I were very supportive and encouraging. However, he does not apply any suggestions and does not ask for any input. He does not network with others his age or other people trying to do similar work. He is also socially awkward and was home-schooled up until College. My daughter met him in college and at the time he was suffering from what they thought was gluten intolerance. I believe it was the stress of being in the real world, finding out he’s not as smart as he thinks he is and that there are other people out there who know more than he does. Currently our daughter is working full-time as the breadwinner and they have just had a baby. He was going to be the caregiver, but she has negotiated for more work-from-home time. Our concern is that they have pushed us away and are keeping us at a distance. I was told not to text or phone call too much or to expect to see them more just because they had a baby. My daughter is very competent and probably over functioning. We have found out my son in law and daughter are not communicating with his parents. My husband and I have been to counseling about the situation and are just trying to give them space but stay connected.
    Is there anything you could recommend that we could do on our end? I don’t believe either of them are open to acknowledging that there is a psychological history/situation here. I don’t know if my daughter will recognize what’s going on at some point, but I am concerned for the current and future grandchildren.

    • The easiest way to totally push them away is to sit in judgment of their choices. As ugly as it is (been there and done this work) it is important for us to allow our adult children to walk their own walk. Right or wrong. Good or bad. Each adult gets to make their own choices. And if I want to be part of their lives (my child or not) I have to let others live their own lives and make their own choices. Nothing I do can change anyone else’s mind. They have to learn for themselves.

      Sad. Hard. Painful. But true

      Good luck

  17. Hi there.
    Some wonderful and painful insights for me to read so thank you for everyone who shares and the author for her time and expertise.
    I have an issue but not with me but with my new partners child.
    She is a 6yo girl who exhibits most of the symptoms of a ‘ lost child’ and I am very worried for her long term wellbeing.
    I could give many examples and lots of info but instead I thought I might just ask other than being kind loving and patient what might some strategies be or ways of helping her come out of her shell and blossom.Please feel free to ask me anything in in regards to her or her surrounding environment. Thank you

    • yes it can be hard to work with a child who has these behaviors. remember, they are often built on a foundation of introversion, which is natural and healthy. so be clear about what’s what with this little one and then work to include her, support her, and enjoy her company. as a stepmother you are one significant adult of many people in her live, so your influence will be limited by that reality. But do your best and love her. that’s the best advice for dealing with any child.

  18. This was me completely growing up. My mother is a bpd/ npd/habitual liar and i was always taken here, there, and yonder to be babysat. She was never home (although she forgets I have my own memories and tries to tell me different. Like she is trying to rewrite history), and always doted on my younger sister, who was the golden child. I was never outright mistreated to be called the scapegoat, but always the sidelined one, the not as pretty or smart one. As a result I have become overly independent because promises were always made and never followed through with, but also awkward in social settings (can’t ever get a word in edgewise and still cant). But to be honest, I kind of prefer it this way. My mother was always so suffocating with my sister and you could see the strain put on her even at a young age….I never envied her and actually fought for her most of the time. She was born with a heart defect, so my mother was extra “worried” for her safety…Never let her do anything. I put quotations around worried because it never felt genuine, like it was just an act for others, so she could look like the good mother. Nowadays, my mother no longer being married to my sister’s father, and my late blooming, I have become what i guess would be the golden child role as well, and I hate it! To go from practically neglected emotionally growing up to having her all of a sudden want to spend all her time with me makes me sick. Still feels nongenuine and makes my skin crawl when she tries to hug me or make me kiss her in public (I’m almost 30). It’s only in front of people. Life is just one big act with her of.course playing doting mother and grandmother. I hate the way she is with my kids because I know when they are out of their grandma’s the greatest stage, she will move on to the next supply. My heart breaks for them. I’ve put major boundaries up though the past few years and know eventually we will have to have a sit down about things.

    • Boundaries are good. Have the ‘sit down’ with your mother but it likely wont do much good. People dont change a lifetime of behaviors because it bothers you or your family…it takes focus, effort, and work.

      Good luck

  19. This is me! Starting the second sentence and on!! I am the youngest of seven, my parents were 41 and 43 when I was born and my oldest sibling is 23 years older, the closest to me in age is 6 years older. I am not the the quintessential youngest child: center of attention, outgoing, social, risk taker, etc. Perhaps I could have been, or would have been, but my parents divorced when I was 9. My siblings used to say I was a spoiled brat. As an adult I would get so angry when one would say this because, I wasn’t to my recollection and I remember very well. I shared a room with my mom until the 6th grade, I was inquisitive and I read a lot. I played by myself and on occasion, my nieces or nephews- they are close to my age. Regardless, I know and they know, there was no money, for sure, after our parents divorced. Anyhow, I was oblivious to any trouble between my parents, my dad traveled for work and his absence was normal. When I found out, I thought my dad was working so I asked when he was coming home and my closest sister in age, who graduated the following year when I entered 6th grade, laughed and said he wasn’t, before my mom could say anything. It had been a year. I did notice my mom was becoming increasingly reclusive and bitter. Finally, to the point that she couldn’t function so she closed her business, which was really a hobby. I started to hear bad things about my dad, especially when he didn’t show up to get me, like he said he would, and the money woes…After the 6th grade it was just me and my mom at home. She constantly worried about the bills, I knew what EVERYTHING cost: electricity, gas, house taxes, food, and house insurance, I’m sure there was more. I was scared for us, I didn’t dare ask for anything. Not because she was mean but because I didn’t want her to feel overwhelmed and I knew my dad wasn’t paying child support and she didn’t have a job, my oldest brother was helping us out. I was asked to prom but said no because I didn’t want to stress her out even asking for a dress, I never told her I was asked either. Overall, it hurt bad, especially seeing my sisters kids get whatever they wanted and I felt bad about asking for shoes when I needed them or glasses when mine broke. I stayed to myself, even during family gatherings and on holidays. I daydreamed A LOT and sometimes, I would get angry at her for divorcing him because I knew he wouldn’t have left her. I understand now and have for some time. He was unfaithful and after 35 years, she had enough. My siblings have “dismissed” my knowledge or input in conversation and I am a college graduate- only one of them is. I’ve been belittled in front of family on a regular basis, in company of friends, once while on the phone with my boss, and many other instances. My closest sister and I together in our moms house, along with a niece, our 2nd sisters daughter, and her two kids. They regularly exclude me when they go to dinner, bowling, grocery shopping, etc…. to the point that they sneak and regularly it’s blatant. I continue to feel hurt. Especially because I get excited when they get home from work or wherever and when I try to engage them they’re rude or busy. One of my nephews died the day after my birthday, since then, I don’t have a birthday, but I may get a belated call or text.
    Re-reading this, a couple of thoughts come to mind- I need to get over it and I’m not really as pathetic as I seem. Or maybe. Thanks for posting this and allowing me to share with you all. I needed this.

    • thanks for sharing your story. we are all affected by our childhood but it is our choice how we live as adults. making changes in our world view is hard. so is changing our self image, but as you accomplish those changes (think of it as getting a degree in you) you won’t tolerate people treating you this way. and as soon as you come to that conclusion, either they stop or you are out of their lives. I see you as a strong, capable woman. and you have the right to a happy fulfilling life. Go for it.

      good luck

  20. That is so me. My parents were divorced when I was 4 and my mother went to college and worked. I was sent to live with my emotionally absent grandmother and grandfather and only saw my mother on holidays. My brother was with my dad and cousins for the first 4 years of this. I learned to read very early, to play songs by ear on the piano, spent years – into adult life – fantasizing – mostly about a father-figure. Later, I was able to see my dad every other weekend, but those early formative years, he was missing too.

    I was very socially awkward by the time I went to school because there were no other children to play with for the first several years.I learned very early that the only time I was noticed and affirmed was when I achieved something, so I became a straight-A student, a geek who preferred to read “The Lord of the Rings” back in the 60’s when almost no one else had heard of it. I also performed in various music groups, and was very independent. T

    All of this led to taking up with the first boy in college who showed interest, and getting into a bad marriage, which failed after 15 years, when he left me for someone else. Back to being very achievement-oriented and independent. When I fell in love again finally at age 50 with “Mr. Right” he died before we could marry. The mantra of my life has basically been that everyone I ever loved has left me. I did a “Life’s Healing Journey” retreat and it confirmed that I had never gotten over being separated from my parents and brother as a child.

    So, here I sit, alone at age 65, looking back on being “abandoned” and claiming my identity through what I can do. I am a super-overachiever in my job and have no desire to retire. Thanks for naming what has happened to me. It is a small comfort that I can say I took the positive path.

    • you have certainly taken the high road. good for you. continue the healing work – it’s worth it.

  21. Father – Functional, “secret” drinker/presciption drug seeker/abuser, very violent, PTSD, engineer, Air Force, narcissistic, megamorph, lost his father age 12. Died age 59, I was there.

    Mother – ACOA (violent father), eldest of 5, “good” girl, lost mother age 16, moved out of FOO because father married mom’s crazy maternal aunt, they had 5 more kids, mom became an RN. Surviving.

    My parents had M1, F2 (me), F3, F4.

    M1 – Father’s scapegoat and favorite punching bag. Intelligent, sensitive, angry. Mother’s golden child, could do no wrong. Constantly pitted mother against father to avoid beatings/detract. Sexually and physically abused me for 7 yrs., (3.5 yrs younger) following dad’s “sex talk” when he was 10. Now passed from multiple neglected health issues. Was IT guru.

    Me – Caregiver/taker of all. Told was too old for dolls age 7, was told was “chief cook & bottle washer. Could shop, write checks and lay meals by 9. Served father like a slave, alleviated mother’s workload, otherwise ignored. Beaten by father, not as badly as bother, but could compare bruises. Deep affinity with all non-human creatures as long as I can remember. Feels sorry for things like ants and cockroaches. Don’t even get me started on dogs, cats, whales, coyote, or any other non-human mammal. Favors homeless and other suffering humans. Reads people like books, most interesting subject in the world.

    F3 – Female carbon copy of father. GC of both parents, self-indulgent, now passed (a. 46) from lung cancer, heavy, daily, tobacco & pot use. Violent, narcissistic, funny. Huge memory gaps from childhood. Medical billing worker. Untreated PTSD – a. 16 auto accident she killed drunken pedestrian in middle of road, dark rainy night, his nearly decapited body landed on hood of car, rolled off when she drove 1 block home in panic, when police were called (small town rural, pre cell phones). Began self-medicating with pot 1 yr. later.

    F4 – Grand mal seizure a. 18 mos. from auto accident (“brain scar tissue”), nearly died, heavy phenobarb & dilantin (sp?) until age 12, when she began to wake. Grew up as my “living doll,” only apart during school, but to this day, very angry that she “was alone.” Absolutely no memories during those years, describes like Helen Keller, pre Ann Sullivan – a jumble of impressions. Now smart but uneducated, hard worker, still no mental health treatment, still very confused. Hates FOO. Had daughter, gave her to me. later married pot-head biker dude, dude has done well in first self-taught, later educated, auto body. She has no job history since marriage, but works hard for husband. Re-united w/ daughter when daughter was 16, but now both are no contact with me, because I am sis’s FOO. She seeks what she knows, and uses wine to remain disconnected from herself. Was absentee parent to my niece.

    I am the most invisible person I know. Performance, thanks, invisible again. Out of site, out of mind. Full of facts. 1 year of college. Body damaged from so much work beyond capacity. Lives alone, two small dogs, work full time pc data organizer, autodidact. Maintains light social contact work & neighbors, lives in own trailer in trailer park. BAD, abusive marriage a.21, 4 years to escape, never again. Not healed when young, knew enough to know I couldn’t choose properly. Sexually harrassed at work when young, multiple jobs, would leave job and not look back.

    Added pounds, has been with current position 17 yrs. Old enough to lose weight now, so think I’ll do that. Will die alone, okay with that, concerned about dogs, but will probably out-live them and won’t get more.

    I’ve had some treatment, finally able to cry, went through angry phase, can place old and new blame where it belongs (me/others). No contact with mother or sister. Sorted most of it out, but a random thought/connection will still bring sorrow and/or anger.

    As life winds down, I feel that most of it has been a waste, except where I’ve been able to help other creatures, regardless of number of legs. That is my primary satisfaction. Raising my niece remains the best gift I had, but she now has children of her own, and loves and tends them well. She was forced to choose by her mom between us, and as starved as she had been for her mother, I think I will be gone before she realizes that her mother’s understandings are primarily fiction. It doesn’t matter. She’s grounded with her children, and whether I’m there or not, that particular cycle ended.

    • sounds like you are well informed about your childhood and history and family. we have no control over the choices of others, as you’ve learned. so live your best life and enjoy what’s left for you. that’s the best all of us can hope for – a life that has meaning for us.

  22. I sleep with the TV on, can’t sleep without it. Often when I wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, I catch re-runs of Dr. Phil. This happened about a week or so ago, and I caught a small part of an episode about a family fighting over a business. Dr. Phil was trying to explain the adult children’s behavior. As he explained the lost child, I sat up in bed…stunned realization hit me. As he described The Lost Child, I felt like a Kaleidoscopic I’d been turning for years, never able to get aligned just right, came into focus. “That’s me,” I thought. I have felt something was off, but didn’t know what. I never really understood myself… Until now. I have loving parents. They did the best they could, and I am grateful for them. But when I was little, I always felt the huge shadow of my older brother. I don’t think my parents ever intended to ignore me. I don’t look in the rear view mirror with anger, just regret. My parents were very young when they had my brother. I came along 3 1/2 years later. I love my brother, and many times I’ve said I wish I was more like him. He has a HUGE personality. Wherever he is, he’s the center of attention. Handsome, talkative, funny, social, avid outdoorsman, huge group of friends. He still has friends from Kindergarden! Reading more about The Lost Child, I think I withdrew over time as I felt the space my brother took up expanding. I was intimidated by his gregarious nature, and I just gave up my share of whatever attention I might have for myself. I recently had a frank conversation with my parents. I shared with them what it was like from my perspective: Growing up, for years, our family activities centered around my brother’s sports. By high school, it was Wrestling, and my brother was a top athlete in his weight class in our state. During each season, nearly every weekend, we would drive long distances for a tournament. I’d spend it in the stands watching, all the focus on him. By the time I got to High School, I’d achieved some skills of my own: Cheer Leading and Softball. I made varsity softball as a freshman. My first varsity softball game, my brother drove me and dropped me off. And left. No one was at my game. I don’t remember why, and I’m sure there was a good reason my parents couldn’t be there, but I think that moment is one of the key glass pieces of my Kaleidoscope. Rarely did I invite my parents, or anyone, to big events in my life after that. I remember later, when my brother had gone to college, I had all the attention, and I pushed it away… Them away. I recall telling them they COULDN’T go to a game to watch me cheer even when they asked to. They did go some, but I didn’t like it. Sharing this in my recent conversation with my parents, I know it hurt my parents to hear it. My father cried. I know they never meant to hurt me or make me feel left out or forgotten. I know they love me, and are cheer leaders of my life to this day. For years I recall my brother saying how mich he didn’t understand me. Until now, I don’t think I understood myself. I never married, no kids… unless you count the long list of rescue dogs and cats I have had in my life for 20+ years. I am a kind and caring person with what I feel at times is an overwhelming emphathy for others. And I am so closed off, I never let people truly know me or close to me. I feel safer hiding in my home with my: animals, video games, books and TV. Sound familiar? I’ve moved a lot as an adult, fantasizing “this move is going to be different, I can reinvent myself.” I never do. And as I approach 50 in a few months, I realize time is flying by, and I’m getting worse, not better. Watching that Dr Phil, finding my Lost Child… Maybe this is the turn in my Kaleidoscope I needed to finally recover and truly live the rest of my life instead of dreading it…

    • Your story is fairly typical of this role. But…you now know the roots of your life narrative do you can start the work to heal. And that’s good.

      Good luck

      • I realized something else after I left this post earlier today. I’m a second or probably third generation Lost Child. My father’s mother was an alcoholic. He hardly drinks. I’ve heard some stories over the years of him coming home from school and finding his mother passed out on the floor… And her mother, his Grandmother, passed out with her. At five years old, he was put in a cab to go the dentist alone. At FIVE! He left to join the Marines at 17, just a few years after his Mother’s death. I think I understand him more than ever after reading more on The Lost Child. Plus side of me not having kids… the cycle and pathology stops with me.

        • Interesting, isn’t it to see how family patterns repeat.

    • My experience is much the same I saw the Dr Phil that was mentioned. I was the only girl with four brothers. There was a lot of chaos in the family so I was the good girl. When I married it stayed the same I did for everyone and no one saw me. He passed away last year and I have been trying to get my way in life. Until I saw that Dr Phil I had never thought of my self as invisible but it’s a good description. I’m half way betweeen super independent but I really love animals more than people. I never had children because I didn’t want anyone feel as inline as I have. It’s good have a name but I resent the implication that I need to be fixed. Isn’t others responsible to try and see all the good some does for you and just notice them. St my age if I still have to ask for attention I don’t want it.

      • Many people in these roles want something more out of their lives and do I work to help thrm to make changes but if you’re happy with the status quo, that’s point about these roles is that they are part of a family system. Most people don’t see it, so don’t expect others to see and appreciate your efforts…

    • This is similar to my story.

      I have a sister who is 8 years older than me. She’s also the center of attention, good-looking, was always invited to parties, very popular.

      Like you, I gave up my share of attention. I was very solitary as a child. Spent the time in my room reading, collecting stamps or going to the library to read about astronomy or other things I found interesting.

      I tried to bring up a few times to my parents that I think my sister got special treatment, but it wasn’t received well, so I just stopped doing that. I think it’s great that you were able to have those conversations with your parents. I don’t think I’m able to.

      I don’t think I can be quite as forgiving to my parents and sister. She got all the benefits of being a single child, without actually being one. She’s used it to her advantage, and my parents (especially mother) is living through my sister in a (to me) unhealthy way.

      Turning 50 soon myself, and I also find that things get worse as so many things are set in stone now. I always thought that my life would turn around when this or that happened, but it didn’t.

      • your life will turn around when you take the action to make those changes, assuming of course that you haven’t done so already.

        • I have tried to make a lot of changes through the years. Started a family (unfortunately repeated the pattern with an N, now divorced). Started my own company. Tried a lot of different sports. Renovated houses. Have been to several different therapists, CBT, dynamic…

          I have so far failed to make any permanent positive changes (not counting the kids of course). My work situation has deteriorated. I was once a respected team manager, who was the go-to guy for many people in the department. Now I work more or less as a cog in a machinery and lack trust from the management.

          I can’t internalize anything positive for some reason. It’s like things were set from very early on, what I was like and what was expected of me.

          I used to have a very positive outlook on life, and a very good self-esteem. I truly believed I was destined for greatness, as I was brought up that way. Didn’t bode well for relationships with friends or otherwise of course. Now I think I have some form of mid-life crisis as my life did not turn out the way I had imagined.

          My last therapist started to question the above, stating it was a form of protection against feeling shame. I took this rather hard, as I started questioning my perception of myself. What am I, if I am not great at anything? Maybe it was too much to take in at once.

          I might need to follow up this with another therapist. I’m thinking of sending out several requests, asking whether they have any experience with growing up in a household with N people. Do you think that would be a good idea?

      • My mother was a narcissist and I was the youngest of three daughters–my sisters were 6 and 9 years older. I think the oldest was primarily the Golden Child, the middle was the Scapegoat, and I was mostly the Lost Child until they were gone and I became my mother’s main source of supply. Subsequently, I married a Covert N for 26 years. At 66, I am finding all this out and beginning my journey of healing. This change grew out of nutrition coaching for self-soothing eating! Online resources I am finding helpful are Karyl McBride,,Richard Grannon, Athina Ehlen and their referrals to tools.
        Don’t give up! If I were only 50, I’d be all over reclaiming my life. None of us are unloveable: the brokeness was with our parents, not us.

        All the Best,

        • Good for you. It is never too late to start.

  23. This is/was definitely me. I’m 39 years old, and have committed to an ACA program. It’s hard work. Relationships are hard work too. But I appreciate you writing on this! It was one of the first to pop up on Google search for “ACA the lost child”. 🙂

    I’m writing a somewhat unusual book on my experiences as The Lost Child. Your description helps me understand the direction I want to take. Thank you so much!

    • You’re welcome. Good luck

      • I got made fun of alot (name calling,taunted,etc) while growing up and all through school….As a result I became,artwork … essentially kept to myself…
        I’m NOT antisocial,in fact as an Adult,I feel like I’m trying to make up for lost time….

        • there is some difference between bullying and the outcomes of this role. But if you were the lost child in your family, bullying can be more likely. good luck as you make up for lost time.

  24. My family is extremely dysfunctional. I’m 30 and have ASD and take the role as the lost child. I remember being tossed between my grandma and grandpas house and my parents house from age 4 clear till I turned 18. When I was 11 I discovered my artistic talent. I have anger issues now and do display them because I can’t hold it in any longer. I was mentally and physically abused as a child, physically and mentally by my father and mentally by my mother. Now it’s just mental abuse. My mom is an addict to opiates, my father is disabled. My mom could work but refuses to, and does nothing but lie in bed constantly. I refuse to do any chores, as I pay 300.00 a month in rent, and my older sister who also lives here doesn’t have to pay anything. My brother is a nursing student with a 3.524 gpa in college and my dad just bought him an 06 mustang, when my parents have never let me drive, and still control my every move. There’s constant fighting in the house. And my escape is artwork and music. I have been suicidal plenty of times. Tried going through with it two times last year. Failed. Don’t see any sense in trying to “off” myself anymore… it doesn’t ever work. Stress eats me alive but today getting full testing on my autism and I started working out twice a week at my local gym which takes tons of stress off of me. I’m overweight and have several things I have to do to get my life straightened out. Well that’s my story.

    • You seem to know what you have to work on. You will see a big change when you do the work. Good luck

  25. Continuing my saga from a while back. I hadn’t seen my mother for nearly three years, fifteen months were no contact and then when contacted by my aunt I resumed short telephone calls every two weeks or so. My golden brother and his wife and daughter took over my mother’s house nearly thirty years ago and she’s now 93. They have taken her to a solicitor and seen to it that they get control of the house when my mother dies and my family as I understand it get nothing. My aunt wanted me to visit my mother and told me that my brother had gone on a holiday with his wife and left my mother with the daughter who is partially incapacitated. I said I would visit if my mother invited me then I got a phone from mother saying her sister told me I wanted to see her and would I like to go down the next evening because the daughter is out baby sitting. I though she’s trying to get me in the house without anybody knowing so I said I’ll be round in the morning.
    I got there and it was all smiles with an awkward hug, niece just said hello and then we spent about ninety minutes in superficial conversation with none of the topics about the family problems just mainly current affairs. I’d made up my mind to keep it short so I said I was going. As I left she pointed a finger at me and said you start coming down again and make peace with your brother I’ve only got two sons and I want them together. I said no I do what I want to do now myself I’ll talk to you on the phone as usual. I realised when I got in the car and waved goodbye all she wanted was me back in my role visiting weekly listening to my golden brother’s views on world and how all his old bosses didn’t know their jobs etc. I was stressed out going down there and the following day I started feeling better she’s still trying to be in control and keeping her family dynamic going after all these years. My brother has taken thousands of pounds off her over the years and been bailed out of so many scrapes. I was the lost child as a kid, but when I got married I became the scapegoat with many of the lost child traits remaining intact. Nothing will ever change the parent with NPD characteristics they are always right. Knowledge from sites like this is invaluable to inform people of what has gone on in their lives. I wish I’d known more years ago I would have been so different these roles can last a lifetime.

    • It takes intense work to change the roles in a family – both for the individuals and the family as a whole. Very few people want to make these changes. it’s comfortable to stay in the pain of the old way. to complain and whine without changing stuff. I applaud you. Clearly you’re making changes. there’s nothing you can do with your mother or brother. Sad but true. live your life and make your success your best revenge.

      good luck and thanks for sharing.

  26. Dear Louise, thank you so much for this article. It feels good to have someone describe my situation and label it for what it is.

    I withdrew very much in my childhood. I considered myself an introvert and socially awkward for a long time. But on more than one occasion I met people who accept me, see me in a positive way and encourage me and I am a completely different person, I can be very funny, warm, talkative, attentive, etc.

    What is very hurtful for me: if I try to be more talkative with my family, it is immediately suppressed. Some other family member pipes up, they cut me off, don’ t let me finish what I was saying, don’ respond. They say I am so quit. And then just talk-talk-talk as if their life depended on it. I tell a joke and am kind of proud of myself that I had the guts to just do it. And they say xyz can tell jokes really well. And there is just 0 response towards me.

    It just seems that me being invisible and a lost child as you say is just so convenient and everyone – even and especially sister in law and stepmother – do everything to keep it that way while at the same time pretending they are glad to see me. but only as long as staying quiet and amputated in this way because I am no threat to them.

    Thank you for listening,


    • Your role is part of the family dynamic and is normal in that situation. You could become the most gifted speaker ever and the family would still likely treat you this way. that’s the heartbreak of these roles.

      glad the article helped

  27. This resonates very much with how I feel. I wonder if you could shed some light on what healthy family relationships look like though? How often do kids typically interact with their parents and what kind of interactions do children and parents in healthy relationships have?

    • First of all, none of us is totally healthy. Some people more than others. But some are much less than others.
      In a healthy family, parents are able to value each child for their individuality and not use them to work out the issues in the adult/parent’s life. children are valued and protected and allowed to find their way to fulfill their potential and dreams. Unfortunately, when a home is focused on the needs of the adults, because of addiction, mental illness, personality disorders or other stressors, the children lose out and adapt to these roles to make sense of their lives.

      that’s a short answer to a complicated question, but there are people raised in these environments. and more importantly, many of us overcome our childhood learned roles for behavior and become happy, whole, fully functioning adults.

      good luck

  28. So how are we supposed to deal with a lost child as a boyfriend or girlfriend??

    • Dealing with the lost child in a relationship can be very tough. Just remember that they’ve stepped way beyond their comfort zone to be in a relationship. But for real change to happen your partner has to do the work to heal. If he decided not to do the work, this is as good as it gets.

  29. Hi. I relate so much to this. I am INFJ-Youngest sibling-alcoholic severely abusive dad-alcoholic suffering mom. I escaped to pets. I have never felt connected to my family. I am in my 50s and now estranged from most of my family. I have felt my whole life like I didn’t exist. Joined a cult. Abusuve marriage. Finally in counseling and have positive people in my life. But I have a mantra inside of me, “No one knows the depth of my sadness.” I am happy and have a great life but a portion of my heart will always be sad (darkened heart like on Once Upon a Time tv show). But, all said and done – my life is good now. But your writing helped me understand my disconnection better.

    • i’m glad my words were of some help to you. as you go forward, remember you are not to blame. But you can heal and enhance even more the rest of your life.

      good luck

  30. Thank you for this post. I see myself in this so much. It really helped me understand myself.
    I am the youngest of 3. And, though my parents love each other very much and loved us, my oldest sister has always had medical problems. When she was little she had to have a surgery on her eyes. Some years later we learned that she had a hyper active form of autism and ADHD. My middle sister and I have always felt left out, because my parents gave so much more to her because of these issues. I always understood that they didn’t mean to ignore us. Still, I took the second path. I am also and INFP, and I have always preferred not to cause trouble. I knew not to ask for things because, we were also poor. So, I would always just do my thing and played by myself a lot and was mostly always ignored and I always felt invisible. I still do. I am horrible at socializing and opening up to people. I am extremely awkward and anxious in large crowds. I am 27 years old now, I have been through depression and I know I never want to go back down that path. but I still find it soo hard to deal with. I have tried more than once to explain things to my parents, and things would get better for a little while. Then It seemed to go back to how it always was. I guess old habits die hard. The only things that gives me comfort are God and the few Good friends he has blessed me with who listen and understand. But I still don’t know how to deal with it all. though I guess others out there have it much worse than me….

    • You have hit the situation perfectly. In many families, there is no intention to do this but it happens all the time. Regardless of the cause, there is no decrease in the pain that you’ve suffered. Or in the ongoing challenges you will face in your adult life. I do know and have worked with many brave people who have learned to cope as you have (the lost child) and worked with a professional and a group (usually Adult Children of Alcoholics – even if alcoholism was not present) or Adult Children Anonymous and totally claim a full, interactive rich adulthood.

      keep up the good work.

      good luck

  31. Is there a correlation between lost child syndrome and middle child syndrome? Does birth order have any effect?

    • The roles we learn can occur in birth order but that’s not always the case since some families gave only one or two children, which impacts the roles substantially. And om not aware of any correlations but I haven’t looked either.

  32. I have no idea how I found this article… I think I was looking up the link to my personality type (INFP) and being raised by (likely) Narcissistic Parents but WOW this is exactly who I was! I did just about every activity listed, I also got lost in art. I loved reading and imagining myself in the worlds of the stories I read! I became the second one… socially awkward and I ended up isolating myself for over 15 years (from the outside world, friends and family)… I’m working on recovering now. I was recently in therapy and that’s where I learned about my parents.

    • Good for you. Keep doing the work

  33. Holllyy crap. This is 100% me! It’s funny to see how many more lost children there are, too.
    I was telling my sisters the other day how growing up, my coping mechanism was living inside of my head. I was always daydreaming, because reality was too painful. I was always consumed in video games and books. For 7 years I had a fictional lover inside of my head from a video game. I always felt lonely and worthless.
    Also- I see a lot of this here- my mom IS a narcissist and has mental illness (anxiety/depression), my dad was an alcoholic, then homeless. They divorced when I was 8. I was quiet and shy. I would hide and also play behind the couch, I had typically 1 close friend at a time.
    I was typically socially awkward and still am sometimes.

    Fast forward- at 18 I decided to try reaching out to people rather than shutting them out. I became more social and had lots of friends. Recently I did a spiritual retreat for women where I learned to get in touch with my feelings, which I could not do before. I still feel anxiety when connecting with people and feel very embarrassed with intimacy- I’m married now and am working on these issues still.

    I wish to other lost children that they may overcome their inner monologues of loneliness!

    • good for you for doing the work and healing. We learn these behavior patterns in childhood and they are hard to change but it’s possible. You are proof of that. thanks for sharing with us.

      good luck in the future

    • It’s me too.

      • So now you know that your adult behavior is ‘normal’given your background. If it’s not what you want then work with a therapist experienced in these matters to make yourself into the person you want to be.

        Good luck

  34. Louise,
    I was 3rd child (boy; 2 older sisters.) This description fits me perfectly – except I don’t see anything dysfunctional about my family? My older sisters were both very popular and out-going, whereas I was withdrawn. However, my mother put off working outside the home until I finished grade school so she could be home with me at lunchtime and after school. Far from being ignored, I think my parents and sisters doted on me, and that I got special treatment. But she was emotionally distant, and kept my dad at arms length, so maybe there was more strain in their marriage than I realized?
    {My mother was raised by her father, and she thought he was wonderful, and I’ve come to realize I was a replacement for him, and was led to believe I was special – and expected to be special. I believe that expectation, and knowing it wasn’t true, contributed to my withdrawal.}

    • The question I always ask my clients is how is that belief system affecting them today? Also remember, that the Lost Child is not doted on, but rather ignored. It is a long jump from introversion to being the Lost Child.

      It is also interesting to me that you looked at this post. I’m glad you did. I’m glad you shared but I wonder why…just a question for thought.

      good luck

      • Thanks for taking the time to respond. Someone told me I fit the 3rd child/lost child profile, so I Googled it, and your post was at the top. The description fits me so well that it seemed likely to me that the childhood dynamics you described were present but not apparent to me.

        • Glad I could help. If the description fits… does it feel right? Does it make sense about you? If so do the work and heal do that your past doesn’t continue to impact your future.

          • I think the poster case is different because he is the first son. Therefore special treatment. I on the other hand am the third girl three years in a row followed by the “chosen one” first boy. 🙂
            As an adult I am realizing how indifferent I was treated.

  35. This is me. I’m really messed up.

    • the good news is that you can do the work and make all sorts of changes in yourself.

  36. I love your advice! You are awesome!!!❤️

    • This describes my cousin who just committed suicide

      • I”m sorry for your loss

  37. I have read so much about The Lost Child in the last 24 hours. Every single time, I see myself reflected in its description flawlessly. I do feel lost. And I feel as if my entire life has been emotionally barren. There has never been a time when I was happy. But now I feel understood for the first time. The fact that this exact description is simply a product of my situation makes me feel better. I hope I can one day join the rest of you in society…

    • You absolutely can join us John. Take risks and heal yourself

      Good luck

      • As a 3rd. child in a 4 boy family, with the first two being twins, only 14 months older and the youngest not quite 3 years behind me. I agree with the feeling of the lost child. In the making of this family, two different fathers. The youngest is my half brother. Neither man stayed, last one left when youngest was 4, That man was a physical and mental abusive alcoholic. It was gut wrenching on all of us. Mom was a bit overweight, fought with depression and diet (speed) pills. She could not read beyond a grade school level. The twins schemed together and my mom let them do as they wanted. It worked out for them, both successful individuals. My roll was looking out for my little brother. He didn’t get spoiled or babied. None of us did. The twins ? perhaps a little. Little brother banged his head on the mattress, most nights, while I scratched his back. WOW I got a bit off course there. What I wanted to ask is. Do you think that the 3rd. born, though withdrawn and isolated, sees more and has more empathy. I seem to notice everything. By the way I’m 63 years old now. Have 2 sons a firefighter and a high school teacher/coach. Plus 2 adopted daughters both successful airline employees. 6 grandkids and counting. I have always had a dog lol.

        • I think the responsibility for your little brother was also a big contributor to your empathy. It is not uncommon for the lost child to be able to see more than the other members of the family. What I find noteworthy is that you have a wonderful family and have found a way to develop relationships. congratulations.

          • i am like this i struggle to do anything plz help any advice ????

            • Recovery is about learning to trust others, usually by taking risks with other people. go to Adult Children anonymous – they specialize in helping people recover from these roles.

  38. Do children owe their parents anything? Even when they say they sacrificed…is it really a sacrifice or a means to live through their children what they weren’t able to attain themselves…Are all lost children victims of narcissistic abuse?

    • I don’t personally think that children owe their parents anything. After all, we as parents made the decision to have the child so the responsibility is all from the parent to the child and then the grandchild. But that responsibility varies by the child’s age and the relationship with the grandparent. Kids can get very demanding – that is a two-way street, for sure.

      remember that there are degrees and variation of causality for these roles. I think they are very common in all families, but when you find someone who is severely marked by their childhood and locked into these roles, it is one of two causes, usually:
      1. the parent is seriously disconnected to the child, because of addiction, narcissism, mental illness etc. There are a variety of causes for this in the family.
      2. the child, as an individual, is unable to process the dynamics of the family and becomes severely locked into their way of life/role. Psychology calls this Resilience and is clear that it varies in each of us. Some people are better able than others to handle trauma or any kind or degree. They have not figured out why yet, but are making strides into that research.

      always, regardless of where any of us comes from, we get to work through the issues raised by our parents and family of origin. As a mother, I see this in my kids now – things I did and said that affected them in adulthood. It is the way of life, it seems. But rather than feel guilty, I also accept that each of mine are adults who can choose to change things, or not. It’s up to them as adults to create the life they desire.
      Do they owe me? Nope. not at all. Not one red cent or second.

      In my opinion, parents must move their relationships with their adult children into that of friendships. At some point in time, those adult children will be living life without parents. it is my job as a good parent to step out of the decision making role and become the advisor and mentor, if they want the parent in that role. Otherwise, my job is to butt out and keep quiet.

      No debt, just presence and love. But as always, that’s my opinion.

      good luck

      • Thanks Louise for the feedback. I too also think that children don’t owe parents anything. As you said parents chose to have children and it’s their responsibility to provide their children the right conditions for them to flourish as individuals. The problem usually lies when parents aren’t fulfilled themselves and use their children to fulfill their unmet emotional needs. It can be psychologically draining. Feeling obligated to return a favor without choice tends to create unhealthy dependencies and resentment. Love should be organically by choice and not duty.

        My favorite quotes of wisdom paraphrased are by Osho and Kahlil Gibran. To love a flower, you don’t pluck it and possess it but appreciate it and water it daily and your children are not yours but life’s longing itself…etc

        I’m Asian American who grew up to traditional Asian parents and I’m trying to understand both sides of parenting values from different cultures. The values are always clashing together when it comes to life decisions… what works in one culture may not work for another… Watching and reading the Joy Luck Club helped me understand. The Breakfast Club is also a good movie in trying to understand dysfunctional family roles

        • I’m glad you’re making sense of the cultures you come from and live in. It is a big job but keep working on it…you’ll make it.

          good luck

      • I’m so happy to have found this. I am the third of four children, but my younger brother came along when the first three siblings were age 11, 9 (me), and 6 so w the three of us already had our place. I was in the middle. I’d always try to take care of things myself, comforted myself, and St age 62, still do that. At 23, I divorced my first husband. Mom wanted me to move back home but my Dad said, “no…you’re on your own now and it’d best if you continued to be on your own”. When my parents became ill, however, my Dad pretty much told us children that it was our job to take care of them. I did, as the obedient daughter I am, but I have to admit, I felt resentment.

        • Meant to say I was 2nd of 4. Not third.

        • These patterns continue until we recognize them and work yo change them. They are the lens thru which we see the world and our place in it.

          Thanks for dharing

  39. Thanks for your post. You have finally put a finger on who I have been. I have found that the Bible helps. Coming from a dysfunctional family is soo hard. My father divorced my mom in a very cold way and it pretty much left my mom broken. I stayed ‘out of sight” so as not to add to her pain and now I realize the toll it has taken. Your post is right…..that sense of trying not to be a burden on others resonates very well with me. My husband is good to me but somehow I keep thinking he might leave too. I hardly have any friends and that sense of ‘I can do it all” has taken away the motivation to make new friends. Sigh. However, I have resolved to try and break the old habits and form healthier ones.

    • good for you. It’s hard work and emotionally exhausting to change these patterns, but well worth it. good luck

  40. I cried when I read this. This is me! My childhood felt like Cinderella. I had 2 older sisters I was left with as a small child because my mother had to work 2 jobs to feed us. They tormented me physically and mentally for years. I lived in a make believe fantasy world in order to survive the abuse. As I grew, I decided I would surpass them in life and I did. I was the only child to graduate from college and became a successful entrepreneur. With all my successes I still feel like a failure because they never would accept and love me and to this day still do not. I’ve had issues forming relationships to this day because of my sisters.

    • Congratulations!!! you’ve overcome so much. Just remember they don’t and likely won’t love you. it’s not about you, it’s about them…always. Stay successful. that’s the best revenge.

      good luck

      • I have had major depression most of my adult life. I am the third child and youngest by 5 years. I come from a highly dysfunctional family, whose parents stayed together for the sake of their children. I was emotionally and physically abused by my older brothers. I was sexually abused by my maternal grandfather. Both of my parents were golden children in their respective families. I am definitely a lost child. I have disengaged from family members on/off over most of my adult life. I am most at peace during these times. I have recently decided to fully disengage from all family members. While I know that I need and want to do this, I also find it to be sad. Your comment in the above post about it not being us, but it’s about them – strongly resonated with me. Thank you!

        • Could be from the lost child dynamic but do the work to heal the depression.

  41. Hello,

    I’m glad I found this post and can relate to being a lost child myself… The descriptions about the activities are eerily spot on. Growing up as a middle child I felt like an orphan… My dad is a workaholic and lost his dad at a young age from war and my mom grew up in a strict household. My siblings are 7-8 years apart in age and I’ve never felt really close to them. I remember when I was a child in daycare I couldn’t stop crying because my mom dropped me off and I was in a room full of strangers. Eventually I stopped crying and found a distraction by drawing. I felt I couldn’t rely on her to get my needs met when I was in distress so I just gave up and found other ways to self sooth. The defense mechanisms I developed over the years was made by having other peoples agendas placed on me when I had plans of my own. I didn’t feel like I was in control or was able to have a voice especially when your parents are enforcing all these rules like what to study or who to marry… I rebelled. I know my parents care by providing food and shelter but I wasn’t able to feel that loving warmth I so longed for when I had a bad day at school or was bullied. I had to fend for myself and cry alone in my room and pretend everything was ok when it wasn’t… All I wanted was someone to just be there and listen empathetically or to hug… but all I got in return was unsolicited advice… and parental role reversal. In my mind I kept telling myself why bother anymore… they don’t see me or really care to listen… So the psychological walls were put up. They were too busy stressed from work, we barely spent quality time or ate together. I just read books in my room and played video games to escape, while they watched T.V. in separate rooms… What I hated most was my parents comparing me to other kids and relatives when it came to success and kept enforcing their unfulfilled dreams on me. I felt unworthy in their eyes and questioned my existence and why was I born. I wanted to disappear and die… I wanted validation…but who was I? I rarely received positive feedback from them to develop my personality. When it came to relationships, I hid myself to avoid the pain of intimacy…and fearing the shame of discovery. My parents didn’t want me to expose our family dysfunction to the outside world. The masks they wore had to be perfect, but I could see past it. I have a hard time expressing or feeling emotion because I grew up in an emotionally void environment. I’m still struggling to this day and I’m reading and learning all the material I can to heal and grow. The biggest struggle so far is trying to find a career that I can be happy in. I feel like a ghost just drifting though life and I notice it scares people because of my quiet nature and deep need for solitude… I’ll probably be alone forever with cats… Relationships are so draining as I feel like I don’t have enough to give…

    • Our choices are either to let the past control the future or not. You can learn to have intimate relationships but it is scary. You will get hurt at times but it’s not a fatal pain. Or you can continue on the current path. You get to choose. You win or they do.
      Ifor you choose yourself find a good therapist and for the work. Go to adult children of alcoholics even tho that wasn’t part of your life. But take action. Otherwise nothing changes.

      Good luck

      • I see it for what it is objectively from a birds eye view. Lack of parental hierarchy, triangulation, competition between siblings, projection of negative feelings, toxic shame, dysfunctional family roles, narcissistic supply. My sister played the hero child while my brother played the scapegoat… Narcissism destroys the soul. Being around my dad felt like being in an emotional black hole… the covert narcissist and my mom was the enabler. There was so much anxiety and yelling in the home I just had to get away in my room or a library just to breathe growing up. Babies are born innocent… They require validation, nurturance, physical needs, guidance… The parent acts as the sun and water and the children acts as the flower and the flower wilts if deprived of any of them. As a lost child I felt defragmented and hollow inside now I know why… My parents aren’t fulfilled themselves and used us as extensions. Everything was out of duty not unconditional love. To be seen and not heard… I guess in their eyes it was much easier to live through their kids than to be actualized whole persons themselves so when they didn’t get their narcissistic supply, they would be abuse us by proximal abandonment and emotional threats so we would fall back in line orbiting them…walking on eggshells. When I tried to tell someone I trusted outside the family unit, they would rage at me. I’m 28 years old and more aware now. The cycle ends with ME! Going through this emotional pain helped me become more emotionally resilient and patient with people I noticed over time. I’m grateful for this website I had to get this off my chest to know that I’m not crazy and others have similar stories. Thank you Louise! 🙂

        Reading these books help me gain some wisdom

        The Fantasy Bond by: Robert Firestone
        The Road Back To Me by; Lisa Romano
        Attached by: Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
        The 5 Love Languages: Gary Chapman
        Love and War in Intimate Relationship by: Marion Solomon and Stan Tatkin

        If you have any book recommendations on issues of the human condition especially Lost Child Syndrome, please let me know! 🙂

        • I’m so glad the cycle ends with you. well done. it’s wonderful to hear. keep us posted on your progress.

          good luck

        • Hi Patrick
          I have a long list of books I have found helpful depending on where you are in the recovery/ healing process. There is a lot of information about Toxic Families so I won’t go through the list but what I think is critical to the healing process is being able to form healthy sustainable loving connections. I have found two authors who have written extensively on this: John Townsend and Henry Cloud. Safe People: How to find relationships that are good for you and avoid those that aren’t. Beyond Boundaries: How to learn to Trust in Relationships Again. Right now I am reading Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved. These men are Christians so they quote the bible a lot, as a non- Christian I don’t focus on that part but actually they provide a lot of wisdom from the bible you never hear about. Henry Cloud also writes a lot for career development so not everything he does applies to close loving relationships.
          I will check out your recommendations.

          • I haven’t read these books, so can’t personally recommend them but include them here, just in case.

  42. I do believe all the concepts you have presented on your post. They are really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are very brief for beginners. May just you please prolong them a bit from next time? Thank you for the post.

  43. Very good article and spot on. I never knew I was hiding my entire life until I entered therapy. I did not talk about ‘me’ for an entire year. He tried to steer me to myself and I masterfully redirected it time and again. I just could not tolerate any focus on me. Me who? I tried every trick in the book to get him to dump me, he refused and I kept showing up in his waiting room, constantly threatening to quit, yet unconsciously desperate for connection. He knew he was dealing with a ‘child’ and began to bring me through the developmental stages I never experienced. Suicidal by age 12. Both parents were very narcissistic, mother being a malignant narcissist as I recently discovered. Father was an alcoholic tyrant whom I was terrified. Then created the illusion of a caring mother, in order for me to survive. When you are born into such chaos and violence, you don’t know any difference. It was my normal. I am the sixth child of nine and have broken away from the family system and they don’t like it at all. I am so grateful to be on this healing journey. It is so very difficult to try and trust or to begin to even cultivate any relationships. I am very alone in that regard since I have eliminated people who took advantage of my sensitivity and lack of boundaries. Healthy boundaries are liberating! Who knew! I still can become instantly invisible, but am learning to speak my truth and stand up and be noticed and own what is mine. This is very hard work but I have immersed myself in the process of healing. I stumble a lot with the inner critic and massive shame, but developing the observing ego is helping and I not giving up on me.

    • congratulations!!!! you’re making a huge change. it takes us time and such a great deal of courage. thank you for sharing the journey you’ve been on. You’re living proof that we can all make huge changes when we make it a priority.

      well done.
      continued good luck

  44. Yep. This is me to a T. I was the independent one and realized this wasn’t healthy, so then I tried being connectable but have found myself completely isolating for fear of the emotional reactions. Phycokogy is great at identifying the problem, but what is the solution? I don’t want to isolate and disconnect and lack the ability to connect with others. I long to, but have no clue how.

    • we all change our behavior by facing our fears and stepping into the new behavior. Slowly and steadily. one person, one situation at a time. there will be painful encounters but that’s part of learning. A baby doesn’t learn to walk immediately. they learn to lift their heads from the bed, then roll over, then crawl, then pull themselves up against something, then take steps around things and then on their own. very few adults give any thought to walking across the room, but when we’re a year old, that’s usually a huge distance and a big deal. there are falls and bumps and sometimes cut lips in the process of learning to walk but we persist.

      the same is true for our emotional growth and behavior change. We all need to practice. you have to learn who to trust. How to trust and how to move forward. it takes diligence, practice and courage.

      good luck

      • Louise, I’m in the same boat. Only I’m 61 & have been struggling with this for almost 30 yrs. relationships are what brought me into recovery & im still clueless & in the dark when it comes to relationships. I’ve never married & I want someone to grow old with, someone to make memories with & I’m no further along than when I started. I recently began w a new therapist but don’t see hope there either.

        • Carol, the hardest part of being the lost child is that we have to step out of the fear of relationships and have relationships. that is very simple but I have had clients that assumed that therapy will take the fear away and make them whole. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way, from my point of view. We have to take action. So take some risks, and connect with people. it won’t be easy. It will likely be frightening and anxiety producing but the only way to learn to be in relationships is to get into them. it will take a while. most of us “kiss a few frogs” first, but that’s all part of the process.

          therapy won’t take the fear away (at least not in my experience) but use therapy to discuss the process of relationships you’re in and figure out what you want and don’t want, based on your experience in today.

          hard. Scary. Terrifying for some. But action is necessary to break the chains of the past and step into your future.

          good luck

    • I cannot find how to post my comments…only where to reply to another’s comments. Please advise how I post my personal comments to this blog. Thank you.

      • right at the bottom of all the comments

        • The comments seem to go on forever, but when I finally scrolled to the bottom of them, there was no prompt to to tap for beginning a new comment. I don’t understand.

          • not sure what to say, since this comment appeared.

  45. Dear Lious:
    Thank you for posting this paper, i am crying when i reading it. My ex-boyfriend is like this, and he is also look like my dady. I feel sad for them. My dady is out of my life now. I am sunshine girl and have strong heat, but i need your suggestion how to help the ex or should i give up? The guy left me away, told me leave him alone, he got another woman. We had a happy begining but he felt uncomfortable when I treated him wonderful and warm, he rejected me finally. Our relationship didn’t develop further more. I know his family system much that is like such dicription in your paper. We have never seen each other for three months, just connected on email once time and wechat once time. I know there is a painful child in his mind, Dear Lious, do you think could i help him or just let him go?

    • here’s a hard lesson for all of us to learn: we can’t help anyone else. We have to help ourselves. no one else can do it for us. from my perspective, I used to believe that if I said the right thing, in the right words, at the right time, I could make a difference for somebody else. I learned this is not possible. Change is hard. Very hard. and it takes dedication and focus to change. so no, you can’t help him. But you can help yourself. rather than fixing his life, ask yourself why do you feel the need to help a man who doesn’t want you? take a look at yourself and know that you can have better.

      good luck

    • Dear Louise,

      I’m crying out loud. This is me. I am the oldest of 3 daughters – the invisible child and the third adult – my sisters are 5 and 10 years younger. There was pressure to be the good role model and the responsible older sister. I buried my self in school and sporting activities – the over achiever.

      My name is Susan, I’m 55 and speechless after reading this post. I learned a little about my family dynamics while in counseling after my divorce. I was lucky to have had professional counsel for 5 years after the end of my 21 year marriage to an alcoholic. Very few understand the struggle to be heard. This struggle is real and the challenges are lifelong.

      I was being used and abused at work. Standing up for myself is not comfortable but necessary in my recovery. I stood up for myself and lost my job. Still working on being healthy and strong and loving myself.

      Just yesterday my mother and I met with a mutual minister friend. I opted not to go to Christmas at my sister’s house. I have totally isolated to keep people from hurting me – when I really need them to love me.

      I have so often wanted to put into words all the pain that is in my heart. Would so enjoy talking to you more on this subject. I have so much to say!

      Thank you Louise,

      • I’m glad you’ve found some help here. Please feel free to contact me privately

        Good luck

  46. I also remember spending most of my childhood dreaming and fantasising. It was my only escape in order to try ignore all the screaming and yelling that was going on in our house. So few people really get this pain and often downplay it which makes it worse to deal with.

    • Hi, I am a dog mom of 2 doxies and am 31. This describes me too, and there was always a ton of yelling fighting in my family. I started grad school in the fall, and have chosen not to go home for Christmas this year. But the constant yelling from my parents and my moms emotional rollercosterness and my dads negativity make me want to avoid visiting at all costs. But yea I feel totally unable to form any sort of adult relationships, as I have no idea what healthy ones look like. Battled depression/anxiety for a while, now mainly depression, but it’s like all the yelling scars you, and you don’t ever want to go home. If my grad program wasn’t so intense and$$ I would consider more, but I know just the yelling is the only thing that will happen! You aren’t alone

    • Same here. I vividly remember fantasizing about the characters from my two favorite tv shows at the time coming to rescue me, even after I was well beyond the age of knowing how to distinguish fictional tv shows and characters from reality. As out of touch as I knew that was and as much as I knew how delusional I was being, watching those shows and daydreaming like that were my only safe haven.

  47. This article speaks so deeply to my inner childhood pain. My mother was present in body but not in mind and seldom made the effort to feed me or look after my emotional needs. My dad on the other hand was abusive physically and verbally, more so to my brother and my mom than to me. I coped by living most of my childhood dreaming and fantasising about a better life. My father comitted suicide in 2009 and my brother chose to estrange me in order to cope with his pain. We adopted twins and I see that my mom is still unable to connect with me and my pain. Parenting is so challenging without family support. My kids never met my brother and to this day I feel worthless and struggle with suicidal thoughts daily especially around December when all emphasise is on family and gettothers. Its just so hard and I need to staystrong for the sake of my kids.

    • staying strong is the most important thing, for sure. for you and the kids. go to adult children of alcoholics meetings. eventhough you don’t mention this addiction, they will help you with the issues of this role. and/or work with a good therapist on these issues.

      good luck

  48. Admiring the time and effort you put into your website and detailed information you offer. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed information. Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.


    • the nice thing about being an adult is that you can change. It’s scary and it’s hard but you can do it.

      good luck in making the changes to create the life you want.

  50. Growing up in a dysfunctional can be tough. It is even tougher when you have two dysfunctional families with stepparents. I had an evil stepmom and a parade of clowns for stepdads. I always tried to think of ways to get rid of my stepmom but I never acted on any of my plans. I found that it was therapeutic to write stories that would lampoon them. I have a new story called My Psycho Family! It is free if you have a Kindle and Amazon Prime. I hope you enjoy it.

    • writing is a good way to deal with the ‘stuff’ from crazy families.

  51. I have been working on ACOA issues for many years now. I also have dealt with mental health issues schizoaffective disorder and bipolar were diagnosed. In the last few years I have been working a bit with a psychologist who has validated DID experiences in me. I experiences different shifts of identity thought mostly I use the term copresence with the aspect that has the protector role.

    Last year I acheived integration with one aspect of identity. It seems stable though I check to see if he remains with me.

    I have no people to discuss integration concepts with. How I am different since this first one and have two more to go is not something others can understand.

    My question if there is one revolves around relationships. I seem to have only minor ones at best. I am vulnerable it seems to hurt and retraumatization. I have significant trust issues after failed friendships from ppl that have lied and betrayed me. I notice I am starting to not care much about anything lately. Perhaps its a way way to deal with tne continuing failures disappointments. I feel stable though rather empty and alone.

    • what you’re going through, in terms of DID is very hard to integrate into relationships, in my limited experience. you’re one person now and a different one another time. Continue working with your therapist and doing the work. as you heal, you will be able to start having different people in your life. the people around us are often a reflection of our beliefs about ourselves (not always but often) so as you heal, so will the quality of people around.

      good luck

  52. Even at 46 years of age, it amazes me how a person can still integrate their role in the family. A person I believe can have a mix of two or three roles. I recall when young sitting around my family, people talked, laughed, and entertained each other. I observed. This memory is vivd when I did say a sentence one time around my family, they all had a eerie dead silence, looked at me in shock, and discovered I was there and could speak. I waa then 8 or 9 years old, and this was my role as one can guess, the invisible child that still has the qualities to be called the invisible adult.

    • we all have some of each role at different times, but usually one predominates

  53. I left this subject alone for quite sometime until recently after I wanted to end a friendship with someone they said “I knew this was coming, I can see that you can’t hold attachments”. I can not be emotionally there for others, and I only feel shame when I let my emotions become clear to others.

    Its hards to live and love life, I grew up constantly wanting to not exist. I was already invisible to others so what was the point of being physically here, and I took action on those thoughts three times.

    Even now as young adult I have difficulties being with people, or around them, and finding my place in this world. I am a people pleaser, I still do not know what I want to do with my life since I have always done what I though other would want me to do.

    I think the most difficult part is trying not to think about killing yourself everyday

    • If you read this blog, you know that I always recommend people work with a qualified experienced therapist who can help you work through your issues. don’t let the stuff of your childhood end your life today. or tomorrow. It’s so important you don’t let your past control your future. Make a difference in your future.

      good luck

    • I truly connected with your words. Please know we are valuable. I still think about the permanent exit stage left daily. I don’t think I ever will, because we are people pleasers. Life really is good and I hope you can get some comfort from my words.

  54. Thank you … but I am grown now and I good with my self but still nice to know why I am who I am ..

    • that’s good

  55. You say that I lost child can take one path or the second path what if they’re on both .

    • Generally, a Lost child is on both paths when they behave differently in different situations. “Leave me alone, I’ll do it” is a way of isolating the self and distancing yourself from others. And becoming socially awkward is a not uncommon reaction to the isolation. If you don’t feel comfortable with other people and are afraid of being a bother, you won’t ask for, nor will you easily accept help. But without the regular interactions with other, the Lost Child can easily become socially uncomfortable and awkward.

      I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: Breaking out of these roles is terrifying and hard work. I’ve never met a single person who has done so without the support of a group of a therapist or a coach. The steps seem too big and the journey too terrifying, regardless of the role that has been adopted.

      But with help, you can do it, the same as I did and my clients do.

      good luck

  56. Well this is just who I am…

    • This describes me too.

  57. This was me as a child. I wanted to be invisible. In my home there was no place for me to play. I ran and hid wherever I could. As a teenager I tried to end my life 5 times. The last attempt I took pills but decided I didn’t want to hurt my grandmother so I hitched a ride to the emergency room. My father was called to pick me up. The only thing he said to me was, “Do you know how much this is going to cost me!?” I still feel the sting of loneliness but loneliness has always been there.

    • thank you for sharing. I’m sorry for the trauma you’ve had to live through but here’s the good news: it’s over. You can make different choices, step out of your comfort zone and heal. work with a professional, especially someone who understands about these roles.

      You can heal and have a wonderful fulfilling life. I know it sounds trite but it’s true. do the work and you can live a life that is beyond your biggest dreams right now.

      good luck

  58. Wow, thank you for posting this. I’ve been doing a bit of soul searching recently and discovered that my childhood was more dysfunctional than I thought. My parents were physically there but absent mentally, both poor, both somewhat depressed and over worked. My dad was a drunk and my mom and us kids left him when I was 5.
    I feel like you’ve looked into my childhood. I tried to cause as few problems at home as I could as a kid. I knew we were poor, so I tried not to ask for much. I was shy…

    However I feel like I’ve taken both paths you’ve mentioned. I constantly try to do everything myself, even as an adult in the workplace – it’s extremely tiring because I wear my self thin. I also have some social anxiety problems because of awkwardness, in big company meetings I get anxious, sweat, my voice trembles, I shake if I have to speak to the group.

    I’m looking forward to checking out the links you provided.

    • I’m glad you found something of value here. working hard to ‘deserve’ a spot is really typical of us who are from less than stellar families. It is curable…find the help that works for you and do it. You deserve more than you were given as a child and this is your chance to make a difference in your future. Don’t forget that everything will feel scary and uncomfortable, because you will be stepping out of your comfort zone and where you like to exist.

      let me know how you’re doing

  59. For the first time maybe EVER I feel like someone understands.

  60. Great blog!! All dysfunctional families are different. As a very typical lost child, for many years (actually decades), I was okay with the role. Of course, at that time, I knew no better. I’m the youngest by far of four siblings. Our brother, the oldest, was 16 years older, older sister is 14 years old, and sister next to me (the favorite child), is six years older. Our brother has been gone for years. Dealing with two narcissistic sisters (yes, they learned the lessons well from our mother) has been difficult. They would never listen to me (what do I know) about anything and are seemingly happy playing their roles. Our oldest sister seems to have a paranoid, slightly schizophrenic, illness. Her grandson was diagnosed with full-blown paranoid schizophrenia at age 19. I am comforted by the fact that I do know what, why, and how the narcissism of our parents played a role in this. Having an alcoholic father and a narcissistic mother set me on a path of self-destruction for quite some time. I am working through not blaming them and living an informed, decent life with my husband of 25 years.

    Again, thank you for this website.

    Eden Prairie, MN

    • I’m glad you’ve figured it out. I totally agree with you that each family is unique but our families tend to follow patterns and that was my intent.


  61. Thank you so much and God bless you. I am reading about myself. It’s incredibly difficult but 100% true.being a lost child myself I can attest how difficult it is trying to live life not allowed to feel, but however all you do feel is shame and fear. Relationships are often attempted but impossible because you do not have the reciprocal feelings that the other person has. Work is unbelievably difficult the slightest bit of stress causes you to completely lose it and your coworkers and employers do not understand why you get so upset all the time. Makes for an incredibly difficult life. Prayer and belief in God’s love helps immensely, I haven’t found anything though that could heal us.

    • I always recommend the 12 step fellowship, Adult Children of Alcoholics, whether you’ve got alcoholism in your past or not. It’s the best way I’ve found for a low investment, to help each of us overcome the roles we learned in childhood.

      Good luck

  62. Okay, spewing everything… I’m 30 years old now. My mother was the typical hard worker, made sure I got everything I needed, my father was absent. I identify with the second example. We were never big on pictures, never really put effort into holidays, my mom didn’t have time for all that. I always stayed out of sight, always quiet, I used to read a lot. Now I honestly do nothing. I sit alone in my own head. I work, and have a decent career at this point. I’m very irresponsible and impulsive with money, and time management. I have no real memories of my childhood. I have a son who lives out of state, and I have issues communicating with him. I have a lot of trouble talking to people, or asking for anything. I have issues with maintaining conversations, I can only pay attention in short bursts. Nobody ever sees me. Nobody speaks to me. I’m all alone in here.

    • What starts as a coping tool in childhood becomes a prison in adulthood. Regardless of the role we adapt, it confines and limits us every day of our lives. Go to Adult Children of Alcoholics (even if there isn’t alcoholism in your family) and keep going. You’ll start to figure it out and be able to heal your past and open the door of your mind so you can get out.

      good luck.

  63. Hi Louise,
    I actually stumbled across this website while exploring the invisible lost child for an acting project. This has come along at the perfect time for me. Last night my acting teacher talked to me about some major issues I’m having in my acting. She made me realise that I am afraid of expressing emotion and that I avoid emotional connections with other people. People rarely get to know who I really am. I have very few friends and have avoided romantic relationships. All due to fear of and experience with being rejected. I realise now that I am the invisible lost child. I had one parent who was an absent alcoholic and another parent who was overbearing and needy but who ignored my own needs and just gave me what SHE thought I needed. From an early age I remember withdrawing as my parents argued – going off on my own and playing with dolls, daydreaming, making up stories, playing music, going on the computer.

    I want to no longer be ashamed about showing emotion. I want to connect with people and have amazing relationships. I want to be the actor I’m capable of being and have the courage to be visible. How do I heal my invisible child?

    • Katherine, how wise you are to recognize the symptoms and brave to be willing to do the work. It will take time and effort to heal – lifetime patterns don’t disappear overnight. That having been said, the 12 step group, Adult Children of Alcoholics deals with these issues very well. Look for a group that you fit in with and feel comfortable with and do the work. It all feels strange to begin with but hang in – it works really well. Al-anon also offers adult child groups, but I prefer the ACOA fellowship personally.

      Therapy is also an option but be sure to question the potential therapist about how much they know about this role and whether they have experience dealing with it. some people may try to tell you they can help even though they’ve never heard of this pattern and they might be able to, but I wouldn’t work with someone like that unless they were the only option available to me.

      there are resources online as well, including online meetings, but be careful about that. First of all, it’s the internet, so beware. second for those of us who are uncomfortable in relationships, online meetings are a great way to feel like “I’m doing something’ without really stretching to recover.

      Remember, this isn’t a comfortable process. For you, not trusting, holding back, being alone is normal. Healthy will take you beyond that comfort zone into new behaviors and with new people.

      good luck

  64. Thank you for this description, Louise. Add being beat up by my brother and my father checking out completely, and you’ve perfectly described my early life. I am 60 and have done a lot of recovery work. (The advantage of growing up ignored is that you have to find your own way, and for me that meant getting help at a young age.) The recent books on “emotional neglect” have also been helpful, giving me new words for my experience. Lately I’ve been wondering, what did this look like from my mother’s perspective? What is a mother thinking when she ignores a child (especially when she ignores one child but not another), when she has no interest in what a child feels, thinks, needs or does? Although I know recovery is about me and not my mother (who is dead), understanding from my mother’s perspective would help verify or validate what I experienced.

    • First of all, Congratulations on doing your work. My hats off to you.

      As for your mom, from the client’s I’ve worked with, I doubt the mother even knows what’s going on. She is oblivious to the situation. Usually her comments are along the lines of “Oh that child didn’t need the attention. They were self-sufficient or quiet or content or….” what it boils down to is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and because you were quiet, you were mostly invisible. It is my opinion that just as we ‘connect’ with some people more than others, I think this is true for some parents. When this happens, an astute parent will realize the difference in the connection and work to overcome it while another will not even see it’s happening. Weird, but I’ve observed that a few times as well.

      good luck

  65. Growing up I always knew something wasn’t quite right with my family, but I could never tell what it was. I was an optimistic, happy, kind child until about age 8. I became withdrawn, internalized my feelings, played alone, became unaffectionate and always thought I was the problem. We grew up poor, my dad absent and my mom emotionally immature/unavailable. I learned to never express myself and as a result, just writing this is a challenge. It is hard to put my thoughts into words, but art was an outlet for a long time. I drew in my room alone, or with the company of my pets. I went to art school and didn’t complete it because I was still emotionally scarred and realized art wasn’t a career for me. it was my outlet to attempt to communicate(still nobody listened). I questioned why I refused to draw people and if I did for art classes I purposely omitted the eyes. I think that right there could tell you just how isolated I felt, that drawing the eyes(windows of the soul) were too painful to draw. I also refused to draw self portraits. Another thing is we never took photos or hung up family pictures. So its weird to people I meet now that I dont take selfies… Ever. I’m 25 btw. Therapy has helped me come a long way and I’m glad my determination has helped me keep striving to grow and heal form all this. Its still a long road, but I’m learning I dont have to go alone anymore.

    • I’m so glad for you. Clearly you learned some less than stellar habits in your childhood home but you’re unwinding the problems as an adult. Good for you. It’s well worth the time and energy.

      good luck

  66. In my childhood family, I am the lost child. I am also the unwanted child so basically I am invisible to them. I try to think it doesn’t matter anymore because I am in my 50s and both my parents have been dead for years anyhow and my siblings never learned how to care about ME, the youngest and most vulnerable. I have already had to grieve the loss of parents, the family unit. It is lonely and sad. I am realizing that I am invisible to extended family as well, after seeing last night on Facebook that my uncle died a few days ago. Nobody contacted me. This has happened 3 other times. Ready to cut ties. Don’t care anymore. I have a husband and kids of my own. Going to shed this los t child role once and for all. Seems as though the hurt will always remain.

    • It is very hard to change the family dynamics and with the death of the parents, it’s almost impossible. Do what you have to do to feel good in your own life. You can put aside your grief and your hurt, just as we do when someone dies, and live a rich productive life. hard work, but well worth it.

  67. I am the third child of a four person family and found a lot of this information very relatable. My own experience being raised in my household was that my parents often came to me for family advice, they always seemed to think I understood all sides, but also that I was a lonely child that did not know how to face my own emotional problems without isolating myself to my room for days or weeks at a time. My parents still call this ‘pouting’ and ‘sulking’, which honestly is a bit offensive because I consider it non-confrontational or a more peaceful solution than saying what I actually think. I continue to withdraw in the face of personal emotional problems, usually because I believe that if people heard my responses to confrontation the situation can only become worse. As a result, my emotions spiral out of control as I isolate myself to a place of panic, confusion, and self blame. These do not feel like things I have control over and sometimes actually only brought more attention to my problems as my parents were concerned about how I would react to bad news. My brother often prescribed my ‘complex’ as attention seeking however. He believed that my ‘party habits’ were all a giant ploy to gain attention from my parents. My siblings do not ‘party’ and I ‘party’ a lot. I never thought this was connected to any sort of complex, I just have always assumed it is a preference thing and other factors were more involved. I would love to hear your thoughts however, is sexual deviance and experimentation with drugs and alcohol at all connected to this “Lost Child” identity?

    • Anything can be connected to anything. Or not. I wouldn’t even venture a guess from a comment on my blog. that would be unprofessional. However, I will encourage you to work with an experienced therapist who can help you figure it out for yourself. Any time your life is less than you desire, talk to a professional who can help you make it better.

      good luck

  68. Hi, I’m 16 years old and I am in regular counseling but I wonder: Is there often a correlation between the Caretaker personality and the “Lost” Child? Because, according to my counselor (and I agree with her because of this post), I identify with those two roles the most. When you look at both of them, they almost look like they come hand in hand. The Caretaker likes to please others and often forgets about him or herself, and the Lost Child often disregards his or her own needs because of their desire to minimize their demands on their family. Due to this characteristic, the individual is definitely more susceptible to falling into depression and having severe anxiety, which is my case. However, I am so unsure of how to progress- I am so used to being by myself and depending on myself for lots of things, yet part of me still yearns for that basic human need for interaction. And then, once someone tries to get me to open up, I shut down and am unable to do that because of my inexperience and my need to be viewed as a strong individual. Any thoughts?

    • There can be a correlation. In my model, the caretaker is usually one of the parents and that behavior is learned by the children and enacted to some degree by them. so yes, that’s possible. if your therapist is clear about this and you are too, I think you’ve done great work.

      The Lost Child is a hard role to overcome (they all are but this one has special challenges) because we don’t trust other people enough to open up to them. We’ve learned to go it alone. And ironically, sometimes when we choose people to open up to (outside of a professional setting), we pick the wrong people. Their reactions and behavior reinforce our old beliefs and values and keep us stuck.

      So continue to work with your therapist and continue to try to open up to others. little things to begin with – small steps and expect to be uncomfortable and afraid. It’s all part of learning a new behavior. It’s the same with any new skill – until you’ve done it several times successfully, we are afraid. but a few times of success and we become much more confident.

      good luck and keep on going. You’re on the right path.

  69. Further to my last post I had been fifteen months no contact with my mother. My older brother has consistently been the golden child and feather bedded financially all his life. He and his family have lived in my mother’s house for twenty eight years after his business folded due to his bad management. I found out he’d taken my mother to a solicitor and the house is in joint ownership his and hers and my family aren’t included in the will. Although I don’t need her money the sheer favouritism over a lifetime stings.
    Yesterday I had a surprise phone call from my aunt (my mother’s sister) asking how I was and what was wrong. Although she’s a nice lady and was close to me as a child I knew after fifteen months of no contact with my family apart from cards she was doing the “flying monkey” role. I told her about the way I felt over a lifetime of being marginalised and disregarded and she agreed and that her two children were joint power of attorney and nothing is kept secret between them. She said she would ring my mother and try to talk to her. Today I get the call from Mum during which I try to detail how I feel and the way she treats me and my family as opposed to my brother and his. Her view is we were both loved equally and I have upset her and she broke off the call. So she is the victim and I at sixty eight years of age still feel the emotionally neglected child all those years ago who is never going to be appreciated for what I am. So I have the proof that nothing will change and as yet there will be no admission that she treated my as a less important member of her family. Apparently she misses my visits, but obviously it’s got to be under the condition that I stay in my role and don’t make waves and upset things for golden child. I would add that consistently my brother has earned more money than me and his younger wife is still about six years short of retirement in a well paying job.
    Just one little admission that mother might have been wrong and the hint of an apology would have meant so much to me.
    I phoned my aunt again and she said she will ring her in day or so and try to talk to her.
    I don’t hold any hope for any real change in her attitude and in the meantime golden boy is keeping his head down.
    Life as a lost child isn’t easy with the feelings of guilt that surface even though you’ve not done anything wrong. You want to break free and feel validated, but your role is always waiting there for you to slip back in to.

    • you are so very right – nothing changes until and unless they change and they rarely do – because they don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong or damaging. you will never get her to understand or to apologize. it’s not part of the dynamics of the family that set up this role in the first place.

      it’s good you don’t need her money, but losing her support is so painful. But it’s nothing new – it’s part of your life story. Sad but you are strong ad can survive.

      good luck

      • I am so sorry that Barry has to go through this painful situation. I can relate to this so clearly. But Barry can also gain a lot of strength from this experience by noting the courage and strength he/she showed in dealing with it head on!! You must give yourself lots of credit for how you so bravely handled this.
        No matter what happens take a look and give yourself tons of applauds for your great steps in using your power that you’ve always had and are using it for the first time in a long time when it comes to the mother/ perpetrator. Thank you for your story!!!

  70. This is me for sure! I’m torn between loving the positives and totally distressed at the negatives that being a lost child also brings.
    Super independent from my family, my brother and especially my estranged sister are so dependent on my parents I have seen the stress it has caused for over 20 years now.
    I had cancer and I’m so alone and distressed, is really hard to now “burden” people with my feelings if I’m upset (still can’t do it well) and not totally isolate myself and hang out with animals instead. Still so forgotten by family even while going through cancer… Because I’m so independent and don’t need anybody… Well that’s what they think…

    • yes, that’s what they think. It’s always so sad that their choices impact our lives

  71. This makes sense. I come from a dysfunctional family. My father was murdered by my mother’s older brother and threatened to kill her and us as well. My mom suffered through depression and anger issues when I was little. She remarried when I was ten, then my little brother was born. My oldest brother has always been the golden child and my mom’s favorite. My sister, second, is your typical black sheep. She is chaotic, self-absorbed, irrational, and very angry. I would hide away from their problems, but somehow was always dragged in to help fix them. I went through sexual abuse and neglect, not ever opening my mouth about it. I have battled depression, anxiety, panic attacks, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts throughout my life. when I attempted to take my life when I was 19, my mom made a big deal because I was “ruining” her life. She called me selfish and claimed I was doing it call for attention. I learned to hide in plain sight. I was never the perfect nor failing student. I learned to hide what I was feeling, never expressing myself. Nobody ever payed attention anyway. When they did, I was told that I was overreacting or that I was being ungrateful. I have mastered the art of not drawing attention to myself. If you see me, you’d never think there’s anything wrong with me. As I have gotten older, I am still called upon to fix their problems, but once I fix them, I go back to being a little kid that knows nothing. My emotions are not validated by them. I my family, but they are so toxic to me. I was expected to take all of their bullshit, but was called problematic when I dared to stand up for myself. I was expected to be super responsible, the strong one to clean up their messes, but was never given any privileges. I helped raise my younger brother and nieces, sacrificing my youth, but never received any credit. My mom and sister claim to have done it alone. I am married to a wonderful man now, but it has been difficult with my suicidal tendencies. I have crippling social anxiety, cannot be intimate, and overall I am a mess. I do not know how to take care of myself, living in constant panic. This explains so much, so thank you for putting a name to it. Sorry for the long rant.

    • no apology necessary. I’m glad my post explained some things for you. NOW comes the hard part.
      1. your family will never change. so know that going in and make a decision if you want to be part of their lives or not – you get to choose.
      2. get help. there’s lots of therapists who are experienced working with this role. You can ask if they’ve worked with the roles and choose from there.
      3. go to Adult Children of Alcoholics. this 12 step group will help you get out of the bonds of this role and get some freedom.

      good luck

  72. I just read an article by someone who was ACOA that said “I also realized that my asexual tendencies at that time–which resulted from my home-life coupled with sexual orientation shame and simply being a late bloomer” and it led me here. Now I’m wondering if ACOA are more likely than average to be asexual. Lost child definitely resonates for me. I’m the independent type, though I also befriend many animals to fill the void. It’s actually an interesting and unique life. I don’t mind the isolation as it’s much safer and more comfortable than the alternative.

    • there is no proven relationship between the two situations, as far as I’m aware of. i’m glad you’re comfortable in your life.

  73. I am 42 years,the middle child and identify myself with the lost child. Looking back this describes my childhood. My father was emotionally absent.I do not remember feeling affection or love, just carried on studying and doing my activities.I was extremely good at studies but it was only when I got into a top college I got attention from my mother, became the golden child which looking back did more damage.I also turned out to be very attractive.I have always wanted to be invisible and still feel awkward in social situations or groups.People have said I am aloof.I am uncomfortable in asking for help since I feel I have no right to do so.Now I am married with a child.Being away from my birth family I have become better.Though there are issues with my husband and in laws I feel relief and life is better without my birth family.I am striving to be an empathetic mom .

    • good for you – you figured it out and made some changes. don’t be afraid to get some help – it’s going to help you deal with something that was done to you – you were taught to feel this way and act this way and respond this way.

      Your greatest risk is that you’ll carry on this way of relating to others, without intending to, to your child. Exactly what you don’t want. Some sessions with a therapist will ensure that doesn’t happen and the child doesn’t ever have to go through what you did.

      good luck

  74. I have a connection to this material. I am the middle child of my family and i do most of the activities listed above. I have no one to talk to about my problem. My family do not listen to me, it’s as if whenever I say something it goes in one ear and exits out the other. I know I probably just need someone to talk to but I feel like an emotionless person and I am making progress by myself to not let it take over my life because this may be a painful life experience but I will get through it.

    • getting through it is good but it’s the quality of your life that matters. work with a professional or a 12 step group to learn how to work through this. by the way, if your family would hear you and respond, you wouldn’t be the lost child.

      good luk

  75. i am this….so how does cope with and break the patterns? i am really confused and often end up feeling sorry for self, get depressed and also think life is dull and hopeless. i feel guilty about everything i do for self. i am in therapy and trying to be independent.

  76. i am this….so how does cope with and break the patterns? i am really confused and often end up feeling sorry for self, get depressed and also think life is dull and hopeless. i feel guilty about everything i do for self. i am in therapy and trying to be independent.

    • stay with the therapy and do the work. remember your current way of being feels normal for you, so you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone to make the changes. it’s about practicing new behaviors until they feel normal. scary stuff but well worth it.

      good luck

  77. I feel like I fall into one of these categories. All my life I have been ignored and rejected. My dad has another daughter, who treated better than me. He treated her like she was his queen, and I was his scapegoat. All throughout life, I have been rejected not only by him, but by people in general. Everything I did was wrong, and I never felt the love. Even now, I am rejected and ignored, and feel that everyone else is loved and I am hated.

    • I’m sorry for this experience, but it sounds fairly common for families with high degrees of stress so often end up in the dynamic you’ve mentioned. the best you can do is get some help to overcome all this programming and live your life with success.

      good luck

  78. I relate to this. I believe I took the second path. I don’t know how to cope any longer. I can’t even talk to people in public anymore and it is so frustrating. I don’t know how to get help cause I can’t go to the doctors incase im over reacting. I have anxiety attacks daily and my only comfort has been animals. I don’t see a point to life any longer. Please help I don’t know what to do.

    • You have to do the bravest thing you’ve ever done and start working with a professional. I don’t recommend doctors because they lack the training to help you but find a professional therapist and do the work. You can heal and it’s worth it. You’re worth it.

      Good luck

  79. I was like this for years. I feared to speak, I felt so isolated and lonely. Over the years I had a massive built up of love. Wishing I could give it to people. I was afraid to get noticed. I am still like this with my family. Luckily thou I started a job 6 years back were I started to feel comftable, met a great guy, there was something telling me it’s either him or my siblings, I didn’t want to see them without him there. So I decided to leave them. My oldest sister and auntie was concerned so I saw them once or twice a year. I was very lucky to find a place where there is no abuse. Now 4 years later I don’t feel like I need to hide. We have 2 kids, house and 2 dogs. My siblings try to come over but there too disfunctional for me. I don’t want my kids near them. I’m still healing tho but that’s fine. I will never let them hurt them or my inner child again. She’s amazing and I will protect her. My advice to anyone like me is to get out. Slowly over time all this confusion will come to you. Trust your gut feelings. Don’t let anyone abuse you. Pray, meditate. Change everything in your life. Flip it!!! Trust me I never went to therapy I just started listening to myself. Best thing I ever did. I wish you all the best. These people are not worth our time. NO MORE ABUSE!!!!

    • well done. How lucky that you found someone.

      NO MORE ABUSE is absolutely right.

  80. I strongly agree with his article. Especially with the part of lacking emotions, you never see me cry ir say anything in front of my family, but rather alone in my room. I’m son that never caused any problems, but because I don’t really do much. Most of these qualities mentioned in this article I can relate to.

    • then take your courage in hand, do the work and create the life you deserve. don’t let all those old patterns from your childhood limit the rest of your life.

      begin today. it’s scary and hard but so worth it.

      good luck

    • You can change. it takes work and effort and courage but you can change your life and find someone who loves you and cares.

      good luck

  81. I do believe that I was the child who took the second road. I have not been able to break out of this pattern by myself . The only thing that helps me is God and psychiatric medication.

    • makes sense. good luck

  82. I think this category fits me to a T…. I have always wondered why I love animals so much, as my family could never understand. I have loved animals at a very young age, and still do. I have surrounded my self with animals of all species. The most touching to my heart is my baby monkey, she is like my child I never had. I have very few friends….maybe one. I am very outgoing when I am around people, but would rather be with my family of animals, my family has never showed me love or attention, let alone ever bother with me. I have been alone my whole life other than filling my world with animals, if I did not have them, I would have nothing. I thought about not being around anymore, but I have to…..for my animals, what would they do without me?

    • it’s good that you’ve found someway to find love in your life. good luck

    • I’ve done the same. All my life I’ve surrounded myself with animals and always opting for animal company over peoples’. I’m the last of four kids, in a household where the father passed away at young age. I’ve self medicate with alcohol and I tend to stay alone.

      • This is me as the third out of four boy’s. I would cry most of my life with the pain of existence. The usual abusive and distant parents. I would let you know that being around animals and in nature can have a healing effect. I found that through my love of animals and nature, the love of Jesus Christ. And with that power I have good relations with loved ones. Peace

  83. I am now 28 and grew up in a family where my older sibling was the source of all the chaos and reading this has opened my eyes to why I have lived the life I have lived so far. Everything down to addiction, attachment to animals, being in my room a lot (even as as adult) and the battle with depression and anxiety.. I have been under treatment for years and until now have never understood why I am how I am.
    Now that I understand this. Where do I start in trying to get myself from being that child, to being an assertive, happy and confident woman.

    • First of all, congratulations on recognizing the pattern. Here is the process, simplified greatly:
      1. Understand and accept that this all happened in the past and it set ‘normal’ for you. But you can change it because you are in charge today.
      2. Everything that feels normal (hiding in your room, being depressed, living with anxiety) is a learned response to the things you experienced in childhood. You can choose to behave differently now. It will feel and be scary – but that’s because you learned that hiding was safer than engaging. So step out of your comfort zone. Soon, you’ll create a new comfort zone. And then a bigger one and then a bigger one. Slowly but surely you will come out of this role.
      3. Accept that this is hard work. It takes diligence and great courage. We can’t change ourselves overnight and it is difficult.
      4. Find a support system who has been through this. One of the groups I have seen great success with is Adult Children of Alcoholics (even if addiction wasn’t part of your childhood home). This group understands these roles and knows how to work through them. If there are more than one meeting in your area, try many of them. yes, it’s hard work and yes, it takes time but it is worth it, if you put in the time and work.
      5. this change is a process, not an event. Be patient with yourself. Recognize the scary things you do that feel weird, abnormal or whatever. But do them.

      and of course work with a therapist who is knowledgeable about these roles and how they manifest is a great asset. Not all therapists know this stuff, so ask around until you find one who does. Often the people at Adult Children meetings will have names and recommendations.

      good luck. be brave. You can overcome all the stuff from your childhood.

    • In one way you’re very lucky as you’re only 28. I found out about all this and had my eyes opened this year and I’m 68. My elder brother caused all the chaos in my childhood and is causing some now by depriving me of an inheritance and occupying my mother’s house. Take one step at a time and build yourself up, join some clubs, make some friends and hopefully you’ll make a good life for yourself. Try not to involve yourself with someone that will take advantage of you.
      You’re not alone and I’ve found there are thousands of us in the same boat. I might have fared better if I’d been born female, but my brother’s wife filled that role. Too late to change the past, but the future is yours.

      • good advice, Barry. and I totally agree, the future is ours.

  84. My daughter is a combination of the lost child/ scapegoat role and i would love to know the best approach to working with her?!? I have tried several mobile therapy approaches and none seem to be working.

    • You don’t mention how old your daughter is and that will make a difference. The important thing to remember is that the family dynamics have enhanced her likely natural tendencies to introversion and being alone and then the acting out is a way to re-direct the family stress from its actual cause to her. if she’s a minor or willing I’d take her to a therapist. Maybe go with her to a family therapist. and if she’s an adult, explain to her what you’ve learned but she’ll have to find her way herself.

      good luck.

  85. Hi there, I’m looking for information on how to work with my partner’s daughter who is the lost child of her mother’s making.
    I’m trying to be a person who is safe for her, but also not avoid the significant social issues she exhibits. Her Dad is beginning to listen to me about not reinforcing the status quo and is starting to help her express feelings.

    • she needs the help of a professional… help her with that, if she will agree to do the work.

  86. Spot on. I always say I was the second middle child so I was ignored twice. I’m 50 now and feel like a complete failure. I was the ‘problem child’ I can’t even put into words the self loathing I feel. I have nothing but contempt for my siblings. My father was verbally abusive, emotionally detached and mom was so busy with the others. I was sexually interfered with by both my sister and brother. Was promiscuous and caught shoplifting at 19. It’s ruined my chance of a career. So this is me. Wasted life. No confidence and hate being around people.

    • I’m so sorry for all your losses. but it’s never too late…do the work and re-create yourself. I’m in the midst of doing that right now, in spite of my age and experience. It’s exciting and wonderful and scary. good luck

  87. Hi Louise,
    Thank you for your posts and information. I grew up in a home with drug addiction and alcoholism but I find that I can relate to the Lost Child and the Hero Child, almost equally. My parents were both addicts, my mother was addicted to marijuana and my dad was an alcoholic and also addicted to marijuana. I remember growing up wishing that I had been in a different family and being very embarrassed for my friends to come around my house because I didn’t want them to see. I was an over achiever in school and tried to be perfect. If I failed a test I felt like a complete failure and I was continuously anxious. I always took care of the house when I was old enough, cleaning up after everyone, cooking meals, taking care of my little brother and doing everything I could to “fix” our family. To this day I have problems with trying to be perfect in everything I do and if I can’t fix something I feel like a failure. I remember all I wanted as a child was for my parents to be proud of me and to stop fighting. It often seemed like nothing I did made them happy and nothing I did was enough. I grew to resent them and I felt like I tried so hard to make them happy and they never appreciated me. At the same time I was very shy, withdrawn and never had friends. I always kept my head in books and imaging I was one of the characters in my stories far away from my family and anything else. I still do not have many friends because I do not trust people and I find that I rather enjoy being alone sometimes. Being alone I do not have to give control of my life and things in it to anyone else. I was married (was) for 16 years to an abusive controlling man who didn’t appreciate me as well. I have three beautiful children who I centered my life around and they gave me purpose. I am now pursuing a degree in social sciences with intent to be a counselor for substance dependency. I went through so many ups and downs in this pursuit and couldn’t decide what field I wanted to go into. The more I have studied psychology and substance dependency it became clear to me that I want to help people. But I often feel like it is more about “fixing” things for other people because of my inability to “fix” my own family. In your opinion, do you think that I am trying to in some way make up for what I couldn’t control in my life by being a counselor and is it a good idea? Thank you in advance and blessed be.

    • Personally, I think that most of us in this field come to the work with our own issues and history, so you’ll be in good company. The important thing is to do your own work and healing, so you don’t bring your stuff to your client’s sessions. I can’t help anyone recover from being a hero (which seems normal to me) unless I know and can see the problems with that role and can understand how debilitating it can be. Especially if I’m still living in that role. So do your recovery work. Heal and get better and get your degree.

      good luck

  88. I feel more depressed then I already am when I read this. I’m in complete tears right now. I feel like dying this makes me feel worse. I no longer want to talk anymore now I know it sounds dumd but hey no one ever listens to me anyways. I feel a bit relief now that I know thus but yet I still feel depressed. I should just stay quiet for a few days no one would notice right? Wait that’s right no one ever notices no one in my family ever does. :'(

    • I’m sorry you’re so sad reading this post. But you must have been looking for some sort of information when you found this blog. So use this as a way to help identify the situation and decide how you want to go forward Staying quiet is part of your way of being in the world. but you are in charge of you. You get to decide how you behave. Does it feel scary? Yes it does. Is it out of your comfort zone? Yes. But your comfort zone is very small — which is part of the problem. You don’t say how old you are but I always recommend working with a professional qualified therapist. Alternately go to meetings of Adult children of Alcoholics, whether your parents were drinkers or not. In these way, you can change this stress management behavior and become the women you were intended to be.

      good luck

    • Ana, please don’t be so sad. It won’t make you feel better, but I feel just like you do. There are a lot of good people in the world, and you will find them. Xo

  89. Tears rolling down my face. I relate completely and have no idea what to do about it.

    • The good news is that now you know why you behave the way you do. the good thing about behavior is that it can be changed. Join adult children of Alcoholics (even if your parents weren’t addicts to booze or drugs) and see what they can offer. Go to a therapist who specializes in this work. Step out of your comfort zone whenever you can and mingle with people. It won’t be easy and it won’t feel good, at first, but with practice it will get easier.

      good luck

  90. You actually make it seem really easy together with your presentation but I in finding this matter to be really something that I feel I would by no means understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next publish, Ill try to get the cling of it! dddkddeageag

    • I never would say easy. it takes a lot of work and a great deal of courage to step out of the role and way of being in the world. But it is absolutely do-able and well worth the work. Work with a professional, be patient with yourself and hold the certainty that you can change.

      • Ok, so we all grow up in this home where we learned to survive via becoming invisible to those around us. We become ‘perfect’ or ‘better’ victims by seeming to not have needs. It’s very convenient for self focused parents.

        Then we supposedly grow up and out grow this role. We have sufferedfor it too long. As adult children with our older —-but likely not widened parents in this area —-we begin to realize the lie. No Santa clause, no Easter bunny, but lo and behold, we do exist! But wait….there’s more! Now things get scary all over. Our parents do not want to clean the dirty glass. Even after going out of your way to prove the glass is dirty! They stand firm. You are to remain invisible. You can’t matter. ha!

        What to do? my personal view: don’t allow your parents cloudy view to carry over to your beliefs in a unconditionally loving higher power. Allow your higher power however you choose to believe to be the one to see you clearly with clarity and accuracy. Fear based beliefs such as our parents is not coming from a accurate source. It does not come from love. Fear clouds everything. I am 59 years old and this is where I am at. I hope this helps someone. I thank Louise for her expertise!

        • I definitely identify with the lost child. Lost in plain sight is a good way of putting it. But through my eyes, it felt like lost in darkness alone in a room. I never saw other people as being trustworthy, so any human person even wanting to help was automatically rejected. I do remember having a revelation once I started reading the bible. I remember reading about “how a father would pity his child “(and ultimately provide comfort instinctively.) That was such a foreign idea to me. A father actually seeing a child enough to comfort him? What is that all about? …then I realized that God is my father, and He wouldn’t leave me. I was then able to forgive my own human father for his shortcomings after realizing that we all are human and that he was suffering from his own issues. Parenting doesn’t come naturally to everyone just by reproducing physically, especially those who are dysfunctional as people. I still feel the effects of isolation, but try to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to learn how to be fully engaged in what I am. God only made one me, and I am not a mistake, a burden or a failure. This new exploration is scary sometimes, so I pray for help. And I also pray that I am not too afraid to take it when it is offered.

          • sounds like you’re working through some of these issues. good luck

  91. I’ve never read anything that hit the nail on the head like this article does. So, thank you for that. The ‘lost, withdrawn’ characteristic totally describes the presence that seems to pervade my personality and life yet I feel is not part of me. I’ve spent the last decade slowly coming to the realisation of what my family was. Totally absent, destructive father and as you describe, a mother who focused more and more on him the worse he got. Emotionally abandoned, my brother and I withdrew. Why is it the other parent stops caring for the children and gives so much time to someone who cares nothing for her? Now he’s dead, she’s still emotionally absent and I’m having a tough time figuring out how I feel about her. Considering cutting off, as I did with him before he died.
    I don’t want to be lonely and having no real fun, no real emotion any longer and have put so much effort into changing. I would love to gain some wisdom on how to heal as a lost child? I’m aware and I accept and will do anything to fight for the remainder of my life. I will scour this comments section as you may have given advice already… thank you for helping me greatly on my journey. So much insight. I am troubled to read other commenters older than I who say they have not changed though…

    • Healing is absolutely possible. but to heal, you have to take the action that makes you most uncomfortable – being with people. Talking, sharing and being open. It’s hard because you have no context for the work and it feels scary and wrong. But it can be done. On my other website is a free ebook that provides more information about the roles and some of the implications. I’m in the process of re-working the content of the website and it will also be valuable for you, but for now the e-book will help you get started. More information will be coming from that website very soon.

      good luck.

      • Hi Louise, is it still possible to get a copy of your ebook? The link and mailing list on your other website aren’t working. Thanks, S

        • thanks so much for letting me know. i’ve asked my tech guy to fix the link.

        • thanks for letting me know. i have my tech person working on it. should be good now

  92. This is totally me. I was so invisible that I was often left at practice, church, school, and even Disneyland. In high school I was considered a loner and quite frankly, I’m still a loner. I have a handful of people I talk to and consider close friends. My husband, sister in law, and an old coworker are the three people in really close with. Otherwise, I keep people at a distance.

    I have a strained relationship with 5 of my 6 siblings. For a very long time I seemed to be in a pattern with my family that consisted of me getting walked on and not saying anything until I’d explode. Then I was the bad guy for getting upset over long term abuse. Now I’m just the bad guy for not allowing abusive behavior to continue. It took me 31 years to start sticking up for myself and I still get phone calls from my mom asking me to apologize or call someone to smooth something out. My mom will say that I’m right and agree with me but still expect me to apologize or fix a situation. I constantly feel like I don’t matter because I’m the child without a mental health issue or behavioral disorder.

    At 31, I’m still struggling with connecting to people and the world. I’m not an introvert and I’m not socially awkward but I think anyone who knows me would tell you that they don’t know me well. My husband, sister in law, and an old coworker are the only people who really know me well. I keep people at a distance and I struggle to let people in my life.

    I have two children who I love dearly and I don’t think I am aloof or cold towards them. I feel as though I’m loving and nurturing. My husband says I am but I fear that I’m leaving them out of my internal world and that I don’t give them enough of the love they need.

    • The good news is that yo don’t need your family to heal. And you already know that it doesn’t matter what you do, your family will continue to see you in the same light (your mom expecting you to apologize) but you know it. So start taking steps that are uncomfortable and unusual for you. Try to let people in a bit. and as you do, you’ll learn how to make your way in the world in a new way. As I mentioned in another reply, my other website has a free ebook with more information on the roles. I am in the midst of re-writing the content of the website and will have better stuff up soon, so check back.

      good luck

    • “I constantly feel like I don’t matter because I’m the child without a mental health issue or behavioral disorder.”

      This statement of yours sums up your situation and mine too. Because your mother doesn’t feel “needed” with you she gets all the supply from those that do. She loves to feel the martyr that has to sort things out because they need fixing again and then she will talk about them because she secretly despises them. You get called upon to be part of that fixing and when you refuse you get ostracised.
      My brother and his family have been constantly bailed out through their lives and have now taken over my mother’s house. This is despite them both earning way in excess of what my wife and I have earned over the years. I’ve been ridiculed in the past as being a miser despite owning a nice home, car etc, but being solvent and having savings means independence and that doesn’t figure in my mother’s thinking and is of no value to her. I must know my place and jump into action when required.
      So far I have been no contact for ten months and still feel guilt, but relieved not to be part of the madhouse. Nobody in my family and aunts cousins etc have been in contact at all. So obviously I am the bad guy who has got to make the move and that is not going to happen. You have to make your own life with your family and get out meet people and join clubs. My wife and I are going out tonight to a club we belong to. We shall have a few drinks and a chat with some friends we’ve made there and maybe enjoy a dance or three. There are other people there in big groups that pull all the chairs round. I watch them and think do I ever want to be on their table. That’s the way I feel now I do what I want to do and socialise with who I want to. I’ve realised I don’t need everybody in my life now just the ones I feel are worth bothering with. Things will get better for you the more you keep away from the family and don’t get sucked into their mess. Listen to your husband as he has the independent viewpoint as my wife does. They can see what’s been going on over the years.

  93. Sounds so much like myself it is scary. My father was involved in his own world and was 52 when I was born. He didn’t do much besides what he wanted to for himself and verbally abused all of us. I am the youngest of seven and mental illness runs rampant in my family. never was social always awkward never connected whatever that means to anyone. Any friends I had when I was younger either turned on me or I just dropped them for no reason. Never did much of anything with my life . I turned to drugs at 15 and it was the only relief I had . was in rehab at 19 then back to drugs at 23 . long story short I’m now in my late 30s still lost as ever have no confidence no drive and suicidal though that began when I was younger. Was bullied in hs so I dropped out once I found drugs. I am even more withdrawn then I ever was and feel pretty much hopeless at things changing as I can’t decide what to do with my life and feel pretty much useless in things info try. Still live at home never grew up no real close friends well I do have one I guess but still feel alone. I have stopped drugs and drinking and trying to get better and have a life for the first time but it still just feels the same.

    • the hardest part of recovering from these roles is to understand that there is another way but it won’t be easy and it will take courage. You have developed a way of being in the world. You can change that way of seeing the world. Honestly you can. but it will take work and it will take time. get busy. You have lots of living left and you can make the most of those years. don’t let your parents and childhood still the rest of the future.

      good luck

      • How? What are the changes you make? And beyond that you go out and face the world that views a person with no family (I’m the scapegoat) and no friends as less valuable and even to be avoided.

        • The necessary changes are determined by the role you have assumed. As the hero, I had to stop sharing information with others, even if I knew what they were looking for. I had to start saying ‘no’. I had to quit volunteering…

          if you’re the scapegoat, it’s important to figure out what do you want in this lifetime. what are your girls. Yes, you have to work by society’s rules, but it’s worth it…to get what you want. As you learn to change, you will learn to talk about things like your family situation in a way that does not create those reactions. I am estranged from one daughter. nobody avoids me for that. it’s her choice and her way of being. I chose not to be involved with my family for some years and that was okay too. If it’s okay with me, it’s usually ok with others (not always of course). But these are complicated issues and I’m sure my comments sound trite. that’s why I always recommend working either with a group (adult children anonymous or adult children of alcoholics are both great) or an experienced therapist. This is hard work. In order to heal, we have to give up all the beliefs we hold most dear and I’ve never met anyone who could do that without someone else’s input, because our beliefs are normal for us…whether they’re helpful or not.

          good luck

  94. Definitely very strongly relate. I am 51, single, childless, an only child, estranged from my parents for decades. I have a lot of friends but don’t see them that often and if they ring unexpectedly I avoid answering in case they want to catch up right away. I’m known for how much I love my pets. I spend so much time daydreaming in fantasyland that I have driven through red lights. I want to have a more fulfilling real life but I perceive people as being so rude and hurtful that I continue to hide out, and then get hurt when I’m overlooked and forgotten. It’s a vicious circle and I know I’m only half-living my life as a result. I wasn’t born for this.

    • It is a vicious circle but you can step out of the rut. You have to think differently and act differently, but change is a given. do it. You’re worth it.

      good luck

  95. My stomach somersaulted when I read your description of a “Lost Child”. Youngest of four, I was three when my father died, my mother was naturally emotionally withdrawn and, understandably, became depressed after his death. She abdicated emotional responsibility for us, just maintaining practical responsibility. I became a reader when I was before I was five, losing myself in fiction, joining the library, finding the smell of books and the peaceful atmosphere soothing.

    My other siblings played out differing roles, the “Good Child”, “The Mascot” and “The Hero”. Lost in my own world, unprotected by my mother and different from my siblings, I was also bullied and scapegoated. This continued into adult life and I have repeated the pattern in relationships: I seem to become involved with men who replicate all members of my family. Emotionally absent men who are abusive – either physically or emotionally.

    I am now 66 and recovering from my latest relationship breakup. Every time this happens I relive the abandonment of me by me father when he died. I have had years of therapy, on and off during my life but never seem to acquire the skills of spotting men who are dangerous for me, or to not feel the sense of abandonment – therefore keeping the relationship going to an unhealthy extreme in order to avoid that and the consequent feeling of being a lost child again. Alone, unloved, confused and unworthy.

    It doesn’t get easier as I get older and sometimes I despair of my emotional inadequacies. Strangely, the events of my childhood didn’t affect my career prospects. I disappeared overseas when I was 18, returning five years later. Still attempting to get the approval of my family though. I was successful, always believing that I would be found to be incompetent, the more successful I was, the more it annoyed my family.

    Sometimes I wonder if I should just sit back at my age and let life live itself out and give up on happiness and contentment.

    • I would hate to see you give up on life. at your age there’s still lots of time and fun, left. I’m always very clear. there is therapy and then there is healing. the former is practiced by many many people, some of whom are good at it and some of whom are not. Psychologist, psychiatrist…it doesn’t matter. I work well with some folks and not with others. So just putting in the time isn’t enough. it’s about qualified, experienced therapists who can help me in my way…spiritual, emotional, mental or physical pathways. Maybe it’s time to explore a different pathway with a therapist. could be it’s time for a more physical type of therapy. I’m working with a licensed christian minister right now – a total departure from what I’m used to or would have thought would work for me, since i’ve always prefered the more intellectual approach to this work. If I can understand it, I can change it.

      Additionally, a therapist has to be familiar with these roles and how they come about. They are generally known as the roles of adult children of alcoholics but I know they apply in so many situations and have been unmasked.

      by the way, if you want to focus on recovery, the 12 step fellowship, adult children of alcoholics also has some great help.

      You can get more information on my other my free e-book has a bit more information.

      good luck

      • Alicia, please don’t give up. You are entitled to be happy and content. To do that, I have found, you must make your OWN happiness. The past is the past. It appears you have been successful in your career, so you are definitely an intelligent and competent woman. Use those attributes to make some happiness for yourself and some new friends.

  96. This could have been written about me. I am the lost child. I’m now 62 years old and although my parents have passed away I am still invisible to my siblings. I am the youngest of three. All attention went to my brother because he was the male child and caused so much trouble. But it didn’t matter what he did he was still golden. The only thing better than him was his wife and their two male children. The rest of the attention went to my older sister who was so demanding and putting my parents on guilt trips. She got everything she wanted. I did exactly what you described. I had so little attention that now I hate attention. I used to spend hours at the library as a teenager but never got into trouble. I never had any rules or curfews or they never looked at my report card or went to my graduations. I was just there. I became a Registered Nurse without any financial help from my parents even though they spent thousands on educating my brother and sister. My parents were functioning alcoholics who verbally argued with each other every single night. It was a very unhappy home. My brother and sister are five and six years older than me Now they socialize with each other but my husband and I are not invited. I still cry and cry about it. It is so hurtful. If I complain I am made to feel stupid or they don’t see it. I am ready to completely write them out of my life. My husband knows how hurt I get and he just tells me to ignore it. I almost committed suicide as a teenager by turning the car on inside a closed garage. I learned that from my father who was talking about a friend who had committed suicide that way. The only thing that stopped me was that I loved my mother so much and she would have been the one to find me. My mother was fighting her own demons and was very unhappy I wish I could just let it all go and move on and never contact my family again.

    • unfortunately, the idea of the happy close family is so often untrue. but what’s worse in my opinion, is that we think our family should be like that standard. Most aren’t. and it hurts. It’s important to learn how to step away from our hopes and dreams for a loving family and live our lives. it’s all we can do because they are never going to see us for what we are.

      sad but true

  97. I’m sixty seven and have been having problems with my family from childhood. At the moment I haven’t seen any of my family of origin for seven months after refusing to take my elderly mother to a hospital appointment because my elder brother wanted to go to a “funeral” which is usually a lie and is just an excuse to go drinking with his old workmates. Normally I just give in to keep the peace, but my wife was really angry because she can see and has always seen the problems in my family. My brother moved his family into my mother’s house twenty eight years ago when his business failed after my father died. He has never left and now owns half the house with my mother and has effectively deprived me of any inheritance because my mother’s half of the property will go to him and his family.
    Everything played on my mind for months and then I looked up things on the net for answers and found out about dysfunctional families and their roles. The lost child took my breath away and there in print was my whole childhood and most of my adult life.
    My parents married in the second world war and my father was twenty eight and had lost his mother and my mother was nineteen and had also lost her parents. My mother was always the martyr and my father always had to be persuaded to do things. He never ever took my mother out for a meal or theatre and very few people ever became close to them as a couple. My brother was the golden child and got all the attention and demanded it from what I remember. I came along four years after him and all I remember is him shouting at me or ridiculing me. There was never any affection visible between my parents and my father was short tempered and very physical with grabbing and shaking, but my brother seemed to be spared all this. As I grew up I spent more and more time away from the house like the lost child and had one good friend who also used to take advantage of me if I’m honest.
    When I met my wife she could see what was going on and questioned it and never really got on with my mother because she wouldn’t be controlled. My brother’s wife however is a spendthrift who happily latched onto my martyr mother because she could always be bailed out financially. So there you have two sons both treated differently me responsible and my brother still having my mother in her nineties paying all his bills for him and running his finances. So for years my wife and I kept away from my brother and I used to go down and visit once a week to see my mother. Now he seems to think I am going to start filling in for him with my mother’s care when I have had a life of onesided treatment.
    I just wish I had found out all this information years and years ago I would have tried to be different not the doormat lost child and the the scapegoat when I got married.

    • facing facts is always painful and hard. Live your life on your terms. what do you and your wife want? how do you want to feel when you look at yourself in the mirror? that’s all that matters in the long run. so live your life and don’t give any thought to your brother and his family. You’ll never make them happy and you’ll never do enough.

      good luck

      • Some people might think it’s your mother you should do what you can. I have done lots over the years for her, but it hurts to find your brother has been given things like a house deposit and you save and go without for yours and you know he’s always obtained money from her. He took her to the solicitor without my knowledge to ensure he gets the house eventually. Yes the fear obligation and guilt factor kicks in and I’m getting more angry now I’m aware of what’s gone on. The truth is you think everything you grew up in was normal and accept your role till you find out there are loads of things wrong.
        My Mother enabled my Father over the years to stick his head in the sand constantly and when he died my brother moved in and took his role while his wife set about enabling his adult daughter to grow obese in a roomful of teddy bears. I’m fairly comfortably retired due to my own efforts, but now seven months with no contact so I guess my reputation amongst the wider family now stinks. I feel good about myself most of the time, but still try to be a people pleaser which I am working on. My brother will probably go to pieces when my mother passes on and she’ll never realise how much damage she did by not helping him learn to manage properly and be independent.

        • I’m afraid I don’t buy the ‘honor my mother and father’ business. In my opinion, that was intended for parents who loved and cherished all their children. It took a long time for me to realize that my mother was selfish and self-centered and really didn’t care about anything except herself. When I put that together, I realized I didn’t have to be her friend or her helper. Instead I lived my life and let her live hers. I made a point of calling four times a year. that was it. and you know what? the world continued to turn. the sun came up and went down and nothing changed. what other people thought was none of my business. but I was at peace with myself. I took care of myself and became stronger and healthier. but it took a long time to get there. Once I did, I never felt bad about it. it is what it is.

          our parents have to earn our respect. and they do that one choice at a time. Without my respect, there’s no reason to hang around with them.

          good luck

          • Louise. I really like the way you write and the way you relate to people who comment. That is, you treat people with respect and as strong individuals. I do agree with honouring parents: by treating parents as capable of behaving lovingly. They might choose not to do that, but they ate capable of it and so am I. I don’t think it’s just a game of semantics, but that having healthy boundaries (not people pleasing due to fear or acting spitefully) is honouring. It is placing them in a rightful place and not as demi-gods. Does that make sense to you?
            I would say I’m the caretaker in our family, but I’ve enlarged that role so that not only are elephants in the room identified, but I am handing the brooms over to the elephant owners before the poo seeps under my front door. I deal with the poo from my own elephants. 🙂 I choose to believe that is reasonable honour.

            • thanks for the kind words.

              I’m glad you’ve learned to set boundaries. that is such a difficult lesson for most of us. Well done.

              it is very honorable behavior.

              continued good luck and thanks again

  98. I am an adult child of parents whom I know loved me, but focused most of their emotional energies on my sister who was born with a chronic illness. She is 10 years younger than me. As a child I had friends, but retreated to story books, the park, the library, school work and music. I was shy, overweight and quiet. It wasn’t until my 40’s that I “came into my own” thanks to a great career and a boss who encouraged and supported me. I still feel the sting of my childhood and how it has affected my personal relationships.

    • most of the time, families are just like yours, doing their best in trying circumstances. but we still pay the price, don’t we. congratulations on your recovery.

  99. This material speaks to me greatly. One of the most embarrassing yet freeing scenarios I have managed to get myself into as a lost child in a program to learn how to be a counselor is stating as much when my family counseling professor asked us to each say what our family roles are. I made a joke at my own expense and hearing the laughter was so bittersweet. It’s like I am forever wearing my heart on my sleeve when I choose to participate, so for the most part I haven’t. I don’t understand people having fun and living life. My friends, other lost children and scapegoats, are not healthy enough to interact with regularly. I was so shocked later in my life to find that other people could even fathom that I had any value. Getting and keeping jobs was a picture of hilarity – anything worth doing, I thought, wouldn’t want me. But I had to redefine my worth as a person learning hoe to help others, which is sometimes a struggle as it can reinforce myself as an inferior (my mom only wanted me around when I was comforting her). Thank you for really showing what this type is all about.

    • i’m glad you were able to learn something from this post. there’s lots of opportunities for growth and healing. keep up the good work.

  100. I am an adult child of an alcoholic mother with a father that worked two jobs. I have been diagnosed by a counselor as being lost child. In my relationships I tend to avoid confrontation usually by hiding, this frustrates my mate.I also tend to alienate people which leads to confrontation so I can run and hide. I want to fix this so it doesn’t happen any more, what is the first step? Please Help.

    • for each of us, the process is a bit different, but many of my clients have had success with admitting their role as the lost child and learning lots about it and then constantly checking their behavior and reactions against the signs of this role.

      then we have to take action.

      It will feel awkward, scary and uncomfortable for a long time, but it’s only by taking action to step up or speak out or be present that we can get through the fear and recover. it’s not easy. takes a great deal of courage and it’s scary as can be. but it’s the beginning. Always remember, people are not going to agree with you when you speak up. they’re not going to like it, even if they say they want you to speak up. but you’re doing this for you, not them. keep at it. and let me know how it’s going.

      good luck

  101. I am an adult child of an alcoholic parent, and I’m in my 60’s. Presently on stress leave from work partially because I gave too much to the people I worked with (autistic adults). So I’m burned out. Feeling empty but full of anxiety; terrible long term insomnia from too much adrenalin and it started to affect me so deeply I’ve had blackouts….. like my brain just shuts off. My stress is also partially due to a breech of confidentiality by my employer, but I see now that my anxiety is most likely from my childhood trauma. I’ve spent the past 20 years working on myself, but my “lost child” self has never come up until now, and it came up by accident. I was explaining to a friend that my boss doesn’t work well with me (I’m never intrusive, never hurtful) and whenever I’ve tried to discuss our work relationship she would cry and make the conversation all about her and how I was hurting her, instead of trying to work with me to iron out our professional differences. So I always ended up apologizing to her and nothing has ever changed between us. When I was discussing this with a friend, I mentioned that my boss was just like my father…. he never thought of me or my siblings at Christmas or on our birthdays or any day for that matter, it was always about his pain, his anger, his feelings and him self-medicating with alcohol (due to WWII ptsd most likely). My feelings were never acknowledge, so I hid them. Deep inside I guess. I don’t know where to go for help with this. My extended medical doesn’t cover any meaningful aid. I’m very depressed and feeling isolated. As a child I lived in fantasy – imagining that my parents weren’t my real parents, and that one day I would be rescued by someone wonderful who would love me and treat me like I mattered and THEY would be my real parent. I never felt like I belonged in my family (4 brothers, I was the only girl), my mother favored the boys, I was blamed for a lot of things I didn’t do…… I did very poorly in school, yada yada. You get the picture. I know they did the best they could (I’m still making excuses for both my mom and dad) but now I want to free myself from this invisible prison I’m in. I just don’t know how to go about it. Thanks for letting me share.

    • Asn excellent resource for adult children of alcoholics is the 12 step fellowship by that name. people there understand the roles and will help you recognize and heal from the trauma. take what you like and leave the rest…it’s free, asking only a donation to the passing basket and it work – really, really well, if you work it.

      good luck

  102. I feel like i am the lost child.. Growing up, my parents were extremely dysfunctional. They would argue to the point in which one of them would threat to commit suicide and of course- i would be left worried and anxious during their fights or when they would storm off the house at 2am. Over time, i learned that i couldn’t really rely on anyone but myself and that made me become really quiet and awkward. Now that my parents finally divorced, my mom doesn’t see the pain and suffering she caused me over the years (because she was busy fighting with my dad and depression) and gets mad when i don’t show her the affection that she wants. I feel resentment towards my parents for letting me live through such a terrible environment without caring about the emotional trauma that would cause a young girl. Years later, I see how much this has affected me… I hate being the center of conversations, I feel like i can’t show emotion or affection, i have a hard time forming close relationships, I’m extremely analytical, and i have anxiety over every little thing. I honestly don’t know what a ‘normal’ relationship or feelings are like and I hate it… I feel like I will end up like them because I have had such a dysfunctional and isolated upbringing. I need help 🙁

    • growing up with parents who are unwilling or unable to provide emotional support and caring creates all kinds of ramifications in their children – none of them good. I’m so sorry you had to go through this.

      however, you don’t have to let their behavior steal your future. you can have wonderful loving relationships, but it will be hard. We learn, as children, ways to cope with live. when those ways don’t serve us, we have to do the very things that scare the daylights out of us to heal. for the lost child, it’s about taking risks with trusting people. hard. so very hard, but part of the path to healing. Equally as hard, for the hero, is to not help, not give and not support. Different scenario but still about not being worthwhile unless I do or don’t do something.

      the 12 step fellowship, adult children of alcoholics deal with these issues. even if your parents didn’t drink you will be able to identify and get some help. or working with a qualified experienced therapist can be a real gift in this journey.

      good luck

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  104. I am invisible. I will be 60 years old in a couple of months. I didn’t realize my father was a narcissist until I was probably in my 40’s or 50’s. My father was very verbally abusive to my mother. She was not a strong person and she became very bitter and talked bad about my father often. I am the oldest and have a sister that is 3 years younger than me. I believe as I have reflected about my family for the last 40 + adult years that my mom did not bond with me as a baby. When I was young I would hug her and she would stand limp and not put her arms around me so eventually I stopped. I became invisible. My sister had some health issues so the focus was always on her. My father was one way in public and a different person at home. But he was a very insecure person – but did not let people see this side of him. He would over eat – he was not a tall man and so he would over eat to make himself look like a tough guy and also because my mom hated him being overweight so he would eat even more. Up until I was about 8 years old I was a pretty social and outgoing child. And then something happened – I don’t know what – but things changed and I became very shy and introverted. I used to raise my hand in class all the time and then things changed and I didn’t want the teacher calling on me or anyone looking at me. My mother would come home from school conferences and be upset when the teachers always said I was so shy. Which just made me even more shy. My parents were also foster parents so through the years we would have children come and go. It was very important to my parents that we were perfect children. They looked down upon people who drank and smoked and thought they were better people because they didn’t. They also looked down upon women who were divorced which is such a crock of shit. My father thinks he is the moral police – which is just so far opposite of the truth it makes me sick.
    So… as I got older I did not have a lot of friends in school. I was pretty much a loner. I had one good friend – but looking back I realized I was just a 3rd wheel while she was living her life. As a teenager I did not bring any problems to my parents because I felt they could not handle them. About this time – my moms dad died of cancer which affected my mom. She lost her voice for a couple of years and could not talk very well. The doctors put her on valium. I think she thought she had throat cancer. This made my mother even more bitter and a weaker person. Needless to say, I never brought any friends home to my house. My parents were not normal parents.
    When my sister was 16 she became pregnant which of course was a very BAD thing in my parents eyes. It was also one more reason I became invisible as all of the focus was on her. My sister had the baby and married the baby’s father when she was 17. My parents were very much involved in my sisters life, while I went on to vocational school, moved out of the house and started my life. I would go to my parents for holiday gatherings, and talk on the phone to my mom but other than that did not have a close relationship with any of them – parents or sister.
    My sister was engulfed in my parents life and I was not. She would go to them with every problem she had, which was many. I on the other hand, did not tell them ANY of my problems. My sister is the one who has suffered the most. She has had many many many years of mental health problems. She was in the hospital numerous times and on many different meds. She married a narcissist like our father and was controlled by her husband also. Our mother was in her life just about every day. When my mom would call me – that is all we would talk about is my sister and her problems. I mothered my mother and gave her advice. Not ever telling her when I was having problems.
    I love my sister, but I choose to not let her problems engulf my life. I know that doesn’t sound like a good sister, but I had to emotionally disconnect my life and not become sucked up into the chaos. I helped my sister by giving advice to my mom when she would call me on how to cope my sisters problems. I had problems of my own – but they didn’t know it.
    I married an alcoholic when I was 23. My parents never knew he was an alcoholic and still don’t to this day. We drove to Las Vegas and got married there. My parents knew we were going there to get married. I did not want to be the center of attention in a wedding. My husband and I have been married for 37 years and I am happy to say that my husband received help and has been sober for the past 26 years.
    When our daughter was 6, she fell off a hay wagon and broke her leg and pelvic bone. When she was in surgery we did not know if she had internal injuries. I put off calling my parents about this for a couple of hours and then finally called when she was in surgery and talked to my mom briefly. A couple of hours later I got a call from my dad saying “do you know how hard this is on your mother”. That pretty much explains why I did not tell my parents any of my problems.
    My mother had rheutmoid arthritis which was very hard on her and also dementia so I received fewer and fewer phone calls from her. My sister was still very much in her life and saw what was happening more than I did. My father was very upset when my mother got sick because attention was supposed to be on him not her. He did not take very good care of her. My mother eventually could not walk and died of phemonia because she was in bed all of the time.
    My father is 91 years old and still living. I do not have contact with him. I see him occasionally at family gatherings but our non-conversations always revolve around him. He never asks about my life. I don’t ever remember having a normal conversation with this man.
    Through the years I have managed to make a decent income, have 2 beautiful daughters, 2 beautiful granddaughters and a husband all of whom I love very much. But I still feel invisible. I feel like I am always on the outside looking in. I don’t really feel like I belong.
    Right now I am looking for a job as I have been laid off and looking for a job has been difficult. I don’t think I interview well as I have built walls around me. I think all we can do is move forward. It only helps to look back so I can see how to move forward and realize that I have a reason for my hang ups and not be so hard on myself. But even now, when I have problems I try to deal with them on my own because I don’t trust anyone can help me.
    PS – I did not dwell on all of my fathers faults because I don’t feel like he deserves a lot of attention. But believe me there are many.

    • i’m glad you’re not dwelling on your dad’s faults. the important thing is to build your life to the best of your ability and to live successfully. sounds like you’re doing that. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to heal this role. if you haven’t worked with a therapist, I can’t recommend it enough. Support from a qualified, experienced person can be a great help in resolving that feeling of being on the outside looking in.

      good luck

    • Cindy, I hope you don’t mind me commenting here. I have just re-read your comment as I wanted to draw attention to the phrase “on the outside looking in”. You have described this situation well.
      Actually, you have described a quite complex family situation (including the family of your own making: husband, daughters, grandchildren) extremely well. You describe a narrative over several years and yet it is easy to follow and interesting. There is sadness, but not whining. I don’t know if you are aware that you are a strong writer or whether this is something you enjoy, but I hope you are able to translate your strong writing style to wherever is most helpful to you. I don’t mean telling your life story, necessarily, but interview or new social situations or therapeutic journalling.

  105. I am a “lost child” who has lost their only sibling. With dysfunctional parents, how do I cope? Feeling so lost! Really need some help.

    • It is important that you find other people who can support you and help you through the grief of losing your sibling. It’s tough to do for the lost child, but it’s important. and remember these don’t have to be forever relationships, although that’s better, but it’s important you find someone. Sometimes that becomes a professional person that you pay to listen, ie a therapist but it takes what it takes.

      I’m sorry for your loss

      good luck

  106. I would like to see the other roles

  107. Please let me know all roles. Im faceless, son is the fixer and so on. Thank you

    • all the roles are in this blog. search on my site for the hero, the lost child, the rebel and the mascot. each has a post or two.

      let me know if you can’t find it

  108. i’m 54 tomorrow,i’ve been doing cancer treatment for last 16 months,,I’ve done it all on my own for reasons stated,,LOST CHILD,,WHEN I FIRST FOUND OUT,,MOST DIFFICIULT PART WAS DEALING WITH PEOPLE,WHILST TRYING TO KEEP HIDDEN,,,AND NOT WANTING TO BOTHER ANYONE,,SAD BUT TRUE..

    • yes, it is so sad, isn’t it? We all need connection and approval and love, but as the lost child, we also hate it. that’s why it’s so important to work with a therapist who can help you figure out how to go forward in the world. good luck in this search. I’ll keep you in my prayers as you work through the cancer treatment.

  109. Dear Louise,

    thanks for sharing this post. I can *totally* relate to this profile: the loneliness and verbal abuses (hey, I can still hear a voice inside me saying “Abuse? Are you a fool? Dad and Mum were good parents! Aren’t you ashamed of blaming them for your own problems and utter nullity?”); also, I can recall the times I was requested – verbally or not – to become invisible and silent.
    The funny (?) thing is: I was never even given a chance to feel abused – it was all my fault.
    So now, at 37, I am about to get fired due to my incapacity to find a job I love – in fact to find any activity I love. I don’t know what I love because I was never encouraged to feel it, in fact I was definitely discouraged from doing so (to say the least). Plus, as I was also a “Hero child”, I have always tried to make other people happy – like my parents – so now I’m addicted to social praise and have a hard time distinguishing what is good for me from what I-think-other-people-think is good for me.
    My self-esteem is below zero, I despise myself and often experience self-destructive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
    Luckily, I found a marvelous wife who picked me up like a sick and dirty stray dog from the street, and was able to shake off all the dirt and pain I would bark back at her.
    Now my next milestone is to understand what I love, or find a compromise job that will make all of my “several selves” happy, or just ok. I don’t know how to do it, but am seeing a therapist and hope this will sort it out. I suspect I need to find my love for myself first (do you agree?), but this is easier said than done. Do you have any specific recommendation to achieve this? How can I learn once more to respect myself, or at least not to distrust and hate me? Thanks for the good you are doing!

    • good luck in your search. I’m sure you’ll find all kinds of things you love,

  110. As soon as i read this i started to cry. This is exactly me but i never actually want to realize it. For as long as i can remember i never would ask or say i needed anything and i have always been very shy. Whenever i try to talk to my parents about it they say I’m wrong and that they give me plenty of attention when they really don’t. I just feel so lost and alone.

    • what people feel like they give, is not always what we receive. do the work with a qualified therapist. it’s worth your time and money. good luck

  111. I am a Lost Child because this post is def accurate. Sometimes i don’t even know what to do. Sometimes i thought about suicide because in my mind, why would my death matter and problems will be solved. I was socially weak..awkward..i only had one friend that i am comfortable with, my mum made me stay at home and doesnt let me be a normal kid and i think that makes my condition worst when i get the least attention in my family.

    I played football for almost 9 years. I am very very good and playing it at my best. But .. my parents..they were neveer there. to see me see me fall and have my back .. to congratulate me .. i never get the support i need. They just give me money and just let me do my thing. They don’t understand that i DONT NEED MONEY, I NEED YOUR EMOTIONAL SUPPORT. And then i fail to sail for 12 months and they see failure in me and they just ignored me and look ashamed of me.

    And i wonder why can’t they be at the place and time where i am at my best. Why do they kill me when i am at my lowest ..

    Louise these is what ive been facing my whole life .. i spent more time crying as kid till i don’t feel anything anymore about my family. And it defo looks wrong to them the way i behave and the way i look at life. Sometimes i just wish i wasnt been born ..

    Is there anyway you could help me louise ? And reading this post makes me less lonelier. Its good to know i am not the only lost child.

    • You are most definitely not the only lost child. Your pain is real as is your isolation YOu don’t say how old you are, but please know that your situation is not going to chane until and unless you do the work you need to do to get better. Your parents won’t change – that’s not the way it works. but you can recover and heal and win over their neglect. good luck

      • im 22

  112. Perfect description of me. When I first read this – years ago- I was very sad and angry. I thought I had some unique mental condition. To see it described so precisely is both a relief and horrifying. I feel like a big hunk of my life was stolen from me.

    I knew I had to get out of my house- and went away to college where I was able to make connections with other people. Friends- and finally a girlfriend my senior year. All of that was terrifying to me. I have had great difficulty in relationships- especially since I have become more and more outgoing. I actually think I was a genetically outgoing person who was stifled by the family dynamic. My romantic relationships have always been problematic because I at first look like an outgoing Alpha male but I have a very untrustful, insecure side. Many women just don’t get it – or perceive me as “weird” in some way.

    I am in a new relationship now- she is sweet and it is going well- but I always fear that a “shoe will drop ” and I will be dumped just as I care about someone. Wish me luck.

    • Isn’t it interesting how we adapt, as children to our circumstances and then live our lives from that perspective. Keep moving forward and don’t forget that therapy with a qualified, experienced therapist is so necessary for your healing.

      good luck

      • I’m definitely a lost child–with a touch of the hero. I’m an introvert (Myers-Briggs INFP), and grew up the bookish one. Still figuring out what to do to grow beyond it, but I was helped in college by developing a monastic vocation so that I do have a place in the world, and can make a difference. In a sense, I have been found by God. At the moment, I’m on my way to Sant’Anselmo in Rome for a Monastic Renewal Program; I plan to spend some time exploring my sense of being lost and see if–no: HOW to change my self-image.

        • how to change it is a great idea. good luck

          • Thank you.

  113. I am in my 50s and read the article above. Then I started crying. When I was a kid the litany of my life was “it’ll do for ….”, I was told by my mother when no-one else was around that I was evil and I began to believe it. Inside I still do. I spent most of my childhood hiding in my room, losing myself in a fantasy world where I was always rescued by someone and taken away to the sort of life I always dreamed of. A home of my own, a family of my own, to be happy, but none of it ever happened. I am frightened to get close to people, my self-image is in my boots, I am always convinced that people don’t like me because they can see the evil in me. I seldom went to my high school and no-one missed me. I used to hang out at museums and places like that. Over the course of my life the number of friends I have has dwindled but not through anything they have done. I have never been able to settle because after a while I think people can see how bad I am and I am afraid I will hurt them. I wish I knew who I am, I wish I could talk to people the way others do – they make it seem so easy yet I stand there like a tongue tied idiot. The only family I have is my dog and he is the most special thing in my life. I wish, wish, wish I could learn to be happy, not to be afraid to talk to other people, not to feel as if I am being judged all the time. I cant find another job despite trying hard, and I am so depressed I feel the world would be better off without me in it. I tried to kill myself once and it failed (obviously), but I won’t do it now because of what it would mean to my dog if I did. I have never felt so unhappy in my life. Yet even now I can hear my mother’s voice telling me what an evil little bitch I am and to stop feeling so bloody sorry for myself. But how can I do that when I don’t know who I can talk to about it? I’m broke. I can’t afford a therapist. People think I am aloof and stand-offish but the truth is I think they are better than me and all I can do is watch as they take on the world and win while I sit here, afraid to try because I know it will end in failure or abuse again. I was the Lost Child, the one who hid in her room and didn’t come out. The one who has spent her life trying to convince herself that she does exist, that she is real and is a valued member of society. But I don’t believe it deep it down. I am, surprisingly, in a relationship but it’s destructive – I can see that now yet again I am afraid to make a change because I don’t know where to start. I am tired. I am very tired and the only reason I keep on is for my dog.

    • I hear your sadness and all I can recommend is to work with a qualified therapist on these issues. No one is evil, unless their childhood made them that way. I wish I could say you’re fine and you’d be over this cloud of self-doubt and low self esteem, but I can’t. you have to do the work and in order to succeed, you must work with a qualified therapist who can help you. If money is an issue, go to the 12 step group, Adult Children Anonymous or Adult Children of Alcoholics, regardless if your parents drank. you have been raised in an extremely stressed home but you can heal. it will take time and effort but it is possible.

      good luck

  114. Reading this is a real eye-opener. My mother was narcissistic, which intensified to a fairly full-developed NPD in her later years. I almost lost my identity before I realized it in my 50s and went no contact and then very limited contact until she died 6 years ago. But when I put things together, I thought I’d been the scapegoat because she always called me rebellious and too independent (for not agreeing with her 100%). One day I looked at my life and thought, “I’ve done everything I was supposed to… WHERE is the rebellion?” I went into therapy and worked intensely and dug deep inside to root out my own narcissism and bad behaviors I’d learned from her. I first discovered the “concept” of personal Boundaries – I’m still working on them. But I haven’t been able to change the loner in me, protecting myself and not reaching out to others… I thought I was the Rebel until I read your description above – and with out a doubt, I was the Lost Child. Your description fits my childhood from 5-16 yrs old in every detail. I was the form who became completely independent and does everything for herself – I still find it hard to ask anyone for help or favors… because my mind tells me they probably won’t want to do it and won’t have time for me. I have a good relationship with my grown daughters, but I’m divorced, not aiming to remarry, and spend most of my time alone. I don’t feel lonely, but to be honest, I’m not convinced that I’m in touch with what I really feel. I keep working on it all…

    I was the oldest daughter and for the first 5 years all the focus was on me, and my mother wanted me to become a little celebrity so there was huge pressure on me and I reacted by getting asthma attacks before every audition. I was very close to my father and live-in Grandma. At 5 my sister was born and the house my father (who was affectionate but passive) was building for us burned down. My grandma moved out, and my father started all over, rebuilding the house – to fulfill his dream of building his own house – working nights so he could build in the day. My Grandma was gone and everyone was busy with either the baby, work or building the house. My N-mother thought my baby sister looked exactly like her (her platinum hair matched my mother’s bleached hair!) – so she became the Golden Child and I became totally ignored. We moved into 3 finished rooms of the house being built and lived like paupers in a wealthy neighborhood… kids at school made fun of me because all money, time and focus went into finishing this glorious house and I came to school unbathed , uncombed hair, in dirty clothes. Teachers repeatedly called my mother in to tell her I was being neglected but she really didn’t understand. I spent my time drawing, climbing trees, hiking and scaling cliffs, wandering up into the hills on my own as early as 7 yrs old – things way too dangerous for my age, and all the while, in pretend daydreams. When I think of my life from 5-16, I feel only darkness and remember deep, deep insecurity. I was truly a Lost Child during those years.

    But at 16 I started dating the son of a famous politician – I didn’t even like him at first but I was suddenly getting so much attention from my mom – I stayed with him… he ‘was’ a great person and did eventually really love him. For 6 years I was someone she could boast about. So… was I suddenly a Golden Child? I guess… but he had a substance abuse problem, we broke up and I married someone else, and N-mom moved back into controlling, fairly abusive behavior – only toward me – not my sister. I became a “human doing” – after my marriage dissolved, I had a solid successful corporate career, then left the corp world to build a successful freelance artist – and my mother criticized all of it. In the mid-90s my Golden Child sister moved far away (due to husband’s work) and my mother began trying to turn me into her Caregiver/servant. When I didn’t “behave” (as a 40-50 year old!) she became quite emotionally abusive, at times full rage. I suppose her narcissism was now developing into high gear. In her last 2 decades she created constant and unbelievable family drama, completely triangulated me from my sister and rest of family… and tried to triangulate me from my daughters. Fortunately that didn’t work. There was a low point where I really hit a sort of bottom in terms of my own identity… I was middle-aged and she was terrorizing me… at times I even questioned my perception of things. In short – at one point it all hit me – I went into therapy, sold my house, moved away from her and went no-contact.

    So for me – it’s complicated and my own role/identity changed even thru my adulthood. my confusion is… I’m realizing I was first a spoiled only child, then a neglected Lost Child, then Golden Child in my teens, but as an adult, my mother called me, and I myself had the identity of a Rebel – until I had that realization described in first paragraph.

    Sorry this is so long – I thought it might be interesting, and I think I may have gained a major insight in reading your description and in writing this out. Thank you for this – I am truly grateful.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. Our lives are complicated and they are multi=layered. the important thing is to get the help you need to heal from the abuse by your mom. since you’re doing that, you’re on the right track.

      good luck

  115. It is significant for me that I “bumped” into this article just today – and amazing to read the comment just previous to mine. My older sister texted me today saying, all happy, that she just quit her profession and now she is free, describing a series of (very tough and not likely to be immediate) new career options, and concluding with a cheerful: “I’m a little drunk!” (at 1.30 pm). And she is going to be totally financially dependent from her husband, just now that their marriage is not going that well (but she would never admit it’s not going that well).

    And just yesterday in my weekly therapy session (because of course, I’m the only one in my family who believes to need therapy), I was talking about what I feel to be my “core” personality and I said: “in the end, I don’t feel like her (my sister – always unhappy about her life), I’m the kind of person who can always put on a funny tv show by myself and just laugh and be happy”. And she replied: “and are you sure this is your true inner self?”

    Now I understand better all this. I’m over thirty and single, even if I’m really pretty, and financially independent, and with many hobbies, and with many talents, and always capable to be happy by myself, and bla bla bla. But all my relationships sink because as soon as it’s time to get involved emotionally and really “play the game”, I just start freaking out and the poor guy runs away. And when I think about my family (here I spoke about my sister but there are problematic parents in the background of course), I’m terrified cause I have this little nasty voice inside that says: “where do you think you come from?” and especially “and so, where do you think you’re gonna go”?

    Any advice? 6 more days to go before my next session… 🙁

    • keep going. do the homework. read the books and believe. You can recover. and you will be well. it’s worth the work and it’s going to make your life so much better.

      good luck and thanks for sharing

  116. This is me. I am 50 years old and my brother crashed into my life last Christmas, homeless and a mess. Now it is a year later and the drama–just in time for Christmas–is out of stocking again. He is irked that I don’t want to play this role anymore and has now enlisted our oldest sister to talk with me about me not wanting to have a relationship with him. The thing is, over the decades I have tried to save him. I paid for rent, cars that were about to be repossessed, groceries, tuition, so forth, on a modest income. He always promises to pay me back on Friday. Friday has never come. And now I’ve had it. I want him to be okay but I’m tired of the bleed and the manipulation. And my husband is not the most patient person in the world so I have to deal with his opinions (and he has lots of them) about this matter. The Lost Child wants to be left alone. I am a nice person, truly, want good things for everyone, but like a true Lost Child, I just want to go to do my life stuff without this drama I didn’t create. I feel terrible about this schism but I cannot seem to will myself to jump back in there.

    The thing is, every time I thought I had remedied a situation for him, he danced away in the chaos, walked away from apartments, relationships, cars, jobs that other people helped him secure or keep. He’s from the same alcoholic family and I know he has issues. I’m just too angry and burned out to continue.

    • You have perfectly analyzed the common situation. The rebel is always looking for help from someone and you’re his target. But it’s important to remember that your family is used to you in this role and they want you to continue. You will never get them to agree to the change. So stop trying to get their agreement and take the steps you know are best for you. As long as you keep rescuing him, he doesn’t have to grow up and the rest of the family doesn’t have to help him either.

      I know it’s easier to say than do but it’s necessary for you to take this step. Give the change to yourself and your spouse as a Christmas gift. you don’t have to be loud or belligerent or nasty – just be convinced. I’m done. no more help. Good luck and God Speed.

      let me know how yo make out.

  117. Hahaha this s so funny cause it explains everything that happens to me. I am currently 14 and when i was a kid i was cheerful and optimistic, i was in the popular group. But i guess things started going sour when my family transferred to another place. Guess thats when i started changing, and a year ago i noticed the difference of ky kid self and my present seld so i searched the internet for an answer, hahaha to think my familys dysfunctional, honestly i always thought there was something wrong in my family, my older brother and my father were really easy to anger and lash out, my mom and i only recently noticed was a perfectionist and she expects us to be independent, my little brother who was sweet and cheered up the family is now starting to become like my brother and father, and i guess im the lost child, ever since i can remember i never asked my parents for anything unless they really wouldnt budge and i give in, but mostly i only asked for small things like pencils notebooks since i like to write and draw, well honeslty this explained quite a lot of my problems in my life, ever since last year i got my own room and started locking myself in, i was glad for the privacy cause i can cry without anyone knowing, i never show anyone in my family that i cry so usually i just suck it uup until i get to my room and bawl my eyes out. Anyway I was always hell bent on becoming a jack of all trades so that i can do anything and not trouble anyone, my grades are a bit Above average though i know i can do better i just dont feel like it, and because i spend most of my time reading, and playing games. And then there were some days where i watched my best friend who was the total opposite of tomboyish introvert me, i always wondered why people where so attached to things, that was something i never understood. It was also the start where i doubted my sanity, if i was normal, cause i was detached to almost everything, of course if theres something new my interest will be piqued but only for a week until i get bored of it. So instead of asking my parents which most people my age would do. I did the smarter thing and searched the internet. And finally i found my answer my familys f*cking dysfunctional, i once told my mom that our family was dysfunctional due to my emotions going haywire, but she just got mad at me in the silent im angry at you but im not gonna say it type of angry, and telling my dad would be suicidal, telling my siblings wouldnt help anyway ccause who believes in the words of kids. So basically i found out what was wrong with me, luckily i might not be a sociopath respurces from online screenings, yay! So yeah at least now i know why my friendships never last long, isnt that wonderful. Well i started babbling now i guess i’ll end it here, if worse comes to worst i’ll probably go to another country after college and never go back home until my parents die.

    • knowing the problem is the first step in solving it. good luck

  118. I am trhird of four, prety similar as descripted, i am super independence

  119. I just read this and am flabbergasted that this is all still true in my life. I was introduced to ACA in my 20s and now I am 53. I have done a lot of work to free myself from old patterns but find i am still really in the same old place. I was looking on information about why do i have so many girlfriends (I am a female- these are girlfriends in the platonic sense). But I haven’t been on a date in 15 years. I am just now seeing that i have recreated the emotionally incestuous relationship i had with my sister who is nine years older than me. I somewhat broke away from her when i was in my late 20s because i was getting a clue of how used and unseen i felt. And even though i thought i had escaped my aca beginnings i now find myself looking at my life and going how did i end up here. A ton of girlfriends and so much of that relatingvis about me providing them encouragement and knowing their secrets and dreams and providing comfort. I even spent the last five years going to nursing school and then working as a nurse in a hospital to “care” for others….total burnout…i am stillvthe lost child caretaker ….and when ibthink about what i wanted to do and be…it feels sad. More therapy….urgh…just sometimes easiervto accept your lot in life and try to livevpeacefully as you can because thats what you know….keeping the peace…and you are surrounded by your first family wherevervyou go

    • I hear you these behaviors are deeply ingrained in our psyche and hard to root out. we do good work and then we find another level and layer of those old behaviors.

      yes, more therapy is helpful. I know – been there and done that, over and over, but it’s worth it.

      i am always more amazed at people who live these roles and never see them and carry on the destructiveness forever. even when they’re shown those patterns they continue the behavior. that’s sad. good luck on this next leg of your journey.

      • Thanks for your reply.. I think our organizations and institutions are very ACA…it’s disheartening.

  120. I have way past out grown the lost child role. I’m 58. However my family of origin did not get the memo! I moved out of state 35 years ago. I grew up, had family of my own, success in many ways. I’m female. The rest of siblings are male. Parents old world over sex roles. Siblings still entrenched in roles. Its shocking and toxic to ‘go home’ for a visit. Being the person I’ve become when I return is a threat to my one living parent and my siblings! They act bewildered and even hostile towards me for being myself and expecting to be treated with dignity and respect. Mostly their abuse is about all the so called good reasons I’m mandated to yet be invisible and unequal. For example my siblings and remaining parent will make a collective decision together and assume I will go along. Their excuse for doing this is because I was not there. most often their discussion and decision process was via phone, text and email. These days I have the capacity to use these devices too. Also the burden t o maintain the relationship (because I’m the one who moved away) is entirely on me. I experienced an increase in hostility towards myself since my father died last year. These days I am finding it unsafe to visit and stay w/family members in their home just because its toxic. My mother happens to easily rage at me when I simply make a benign comment. I suppose my expressions of a self that is separate from a role is too much. I find myself pretty sensitive in my day to day world to being left behind in any way. I’ve experienced some pretty harsh outcomes due to the entrenchments. Given I married my husband 35 years ago the lost child was also factored into our relationship. Its taken significant efforts to be less independent oriented and develop a more intimate interdependent orientation. Its a daily effort to remind ourselves to be this way. I’d love to hear pointers regarding asserting my separateness from the old lost child role. As I have said my own enlightenment is a threat to my siblings and mother. I have recently settled on protective boundaries.

    • One of the hardest things about doing this work is that the people around us don’t see it — they’re still living in the old way and old view. We each have to face this for ourselves. how we handle it is very unique. Some of us choose to go back to the old way, regardless of the price, because it’s too scary to stand up for ourselves. some of us diminish the contact we have with them and protecting ourselves. that action depends on where you are now. for some it’s about going home to visit for shorter times only staying at a hotel or with a friend. and for others, like me, it’s about cutting off contact with them. in my case it was a decade with minimal contact.

      I had to ask myself why did their opinion matter? why did I care? why did it matter so much to me?

      We all have to accept that they’re never going to change. they won’t. some of us keep going back, hoping they’ll see and celebrate the new us. but the toxic family can’t accommodate these changes in us. nature always seeks balance. in our families there was balance in the old way. As soon as I changed who I was, I knocked the system out of balance and it (the family) will fight to bring balance back to the system.

      good luck

      • thank you for your thoughtful comment. its validating and perceptive. my mother will be visiting me this weekend in my home. this might be our last meeting. she is usually better behaved outside her own world. I’d decided to visit FOO only in an emergency and to stay in a hotel! For some reason I’ve only recently appreciated what a closed system they run!

        • good for you. well done.


  121. Hi,
    Mom unrecovered Adult Child, Dad post WW2 pilot with severe PTSD (both passed)
    Nov 4 is my 28th yr in ACOA
    My older brother lives in the same city and we have not spoken since 2002 when my Dad passed
    I was left by 2 older brothers to cover all expenses for my parents
    Brother who is 5 yrs older, I finally told him not to contact me anymore, as I choose not to live in denial
    He was sputtering and wanted to continue relating
    Have given up the fantasy bond of ever have a relationship with either brother
    I am relieved and now charting a new course

    Its never too late to have a happy childhood !


    • amen to that. congratulations on your happy childhood. the work is so worth it.

  122. I was Googling to figure out the origin on my wanting to be invisible and this article explained it. As an adult I never want to be a burden and even feel shame if my child are burden’s on others with their specific requests. A yoga instructor singling me out leads to panic & not wanting to go back. I often shut down & observe in social situations. Funny how this does my apply to my outgoing work personality.

    • I’m so glad you’ve found the answer to your question. Next step is to resolve the issue so that you no longer want to be invisible. good luck

  123. I am the oldest of three children and I am the lost child in my family. As a child, my parents fought and argued an awful lot and often directed their anger towards me an my siblings, in particular, my brother. They focused most of their attention on my sister who was very sick when she was born. I never had any emotional support from them at any stage of my life. I was bullied all the time in school and they never tried to support me or help with it. They themselves came from very unhealthy family environments (I don’t like the term ‘dysfunctional’).

    I am now 29 and have never had any meaningful relationships with anyone. I avoid arguing with people or any situation that calls for being assertive and outspoken. I have never had a girlfriend and cannot trust people, and probably never will. I doubt I will ever open myself to anyone to let them love me or even like me. I have never been in trouble with the law or committed a crime, but I still feel like a horrible, ugly person.

    People who grew up in families that love and support each other, do not know how lucky they were. It is extremely difficult to fill in those crucial early years that were empty and unstable. If I ever do have a family of my own, I will never let myself become like either of y parents.

    • Your reaction to your family’s background is so sad. it’s very typical of the lost child. it is so very sad. please try therapy or adult children of alcoholics (even if they didn’t drink). give yourself time…lots of time. you don’t have to say anything or share but learn to be present in the environment and then it will get easier. eventually you’ll learn to trust and love and you will hae the family you mention.

      good luck and thanks for stopping by.

  124. this is my second comment after starting 1st step work in aca workbook loner as a child and adult my fathers scapegoat and my mothers hero in a sic enmeshed kind of way in not doing this work alone co sponsor with another guy and therapy

  125. I am define try a lost child an active member of aca I did all the things you mentioned plus more as a child and thouout my life as an adult

    • it’s good to be in ACA. they’re the best group I’ve found to help work through these issues

  126. This is very (sadly) true. I am the third child out of four and I just feel invisible most if the time. I don’t have trouble meeting people, but my friendships always seem fake or feel to uncomfortable.

    • very common with the lost child. what are you going to do about it?

  127. Hey, I’m 20 years old at the moment and have realised I am still living out my role as the lost child. I grew up with just my alcoholic mother and 3 sisters. Most of my teenage years was spent daydreaming, reading, going on long walks by myself and watching tv. Though I would have a good friend here and there I was mostly a loner and would avoid getting to close in any kind of relationship. I am terrified of being in a romantic relationship with anyone and convince myself that this is okay by telling myself I’m waiting for the right person. I have realised that my first instinct when troubles arrise in my work and personal life is to just shut down and not bring them up or talk to anyone…… ultimately just pretending there not there and living in denial, never having any of my needs met and never solving the problem. I have moved country to get away from my family and other issues from when i was a teenager but have noticed im struggling to maintain friendships because I worry that I’m just a burden on people and back off. I’ve also had no luck work or study wise because I just assume I’m going to fail and never ask the questions that I need to and never ask for help. I know these behavours were learnt because of my difficult upbringing, so I know theres another way to be. I was just wondering if theres anything other than counselling or therapy, what would be my first step to changing the way I approach life and think about myself???

    • your learned behavior is one of the hardest to overcome, so it’s important you be gentle with yourself. be consistent but take little steps to overcome these learned behaviors.

      that having been said, you can go to either or both of two 12 step fellowships: al-anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics. You never have to talk in either group. yes you’ll hear about God or higher power, but don’t fuss about that – you’re there for the therapy and knowledge. find a group you feel most comfortable in, knowing you’re not comfortable in groups, this will take some time, but try different meetings. they both also have online meetings, but I don’t recommend those for your role, because you need to learn to deal with people. to trust. to relate. it’s a long process – I won’t lie about that. and it’s hard because you’re going to oppose every single thing you believe about yourself and the world but I promise you that if you show up at a meeting every week for a year, you will see a considerable change in your attitude and feelings. and if you go, let me know in 12 months and we’ll talk about next steps. questions? come back here and post.

      good luck

  128. This is me. I’ll be 20 soon and so far my life has been extremely difficult. My past is mostly filled with bad memories. I had to learn from an early age that the only person I could depend on for advice was myself. It obviously didn’t work out well. I’ve had only a few romantic relationships so far and each one ended with me getting dumped because I had problems I wanted to end, such as substance abuse. But due to compulsion, social pressures, trouble at hope, and poor self discipline couldn’t stop. I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Every day I’m haunted by my past and am trying my best to fix my future. A few times I’ve made major decisions that just made things worse. Ive learned to accept that depression will most likely always be a part of me.The number one thing that has been able to curb my depression has been my new job, working as a nursing assistant. I can work for 12 hours straight and leave in a great mood. I love being able to actually help those in need and work in an environment where the ratio of females to males is quite high. I grew up with two sisters, my mother, and their friends. Although I had a step father, father, and brother throughout my childhood, I didn’t see them as often as I needed and they weren’t good role models anyway.

    • Joe, thanks for sharing. The big thing t remember is that most of our beliefs and life lessons are set in place by the time we’re 7. then we spend the rest of our lives living them out to prove they’re right. although this sounds harsh, your best thinking got you here. now you’re an adult and on your own. get a coach, therapist or mentor who can work with you to overcome the limiting beliefs and trauma from your past. you can do it. I know because I did. it’s about making a different choice. the irony is that we only see the choices that the past allows us to see. but with someone else’s eyes, you can see a broader vista of opportunities. it’s like putting on glasses when you have poor eyesight. all sorts of things become visible.

      don’t limit the future by their actions in the past. now is your time to make a difference. Good luck

  129. I sought therapy from 1997 – 1999 after I could just no longer take not being able to feel anything and not knowing why. Took the gamut of anti-depressants for many years… all of which eventually made me feel nothing again, made me gain and lose weight an wreaked havoc on my sex life. When I was supposed to feel happy I felt the opposite. When I should have been most proud of my accomplishments, I panicked.

    I divorced my wife after 21 years. We were co-dependent people. She cheated on me with several men. The only woman / person I ever felt I could trust. Not my parents. Not my sister or any relatives. I’m 45 and don’t know what my needs are. This article makes me realize I am most likely clingy and needy because it’s very hard for me to make friends and I take that part seriously when I do have them and they move – stop talking to me – what have you. I needed someone to care after my split and everyone closest to me just kind of backed away slowly. I give waaay too much of myself and make the mistake of expecting the same in return. My first relationship out of the marriage… I ate tons of shit from this narccisist woman and asked for more… I felt co-dependent again (just like my marriage) and continued trying to ‘help’ and get close to someone with OCD and intimacy issues. I attract great women.

    I identify so strongly with the lost child, the comic and the good kid. The effects of the “parenting” I have received has led me to where I am today – a broken shell on the inside. I don’t know any better. Trying to determine who you are after a 21 year marriage… I just feel lost. Intimacy… I cannot feel it. Anything positive created by me or sent my way is met with a blank stare where there should be joy. I spent 4 years in therapy after my divorce, unraveling that whole mess. Not much was solved in my mind. I continue to struggle with this awful mapping I cannot get off of me which has directed me right on to the rocks. I don’t feel like I know who I am anymore if almost everything I’ve been doing was some kind of learned reaction to the trauma of bad parenting.

    Having just gotten to understand my divorce, I am now faced with having to love myself and take care of myself after devoting all of my time and energy to my ex wife. I spend most of my time alone. I have no relatives or family and see my mom periodically. My then girlfriend once pointed out my father never, ever calls me and asked me to wait for once and let him get in touch. I did just that. It’s 21 years later. Not. One. Word.

    I need some freedom from this torment now so I can have a chance to live. My parents actions still have this innate, subliminal sway over my life even though I know better and I’m an adult. I cannot form close friendships, am often in my own little world, but I’m also an extrovert and comedian… but that doesn’t make much sense to me anymore… why(?) if it’s just a reaction to the stress I was raised around. I’m only perpetuating it by trying to be on or funny. I also teach and am truly loved by my students. The helping role again.

    After resigning her role as my mother for ten years (for no reason… another long, boring story) I reconciled with my hapless mom. She means well but is just so fucked up, but believes there is nothing wrong with her. My dad recently phoned her to see what she thought about him talking to me. He said, ‘He doesn’t even know what this is all about and why we don’t talk.’ He was around only to berate me or ignore me while growing up… now as an old man he has his regrets. Saying I have no clue why we don’t talk just makes me so sad and sick. No growth. No understanding. So many people squander the gift of having children because they can’t admit they have issue or do the work on themselves.

    • sounds like your childhood family was a very dysfunctional, toxic environment. given that we learn most of our values and ideas by the time we’re 5 or 6, i’m not surprised you’re having trouble with relationships. You say you were in therapy but maybe it’s time to do it again. be sure to get a qualified, experienced therapist. someone who knows about family of origin and the lost child role. be sure that by the fourth visit you trust them (this will tell you if you’ll be successful). and know that everything you’re going to have to try and do and be will be uncomfortable. that’s the nature of change – it won’t feel ‘normal’ but it is necessary to make the journey to real fulfilling relationships.

  130. This article is so eerily similar to me. Only, I’m also a scapegoat and I didn’t take just one path, I took both. If I’m comfortable with someone, the first path shows, otherwise the 2nd path is all anyone will see. I dealt with depression and anger for much of my childhood, my parents weren’t alcoholics but they definitely weren’t there emotionally.

    • Interesting. I have seen these two combined but not in a serial way as you’re describing. And yes, these roles occur everywhere – not just in families with alcoholism.

      thanks for sharing.

      • I was the same as the other commenter, I engaged in all of these behaviors (including being both independent and socially awkward) but was also the scapegoat. I thought being invisible would be better than being picked on. I tried so hard to be invisible but failed.

        • we think that being invisible will keep us safe from the stress, but it doesn’t. and it really messes with our minds as adults. good luck with your healing journey.

  131. I have just found your article because I am searching for reasons for the problems I have coming to surface and to find the reasons why I am the way I am. This article could have been written about me.

    • then talk to a qualified, experienced therapist and resolve the pain. you don’t have to let the past continue to hurt the present and future.

  132. This article could have been about me. I cried all the way through. You have done your work well. I am 54 and still struggling.

    • I can sure relate also. I also teared up at it. What was different in my case is that I had three really good friends, but lost them one right after another. One moved away one year, the other moved the next year, and the last just suddenly dropped me one day after three years of close friendship because he was teased for being friends with me. He then joined the others in bullying me for years after that.

      • how sad. when we’re the lost child, it is hard to make friendships so losing them is doubly hard. thanks for sharing.

  133. This sounds like my late boyfriend. His older sister had referred to him as the Lost Child last year. I was never really sure what she meant by that. My boyfriend died by suicide four months ago. I wish I knew then what I know now.

    • I am so sorry for your loss. Suicide is always a tragedy.

    • I am so sorry for your loss. I, too, learned from this article. In the future, I will be more aware of those around me. There are probably a few lost children among my friendships.

  134. I am a man over 30 y.o. I assume still playing Hero and Lost Child roles. My father was(is) alcoholic. After the journey towards healing and freedom was started I find it very rewarding. Often our parents do the best they can taking into account their own parents and their past. Some things just have to be forgiven (sometimes slowly) – no other way out for the prisoner of pain and hatred.

  135. I am 54 years old. I grew up with 12 siblings in a very dysfunctional family, with a narcissistic mother. My position in the family put me in an especially “invisible” role. I was the 9th child, 1 year older than the only golden child. Therefore, not only was I completely ignored and marginalized, but I was also constantly reminded by my mother how wonderful my brother was or repeating to the point of nausea that she only had the strength to provide parenting to one child and that child was my younger brother. One of her most said mantras: “If I can make sure only one of my 13 children has the tools necessary to make it in this world, then so be it….it will be [younger brother]. I’m sure I never recognized myself as a human being worthy of any kind of value or consideration. As a matter of fact, I’m sure my self-denial was acutely ingrained even before I was capable of memory (in infancy).
    A word to the scientists of psychology: My mother’s experiment using me [and her other children] and my brother worked! She was right…She only gave him parenting, and he grew up to be very successful. I, along with most of my siblings, grew up to lives filled with chaos, drug use and abuse, failed relationships, dead end jobs, suicide attempts, abortions, drunken car accidents, and above all pain…deep, torturous, emotional pain.
    I have come to learn about my childhood trauma in the last few years and I am trying to find some kind of healing through facing the truth and being no contact with my mother, but I have to say, there is something that is really bothering me. My brother [the golden child] holds my mother in the greatest esteem. He gushes about what a wonderful woman she is and credits her for helping him to become the success he is today. When I hear his say this I get enraged inside. Knowing what I know now about our dysfunctional family system I want to tell my brother that he is giving credit to the wrong person. He is successful because my childhood was sacrificed…She may have given him what he needed, but it was always at mine [or another sibling’s] expense. When he hold her up and glorifies her like that I want to just throttle him and tell him to wake up.
    Does anyone know a good resource that conveys how different children in the same family can grow up with very different childhood experiences? Thanks for listening!

    • Of course you want to throttle him. You know the truth and he doesn’t. Remember, he thinks everyone got the kind of parenting he did or if you didn’t, it’s because you were ‘bad’ and didn’t deserve it. Additionally, he’s much younger than most of the siblings, so he didn’t see what you went through. so your rage is terribly normal. but you will never convince him of anything different, so stop trying. His opinion doesn’t affect your experience, nor your life. YOu are free of her now. You can make different choices. You are seeing the damage she did. But you are stopping her insanity by healing and recovering. That’s the best way to prove her wrong — become the woman you know you can be. That’s a tall order but you can do it. My family was similar – 9 kids and the golden child was my brother. but he screwed up repeatedly. My dad’s response was that he had a hard life and the world was against his son and so on and so on and so on.

      oh well. that’s his opinion. I have mine. The good news is that I did my work. I’m healed and healthy and whole. You can be too. Keep working. you will put them all to shame.

      good luck

    • OOPS I missed your last sentence. Read the material about adult children of alcoholics, even if your parents weren’t addicts/alcoholics. it explains very well the roles children learn to play to deal with the insanity of the home. I have a number of blog posts on the topic. Feel free to start with them. and remember, there doesn’t have to be alcoholism in the home for these roles to be true – anywehre there’s stress, these roles pop up. let me know what you discover.

  136. I found this sight tonight because I’m looking for information on why I am unable to make and sustain
    friendships. But your piece on the Lost Child is fitting for me, and I’m aware, having worked on my stuff since 1998. I did read something tonight that seemed hopeful, join a group of interest. I do not lack in involvement in support groups, but sense an insight into myself, that what I ‘m working on presently in therapy is my “inside work” and because of the heaviness of this, I am not operating as a fully functioning joyful individual, because frankly, I am unhappy mostly. I do know that this sort of vibe will not attract the kind of people I enjoy. It is improving, because there have been times where I have been carefree and making friends was effortless. I have alot of stuff buried away as a lost child; not living life, not confident to take my show on the road, still working through. When I do meet women in my groups, often I feel I’d rather be alone, only because their mostly not in touch wirh the basics of recovery. And I can’t relate to their seemingly denial, lack of urgency or understanding of the seriousness of their choices, it gets in the way of a friendship to blossum. Not good fertile ground for a connection.

    • Jane, you are so right – there are many kinds of people in support groups and many levels of recovery. You are very wise to stay clear from some of these folks. Keep working at it…oneo f these days, you will find it’s like a balloon that bursts and all of a sudden all the things you’ve learned, one at a time, will integrate into a unified whole – you with a new view of life.

      good luck

  137. I have no doubt I am an invisible lost child. Sometimes people say inappropriate or hurtful things in my presence and I wonder if they even know I’m there. I used that role as a way to survive my family of origin – I got too good at it. Now I’m left out a lot in my adult children’s lives and I know it’s because I don’t know how to be visible. I’m almost afraid to call people on hurtful or insensitive things that they say….but yet I think that’s something I have to learn to do. It’s not easy – I feel overwhelmed by that at times. It isn’t easy to change at all.

    • Change is never easy – especially with habits of a lifetime. But your behavior is just that – a habit. so it can be changed. Maybe try speaking up about nice things, or positive comments or something neutral rather than addressing their hurtful comments right off the bat – get them, and you, used to hearing you comments in conversations and then get honest with them.

      good luck. it’s a hard role to break.

  138. I learned something new recently from my brother, I am not just affected by a dysfunctional biological parents also by a dysfunctional foster parents. I have recently learned that my foster parents treated all of foster kids in not a good way and without love and was quite abusive to us all (Emotional Physical and Verbal). I have been reflect on their ways with the biological family, I accept my biological mother does have an alcohol problem as I saw her drinking vodka in my teens.

    The Foster parents do something called Child Farming where they foster kids just for money and not much else and tends to play favourates with their biological daughter (Oldest of 2). I have disowned these parents because I started to question them and with a help off my brother who got disowned for speaking truth to them. I also learned that the alcholic mother did not have me long as I was fostered by the baby farming parents from 2 years old and decided to see if she is still around, I learned from the oldest member of the deaf club she has not been seen for long time as she moved out. Where I last went in her town was her deaf club as we both are hard of hearing. I am also thinking of tracing my biological brother who was also abused by the foster parents and kicked out when I was 9 years old.

    I learned this is not just a problem with an alcholic but a narcisstic like parent who live in their world of lies. This may also explain attachment issues.

    I knew the foster parents had a part in something of abusive kind probley kind of denied it and tried to get on as I could of disowned them last year but was very distant with them. I learned these foster parents are very criticial of the biological parents which may of created my hostility in me towards them. This foster parent did not like the idea of me learning sign languages. I just realised it will be very useful for communicating to other hard of hearing people who don’t understand lip reading too after entering the Deaf Center for the 1st time in 20 years. When I last saw my real mother was at 13 she was trying to get me to learn them. The foster parent probley thought I was too normal for all of that as I am partially deaf I learned I needed an interpreter when I was asking this lady about my biological mother.

    I learned from my brother he is my 1/2 brother who has not got over his abusive past with the foster family we were all very mean to each other.

    I think both of these parents especially the foster parents must of lead to these symptoms of a lost child.

  139. I always thought I was the Golden Child because I was well-behaved and got good grades in school, and the adults always pointed out to other children what a “good girl” I was. (I was afraid to open my mouth and didn’t dare to make a mistake!) Meanwhile, my Scapegoat brother was considered a “troublemaker” because no matter how badly he would end up beaten for it, he kept on speaking his mind. I’m the oldest of four, he’s second, and to this day he’s the strongest and most stable of all of us. He refused to be broken. This entry teaches me that I’m Lost Child. The reason they considered me a “good girl” was because I stayed out of the way and kept to myself, allowing the adults to stay so caught up in their own problems that they didn’t have time for me. In our house, being “good” meant being quiet and not having any needs!

    • You have hit the nail on the head! Well done. Be kind to your brother … He carried a heavy load in refusing to give up.

  140. I really enjoyed reading this piece. It puzzled me growing up, how some people make friends so easily; something I never found easy. I had two friends in high school and some more in college, but wouldn’t really trust them until I was sure they were reliable (that would normally take 2 years minimum!). If I start to disclose too much personal information I get shivery and sweaty- I always think this makes me seem a little crazy and so I never really talk (unless I have alcohol on board!). Any type of new relationship is particularly difficult. Can I ask your advice – any helpful hints or tips for overcoming this problem? (I tried therapy a couple of times, but I found it exceedingly difficult not only to talk but to trust the person I was talking to. I would panic when trying to think of things to say and stare at the floor or the fire extinguisher; a contrast to being quite articulate ordinarily!)

    • Your situation is so typical of the lost child. people make assumptions about your behavior and yet it is simply what you learned, as a little one, to handle your stress. one thing that might work is to go to meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics (doesn’t matter if a parent is an addict or not). at those meetings you can watch and learn and listen. You don’t have to say anything. (If ayone calls on you to speak just say “HI, my name is …. and i”d like to pass today”. then they’ll go to someone else. What you’ll find is people from all the roles, including yours, talking about problems and successes and how they did it. Eventually you’ll figure out who you can trust and you can pay attention to those folks and learn from them in particular. no charge to attend, although they appreciate a donation. best of all, you n ever have to say anything.

      good luck

  141. Louise,

    I am a child of a reformed alcoholic father and dysfunctional mother (both still alive; mother drank as well). I do not remember much of my 0-13 childhood (father/mother divorced in middle of my 13th year); I do know that I “lost” myself in reading science fiction novels and that I could not look people straight in the eye when I was out and about socially.

    Miraculously, and through great mentors along the way, I have had a successful life and career. I’m a university professor now (mid 50’s), and I would have what most would call a successful life. I have never considered myself successful at friendships or relationships, however (I’ve had a steady stream that never last more than 6 months). About four years ago I went into therapy for about a year due to a stressful professional situation, and I began to realize that more than just the stressful situation needed attention. As a result of that therapy, two years ago I “lost” my social anxiety (it’s never returned since) and I actually enjoy going out to parties and entertaining at my home as well. In February of this year, I saw an ACOA brochure when I went to have a touch-up session with my therapist and I thought – “these are my people!”. I knew I had to go, and I’ve been a consistent attender of weekly meetings since. This in combination to a great new set of friends and better work-place dynamics has been a great help. I recently started a wonderful relationship which I am hopeful will work out this time.

    My question to you is this – is it normal to have such intense feelings after all these years? I feel stress, anxiety, fear – due to the ACOA work and “working” on discovering my past – and dealing with the present set of stressors. I believe that I “stuffed” my feelings all of my life or “bundled” them – and now they are all clamoring for attention. In addition to “doing the work” and attending meetings and all the other things one does – is there anything else you would suggest to get through my crazy feelings, emotions and negative self-talk?

    • first of all, congratulations!!! and thank you for sharing your successes. It’s wonderful to know that people can recover.

      such intensity is perfectly normal. enjoy. think of a water hose that you kink. when you release the kink, it is almost violent in the spray, but eventually it settles done. The same will happen with your emotional reactions. right now, they’re new, so they’re volatile, but it will settle.

      thanks for sharing your story. healing is a wonderful place to be.

  142. This is me. And what’s worse is that I took the second path of becoming socially awkward, extremely uncomfortable and shy. I can’t form attachments to people, I can’t trust and I am afraid of getting hurt. I feel so much yet keep myslef so distant. I want to pull myself out if this self fullfilling prophecy of lonliness.

  143. Like an ostrich I buried my head in the sand, unlike an ostrich I proclaimed the sand to be switzerland. Neutral. Like my expression. Never give a sign just hold my bearings until the storm is over. Its just cold and dark now , sitting here alone l wish I knew how to heat things up.

    • JIm, you have eloquently expressed the reality of the lost child. I am so sorry for your situation. Please know that you can recover. But it’s scary – everything that is necessary for you to do to turn up the heat will feel risky, scary and downright silly or stupid. But it’s worth it. I promise. Good luck

      • I am prepared to relinquish my reluctance to feel, if only for a taste of ‘amour fou’.
        Thank you

        • Jim that’s great news. Just know the process will feel yucky some of the time. That’s normal. Keep in touch and let me know how you are doing

  144. I was a lost child. The best way to describe myself was in the imagery of me being the only person in a room and seeing the room as totally empty. I was literally not there, yet I could see what was happening._Once I decided I was a person, I wasn’t afraid anymore because what was happening to every other person in the entire world was and would be happening to me in some fashion. That is comforting – that I could share “humanity” just by the mere fact of being a person. From there, I could start sharing my own contributions as a unique and individual person and as part of the whole of humanity.

    • What a wonderful story of recovery and healing. thx for sharing with me

  145. I was a lost child. The best way to describe myself was in the imagery of me being the only person in a room and seeing the room as totally empty. I was literally not there, yet I could see what was happening.
    Once I decided I was a person, I wasn’t afraid anymore because what was happening to every other person in the entire world was and would be happening to me in some fashion. That is comforting – that I could share “humanity” just by the mere fact of being a person. From there, I could start sharing my own contributions as a unique and individual person and as part of the whole of humanity.

  146. This description really resonates with me. As a 45 year old man, I don’t know what it’s like to expect something from someone without feeling the need to immediately reciprocate or find a way to do it myself. I feel uncomfortable receiving compliments and suspect that I’m being flattered for a reason or am being secretly ridiculed with sarcasm. What does it feel like to be unashamed to receive? What does it feel like to open up to the warmth of another person without being suspicious?

    • It’s lovely, James. Absolutely lovely. took me lots of practice. although I think you can do it faster than I did. We have to change our core beliefs about receiving and our value and how we are perceived in the world (others don’t usually ridicule us.) one simple thing to try is the 21 day challenge to receive, offered by Star Staubach. she has a post every day for three weeks, teaching us how to receive. I found it deepened my understanding and ease of accepting. it might not be for you and I don’t know if she’s charging or not, but it was a help to me. therapy works. but so does practice. when you feel like you have to reciprocate, hold your tongue and say nothing. if it help you, promise to make a note and do something nice for the giver down the road. this begins the reprogramming of your brain that you can receive without immediately reciprocating. it also starts the process of learning so that you don’t feel obliged to reciprocate for something you don’t want. work at it – it took a long time to get this way and it won’t change over night. but it will change if you continue to practice. and remember to let me know how it’s going.

  147. I am a lost child right now :(. I want to leave and stop being in this role, but I can’t. I’m stuck. Any tips to cope?

    • I don’t think of it as coping but rather recovering. First figure out if you’re an introvert or an extrovert. Then you’re going to have to take risks in your context to change. Therapy is always helpful, if you get a good therapist. Good luck

      • Hi,
        I also identify with the lost child role.
        I recently started recovery of “me”, you could say, by firmly admitting that I took this role as a child and I am now ready to shed it. I started attending ACOA meetings and reading more about it. I realize that all my emotions go into hiding in times of stress. But I especially have a stunted sense of anger – the justified kind that serves to protect myself/others and gives urgency to act. As an introvert, what else can I do to get and feel better? (I have children and do not want them to be a part of any cycle of abuse or neglect. It’s important for me to not be depressed and to be there emotionally for them).

        • Cora, I salute you for your awareness, courage and willingness to go the distance for your children.

          I’d start by looking at your history with anger. How was it handled at home? Often we have seen anger gett ugly so we label it bad and keep it hidden. Sometimes we are afraid that we’ll explode or hurt someone if we lose our temper.

          Once you figure that out and know you are not like them in this regard, you will start to feel it. Also keep learning about healthy living. You can’t get angry if you don’t have boundaries, sel respect and sel esteem.

          Good luck!

  148. I was/am a lost child. My mother is a malignant narcissist. It has taken me ten years to accept that. Myself and an older sister managed to get involved in two separate religious cults. In the one I attended, the dynamics were very similar to my family. When my husband and I left the cult, we were shunned, and lost contact with all our friends and people we had known for 20 years. I was so used to being invisible, it was hard to believe people were actually rejecting us for something they perceived as a terrible act of betrayal and abandonment. All we did was try and get away from the abuse.

    I have found over the last ten years of reading, research, consulting psychologists and talking to other abuse/cult survivors that I have done a lot of talking and writing. More than i ever have before in my life. My concern is that now i seem to have developed a habit of talking too much. My poor husband has to deal with it mostly, although I have found myself talking too much in other environments, like a writing course I undertook one year. I used to come home and feel so ashamed of myself that I was not being myself, but talking too much, drawing too much attention to myself and becoming too much of a ‘personality’.

    I wonder if I am really just finding my own voice and feeling ashamed because for 40 years all I did was say nothing, be nothing, do nothing.

    PS. The cult was a religious group whose objectives were to control and dominate the members, but mainly the women. Women were blamed every time something went wrong, whether it was financial, health, marital, or children etc. Most women there were invisible, so I felt kind of at home, but at the same time was appalled at how I used to speak up sometimes in the most unnerving way and say things without thinking which made others laugh at me or ridicule me (especially other women who I saw as allies).

    Despite what many say about cult membership, I have realised that there is always a reason why people become involved, and moreover stay involved in groups like this and it is more often than not related to family of origin and the dynamics thereof.

    My family was like a cult, I was supposed to shut up, not have any feelings or problems or needs and do as I was told. I ended up being the servant of all, and really I think I kind of liked that role. However, when we all grew up, I realised my two older sisters didn’t really want me around, my younger brother got tired of me, and as a result, when I got married in my mid twenties, nobody attended my wedding. What was weird, was that I really didn’t expect them to attend, and they really didn’t have any good reason not to attend, it was something which was expected and accepted by all. Except that I really got upset that my mother didnt want to come, and her only excuse was that she couldn’t afford it. Two weeks after the wedding, she sends me a cheque for $1000 as a ‘wedding gift’ and tells me to by a sewing machine with the money.

    It wasn’t until when I left the cult, that I began examining my family dynamics and my own behaviour that I realised that this was not normal, and there are lots of families out there who would move heaven and earth to attend a sibling’s wedding.

    • Sounds to me like you’ve had a rough journey but are making headway. I too used to be a talker but one I ask myself if what I’m going to say will add to the conversation. That seemed to help. Good luck.

  149. Wow. Haven’t heard of this term until today, and I am quite surprised as to how much I relate. Myself? Drunken, narcissistic Mother. Father left before I was born.
    Interesting to see a common theme here in the posts. I always knew I was just a little different, but maybe I didn’t quite realize these common traits stemmed from a particular cause. What the poster “TODD-ERIK” posted, is almost a mirror reflection of what I could post.
    I’m in my 30′s, live alone, and have chosen a profession where I work alone for the better part of the day. I have one ‘friend’ that I’ve had for 20 years, but again he could be considered more of an acquaintance than anything. Have never had a real relationship with a woman, until about five years ago. However, she walked out a year ago after just one year of marriage and filed for divorce. She “wasn’t ready for marriage” was her explanation. Oddly enough, we had quite a bit in common, which is surprising… Including the fact that neither of us wanted children, or had children, even from previous relationships.
    Perhaps not wanting kids is a byproduct of this mindset? I’m not sure! Maybe subconsciously I don’t ever want to “recreate” the possibility of subjecting a human being of my creation to the same BS that I was subjected to. That, and I have a typically pessimistic outlook on what the future may hold, so I don’t believe it’s fair to bring someone into a world that may not provide “security.” They say the apple doesn’t usually fall far from the tree.
    So, I guess the “Lost Child” does what it does best. Isolates itself. I want nothing to do with my family, as much as this does break my heart. They won’t change, and it’s a toxic environment for me. Even a casual visit is painful, and brings me discomfort. Perhaps one day I can put this behind me, and view things with fresh eyes.
    Even though my life isn’t truly “bad,” I still deal with excessively worrying about things that don’t really matter, am fiercely independent, and even somewhat OCD with silly things. EVERYTHING has it’s place, and I can’t rest until these things are in their place. Unfortunately there are always new things needing a “place!” Sometimes I just wish I could “turn off” my mind temporarily, and simply enjoy the beauty this world can offer.
    Isolation, even though it is how I prefer to live, does take its toll. I resort to alcohol as my “relief” perhaps a little more than I should. Luckily I have managed, after 20 years of drinking, to “tailor” my intake as to not cause “catastrophic” damage to myself or others. It also allows me to become social with people. It truly can be viewed as a “medicine,” if you will. Some might not understand this, but they are also not in my shoes. For some odd reason, I was actually very comfortable and secure around my ex-wife without alcohol. It was truly the first time in my life that I was with someone where this occurred. I don’t know why this was… It might be because I truly loved her? I was comfortable around her at all times, after letting her into my little “world.” I am sad that she’s not around, but I suppose the “lost child” almost expects things to fail, since the only reliable thing we’ve ever experienced is ourselves…
    Maybe the crap we’ve endured as kids does make us stronger. After my wife split, I thought briefly about ending it. And then I thought, nah… I’ve been through worse. My life isn’t perfect, nor am I, but I suppose I’m not doing that bad compared to some people.

    • I’m another one who came from a family where I was not expected to have emotional needs and looking back it seems my parents pretty much repeated what they experienced at home from both their mothers. In fact I was trained not to have any needs as certainly I was given a lot materially in my early years, but whenever I asked for anything I was told no so I gave up askig. I also didn’t get any emotional support, and was seemingly not allowed to have emotions as my point of view was not considered important., though my mother had chronic depression, anorexia and full blown narcissism, both parents were big spenders. I still have the problem with getting my needs met in society as a whole, I never really spend to indulge myself and all my money goes on my career, but people don’t take me seriously and/ or they are jealous. I have lived in 1 room for 8 years and sometimes there is a voice in my head saying I deserve more, I look at others who have a nice house and many if the truth be told haven’t done much to deserve it, but then I think of all the debt they are in and am back to square one.

      • Daria, you certainly seem to fit the criteria for the lost child. When we’re invisible as children, we don’t know how to live in the light in adulthood. And yet we want and need to be acknowledged as people and for our accomplishments.

        From my point of view, you can change all these behaviors. A good therapist can help shorten that process, but if you’re not willing to spend the money on that process, I’d encourage you to start reading. Get everything you can find on human needs and how we get them met. There’s lots of material out there. I won’t recommend anything specific because it’s important you find something that serves you well. Go to the library or book store and look at well-being or human potential. Lots of material there. Search these topics on Amazon or Nook or the apple store. There’s tons of material. Just start reading. You’ll learn so much and begin the journey out of this dark place and into the fullness of the life you are intended to have. Remember you’re going to re-parent yourself, in the way a loving parent would have when you were young.

        It probably sounds silly and hokey but it’s real and it works. But only you can take the steps to make the changes. And ironically, because of your background, every possible step probably feels ridiculous. It’s not. I promise.

        Also try to remember, that other people are also learning their lessons. for some of them it’s how to deal with debt. For others, it’s about accomplishment and luck. We have no way of knowing their journey, just as they don’t know yours. So keep the focus on yourself and begin the journey. It’s worth it.

        take care

  150. One of my nieces is lost and only two. My heart is broken and I’m hoping that seeing her occasionally will help her. Her mother is a narcissistic sociopath and her father is emotionally absent.

    They moved close to me when this niece was a month old and I saw my sister laying her on the floor and propping a bottle in her mouth, never holding her. When I brought it up she said she couldn’t because of her two older children needing her.

    When my niece was old enough to walk she would never approach a person, especially her mom, but instead would back up into them. She still will freeze, literally standing in one spot looking down, when dealing with any emotion. She has a few times bite her sisters and thrown toys while her mom laughs because she thinks that behavior is funny.

    Her only positive reaction is being alone with me and around the animals I have. That is the only time I see her smile, when she is petting or holding one of them.

    She says about twenty words and always has a blank look on her face, understandably.

    My question is will my presence be enough to help her? She has never been to the doctor as my sister refuses to take any of her children. She now has four. They have never received vaccinations and when sick are left to tough it out.

    Agencies I have contacted have told me that since there is no physical or sexual harm there is little they can do. They are pinched and pushed but always with little or no physical mark.

    Please, please give me some guidance on what to do. All of the girls have problems but this one seems the most severe, at least for now.

    Thank you for any advice.

    • How sad for all the children and their auntie. I can’t imagine his difficult thus situation is for you.

      Psychology has not yet been able to say how a specific child will turn out. We are learning about resilience, which is an individual’s ability to overcome such situations. Is your presence in her life helpful? Children always benefit from love. You may be the only light in her life. But it’s important to remember that her home and parental love are the major influences for her and her siblings. So be a factor now and in the future but don’t let the adult she becomes turn into a drain on you and your family. Youust be very clear about your boundaries.

      Also don’t forget that other factors can come into play as they get older. I’ve seen that happen in some abysmal situations and the children become wholly functioning happy adults. Thank you for caring for this little one.

      Keep in touch

  151. My biggest problem from being a lost cild is that I still daydream/fantasize excessively. How do I stop that?

    • that is a hard habit to break. I’m not sure what you’ve tried. Some people have found success using a timer, set for a minute. In that minute breathe deeply (don’t force the breath, breathe slowly and naturally but fill your lungs) and pay strict attention to your surroundings. When you can do a minute easily, go for two. Whenever you find yourself daydreaming, do the same exercises. It’s about changing the pathways in the brain. It’s a slow process but some of my clients have had great success with this methodology

  152. Hey there, This article and the other lost child artcle interested me due to amounts of reflections which lead to some behaviours you mentioned in this article.

    I am an ACOA as I realied that in June 2013 due to amount of questioning of some actions during a reflection. What caused a reflection to start is a stress related illness that occured in Dec 2012 which had symptoms of heaviness in head, feeling sick, dizziness and feeling very down.This lasted a month even through Christmas although I don’t actually celebrate it.

    I have an alcholic mother and possibly a violent father (Im not 100% sure on this one), I havent seen these 2 since I was 13. The biological mother neglected me and my brother I was below the age of 2. Was placed in a Childrens home til new parents took us in when I was 2. These parents were quite strict and religious and were quite condemning on certain things particularly sexual. They stopped being religious when they moved.

    What interested me with the list mentioned above is some I can relate to myself. 1 Daydreaming and Fantasising when I was reflecting on certain things I found I been in this state quite a lot of times. This was around about 5-10 years old.

    2. After 7 years old I found Hanging out somewhere away from home is something that matches my recent reflections involving a carwash, I have an interest with them and used to like watching them. When the Tunnel carwash exisited which had attended staff I spent a lot of time there. I was quite talkative to staff and quite trusting, these staff were extremely kind and did make me feel welcomed especially the lady staff. After returning home from the carwash I probley would just go streight to the bedroom.

    Due to the Strictness of the Foster Parents they used to send most of us to bed for misbehaviour as staying in the bedroom was also just as common in the teenagers and 20’s, I have noticed I rarely ask parents or other people for things. In 2012 probley May when I realised the so called forgotten interest with the wave machine at my local pool most lifeguards refered me to the manager about getting a tour in the plantroom. When I got to time where I wanted to do that I had an extremely hard time but just managed regardless how shaky I was with asking the manager. This was not a problem when I asked for a revisit to look at something and also to leave cameras in there filming the machine at work. I have visited a wave machine in other 2 wave pools and found I was able to ask on phone or email rather than in person like I did at the local pool.
    The carwash interest is in the same boat as wave machine which was technically forgotten interests. When I moved home I lost contact with the staff at this carwash.

    3.Watching TV, Playing Computer Games – This is something I used to do a lot on my own, I used to spend a lot of times even when I had school holidays I used to stay in watching TV.

    As a whole when I looked back on myself I realised I also been like this as well. I had many emotional problems in the young age. There was a couple of times where I really regret something I have done as a child which did hurt another person as I was pretty violent at a very young age. I havent used violence as an Adult.

    I grew up quite depressed mostly and quite unhappy, there was this one lady in a town I was ringing bells at as I am a church bell ringer too. I was never open with my parents nor asked for many things. When I was 18 I used to like getting drunk on Guiness. I personally don’t drink now due to having a brain tumour removed in 2006 which was benign and after learning about being an ACOA I thought it will never be wise to drink again.

    She was very kind to me when I was 15 and ended up making a day of being with her. In May or June 2013 I learned that she died a year and half ago after having a dream about her which made me realise her and went down to see her I was quite drawn to her. This lead to a 13 mile walk back to my home town greiving. Althought I did walk back to her town on a ringing night in memory of her as I was ringing at that church as I rang in the teenager time.

    Subject of being Lost I was told also previously by a couple of mediums about I was an extremely lost person infact I still have that recording which caused me to relisten to them and started to be able to make sense of it where I did not at the time and I have noticed something very similar with other things that happend.

    At work I am very introverted but I am very strict and don’t take any nonsence from a lot of people. I don’t have a partner as I never really looked for one. At times I don’t have many sexual interests which made me wonder about partial asexuality.

    As an Adult I tend to do a lot of research of things of my interests such as the wave machine. I have developed ways to do things with the wave machine. Shortly after having a brain surgery I have turned to a couple of religious organisations which were not good for me which left me quite stressed. I have tend to harshly cricise these religious groups.

    I have started to realise being alone all the time is not good for you and trying several things. Although I find parties are quite tiring to me. 1 thing I do like doing is walking long distance. I am trying to do more group walks. Also I liked to do swimming as this swimming club I am part of is good for those with disabilities.

    I have learned it is usual to self reflect on things as it seems to a form of repentence taught by religious groups.

    • the activities you m ention as an adult are solitary activities, especially the swimming. You talk before and after but not during. give some thought to meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics (either on their own or as a part of al-anon Family groups). they will help you sort out your past and help you make sense of your future. good luck

      • I started to more social stuff with people especially playing badminton with my church I started to go to. Also I like to do group walks as well as this is a group of Long Distant Walkers.

        Regarding Parties as I went to a recent staff party and I have noticed another person who kept to themselves just as I do. I am not kind to pressure to drink alcohol and usually will tell the person not to pressure me to drink alcohol and I can be quite blunt.

        As for swimming I am quite hard of hearing and cannot always hear well enough.

        Regarding Meetings, I am not looking to a system that works like a religious cult as I am aware that some alcoholics anonymous organisations seems to have a charactoristic of a religious cult as being involved in cults previously I prefer to have no more to do with groups that hides behind legalism of religion as I learned that religious groups are very damaging.

  153. your post almost made me cry. i am this lost child. i have no clue how to interact with people. i am now married and i also have no clue how to interact with my husband. he also does not express feelings very much,it makes me feel uncorfortable but at the same time his behavior is familiar. he does not understand me nor i understand him. i want someone to undertand me but i have little hope to ever find such a person. everytime i express feelings i feel ashamed. my mother used to say i was hypersensitive. now i always have the feeling that my feeling life is abnormal. that i feel things that “normal” people don´t feel.

    • Ironically, the method of coping by denying our feelings and becoming ‘lost’ in our lives is very damaging to us as adults. I’d recommend connecting with a therapist to help you work through your history and determine why this is still your modus operendi. there is hope and help out there. But be fussy. only work with a therapist that feels right for you and that you trust. Good luck

    • Feelings are not abnormal. they are just feelings. New research shows they are the result of our thoughts and are chemical reactions to those thoughts. please read some books on Adult Children of Alchoholics. even if your parents didn’t drink, you may have the symptoms of ACOA, because any child raised in a family where their needs were not put first can create these roles. Parents with mental illness (a depressed mother who stays in her room all the time, for example) or a workaholic parent, helpful to the point of putting others before their family are all situations which can give rise to these roles. and of course meetings of ACOA (as uncomfortable as they make you) will help with your changes. good luck

  154. I just came across this and I believe I am “the lost child” of my family. There was never any abuse, alcoholism or anything terrible in my family. I’m the youngest of three and my mother was always very driven to progress in her career which resulted in a lot of absence of her part. My father was there but not what you would call a..sensitive, loving type. They both loved us very much and tried to be there for the big things. The family dynamic was always centered around mom and her mood–which, after a bad day, wasn’t great.. I grew up quiet, timid and kept to myself. Now I’m 24 and cannot figure out what I want to do. Not depressed or suicidal, just frustrated and “lost”. My theory is that I spent so long just trying to not become my mother that now I don’t know who I am. Actually I came very close to following in my mother’s (career) footsteps about six months ago before a light bulb went off. Now I’m back to square one not knowing what I want to do or how to figure it out. Any suggestions?

    • Forget about previous response:

      I am 52 now, and learned I had the characteristics of a being lost boy when I was your age. A therapist recognized it and suggested strategies for dealing with. Mostly, I had to open up emotionally. I had to discuss how I felt in those lonely days. I did this with my therapist, a awesome girlfriend, and my mom. Find someone you can trust. Someone who will listen and not judge or interrupt you. Also, keep a journal. Be honest in it. Write your raw emotions…don’t worry about anybody else’s feelings when writing. Until you recognize your feelings are valid, you will still feel lost. Also, I think lost children are very smart. Otherwise, how would we have figured out the best way to cope when we were young. Remind yourself how smart you are and have someone help you set achievable goals (career and relationships). Setting an achievable agenda is difficult for us. That type of thinking is not in our tool box. We need help to develop tools to cope with life and make better decisions. Don’t spin directionless. It will cost you a lot of money, because it will be hard to find a fulfilling career. It will also lead to unhappiness. You’re young enough to start anew.

      • I think most of us need a mentor/therapist/coach to help us work through all these roles. Congratulations on doing the work and getting better.

  155. I stumbled across this blog site while reading about dysfunctional families. I always knew that my family was dysfunctional and toxic, but I never wanted to truly accepted. Until today that is…
    In my family I was the lost child.
    My father was a raging/vicious alcoholic (abusive, belligerent, and just a horrible person to be around); and my mother was a narcissist (she always placed her needs before mine, always). All of my older siblings (whom I did not grow up with because they were so much older) occupy some of the dysfunctional family archetypes but I know by and far I was the Lost Child.
    Granted, for the most part, I’ve been through a lot of therapy which helped me break out of my shell. I grew up being painfully shy and never leaving my room to becoming a Corporate Job Recruiter who interacts with people everyday (and I enjoy it) in addition to finally having an active social life. I am 36 years old and this is my SECOND year of having lived on my own and functioning as an independent adult.
    Why did it take me so long?
    Because I felt like I owed it to my mother who so thoroughly convinced me that I should be grateful to her just because she gave birth (she constantly told me, over the last few years, that she could have aborted me but chose to be a mother. She also says she could have been a Mother who beat her children, but she wasn’t).
    As I pointed out she always put me last, always.
    When my abusive alcoholic father died six months later she moved another man in the house, also a drunk who stole from her, that I had never even met. I was nine years old.
    I could go on in succession but you get the point.
    Today, for the first time, I allowed myself to cry for the little lost boy inside of me and finally forgive him for not being perfect…and finally absolving him of all blame and shame.
    Sometimes, I admit, that I hate my Mother for what she did to me. Yet, at the same time I pity her because she did not know how to be a mother at all.
    With that said…
    I am always ultra careful to watch any codependent tendencies that may still linger; and I am also careful to not fall into the patterns that I used for survival mechanisms (I had to teach myself to be assertive, which was the best lesson I’ve ever learned, through counseling).
    But on the other hand I am so proud of myself for how far I’ve come in my healing process.
    I never imagined the life that I have myself even being possible right now.
    With that said I’ve made it a point to put healthy distance between myself and my immediate family. They are all very toxic; and I no longer want to be apart of that dichotomy. All I can do is go from here and keep on healing.
    With that said thank you so much for acknowledging the lost children.
    We are there even if you cannot see us.

    • Wow. Haven’t heard of this term until today, and I am quite surprised as to how much I relate. Myself? Drunken, narcissistic Mother. Father left before I was born.

      Interesting to see a common theme here in the posts. I always knew I was just a little different, but maybe I didn’t quite realize these common traits stemmed from a particular cause. What the poster “TODD-ERIK” posted, is almost a mirror reflection of what I could post.

      I’m in my 30’s, live alone, and have chosen a profession where I work alone for the better part of the day. I have one ‘friend’ that I’ve had for 20 years, but again he could be considered more of an acquaintance than anything. Have never had a real relationship with a woman, until about five years ago. However, she walked out a year ago after just one year of marriage and filed for divorce. She “wasn’t ready for marriage” was her explanation. Oddly enough, we had quite a bit in common, which is surprising… Including the fact that neither of us wanted children, or had children, even from previous relationships.

      Perhaps not wanting kids is a byproduct of this mindset? I’m not sure! Maybe subconsciously I don’t ever want to “recreate” the possibility of subjecting a human being of my creation to the same BS that I was subjected to. That, and I have a typically pessimistic outlook on what the future may hold, so I don’t believe it’s fair to bring someone into a world that may not provide “security.” They say the apple doesn’t usually fall far from the tree.

      So, I guess the “Lost Child” does what it does best. Isolates itself. I want nothing to do with my family, as much as this does break my heart. They won’t change, and it’s a toxic environment for me. Even a casual visit is painful, and brings me discomfort. Perhaps one day I can put this behind me, and view things with fresh eyes.

      Even though my life isn’t truly “bad,” I still deal with excessively worrying about things that don’t really matter, am fiercely independent, and even somewhat OCD with silly things. EVERYTHING has it’s place, and I can’t rest until these things are in their place. Unfortunately there are always new things needing a “place!” Sometimes I just wish I could “turn off” my mind temporarily, and simply enjoy the beauty this world can offer.

      Isolation, even though it is how I prefer to live, does take its toll. I resort to alcohol as my “relief” perhaps a little more than I should. Luckily I have managed, after 20 years of drinking, to “tailor” my intake as to not cause “catastrophic” damage to myself or others. It also allows me to become social with people. It truly can be viewed as a “medicine,” if you will. Some might not understand this, but they are also not in my shoes. For some odd reason, I was actually very comfortable and secure around my ex-wife without alcohol. It was truly the first time in my life that I was with someone where this occurred. I don’t know why this was… It might be because I truly loved her? I was comfortable around her at all times, after letting her into my little “world.” I am sad that she’s not around, but I suppose the “lost child” almost expects things to fail, since the only reliable thing we’ve ever experienced is ourselves…

      Maybe the crap we’ve endured as kids does make us stronger. After my wife split, I thought briefly about ending it. And then I thought, nah… I’ve been through worse. My life isn’t perfect, nor am I, but I suppose I’m not doing that bad compared to some people.

  156. Thank you very much for posting. This is the definition of my 28 year old husband. We have been married for two years, been best of friends for close to six, and also have our beautiful baby boy of 13.5 months. I’d just like to say that he is the first born of a father who is a Narcissus and complete drunk, and his mother has been a delight, but the divorce was rough on everyone ….it was a messed up childhood even tho they had food on the table every night. His dad quickly re-married and so did his mom and they both had a kid with each new marriage (now over 10 years old). I came in to the picture as an “outside perspective” who refuses to do the “dance” and play that role of letting the father in law take complete control over our marriage. Unfortunately my husband and I had the friendship where the parents didn’t really know about each other until it got really serious, the summer before we got engaged. But, we, well mostly I, learned the hard way in learning about his family dynamics. I still love my husband and knowing more about his family has taught me the utmost respect in the way he handles the conflict. Even though he was addicted to electronics (Xbox, phone,and TV is still our issue of distracting elements), people who see that often think he’s just got severe ADD. He was misdiagnosed early on when everything hit the fan at the separation, so, the lost child syndrome was not at the top of the diagnostic list. However, we talk as much as possible and I am really trying to be there for him and I feel as if he struggles more to communicate with me because he’s afraid that anything is said will be an alarm or trigger anger. I’ve learned I really have to dial down a few knotches and that really isn’t my thing. Personality wise, I’m from New Orleans, and we are characters! I love to be funny and show emotion….I married someone who’s the complete opposite of me. I love him and we are growing, and maturing, but it is increasingly difficult when his “symptoms” get in the way.

    • it’s always interesting to me how we so very often pick our ‘opposites’ to marry. it’s like we need the agitation or excitement or to fix them. I’m not sure what it is, but I did it too LOL

      • What do you suggest people like us do then?? What therapists do you recommend?

  157. Thank you so much Louise for your text and all the beautiful comments replies everyone has written here. Since being a child, I sensed that I needed to adapt. Sensing and adapting to my mothers wishes and routines, not disturbing father, and keeping out of my older sister’s way to avoid being bullied. Have had a couple of crashes, but only managed to get someone to understand what I meant last year (at age 41) – incl. getting help from a psychiatrist and psychotherapist.
    Luckily I found a someone that saw me when I was 17, and we are still together. I have got several academic degrees, do a good job, but have not really any idea why and what I really want or what I am interested in.
    Crashed badly last year, desperately wanting to kill myself, really wanted to protect my small children (and not wanting to see them as a copy of me and my older sister), really afraid of people at work and work itself, hated being dependent of my mother coming to stay with us once a month so I could “feel better”, hated what was happening to my husband and our relation…

    I am trying so hard to find solutions, paths, anchors etc. But I do believe that I can get better, I love my children and husband so much. What is going on now, and what happened in the past, it is so hard to grasp, and it is so hard to realize when I am not thinking straight, being stuck in a state of major fear of everyone and everything.

    Warmest regards to you all.

    • thank you for stopping by. I too believe you can get better. it’s so important to know that and then begin the work. there’s lots of support out there and lots of help. i know you’ll find it and take these important steps. hugs

  158. I was never aware of this ‘syndrome’ but my younger daughter fits this category of “the lost child” perfectly. She is now 25, introverted, struggling in college, recluse, and intermittently depressed. What are some references, books, or resources that
    I could read to try and help her? Thanks.

    • Most of the books by Melodie Beattie, Sharon Weigscheider Cruse, Charles Whitfield or Claudia Black will help you understand this syndrome. also books on codependency. most of these works refer to children of alcoholics, but it applies as well when the family is emotionally barren. Has your family headed yet? how are you doing? good luck. let me know how it goes.

    • Louise answered it best. I’ve found “I Got Tired of Pretending” by Bob Earll, “Adult Children of Alcoholics” by Janet Woititz, and “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie to be very helpful and very informative. Also, finding a good, qualified therapist that knows about codependency and adult child issues is invaluable. I wish your daughter success in her path to freedom and recovery.

      • I GOt Tired of Pretending is an excellent book and I always forget to mention it. and you’ve named the best of the lot. thanks for chiming in Steve.

        • Thanks Louise! I’m glad I can I could offer the help. Continue your good work!

  159. I’m a doctoral student and today during our CBT class I heard this term for the first time and it resonated so strongly that I began tearing up. I had long ago known that I wasn’t the identified patient in our family dynamic, but rather”the other one” who got overshadowed. But hearing this term and some of the common characteristics really helped. Literally, moments ago I finally (randomly) told my mother about how I’ve always felt. She had no idea. I’d like to think that this is the first step in healing and would just like to tell you how much I emphasize. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your experience and feelings. Being the lost one is a hard role to live, because we learn so early that little we do matters. I congratulate you for stepping out of that role as far as your education goes. And I hope you’ll continue to explore the ramifications of growing up invisible on your adult life. good luck

  160. Jeez, Louise (sorry, couldn’t help myself), I read this and saw so much of myself in it that it’s almost scary. At some point though, 1997 to be exact, things changed. I still often feel like a major introvert, I still feel like I have to fix things, and keep my needs to myself, but things got better. Amazingly enough (or stupidly enough) thanks to a Yahoo chat room and a small group of friends where I felt safe to be myself. Somehow that filtered over into ‘real’ life so life is a lot different for me now. I still tend to keep a low profile, I still can’t ask for help, and I still try to fix things and not rock boats, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Yes, you just got to see another weird side of me, lol. 🙂

    • Thanks for opening the door to that bit of your past Kristy. You’re really talking about informal group therapy – a group people who supported you and allowed the real you to show through. Its wonderful when it happens, but fairly rare, I think, without a facilitator. Isn’t it wonderful when a fun thing changes your life forever? Too cool

  161. Thanks Louise. I’ve talked about these roles for a long time. I’ve played them all–at one time or another–growing up and in my adulthood. I started out as a lost child, became the hero, then the scapegoat. The lost child was there the whole time. I went into recovery for the hero and scapegoat roles…I guess I did the same thing with the lost child that I’ve always done: shoved him off to the side. The result? At 52 years old, I am still “trying to figure out” what to do with my life and what to do for a career.
    When people ask me what I want to do or what I am doing for work, I respond sheepishly and feel shame and embarrassment. I had no idea why, in the light of all the work I’d done, all the recovery, I still couldn’t state with confidence or integrity what career to follow. Recently, while attending a Mental health and Addiction in Moose Jaw, the reality of my life hit me square between the eyes. I am now walking the road to what is hopefully a new freedom and peace of mind. I have a little idea where to start, but, I ask you, Louise, if you have some direction that you can share, I would welcome the help. Thank you for this.

    • Steve, I wish I had an intelligent simple answer for you, but it sounds like you’re on the right track. It’s not surprising that the lost child was ‘lost’ in your life. It’s hard to step forward in your life when your basicnature is to hide out of sight. good luck and keep in touch-let meknow how you’re doing.

      • Thanks for the response, Louise. I know it’s not an easy road to travel on. I am so ready, though to have a life. Thanks again.

        • Keep at it and you will have a life STeve. Keep in touch, please and let me know how you’re doing.

  162. I had not heard this of the third child. I have two and grew up with a brother and sister. My brother was 9 years younger so he was really like an only child!

    • your brother was in all likelihood an only child. and the other two of you would have either taken all 4 roles between you, with your youngest sib off on his own. Or you would have taken one role each and one of you doubled up. At least that’s what the model says.

  163. I first learned of the lost child role while attending rehab for a massive cocaine addiction. As I researched it further I realized how powerfully I took on this role and how much it enveloped my life. I spoke less than a hundred words throughout high school, with no friends. This set a pattern of low self esteem because “no one likes me” “I must be ugly and boring”, which continued well into my adult life. To this day i am still afraid of intimacy, both on a physical and emotional level, although after a couple years of therapy, it’s getting better. Learning how to adapt in a social world at thirty is terrifying and to be frank, quite embarrassing at times. I spent my whole life being invisible, it wasn’t much fun, I can only hope these growing pains that I’m going through now will pay off in the end. Thanks for the article, an interesting read.

    • Mike, thanks for stopping by. the lost child is a hard role to recover from, because we’ve made ourselves invisible for so long, that being seen (and heard) is a big risk. huge. don’t underestimate the courage it takes to ‘come out’ of the silence. congrats on getting clean.

  164. Louise,
    Thank you for your valuable advice and support!

  165. Hi. Sorry, came lately to this post. I’ve always wanted to be invisible..this post is me. Recovering from eating disorder and alcoholism. So late in life that I think it is probably too late. I can’t feel or trust.. trying to reach out. On the face we had a perfect family (myself excluded)…but appearances are deceiving…is iit too late for someone who is 42 but is finally recognizing it?

    • It’s never too late. I came to this work at 38 and started a long process of determination and healing. took me about 10 years to do the work, but it was worth it. start by reading lots. and finding yourself. hang around here – I’ll have more information as we go along. and you’ll start to figure it out. therapy is a wonderful help – if you get the right therapist.

    • What Louise said. And you have another home. Adult Children of Alcoholics (and dysfunctional families). We are the adult children Louise talks about. – there is an international listing of meeings for ACOA. Also, check out room 7 is ACOA – meetings twice a day, 7 days a week. Good first step if dealing with issues in a Face 2 Face (F2F) group might be overwhelming at first. Lot of good people on stepchat – also AA and I think there are OA meetings too. Never too late. I’ll be 63 in a few days. Your fellow ACA’s have been where you are at, done what you have done, and we help people recover – and even share the names of therapists who are good to work with (from our own trial and error).

      • Indeed it’s a good organization. and i’ve been in oa for years.

  166. Hi Loiuse,
    Thank you for the description of “the lost” child. I never thought of myself this way until my older sister bluntly pointed out that I was “invisible” as a teenager. Our family was very dysfunctional with multiple mental illness issues. What are some ways to stop behaving in this role as an adult? I don’t want my issues to hurt my young children and husband who are normal, loving, kind, and sensitive individuals. I’d like to not be so introverted and closed off for my own sake as well.

    • Selene, I think you’ve taken the first step in solving the problem by recognizing it. In jargon, the solution has three steps: Awareness, Acceptance and action. You’re aware and you sound like you have acceptance so now you’re looking for the action piece. Well done. The hard work is over.

      I would suggest you read as much as you can to begin with. find out about this role and all of its manifestations. and then the challenge is to start speaking up. Once you understand the role better, you’ll see where that works. The 12 step fellowship, ‘adult children of alcoholics’ focuses on the issues of children who live in these roles. While many of their members are children of alcoholism, many are children of dysfunctional families, like you. (By the way, the hardest place to change these roles is in our families.)

      Often this work takes the help of a trained therapist but you can start working on it by yourself. I posted information on how to find a good therapist on this blog a few weeks ago. good luck and keep in touch – I’d love to know how you’re doing.

  167. This was me growing up. It now fits my first born and that saddens me. I don’t know if his Aspergers is all of it, part of it, or none of it at all. His dad working till after they’re in bed and sister requiring a ton of attention (for other reasons) hasn’t helped. There isn’t enough of me to fit their needs.

    • Debra, I’m sure part of your son’s behavior is his Aspergers. And don’t forget no one can take on a role that is contrary to their personality, so this might be an extension of his natural way. Having his dad more present might help a bit, but there’s no way of knowing. and given today’s economy, I can’t judge anyone’s decisions. Remember for this to become a frozen role for your son, both parents have to be absent – and you’re most definitely a presence for this child.

      I hear and feel your sadness, dear friend. take care of yourself in the midst of this situation.

  168. To a small degree, this sounds like my mom. My grandpa, while a man with many good qualities, worked 10-12 hour days at the factory and would yell at my grandma if the house wasn’t the way he wanted it when he got home. My mom learned to keep her room perfect and fly under the radar because she didn’t want to cause anymore conflict in the house.

    • Your grandfather was a man of his time – working lots of hours to feed his family. and your grandmother was a product of her times as well – doing whatever it took to make his life easier.

      your mom’s reaction is a natural outcome for her in this environment. because there wasn’t a high degree of dysfunction in the home, your mom adopted this role to a small degree. It is easy to see how a sensitive child might choose this role to minimize the yelling. the child would see it as doing her part.

      My mom did the same thing – always trying to reduce the conflict.
      thanks for sharing Marcy

  169. Fascinating Louise. I was a psych minor in college and was especially attracted to Child Psych so I just eat this stuff up. Thanks for sharing!

    • glad you’re enjoying Ingrid. psych is fascinating, isn’t it?

  170. Oh my God. This is so sad.

    I always need to digest your posts. I see myself and my sisters and it breaks my heart.

    I did inner child work and reparenting work for years and it just never really ends, does it?

    You are doing something VERY important here. Thank you very much…

    XO Jen

    • I do think we continue to work on these issues, Jen, but for me, the work has diminished over time. But it flares up now and then but today I’m more likely to recognize when I’m going there.

      I’m sorry it makes you sad, but if it is helping, that is good. for you and your sisters.

  171. Why am I not surprised to find that out of the three so far, this one describes who I used to be the best? I can see parts of me in the others, but this who I was as a child, teen and young adult. Except I’m the oldest sibling. And I didn’t get ‘help’ to get past it. I just got past it to a large degree. I still am more comfortable on my own a good deal of the time, but I’m nowhere near as shy as I used to be.

    Another great, insightful article. 🙂

    • it’s not impossible for the oldest to take on this role (as you know Kristy). if the first born senses some tension or problem or…in her parents, it is logical that she might try not to add to the stress and to be invisible. that is totally reasonable. Remember, while birth order can impact the role selected by a child, personality has a greater effect.

      How nice that you were able to get over it on your own. that’s awesome. and speaks to your resilience. well done.

  172. Louise, I agree these posts are fascinating. At some point, I’d be interested in knowing how these roles differ from “normal” childhood development, whatever that is. 🙂

    • In this model (and remember this is one of many, many models used in psychology) these roles differ from normal in one key way: the adopted role becomes the role used almost universally and all the time by the child. In a normal family, the oldest will often be a success story but they can cope with failure and they are willing to try a range of new things. Adults who live as heroes will not try things outside of their comfort zone because they can’t risk failure. In my case, I can give a talk to any number of people on a variety of topics. no big deal. Ask me/force me to do a trust fall/wall climbing etc and I’m frozen with fear. I have no expertise with physical activities so they terrorize me and I don’t do them unless I have no choice. (Until I had lots of therapy and was willing to spread my wings a bit.) But I’d still rather pursue something intellectual rather than physical.

      so the difference is that even when we intellectually know there’s another way, our early childhood experiences keep us locked into a particular mindset with all its challenges. and yes, these roles do tend to follow the child’s personality. A risk taking personality will not become the lost child. Doesn’t work that way. So we have a synergy of personality and environment or nature and nurture.

      hope that makes sense. if not give me a shout.

  173. Wow, another moving post Louise! You are receiving some really interesting comments today!
    Oh boy. But I do identify with Indy’s comment about no arguements in the house, but sensing underlying problems. Hmm. I hadn’t thought about that. And the thought about this personality trait influencing the middle child. That made a lot of sense. I am so glad you are writing this series. Like Coleen, I think beside being informative for personal use, this is great for creating our characters! Thanks so much Louise! 🙂

    • Karen, I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. Yes, it’s valuable for writers, and for people. At least that was my plan . And as I mentioned, these roles only need emotionally absent parents – Children know when there are problems in the home and they react.

      Glad you’ve learned something from the comments because they have been fascinating.
      be well

  174. Amazing post Louise. This is my brother to a tee! Sad that he’s never wanted to get any kind of assistance to move through his issues. Instead, he continues to play out his issues in his family which is sad for him…and them. GREAT post!

    • It is very sad to see an adult continue to live out this role. But when you don’t know it’s ok to have needs, it’s pretty hard to get help to change. very very sad.

      thx for stopping by

  175. I found this interesting. I buried myself in books and daydreaming as a child – was terrified of social settings – but excelled in school (because I wanted to “please” my teachers). But my parents never argued in front of us. My memory is of a peaceful childhood. But I wonder now if I sensed the discourse. I never thought of that! My parents later divorced (back when this was a “disgrace”). Fortunately a friend invited me to join Drama Club in High School (started out just working on the sets, of course). But it changed my life when I took the stage. I’ve learned to stand up for myself and defend my principles, when needed. Most think I’m an extrovert, but tests show that I still have mostly introvert tendencies, but have learned to cope with a social world. And we wonder how we end up being writers! ;0) Thanks for posting this!

    • Indy, thanks for stopping by. Sounds like you were a ‘lost child’ who healed and recovered as you grew up. that’s awesome. fairly unusual, in my experience but with the incentive of Drama, it makes sense. As the hero, I was an extrovert, but as I got older and did my own work, I have discovered I’m way more of an introvert than I ever knew. I still ‘fool’ people about that, but I know the truth

      glad you found this post of value.

  176. This was me. Is me.

    I also worked very hard to smooth things over if I thought they were going awry.

    • Asrai, another name for this role is the placater, and it sounds like you took that on totally. Do you still shy away from conflict. or has that eased a bit?

      • It’s eased some, except with my parents. I have a pretty calm husband and he and I have managed thorugh many major conflicts without screaming matches and a few minor ones.

        • Good for you – individually and as a couple. Changing behavior patterns with our parents are the hardest thing to do – I still have to be conscious with my mom, because I’ll jump into hero mode and do everything for her – which suits her just fine.

          How wise of you to find a calm man to share your life. well done.

  177. Consider enneagram type 6 and you’ve got the missing child. Consider enneagram type 3 and you’ve the hero. The difference is whether there is a certain level of pathology along with the type. I’m an enneagram 6 with a 7 wing (the buddy) and fairly well adjusted in many regards, but there is that lingering maladaptive behavior that sends me back to ACOA time and again.

    • Fascinating. I have a passing familiarity with the Enneagram. Now i’m going to have to look it up and study a bit, so I can combine it with what i’ve worked with all these years.

      I think most of us who learned these roles will fall back into them when we’re in difficult situations – it’s natural to us. But then we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and return to a way of being that works more efficiently and more effectively for us.

      thanks for the info.

      • You will find Enneagram 3 corresponds to the hero. E-2 is a people pleaser. Etc.

  178. Louise, you do such a great job of describing these personalities. I find it amazing how much these same traits can be attributed to children from “normal” families and yet I’m finally beginning to understand the difference between them and a child from an emotionally absent parental family. Thank you for these posts. They are marvelous!

    • Yes, these are very common in healthy families, Sheila. I’m glad you’re discovering that these roles become fixed and rigid in an emotionally absent parental family but in children from other families, they are simply a preference. These children adapt these as tools to live by and they harden like concrete.

      glad you’re enjoying.

  179. Again, so interesting! Do you find that middle children often fall into this category, even in a healthy, emotionally present, household? Very often I see that the middle child has the older, ‘first-born’ sibling who gets to do everything first and are therefore creating new experiences for the parents and family. Then you have the ‘baby’ who plays his or her own role and somehow the middle child can get lost, well, in the middle. 😉

    Our middle child is very mellow and falls into many of the attributes you described. It goes along with her personality. We make it a very special point to keep him on the front line and not let him slip into the middle-lost, which is easy to do because he’s SO affable and such a pleaser by nature.

    I love this kind of analysis. Thanks!

    • Ginger, you’re absolutely correct – this role is usually filled by middle children. And yes it is a function of their personality as well. Good for you for keeping him on the front line, because it is easy for middle children to fall into invisibility. well done.

  180. I loved reading as child. It’s still my place of comfort when things go awry in real life. Creating whole new worlds in my writing is even better. Fortunately, people I’ve encountered throughout my life set different paths with happier destinations for me.

    • I too loved to read, Joan. I think it was the escape factor. And it is more fun in our writing. I’m so glad you had people who helped set happier destinations for you.

  181. Although I am blessed to not have grown up with an emotionally absent parent, I can certainly relate to this type. Avoidance is my preferred way to deal with conflict, and one I’ve always had to work on. It’s easy to imagine how this could lead to an incredibly lonely existence.

    And you are giving me great ideas for my fictional characters! Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

    • I hear you about using Avaoidance to deal with conflict. It’s very common. good for you for working on it – since it doesn’t solve much.

      So glad you’re getting good idea, Jennette. Goes to show that ideas and information for writers are found everywhere.

  182. It is a survival mechanism for those of us who lived through a time where it was easier to be gone than the alternative. However, what worked as a child is often a ball and chain as an adult. ACOA is an answer, although not a cure per se. Then again, as a hard of hearing person not raised in a signing environment introversion meant survival again as communication with others was difficult

    • It is absolutely a mechanism for the child to survive in these emotionally impoverished environments. And yes, because we become locked into these roles, they do become a ball and chain. The loneliness of not being in a signing environment would complicate these issues exponentially.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  183. His is why I am still in therapy. I switch between between the two paths. It’s almost more difficult than taking one road, only. xxoo Melissa

    • This…geez I’m on my phone!

    • Interesting that you’ve taken two roads. How many children in your family, Melissa? more than one primary role is common in children from families with fewer than 4 children or with more, but the total is not an even multiplication of 4. More on that in a couple of weeks.

  184. It seems sad and lonely and makes sense from the description of the parents, but then at the same time the activities from daydreaming and hanging out at the library were some of the things I found really fun as a kid!! I always think of introverted activities stemming from an innate personality–it is sad to think of it as a defense mechanism.
    Another interesting topic Louise!

    • For some children, these activities are fun – as always, it’s the driving force behind the decisions for those activities that matter. And yes, feeling forced to hang out at the library is sad.

      • Hi think I’ve gone from lost child to scapegoat ,it bad enough being lost child ,then taking the blame for stressing my mum out after having the courage to confront her with family issues , then my mum getting my brothers and sisters to gang up on me and bully me is just soul destroying. There isnt a day goes by where everything is still raw as if it happened yesterday. I’ve seen two councelers in 14 years and on and off pills the same . Growing up being the lost child day dreaming going about on my own on holidays brothers who bullied me with verbal and physical abuse ,a mam who just wanted me to do the chores and then punish me for not doing them right a dad who was always on my back to do things . I was a big girl and took food as a comfort I would even shoplift to get sweets to comfort eat .my sister is ten years younger then me and she was the golden child always has been and with me being her older sister ,I thought the world of her as every one else does .nobody speaks to me now they ignore me back stabbing behind my back disrespect me , I’m crippled with relationship issues I’ve packed in jobs because of of theses issues dragging me down , it’s right what you say about the role you play in your family is the role you play in other relations in work and socialising . I’m 53 years of age and really am at a loss as to what to do any advice would be greatly appreciated , feeling alone and depressed xx

        • I understand this.

          Youngest of 7. Alco mom. Patho covert narc sire. Borderline oldest sister.

          I am the scapegoat.

          Lost my marriage after I quit it. My ex was showing my kids how to disrespect me. He tried to file custody. I was a fit mom apparently up until he met HER a yr post divorce he married her and our new found friendship post divorce was no longer.

          My kids left to live with him. I was a SAHM for the 20 yrs we were married. To lose that was a grief unlike no other. The kids alienated me and his new childless wife got the children I loved more than life itself.

          I am in aca and alanon and live with my elderly parents. My dad is still a narc and my sister has tried to pay me off to leave (I caretake my parents and damned good at it) while working pt and just got into grad school. My sister has called the police and filed false reports stating there was screaming in the house (she doesnt even live in the state). Nobody was even home except me. My parents were out the whole day ad I didnt know where they were. When the police came to the door I dropped to my knees thinking they were dead. Instead, I was taken outside and interrogated saying they were there for a wellness check on my parents. They escorted me to my car and went room by room in the house looking for my parents.

          My sister has recruited extended family to reject me and paint me as a horrid person. She is toxic and been in and out of mental hospitals over the yrs. Se has hated me since day one and jealous of me thinking I was daddys fave. Not true. My father now hates me and is absolutely toxic to me and I try to help so much.

          I got my mom to sobriety. Now I understad what happened to me…and what is the truth…but the horrible things keep happening with this sibling in order to be daddys fave as she has learned to tell him it is ok to drive at 92 despite his hitting other cars and fleeing the scene ( he was caught once on video). Driving w open containers and my siblings (all adults) and pulled over. He shits in the bed and denies it is shit nor that it was him.

          He is evil. But mom made sure dad is the SAINT as she calls him while living life in a drunken stupor all her yrs. He is psycho. Now I know why she drinks. They made my psycho sister gaurdian of my retarded brother whom she does not visit here and hasnt. I see him and play with him. I was ot even considered.

          I cant take anymore of this. I wish I were dead.

          • The unfortunate thing about toxic families is the hold they have on us. WE stay and stay and stay – even when we’re not welcome and not respected. But they never change. I’m so glad you’re in Al-anon and ACA. this will help you understand even more and figure out the rest of your life. Because this situation won’t change. the only person who can change in the midst of this is you. And that’s so scary for most of us. truly terrifying.

            good luck


  1. Week 10: part two: The Lost Child: Invisible and Unheard | My MKMMA Blog - [...] The past few weeks we havc had all the readings and information of the MKMMA to take in.  It…

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