Unlike divorce, and to a lesser extent, separation, there is often no record of an “intact” family being dysfunctional. As a result, friends, relatives, and teachers of such children may be completely unaware of the situation. In addition, a child may be unfairly blamed for the family’s dysfunction, and placed under even greater stress than those whose parents separate.
The six basic roles
- The Golden Child (also known as the Hero or Superkid): a child who becomes a high achiever or overachiever outside the family (e.g., in academics or athletics) as a means of escaping the dysfunctional family environment, defining themselves independently of their role in the dysfunctional family, currying favor with parents, or shielding themselves from criticism by family members.
- The Problem Child, Rebel, or Truth Teller  (also known as the Scapegoat when unjustifiedly assigned this role by others within the family): the child who a) causes most problems related to the family’s dysfunction or b) “acts out” in response to preexisting family dysfunction, in the latter case often in an attempt to divert attention paid to another member who exhibits a pattern of similar misbehavior.
- A variant of the “problem child” role is the Scapegoat, who is unjustifiably assigned the “problem child” role by others within the family or even wrongfully blamed by other family members for those members’ own individual or collective dysfunction, often despite being the only emotionally stable member of the family.
- The Caretaker: the one who takes responsibility for the emotional well-being of the family, often assuming a parental role; the intra-familial counterpart of the “Good Child”/”Superkid.”
- The Lost Child or Passive Kid: the inconspicuous, introverted, quiet one, whose needs are usually ignored or hidden.
- The Mascot or Family Clown: uses comedy to divert attention away from the increasingly dysfunctional family system.
- The Mastermind: the opportunist who capitalizes on the other family members’ faults to get whatever they want; often the object of appeasement by grown-ups.