The 5 Child Roles In Dysfunctional Families

5 Child Roles In Dysfunctional Families

Clowns can be disruptive in class as children, to get attention, but because of their ability to see the humor in things, they tend to be outgoing and develop a large circle of friends during adolescence and adulthood (even if they are never taken very seriously). Family Mascots are almost never scapegoated because they entertain everyone and take the focus off the family problems.

David Sedaris, a writer, and humorist is a good example of this dynamic at play.

Several writers in the ACON community (and even outside that community) were outraged by Sedaris’ callous essay (“Now We Are Five,” which appeared in the New Yorker after his younger sister, Tiffany, committed suicide). Tiffany was clearly the family scapegoat and had evidently gone No Contact with the rest of the family. At the time of her death, she was living in poverty and only had, as her father put it, “two lousy boxes” of belongings. I don’t know all the details, but it seems as if she was offered no support, either emotionally or financially, in spite of the family’s wealth and Sedaris’ success as a writer. She was probably mentally ill, but her mental illness may have been due to being the family reject.

In a candid interview Sedaris gave for Vice, he describes Tiffany and her relationship with the rest of the family. His words are very telling.

Even as a child I looked at my sister and wondered what that would be like, not to feel the warmth of my mother’s love. Tiffany didn’t. There was always a nervous quality about her, a tentativeness, a desperate urge to be in your good graces. While the rest of us had eyes in the front of our heads, she had eyes on the sides, like a rabbit or a deer, like prey, always on the lookout for danger. Even when there wasn’t any danger. You’d see her trembling and think, You want danger? I’ll give you some danger…

It’s been suggested that David Sedaris is himself a narcissist (possibly the golden child) and that could certainly be true, but I also suspect he served a secondary role as the family Clown/Mascot. His callousness toward Tiffany in his famous essay (and grandiosity about how great the rest of the Sedaris family was–it’s very common for narcissists who were golden children to hold their dysfunctional families up as paragons of perfection) seemed to be drawn both from narcissism and from a need to hide his anger and pain behind a wall of humor. Here’s a link to his essay (it’s heartbreaking and maybe triggering):

Now We Are Five

The accompanying photo is interesting. Tiffany, the second to the youngest child in a family of six children, sits in the bottom right-hand corner. Her hair is cut short and unkempt, and she looks very unhappy. David, wearing the glasses, stands above her.

Related: 24 Characteristics of Narcissistic Mothers

Actually, none of the kids look very happy. Not a smile in the bunch. Something’s definitely not right about this family. It’s common to see family portraits where no one is smiling in the 18th or 19th centuries, but not in the late 1960s, when this photo was taken. Here’s another photo, from the Vice interview, where only Tiffany (again in the bottom right-hand spot) looks desperately unhappy and disconnected from her siblings.

Credit: Vice.com / Left to right: Amy, David, Gretchen, Paul, Lisa, and Tiffany

I used to enjoy Sedaris’ writings and looked forward to his books and essays, but after this essay, I just can’t read him anymore. (Augusten Burroughs is a better alternative and doesn’t seem to be a narcissist).

In spite of their raucous and jovial manner, Clowns are likely to be depressed because they have never learned to confront or deal with their true feelings. They hide behind a wall of laughter. Their sense of humor is really just a cover for their pain.

Many Clowns become addicted to drugs or alcohol, and a few become suicidal. Many of our great comedians served the Clown role in their families. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many of them had drug issues or killed themselves.

Share on

1 thought on “The 5 Child Roles In Dysfunctional Families”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top