Do you sometimes feel as if you’re typecast in a role that on the one hand, you derive a sense of purpose or value from, but on the other, it’s a rod for your back? This week’s episode of The Baggage Reclaim Sessions is a deep dive on roles so that you can understand why you’re stuck in a limiting pattern and begin to take steps to break out of it.

First, it’s about understanding what playing a role actually means. A role is a job or function that we take on within our interpersonal relationships in order to ‘be good’ and ‘help out’… even if what we’re doing is harmful instead of helpful. I illustrate roles with almost seventy examples and share thought-provoking questions to help you get grounded about yours.

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Some nuggets from the episode:

  • To come up with our role originally, we read various situations and observed the people around us and worked out how to ‘fit in’. Our fear of alienation and abandonment drives a hell of a lot of what we do today.
  • We worked out who it is we need to be in order to receive attention, affection, approval, love and validation, or to avoid conflict, criticism, stress, disappointment, rejection, loss or abandonment. Everything we do is about getting or avoiding those things. It’s our way of helping our family out. These are our ideas about how we are a good family member, a good person.
  • Every role that we’ve taken on fits in around other people’s roles, so there’s no such thing as playing a role in isolation. These are how we feel needed and valuable.
  • A role is like putting on a mask, costume or armour. It’s a defence against the past. We only took on the role(s) because of old hurt and losses. We misinterpreted certain things and decided that this is how we have to be.

Roles block intimacy as well as our potential and purpose.

  • If we keep playing the same role then we’re only going to be open to certain types of people and situation that allow us to double down into that role. When we typecast ourselves, even though we may have other interests and desires, we’re blocked from reaching those because it doesn’t fit with this identity we have (the role). And what happens is that even when better opportunities and situations come along, we don’t feel worthy of it because it doesn’t fit with the role.

Examples of common roles

The Good Girl/The Good Guy, The Dutiful Son/Daughter

The Lost One

The Irresponsible One

The Saviour, The One Who Saves The Family

The Rebel

The Messed Up One

The Achiever/The Best/The Overachiever

The One Who Doesn’t Need Anything/The Undemanding One/The One With No Needs

The Strong One, The Weak One

The Favourite, The Successful One, The Broke One

The One Who’s Second Best, The One Who Always Comes Last 

The One Who Always Helps Out

The Underachiever, The One Who Mustn’t Do Too Well

The Overlooked One

The Loser

The Pushover

The One Who Always Backs Down

The One Who Acts Up

The Misunderstood One

The Outsider/The Black Sheep/The Odd One Out

The Helper, The Fixer

The Peacekeeper/The Diplomat 

The Rebel

The Firestarter, The Scapegoat

The Victim The Striver

The One Who Is Always Pleasing

The Truth-Teller, The One Who Always Sticks Their Neck Out

The Stirrer

The One Caught In The Middle/The Go-Between The Fringe Player/The One Who Feels Like Piggy In The Middle

The One Who Has To Fly The Flag For The Family

The Pretty One, The Not-So-Pretty One/The Ugly One/ The Unattractive One

The Rescuer

The Geek

The Clever One

The Perfect One

The Angry One

The Straight-A Student

The Quiet One, The Loud One, The Shy One

The Keeper of Secrets

The Therapist 

The Avenger

The One Who Does The Bidding, The One Who Does Other People’s Dirty Work, The One Who Cleans Everything Up

The Apple of Their Eye/Centre of Their Universe

The One Who Comes Out On Top

The Good Listener

Understanding the role(s) you play within your interpersonal relationships

  • Are you co-operating or rebelling?
  • Who was your role originally designed for? Who is that you still crave attention, affection, approval, love or validation from? The likelihood is that the role is for them. Who does this role fit around? Who are you trying to ‘help out’?
  • What are you trying to get and/or avoid?
  • Identify your rules. What are your shoulds and musts?
  • What do you resist doing even if you would be happier? Whatever you resist it’s because it’s at conflict with what you regard as your ‘job’ within your relationships or what you perceive as your identity.
  • Imagine that you were to let go of all of these roles. Who is it that you fear that you would let down or betray? Where do you fear being disloyal? Your answers offer clues about who it is that you fear alienating (or being abandoned by) and what you’re doing to prevent this.
  • What are your family members’ roles? How do their roles affect you?
  • Beyond family, how is my role showing up in relationships?
  • What do you do almost without thinking about it or very quickly that often leaves you feeling crappy or stuck? This is you playing a role.
  • How are you choosing situations to fit around your role?
  • How is your role holding you back?

Links mentioned

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