How False Family Roles Muffle Your True Calling

Posted by on September 25, 2013 in True Self | 32 comments

Many of us can’t hear our true calling—and, hence, be our real selves—because of old family dynamics and belief systems.  In my workshops, I’ve found that the main reason people don’t get what they want in life is because they’re still acting out some worn-out family role that doesn’t fit who they truly are.   

olsentwinsFor example, when I was 13 years old I was fascinated by “Debby” and “Deenie,” identical twins in my junior high school. They had long blond hair, tanned athletic bodies, and the whitest teeth I’d ever seen.  Even though we lived in Smyrna, Georgia, we may as well have been in LA, because Debby and Deenie looked like movie stars to me.  I used to follow them around, to tell the truth. It’s not like I was stalking them or anything, I just liked to watch them. I was curious. I was a budding psychologist, after all.

I noticed something interesting about them after a while. Even though Debby and Deenie were identical twins, they behaved differently. Whereas Debby seemed confident and down-to-earth, Deenie acted ditzy, especially around guys.  I couldn’t figure it out.  One day in class I noticed that Debby received a “97” on an exam and Deenie got a “93.”  It began to dawn on me that maybe Debby was treated as “the smart one” in the family, leaving Deenie to be “the stupid one.” But it made no sense because Deenie was intelligent in her own right. As far as I knew, the three of us were the only ones to get A’s on that exam.

AThat’s when it hit me—the insidious nature of family roles. If one person is smart, the other one isn’t. But the truth is that intelligence generally runs in a family. All the children tend to be pretty smart. They just express their abilities and talents in different ways from each other. Unfortunately, it’s very hard for most of us to see this truth, stuck as we are playing the same old roles year after year. The good news is when we stop unconsciously playing a part that constrains us, our negative thoughts and bad habits tend to go with it.

familyrolesIn order to function as units, families divvy out parts to their members like characters in a play. It’s not a conscious thing.  It’s not like someone says, “OK you be ‘the shy one’ and I’ll be ‘the popular one.’” It just sort of happens. Every role has its limits, even the ones that are seemingly good.  For example, many people in my workshops took the character of “the golden child” early in life. They were told as kids, “Honey, you can do anything you want.”  Now, why would such multitalented people need to take my classes?  They lack direction. Precisely because they’re good at so many different things, they don’t know how to pick just one and go with it. 

screamSo what does all this old family stuff have to do with hearing your call? How does identifying an old family pattern help you get a job you love, discover a creative outlet that makes your heart sing, or find a wonderful life partner? Once my workshop participants wake up to the false roles they’ve been playing, they realize they’ve been holding themselves back from getting the lives they wanted without knowing it.  This realization empowers them to turn their lives around.  The same can be true for you.

So what limiting role do you suspect holds you back from getting the life of your dreams?  Are you “the responsible one,” “the peacemaker,” “the people pleaser,” “the scapegoat,” or perhaps “the baby” in the family? Not sure?  Don’t worry.  Next week we’ll dig deeper to help you identify a false role and break it so you can follow your true calling.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Overcoming these assigned roles can be a major hurdle in life. And this is true no matter what your assigned role — smart, stupid, golden, scapegoat. They all carry a price if we don’t recognize the roles we played and work to overcome them. A lot of people think digging back into this family stuff is a waste of time. But becoming conscious of these roles and other family matters is the path to freedom, or so I’ve found. Birth order is another interesting phenomenon, and one worth looking at sometime. There is some research on that matter, too

    • Absolutely. This is the major hurdle I see in my workshops, and the good news is once you become aware of a limiting role, even a so called “good one,” it begins to dissolve naturally. Then your true abilities may emerge. I’ve watched 14 year olds “get this” and begin to change right on the spot. So you’re never too young or old to start. It’s so worth the effort! It’s really the first step of the hero’s journey (after feeling frustrated).

  2. to elaborate on the above:
    If you are deemed the smart one, then you should never do anything stupid, right? How stupid is that. and if you are the “good” child, then anything that isn’t perceived as good can be a hinderance to you on a subconscious level.

    • Right. We are not black and white like that. The pressure to be “good” or “smart” all the time could be hiding a true gift. For example, perhaps you are really an artist who sees how messed up society is. This attitude may seem rebellious to you, given your upbringing to be “good,” so you suppress it. And since school smarts has nothing to do with such a calling, you may doubt your instincts because it doesn’t fit the label “smart.”

  3. Love your blog! You are right. I’ve been amazed at how something as simple as the order in which you are born affects your life and your roles you take on. Keep on writing! You are a muse! 🙂

    • Thank you! Yes, you are right about birth order… More on that in another blog. In this article’s example, I’m sure you can guess that Debby was born first!

  4. What an insightful blog! Excellent insights about how we get “type cast” in early life and if we don’t leave behind these old roles, we’re stuck living an artificial life, unable to express the vibrant, living reality of who we are. Family roles are like stereotypes–they imprison us in external expectations. Thanks for showing one of life’s major stumbling blocks so clearly. You have a real gift.

    • Thank you so much Diane. Coming from you, that means a lot. Next week we’re going to tackle how to start breaking these false roles so our true selves can emerge. Very powerful stuff!

  5. That’s a great blog, Michelle. And so true. Labels or roles do us no good at all. But often happen and I’m glad you are able to work with people to help them see that even the ‘positive’ ones can be stifling and limiting! Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to reading more!

    • Thanks Anna. The label “smart” kept me from seeing I was a musician for years! Next week we’re tackling how to break these roles… I’m so glad this speaks to you — nice to “hear” your lovely voice.

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