Three More Characteristics of Children from Troubled Families

Posted by in ACOA, adult children, Louise Behiel, recovery, self help | 22 comments

As mentioned before, these characteristics first evolved from work with adult children of alcoholics but have now been generalized to anyone raised in an emotionally barren family.

In the last two posts we discussed characteristics 1 – 4.  Today we’ll look at the next three which include:

  1. Have difficulty having fun.
  2. Take themselves very seriously.
  3. Have difficulty with intimate relationships.

The first two of these characteristics may be considered two sides of the same coin.  Usually these adult children have a hard time even knowing what fun is.  If you’re the family hero, life is about work.  For the rebel, fun looks different.  For the lost child, fun is being left alone.  Only the mascot seems to belie this characteristic. Ironically the same could be said for the four roles about the second characteristic as well. But it’s important to look at these in the context of what the child learned and how they may be applied differently in adulthood.

For the hero, fun means I’m not working and I’m being frivolous.  Not a desired outcome.  And because everything in their life is about winning and losing, then having fun can easily feel like a loss.  Yes, they will go to the picnic or hockey game or whatever.  But it’s not about fun.  It’s usually about doing what is right – or what appears right.  So parties are okay, as long as they are for the right reason.  And yes the hero appears to be having fun, but these times are usually about making choices that augment his reputation and standing.

Of course heroes have times when they cut loose. But they often pay a big price for their frivolity on the following day, chastising themself for acting silly and looking foolish.  This may only be an internal dialogue but it’s almost always present.

It wouldn’t appear that the mascot has trouble having fun and in many instances they don’t. But let’s not forget that the purpose of the mascot’s humor is to deflect stress and tension.  So if there is none of that, they may actually create or contribute to a bit of strife so that they can deflect it.  It’s an unusual behavior to watch for it’s like a fireman setting fires so he can be the hero and put them out.  Mascots also take their ability to control every situation with humor very seriously.  So if you’re trying to have a difficult conversation with them, and you won’t give up, don’t be surprised if they get angry or withdraw.  Because for them, this is a failure.

The last characteristic on today’s list when taken together with the three rules (Don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel) does not make emotional intimacy likely.  Remember children raised in the homes we are discussing have learned that emotions, (caring, love, respect and support) are to be avoided at all costs.  The only thing that matters is managing the stress of life.  Every home has stress, but if it is the only focus, much is lost.

People from emotionally empty homes are  not the most emotionally attractive partners out there.  If they have the desire to change and evolve, they are wonderful at relationships.  After all, they’ve lived through some tough stuff as a child and now know how to handle healthy relationships.  But it takes work and effort.  It takes time.  And often, the effort involved is just too much for a child raised in an emotionally barren home.

Who of you would like to be in an intimate relationship with someone who has these characteristics?  Do you know people with some of these?  Love to hear from you.


  1. “For the Lost Child, fun is being left alone.” Wow, this is so true for me, now more than ever as a stay at home mom with two little kids. I do not get a moment to myself all day, until they are both in bed, which leaves me quite stressed.
    I have known for a long time now that I am an introvert, so how do I know what part of my desire for alone time is a normal introvert’s need to recharge and how much is coming from the childhood coping mechanisms of a lost child? I guess that’s sort of a tricky question only I can answer for myself. But I have been beating myself up lately for wanting to get away from my children so often. Of course I can’t actually leave them, so I’ve been overeating to soothe my feelings and desire for isolation. I’d like to stop overeating but I don’t know what feelings to work on, if any. Am I just a stressed introvert because I’m not getting enough alone time, or a lost child whose favorite coping mechanism has been taken from her?

    • Raising children is the single most demanding job in the world. Their dependency makes thrm huge energy sucks. So you’re normal. The question to decide is how much alone time do you need? What can you arrange to have more down time? Hard to resolve but doable.

      Good luck

  2. very insightful, quite so. How about the Scapregoat? would he fit the rebel role more than the mascot? I have each role in my 4 siblings…two of them are Scapegoats or Rebels…please enlighten.============

    • scapegoat/rebel are usually considered to be two sides of the same coin – this is the child who misbehaves and get attention this way. not often a family has both among 4 siblings, but anything is possible.

  3. Debra, thank you so much for your kind comment. I appreciate it.

  4. You’re so good at this Louise. Your information is invaluable. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. Thanks for sharing more helpful information Louise!

  6. Boy oh boy do these descriptions ring true. Except for the fact that i revived my life, these families are/were mine. I just visited my dad. His main source of avoiding anything unpleasant is to be deaf. I know that sounds terrible, but i believe he’s pretty hard of hearing (HARD TO TELL, specifically), but he won’t wear hearing aids (which he needed 50 years ago). So he either answers a question he wants to answer, or laughs, or pretends like he doesn’t know what you’re talking about. That behavior used to hurt me, but now it worries me. I’m not sure how much of his behavior is “the usual” … don’t talk, don’t listen, don’t tell, CAN’T HEAR, see, acknowledge, trust, etc. and what is a smattering of dementia. I’m back to carrying dad on my back. It’s OK, but i need to set some boundaries. Ultimately, he’s responsible for this next part of his life. OK, as usual … all about ME! 😉 Barren-ness melis

    • OMG!!! You just described my mother!! and I live with her. You are so right about them being responsible for their own lives but it took me awhile to accept that. I still find it very frustrating watching my mom be a victim and always live in the problem but if nothing else it shows me what I don’t want when I get older and that I have a choice every day to live in the solution!

      • isn’t it hard to let go and let them set their own way in life – even though they’re our parents. I get that.

    • what a wonderful tool your dad uses to accomplish his goals – not be involved.don’t carry him. we have to let our loved ones do their own thing

  7. So the Hero’s gonna have fun if it kills him. And the rebel’s not gonna have fun unless you don’t want him to.

    Love it!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  8. Another informative, invaluable post, Louise. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  9. I really like how you break these down so that even those of us who came from healthy homes can understand them and how they work out in the different types.

    • Marcy – that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do. we all know people like this and with these issues. it’s so good you can see it.

  10. Yay, I’m enjoying these posts and find them fascinating. I’ve been wanting to catch up for a while. I still need to read some of the older posts that I missed, but I’ll have to come back another time when Mr. Short Naps takes a longer nap! Have a great week, Louise!

    • thanks for stopping by, Lynn. always good to see you

  11. What do you mean when you say “fun for the lost child means being left alone” ? I identify with the lost child lable but I’m not sure what you mean.

    • The Lost Child prefers to escape and be invisible from the family. So fun for them is being left alone.

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