Family recovery may benefit from having some familiarity with the ways children respond to the stress of alcoholism and addiction. I’d like to give an overview of the roles children adopt in an attempt to alleviate their pain. I’ll start with the Hero Child (sometimes referred to as the Responsible Child or the Golden Child).
The hero child enjoys the favored status in the family system. Viewed as the best, the brightest, the most competent, etc., they receive positive attention by being successful.
This attention comes at a high price. Inflexibility and lack of spontaneity make play difficult. They may not be much fun to be around for it is difficult for them to relax.
Often these children contribute to the care of younger children and perform adult duties. They may help with meals, clean the house, etc. because of the lack of parental involvement. They are unwilling to ask for help and have a high fear of making mistakes.
Perfectionism and anxiety often accompany this child into adulthood. If not addressed, this role lends itself to workaholism and stress-related illnesses. Although they may excel as adults in the business world, the cost of their success comes at a high price.
They must abandon their authentic self to have self-esteem – a hollow esteem at best. Other children in the family may think, “Oh Susie is such a goodie-two-shoes. She never does anything wrong” and “She has it so easy.” But this is not true. Susie doesn’t have it easy. The only way she gets attention is to bear the burden of responsibility.
The beliefs of this responsible child are often:
“If I don’t do it, no one will.”
“If I don’t do it, things may get worse.”
The hero child makes the rest of the family look good. Although generally unspoken the family feels, “We aren’t so bad. Look at how great Susie turned out.”