Unhappy Young Family

In a family where one or both of the parents function in a toxic pattern, the different family members often adopt certain set roles. Although the patterns can shift around a bit, there is usually a default setting. In this podcast Stephen Bach and Mags (under her previous screen name Monkey)  will talk about some of these roles, how to identify them and what impact they have on the dynamic in a toxic family.

The Bully

The person we tend to talk about most, if of course the bully. This person is the center of the family universe. Simply because they demand that position. All the other family members will assume their roles to help the bully maintain that status. Read more about toxic people here, or have a look at our list of behavioral traits.

The Enabler

The Enabler is someone with authority who allows the abuse to take place. More often than not that is the other parent. although these dynamics also occur in non-family situations. Some enablers play a more active part in the abuse, while others are simply happy to stand by and watch.

The Flying Monkeys

Every bully will recruit an army of Flying Monkeys, and that recruitment campaign can be wide. It can be siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, teachers, community leaders… any one really. A Flying Monkey is like a remote control for the bully. A way to reaffirm their messages, control the victim and inflict their abuse even when the victim is not with them. Flying Monkeys may not even be aware of what is going on, they are lied to and manipulated by the bully.

The Golden Child

In most families there will be one child that is placed above the rest. This child can do no wrong, and is shaped in the image (or perceived image) of the bully. The Golden Child is unlikely to object to the special treatment, they are celebrated and get what they want.

The Scapegoat

The scapegoat lives on the other side of that spectrum. There is nothing the scapegoat can do right. In fact, even their achievements and talents are cast aside as failures (as they are a threat to the bully’s fragile sense of self).

The Peace Keepers

Then there is the Peace Keeper, a role somewhat similar to the enabler, but lacking the authority. One child is likely to want to try to keep the whole toxic family together. They try to build bridges between the bully and the scapegoat in particular. Their intention may seem admirable, but the peace keeper can be quite manipulative in their efforts.

The Podcast

Approximately 25 minutes each

Part 1

(right-click here to download)

Part 2

(right-click here to download)

You can find Stephen’s Blog here: The Narcissist’s Son


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  1. Profile photo of Aubrey Cole
    Aubrey Cole

    April 22, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    Marvelous explanations. As an only child, I recognize that that triad created by my parents and me followed this pattern, but with fewer people involved. Once my father died (right after I turned 17), the dynamic was much more damaging overall as there was no longer a buffer for me. That dynamic continues today, 31 years later.

    In watching my children, I saw clearly where their father quickly chose the older one as Scapegoat and the younger one as Golden Child. He also attempted to recruit a whole lot of FMs after our escape, but failed. Fortunately, I have lived such that most people wouldn’t (and didn’t) believe the things he said about me.

    • Profile photo of Petunia

      October 29, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      This is a great podcast.
      I want to thank @Stephen Bach and @Monkey for showing some compassion towards the golden child. Family dynamics are so complex! I am the youngest of seven children and it’s a real mind-f**k trying to figure out who is who in that list of roles, I have seen changes and shifts and tag-teaming and doubling-up of roles over the years. As I dig and dig to understand how I ended up married and divorced to a narcissist, I have spent lots of hours trying to figure out the family dynamic I came from. The code of silence is masterfully maintained to this day, so I am left to my own research and feelings. I cannot confidently call either of my parents narcissists, but have enough information to know that they were/are both depressed; my mom was abused as a child by her step-father and continues to bully my dad; and my dad is an alcoholic who had a narcissistic mother. Both suffered trauma as children and both are emotionally unavailable.

      I have always been the Golden Child and the one of the Peace Keepers. My mother actually called me ‘her little sunshine’ and painted my room yellow with 1970’s terrifying daisy lamps drooping from the ceiling over my bed. The only problem with that, was she had some sort of breakdown not long before I was born and the other sibs must have suffered greatly, because when I arrived and she showered her ‘relief’ to have a smiling girl in her arms, the two brothers just above me and my one sister essentially wanted me dead. Or at least that’s how it felt well into my early adulthood, and I’ve got some anecdotes of the treatment I received that will make eyes water – ones that were told over and over and over as hysterical family lore at every gathering. Trying to be perfect so the others would like me, trying to make my mother smile and to feel loved all the time was a tall order for a little girl. I became a class-clown honor-roll workaholic who eventually married a narcissist and now am trying to figure out what the hell happened!

      I don’t desire NC from my FoO; there is love, empathy and growth going on amongst the 9 people in this dynamic, so I do want to stay in touch. Yet I did (ahem) curiously move 6,000 miles away over ten years ago Unfortunately, I didn’t understand why I wanted to move away so badly back then…and did so in the arms of an abuser.

      With a big thanks to Swanwaters, I’m feeling validated as I piece together my new life.

      • Profile photo of Monkey

        October 30, 2015 at 12:54 pm

        Hey Petunia, I am glad you like the podcast. I really think that nobody in a toxic family really gets a break from things, regardless of their role. Being viewed and treated as pretty much a one dimensional being (only good, only bad, ect) does nothing for a person.

        As for you remarks about the underlying problem, although some understanding of the pathology of the abuser can be helpful, it is not the cause that hurt you, but the effects. Their toxicity is caused by some trauma, no health human-being treats other people this way (unfortunately there seem to be quite a few of these unhealthy people in the world). I don’t have the tools to diagnose either of my parents, but they show enough traits for me to have an idea, and at least to analyse their behaviour and its effects.

        So glad you found your way to SwanWaters, and happy we can be here to help :)


  2. Profile photo of Petunia

    November 14, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    I appreciate your feedback, @Monkey. I do find myself too often going in circles in my head trying to answer the big ‘why’, analysing ad nauseum the relative neurosis that may have caused abuser(s) to target me…yet this never seems to help me actually heal. In a way I suppose it is a way of excusing their behaviour, which is not o.k.

    xo, Petunia


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