We all play roles in our lives.
Are you aware of them?
Which roles have you adopted in your professional and personal relationships?
The dictionary defines a role as a “function assumed or part played by a person in a particular situation,” but roles are much more than this.
We may not even be aware of many of the roles that we play and it might be time to change them.
Like relationships, roles are complicated.
Think of roles like the strata of Earth. We see the outer layer but there are also many inner layers, including some that are not clearly defined.
Years ago as I was learning about the roles we play, I decided to let go of one of the roles that I had unconsciously been playing in my own family.
My parents, who live in Mexico, have a cottage where my extended family celebrates the new year every December. The house has a room for each couple and a very large room with bunk beds for all of the children. Three of those bedrooms have their own bathroom, while one shares a bathroom with all the kids; 13 of them!
I realized that in the many years I have lived outside of Mexico, I had taken on the role of the accommodating sibling and had always accepted the shared washroom. When my mother asked one year if I would take the room, I finally told her that my siblings and I should rotate who takes that room.
She was surprised, but since then we have taken turns without issue.
It’s important to know that:
- Playing roles is critical to the smooth functioning of our professional and personal relationships. They ensure that important tasks are carried out efficiently and create clarity about who is doing what.
- The roles we play provide insight into our commitments, responsibilities and priorities.
- Roles are functions, NOT PEOPLE. They can be occupied by anyone in the relationship.
- A specific role will not be filled by others if it is already occupied.
Different Kinds of Roles
There are many different kinds of roles:
Outer roles cover tasks and job descriptions. These can include CEO, manager, coach or secretary as well as things like cook, cleaner, breadwinner and bill payer.
Inner roles cover emotional needs and we might do them without consciously adopting the role. These might include initiator (of sex, change, conflict), devil’s advocate (questioning decisions), peacemaker, visionary, nurturer/caretaker or clown.
Secret roles involve psychological energy. Examples include inner child, shy self, critical parent self and rebel.
Ghost roles are like invisible third-party presences that come and go and impact the emotional field of the relationship. This could be a former lover, a previous beloved leader or larger things like a former depression.
Roles need to change and adapt.
Pay attention to the roles you play and notice when:
- You’ve become equivalent to a role (Cathy has always cooked for the family, therefore Cathy = cook).
- You have held the same role for long periods of time and are feeling claustrophobic or sick of that role.
- You’re unclear about what roles you are meant to play.
- You think you’re not doing a good job at the role you are playing.
- Changes in circumstances can also require new roles to be assumed.
Do you know all of the roles you play in your life?
Are they working for you?
Are there some that you want to vacate because they no longer feel right to you or are not serving your relationships?
Think of roles as separate from you and decide which ones you will continue.