Are You Starring in a Family Drama? Transform Your Role!

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Are You Starring in a Family Drama? Transform Your Role!

It’s not uncommon to hear people refer to their family dynamics as a “family drama.”  Tensions are high with expectations, disappointments, intense emotions, betrayals, affairs, drinking, jealousies, regrets, and so on…  In my practice, I’m often caught up in these dramas with my clients, where everyone in the family, including my client, is stuck in their roles and scripts.

While these are challenging dynamics for a child to grow up in, by the time I see them, my clients are adults, often either still in the middle of the drama or staying as emotionally distant as possible. Neither option has led to people feeling empowered or positive about their choice.  What if the roles you’ve internalized don’t have to define you?

At some point in the process, I will pose this question: What if we thought of your family as a play—a play you all continue to co-create, co-direct, and perform together? A play that’s being written as you’re living it. What if, as a character in that play, you can rewrite the script and transform your roles?  Most of the time, the initial response is shock! What would that mean? Those roles are so much a part of who I am! Well, I would say let’s explore that!  Let’s help you be an active creator of the person you want to be.

As a character in the family play, we can change our own performance and see how the new performance impacts our family and our relationships. Here are some common roles my clients have played as children in their families (sometimes a combination of these roles). 

I am the emotional one

In this family play, the child is labeled as the 'problem,' 'overly emotional,' or the 'difficult' child. This role puts the responsibility of the family “drama” on the child, often leading to feelings of guilt for “causing” conflicts and tensions in the family.

I’m the mediator

The mediator role places the child as the peacemaker, the one who can resolve conflicts and maintain harmony. While this role may appear positive on the surface, it places enormous responsibility on the child, with the child often forfeiting their own needs for the sake of the family or family member.

I am my parent’s confidante

In the midst of conflict between parents, in this family play, the child becomes "parentified." The child becomes a main and often only source of support for one of the parents. This child is caught in the middle and confused about their loyalty.  They are pressured to take sides and burdened with adult issues they are too young to handle.


Whether it's your family of origin or your current family of choice, we are shaped by the cultural expectations and definitions of what a “family” is or is supposed to be. At various points in our lives, we can long for a “normal” family, one filled with love, great communication, support and no conflict. One that stays together. 

The concept of a “dysfunctional” family is one that doesn't meet these cultural expectations. It is a judgment of our family. This judgment makes it hard to accept and come to terms with that this is our family and this is our family history.  When we’ve delved into what people mean when they say their family is “dysfunctional,” we discover painful human struggles with limited resources and tools to deal with them. I urge people to create a new language for talking about and understanding their families. 

Let’s give up the notion that our family was or is “dysfunctional.” Let’s consider that we were in a play that no one was able to rewrite.  Either they didn’t know how, they were afraid of the consequences, or their circumstances made it impossible. As we get older and our options expand, we can create the support we need to develop our tools.  

Getting help

If you need support with the stress and anxiety of your family dynamics and relationships, therapy is available individually or in a group setting (and in some cases, both).  Ann Green, NP, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and psychotherapist with over 35 years of experience, can help. 

Contact us at Psych Options NYC, our private practice located in midtown Manhattan (near Penn Station), to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.