How Your Childhood Shapes Your Adult Life

10. The clown’s job is to keep things at home light and funny by making jokes and distracting others (usually one or both parents) from feelings of sadness, depression, or grief.

11. The hero makes good grades, excels at sports, gets elected to student council and in obvious ways is a credit to the family. There is, however, a serious downside to this role that involves feelings of loneliness, guilt, insecurity, all of which are intensified by the obligation to rescue the rest of the family from painful feelings that they are unable or unwilling to face. The hero often feels that she can never do enough to be truly loved.

12. The rebel is a rule breaker. She is generally defiant and uncooperative. She won’t clean up her room, and won’t do her homework. She may skip school, get pregnant, and drive too fast, and is sometimes called the black sheep. She sacrifices her own happiness in order to take the heat off the parents’ troubled relationship.


These and other family roles that are played out in most families become so solidly reinforced in childhood that they are integrated into our identity and cemented into our sense of who we are. Consequently. They not only get played out in our adult relationships, but we develop a strong attachment to embodying them since we feel that we ARE our roles and fear that if we fail to honor them in adulthood that we will experience the same consequences that we feared as children (abandonment, punishment, domination, etc).

Consider the situation of Victor and Georgia, who had no awareness of the patterns they dragged into their marriage and the destructive force that those persisting roles had on their relationship.

Victor was a parental child. His father was an alcoholic who was frequently out of work, frequently fired from jobs because of absences related to his. In trying to relieve his mother’s distress, Victor took after school jobs to bring in money for the family. He also became a strong emotional support to his mom. Victor’s wife Georgia was the youngest in her family, and because her parents had such an empty relationship with each other, Georgia became the object of their affection. They babied her and did not encourage her maturity or independence because of their own needs to hold on to her. She had no time to herself and after leaving her family went straight into her marriage with Victor. Due to her family’s need to have Georgia be tied to them through an extreme dependence, Georgia thought of herself as helpless and weak.

In their early years together Victor liked being held as superman and having things his way. Georgia enjoyed being taken care of and pampered. But over time, his delight eroded giving way to feeling overly responsible and burdened. The sexual attraction faded because he felt he was more of a father to Georgia than a loving husband. Victor’s attempts to talk about the dilemma and change the pattern were ineffective. The unconscious continuation of the over-functioning husband and the under-functioning child-like wife took their family down and they finally divorced.

The over-functioning husband with the under-functioning wife is only one of an array of patterns imported from our original families that can become a destructive force. Other examples are the under-functioning husband with an over-functioning wife. The adult who had been the clown in his family of origin can drive his wife nuts making jokes every time she brings up a serious subject she wants to discuss. Those who were literally abandoned or emotionally abandoned are constantly vigilant, on edge, expecting that it’s only a matter of time before they are left again. Those who were peacemakers in their original family may become anger-phobic and attempt to smooth out differences before a healthy interchange can take place. The child who was a rebel can bring her contrary stance into the marriage and be so busy proving that “no one will control me” battling over the most trivial of issues.

These are only a few examples of the powerful corrosive force old patterns can have until they are brought out in the open. The huge advantage of bringing the roles we played as children up to conscious mind is that we then can see more clearly that as adults, we have maturity, power, and sophistication to make wiser choices. And that’s what can make all the difference.


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Written by Linda and Carlie Bloom
Originally appeared in Psychology Today

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Linda and Charlie Bloom
Linda Bloom, LCSW and Charlie Bloom, MSW have been trained as psychotherapists and relationship counselors and have worked with individuals, couples, groups, and organizations since 1975. They have lectured and taught at universities and learning institutes throughout the USA, including the Esalen Institute, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, 1440 Multiversity, and many others.  They have taught seminars in many countries throughout the world. They have co-authored four books, 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last, Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth From Real Couples About Lasting Love, Happily Ever After And 39 Other Myths About Love, and That Which Doesn't Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places. They have been married since 1972 and are the parents of two adult children and three grandsons. Linda and Charlie live in Santa Cruz, California. Their website is
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