Why Being The Family Hero Hurts
Monday’s post The Family Hero – It’s Not All Good generated many comments and even a couple of email questions. Although Thursday is usually a positive day here, I thought I’d change things up a bit and add a bit more information about Family Heroes.
A quick recap: Children who grow up in a home with an emotionally absent parent often adopt specific roles to cope with the tension and stress. Every one of us uses all these roles at different times, but for some children, the roles harden and become their way of ‘being’ in the world.
One child, (often the oldest but not necessarily) will become the responsible child, working responsible sitters and all round superstars. They’re often the ‘keeners’ at school, President of the school council, leaders in whatever they do. They project an image of achievement, competence, and responsibility.
Heroes are typified by an old Charlie Brown comic:
Lucy asks: “How many times does 12 go into 6?”
Charlie replies: “It doesn’t.”
Lucy exclaims: “It will if you push!”
To accomplish all they do, heroes are usually serious, focused and driven. They are most definitely goal oriented. They are extra mature; usually following rules and regulations. They want to know the ‘right’ way to do things. They only know to work and work and then work harder.
All of these seem like good things, but I ask you to remember that children from these environments don’t know they have a choice in their response to life. Every request requires a ‘yes’, even if the hero isn’t interested or is harmed in some way.
This is the drive of the hero – a loner who seldom realizes their skills and abilities. They can’t trust their judgment (because they were making adult decisions from a child’s perspective), so they rely on the opinions of others to tell them how they’re doing. They crave recognition but are embarrassed by it, because they know they don’t deserve it.
Herein lies another problem for Heroes: inside, they see themselves for what they didn’t do. For the things they couldn’t fix or control. Their failures. Or the things they wouldn’t try because of their fear of failure.
Because they’ve always taken charge, they know how to lead the group, but they don’t know how to be one of the group.
Heroes judge themselves without mercy.
They have difficulty having fun (after all, there is always something that needs to be done).
And they take themselves very seriously – they can’t be human, they’re too busy being responsible and right. So the fun that others have, the easy laughter, the ability to kick back and relax is usually missing in heroes. They are a sober lot. Intense.
How do you reach this level of success in adulthood, when there are more variables, lower levels of control and greater competition? That’s simple: by trying harder. By becoming more rigid, more focused and more disciplined.
So heroes often become workaholics who create another generation of families with an emotionally absent parent.
For a full rich life, Heroes need to take actions, which are terrifying for them:
- Learn to say ‘No’. I am getting better but I still have to sit on my hands in board meetings when the chair asks for help with a project.
- Learn to relax and stop. It is okay to do nothing. Not everything has to be a learning opportunity or a betterment project. And fun for its own sake is a worthwhile activity. Being silly is another good thing (Heroes don’t usually dress up at costume parties – it’s a waste of time; besides they might look foolish.)
- Learn that we are not responsible for others. Not even our children. We can’t control and fix anyone – we are limited in our influence.
- Hardest of all is to learn to embrace failure as a reality of living.
On the outside, the life of a hero looks good, but they pay a high emotional and mental price for their success. Worst of all is the constant mental tirade telling them they can do more, do it faster, and do it better.
Are you the family hero? Or do you know one? Do you have a better understanding of the pressure a hero puts him/herself under? I’d love to hear your thoughts.