Family Roles

Which tator are you? It is easy to start analyzing ourselves and others in our families and to take what happens personally. A better way to look at what goes on is to understand that people grow into certain roles or styles and are usually just being whomever they are out of habit or just because that is the way their personalities are. They are jut being TATORS. If we are able to understand this and accept them for the TATOR they are, we will be a lot more comfortable.



Using a scale from five to one rate yourself in terms of how frequently you are each of the following TATORS. Five equals almost always, four equals usually, three equals sometimes, two equals seldom, and one equals almost never. Once you have finished for yourself, it will be fun to think about each of the other people in your family and rate each family member in terms of how frequently he/she is a TATOR.



1. Agitator: Agi likes to keep things stirred up, find fault, criticize, and make things seem worse than they really are.



2. Anitator: Ani likes to have the last word, always 'gets his/her two cents worth in,' and always has an opinion on everything and likes to show others that he/she knows more than everyone else.



3. Commentator: Commen likes to be sure that everyone knows everything that is going on, is in charge of gossip and 'tattling,' and seems to talk all the time even if no one wants to listen or if everyone already knew about what is being said.



4. Dicktator: Dick likes to take charge, boss everyone around, be the one who makes all the decisions, and generally be in charge of everything whether or not it is his/her business or responsibility.



5. Gravitator: Gravi is pretty much of a 'couch potatoe,' always hanging around and there when others want a little privacy, and always seems to be too tired to help out, do things, or get out of the way.



6. Hesitator: Hesi can never decide, always waits to see what someone else's opinion is and then uses that one, is very unsure of himself/herself, goes out of the way not to offend anyone or get anyone upset, and thinks that if he/she can please everyone all the time things will be okay.



7. Levitator: Levi thinks he/she is just a little better than everyone else, is sort of above it all most of the time, seems like he/she is looking down the nose at others, and feels pretty much superior to everyone else.



8. Meditator: Medi seems to take forever to do things because he/she has to think everything over very carefully before doing something, never wants to do anything quickly or on the spur of the moment because anything worth doing is worth thinking through carefully, and is usually hard to talk with because everything has to be analyzed and discussed in great detail.



9. Militator: Mili is always on guard and ready to go to war, will argue with anyone about anything anytime, never gives an inch, and is ready to stand his/her ground with anyone who tries to take advantage or confront him/her.



10. Precipitator: Precipi is one of those TATORS that is able to get other people into arguments and then walk away, say or do things that get others upset and then pretend like he/she is totally innocent, and seems to get things messed up or stirred up without seeming to have started it or without seeming to have been involved.



11. Spectator: Spec likes to stay on the sidelines and not really get involved, simply watch or listen without really participating, and just stays to himself/herself because that seems like the safest way of just getting by without getting involved.



12. Facilitator: Facili does not mind being out of alphabetical order because his/her job is to be helpful, to do things for other people, to be there when others need him/her, and to stay away from things that have to do with accepting responsibility, showing leadership, or running the risk of being blamed for what is done or how things turn out.



13. Baby Sweetator: Baby Sweet is the kind of TATOR that is always happy and cheerful no matter what, is too nice for anyone to get upset with even if he/she does something that they should get upset about, cries or has his/her feelings hurt very easily, and tries to get special treatment just because he/she is so sweet, innocent, and not really responsible for anything that happens that is bad or causes problems for others.



Discussion



The thirteen TATORS and the activity within which they are included represent a way of encouraging the client to look at himself and at others within his family in behavioral terms in relationship to what may be perceived as problematic participation within the family. Typically, individuals will be inclined to infer the existence of negative motivations and complex psychological issues when dealing with family members who are into TATOR roles. At the same time, these individuals will also be inclined to interpret similar behavior on their parts as justified, reasonable, necessary, and free from negative motivation or psychological complexity. The usual approach comes in terms of, 'When I am a TATOR I am functioning in the best interest of the family; but when you are a TATOR you are being a 'pain in the neck.''



The idea of the activity is to move away from these types of interpretations and toward understanding the behavior and participation of each family member as simply reflecting their individual and idiosyncratic style. In addition, the activity gives the client new names or labels for certain behaviors or participation styles. This is a positive step since the names or labels given to behavior or participation do, themselves, affect the behavior and reflect a general attitude toward the individual and less directly toward the family as a system. The more neutral or acceptable the label, the more neutral or acceptable the attitude and the easier it is for each family member to understand and relate to other family members.



In addition to the general value of the activity, the client also benefits from looking at his intrafamily behavior in terms of tendencies he may have to take on somewhat stereotypic roles or behavior patterns. Most individuals will find it easiest to decrease TATOR behavior in those areas where such behavior is reflected less often, while increasing their ability to deal nonreactively with family members for whom TATOR behavior is more frequent. More specifically, it will be easiest for individuals to decrease behavior in which they become involved on a seldom or almost never basis. Alternatively, they will be best able to develop a strategy for relating to and responding to TATOR behavior in others when that type of behavior is the normal or usual pattern seen in another family member. Generally, it is easier to develop a strategy for responding to the behavior of others when that behavior is reasonably frequent and predictable. More difficulty arises when such behavior is less predictable, more occasional, and more likely to come up on an unexpectedly spontaneous basis.



Recognition of particular problematic behavior is the key to reducing or modifying that behavior. Education comes through seeing how involvement and the TATOR role is perceived by and interpreted by others. The brief descriptor in the activity lets the individual see how others perceive him when he is a TATOR. Consultation then needs to focus on alternative ways of relating and interacting. For example, being assertive, decisive, and considerate are very useful alternatives to being a DICTATOR.



When learning to respond to TATORS, the client will be best served by techniques and strategies that understand and refuse participation in 'the game.' Focus needs to be on the game, how not to get 'hooked' into the game, and productive alternatives to being a TATOR.



The AGITATORS game is based on focusing on the negative side of people and situations, emphasizing those negatives or problematic pieces, and tempting others to become defensive or negatively reactive. If another family member does become defensive or negatively reactive, the AGITATOR has 'won' the game by being validated as someone with enough power, control, and influence in the family to get others upset and negatively interacting. Importantly, this is simply a style that develops as the result of its having been reinforced over time, a history of the game's resulting in the agitator's winning. The agitator is reluctant to give up the game since it provides for him a position of power, control, influence, and reinforcement within the family.



The key to avoiding being hooked by the agitator is to anticipate his behavior. It is predictable that he will criticize, make things seem worse than they really are, and try to keep things stirred up. Through one's behavior and active interaction, the first step is to simply refuse to react to the negativism. Simply sit quietly and say nothing. Next, it is important to convey to the agitator an understanding of the game. 'Your usual style is to be an agitator. This is true when there are problems but is also true when there really are no problems. Also, you make a sport out of criticizing and finding fault. You are an AGITATOR. I am simply not going to react to you any more. Now that I know how the game works, I refuse to play.' The alternative for the agitator is to move to a position where he is more positive, fair, and playful, spending less time and energy being negative and agitative.



The ANITATOR game develops for individuals in much the same way as the AGITATOR game. The payoff or win comes through perceiving one's self as 'one up' or somewhat superior to others. For the anitator, this position in the family is important as a way of developing and maintaining his self-esteem and self-confidence. If other family members respond by arguing, trying to get in the last word themselves, or by refusing to let the anitator 'butt in' or impose himself in to the conversation, the anitator will feel rebuffed and will probably pout. This behavior then becomes the second level of the game, designed to get others to apologize or to try to coax the anitator back into anitating behavior. However, the process proceeds, the anitator is in control.



The key to not getting hooked by the anitator is to first directly confront the anitator about his behavior. Say, 'You are an ANITATOR. You always seem to have to have the last word, have to get your two cents worth in whether it is wanted or not, and always act like you know more than everyone else. This type of behavior causes me to have negative feelings toward you and makes it very difficult for me to relate to you. It will surely be nice when you no longer feel like you have to play 'one up' with everyone all the time. In the meantime, I am simply not going to listen when you have to get in the last word or try to put your two cents worth in when it is not wanted or are criticizing people or putting people down.'



The key here is to stop. No matter what the anitator says next, do not get hooked again. Also, simply ignore the anitator if he chooses to pout and withdraw as a result of being confronted by his behavior. The anitator needs to learn to be a better listener, more patient, and more tolerant of others. Also, he needs to learn to be more considerate of others and their needs for attention, recognition, acceptance, and affirmation.



The COMMENTATOR plays a similar but slightly different game. The win comes for the commentator through constant interaction and attention seeking. He has not developed alternative interpersonal and intrafamily skills that assure interaction, attention, and feedback from others and has learned to assure these through being a commentator. His behavior has the effect of getting others into arguments and states of conflicts through tattling and gossiping which result in increased interaction and tension in which commentator vicariously participates but for which he is not held responsible.



The first step to avoid being hooked is to confront the commentator in a manner similar to that used with the anitator. Let him know that you are aware of the game, do not like it, and are not going to play anymore. Let him know when you are interested in listening and when you are not, subject matter that is of interest to you and that which is not, and be sure not to react negatively to or interact negatively with other family members based on information you have received from the commentator. He needs to learn to be more relaxed, more loyal to members of the family, and more dependable in terms of the accuracy and importance of the information he conveys. Also, let him know that you simply assume that he is saying the same types of things to other family members about you as is being said to you about them. The commentator's game can get vicious; so it is very important that other family members unanimously refuse to play.



As with all family TATORS, the adults in the family must take primary responsibility for dealing with the family TATORS, although older children and teens may actively participate in the process to the extent that participation is permitted by the adult DICTATOR if there is one in the family. Remember that children are not on a par with adults in terms of their ability or position when trying to deal in healthy and constructive ways with older TATORS in the family. They may have little alternative to playing the game, although consultation directed specifically to children can help them develop the techniques and strategies that minimize the negative effects of interacting with older TATORS, including adult game players.



The DICKTATOR'S game is straightforward. He directly exercises power, control, and influence which are the underlying motivators of all TATOR game players. The win comes through controlling, being in charge, and holding more power than other members of the family. If the client is in the position to refuse to capitulate to the will and direction of the dicktator, doing so on a reasonable and consistent basis is the best way to respond to the DICKTATOR'S game.



When the dicktator is into his role, simply stop to think about whether or not the dicktator's advice is sound, direction is correct, or ideas are worth further consideration. If so, let the dicktator know that, after due consideration, his dictates are being followed. This step by itself lets the dicktator know that he is not in charge, is not the boss. By the same token, it is important to refuse to go along or follow the dictate, if doing so does not seem reasonable, appropriate, or productive. This moderated, responsible approach will gradually reduce the authority and dictatorial behavior of the dicktator.



One must avoid a simple negative reaction in terms of routinely refusing to cooperate, refusing to follow directives, refusing to listen to the dicktator's point of view. Blind refusal is as counterproductive as blind capitulation and represents an alternative way of playing the game, but still constitutes game playing. Directly confronting the dicktator about his behavior is seldom useful but is probably in the interest of healthy and assertive acceptance of personal responsibility. The dicktator needs to gradually become more accepting, more aware of those things that do and do not contribute to his attractiveness to other family members, more flexible, and more supportive of other family members. The key to this is becoming more tolerant of the interests, preferences, and idiosyncratic styles of other members of the family.



The Gravitator plays a game noticeably different from those discussed to this point. The games considered thus far have an active, doing quality about them. GRAVITATOR'S game is more passive and considerably more subtle. He wins by intruding into the activities of others, forcing other people to accommodate to him, and doing all of this in a way that avoids his having to put forth effort and energy, take responsibility, or show any significant degree of initiative. Others find this behavior annoying, frustrating, and see it as an imposition; but the hook is in terms of their feeling guilty if they confront gravitator, demand their space, or insist that gravitator do his share. It is as if they were making demands on an individual who is unable to respond or comply. Pushing would feel a little bit like victimizing the victim. The result is that they expect very little from gravitator, respond to what come to be seen as his demands, and allow gravitator to have considerably more than his fair share of family space, energy, and socioemotional tolerance.



The key in dealing with gravitator is to understand that it is a game that he plays. Other family members need to be more assertive and responsible in terms of insisting on their rights and on gravitator's carrying his share of the load. On the one hand, other family members simply ignore gravitator's behavior while on the other hand refusing to respond to his direct and indirect needs that usually come in the form of pleas and weak request. Say to gravitator, 'I need my space or privacy and will appreciate your laying around some place else.' Also one might say, 'I am no longer going to be helpful to you and respond to your needs and interests unless doing so becomes a reciprocal arrangement.' Gravitator needs to become more helpful, more actively involved in the family, more responsible, a more dependable participant in the family system, and considerably more energetic both at a personal and family system level.



Within the family game arena, HESITATOR plays a game with many similarities to that of GRAVITATOR. Although hesitator brings more energy to the family system, he takes a very passive approach to family activities and involvements. It is a no lose game. If problems are solved, decisions proved to be useful, and things go along smoothly, hesitator may share in the credit since he agreed to and supported what happened. Alternatively, if things do not go smoothly, do not work out well, hesitator is free from responsibility since he can always plead having been uneasy with the decision or plan to begin with, and can note that he only reluctantly went along. Either way, hesitator wins.



Other family members will need to become more assertive with hesitator, confront him about the game, whenever possible avoid making decisions or taking positions until hesitator has committed himself, and simply refuse to acknowledge the win. 'Things worked out alright but you had nothing to do with that. It is not true that you supported or went along with the decision. If you do not take active responsibility at the beginning, you get no credit at the end. By the same token, when things do not work out, you are as responsible for that as anyone else. Your refusal to actively participate does not in any way diminish your responsibility within the family.' Hesitator must learn to be more responsible, more assertive, more involved, and more active within family life, good times, bad times, and all.



As was true with HESITATOR, the LEVITATOR plays a game very similar to the GRAVITATOR. The twist comes in terms of levitator's remaining detached and uninvolved from what seems to be a sense of superiority. Hesitator seems to reflect more a sense of inferiority, with levitator being at the opposite end of the same illusory range. The range is an illusion because it simply represents somewhat different ways of avoiding involvement, responsibility, and active participation within the family system.



The win for levitator comes either in terms of other's capitulating or their becoming frustrated and reactive. In either event, the ideas, interests, and feelings of other family members may simply be discounted. Levitator needs to be called on the game, needs to learn that others will not capitulate or accept their implied inferiority, and will only deal with him as an equal, active participant within the family system. Levitator needs to learn to become more attractive to other family members in social and emotional terms, to be more considerate of the feelings and interests of others, and to be more supportive of the needs and interests of others.



MEDIATOR plays a game very similar to that of the HESITATOR but brings considerably more energy and activity to the game. Meditator will accept responsibility for decisions, plans, and other activities but will only do so if there is almost complete certainty relative to the outcome. The win comes through only taking responsibility for those things that are nearly certain and thus being guaranteed of a positive outcome when he does take responsibility. The rest of the time, he can hold others accountable for problematic outcomes with the added benefit of being able to say, 'I warned you or I told you so.' Meditator is not refusing to participate and shows no reluctance to participate.



The hook for others comes in terms of running the risk of being held responsible when there are problems or when things do not work out well. They want to avoid being the goat and thus play meditator's game. The key to avoiding being hooked into the game is to understand two basic concepts. First, consider the law of probability. Although meditator will approach 100 percent in terms of decisions and plans that work out, other family members will come close to that same level based on their experience, judgment, and general good sense. The meditator's track record will not be much better than that of other family members over time. Second, playing the meditator's game results in many missed opportunities, plans that never got off the ground, and activities that never happened. Not playing the game results in a lot more positive outcomes for the family with only a slight increase in problematic outcomes. The small risk is well worth the significant payoff over time. Meditator needs to learn to be more decisive, more flexible, more playful, and more relaxed about the ups and downs of life within the family system.



MILITATOR plays a game similar to that played by DICKTATOR. Whereas the dicktator is intent on exercising power, control, and influence by making all of the decisions and telling everyone what to do, the militator similarly exercises power, control, and influence by not letting anyone in the family exercise power, control, or influence over him, tell him what to do.



For the militator, the win comes through always having control, always having the upper hand, by never letting anyone put one over on him or exercise control in relationship to him. The key to dealing with militator is to confront without arguing. Anytime militator becomes argumentative or confrontive, simply say, 'I appreciate your sharing your point of view and will take it into consideration.' Militator will likely try to continue confronting or arguing. It is then appropriate to say, 'You simply like to be confrontive for confrontation's sake, like to argue for the sake of arguing. I have told you that I appreciate your sharing your point of view and will take it into consideration. I have no more to say on this particular subject.' Stick to this decision and do not discuss the topic any further with militator. He needs to learn to be more accepting of other family members and of their feelings and ideas, to be more assertive without becoming confrontive or argumentative, to be more considerate of the needs and interests of others, to be more flexible, to be more gentle, and to be more patient and playful with others.



PRECIPITATOR plays a game similar to that played by the MILITATOR; but the precipitator plays it more indirectly and is able to get others to do his bidding. The win comes through getting others upset and into conflict without needing to get upset or participate in the conflict in any direct way. The payoff is vicarious and indirect.



The strategy for dealing with the precipitator is somewhat unlike that used with other TATORS. Here, the key is for all other family members to talk with each other about the precipitator's game, how they are getting hooked in, and how the win works for precipitator. Other family members may then simply refuse to react, come to the bait, or become upset with each other as a result of what precipitator says or does. In addition, it may be useful for the family as a group to sit down, talk with the precipitator about his game, and share with him how it is going to be dealt with by other members of the family. The precipitator needs to learn to be more actively involved in family life, to maintain a more positive orientation to each member of the family, and to accept considerably more responsibility for his behavior and participation within the family.



The SPECTATOR game within the family has qualities similar to the games of the GRAVITATOR and the HESITATOR. However, spectator's game is much more passive and indirect. In fact, spectator is simply refusing to be an active part of the family. The win comes through consciously being isolated, uninvolved, detached, and apart from other family members. The payoff is in safety, an absence of responsibility; and although spectator does not enjoy the benefits of family participation, neither does he have to deal with the tensions, conflicts, problems, and difficulties that come up from time to time.



Simply ignoring spectator only serves to perpetuate his game. Gentle confrontation is in order combined with increased acceptance of spectator, increased assertiveness with him, more consistency when dealing with him, a little more energy brought to relationships with him, and increased spontaneity within relationships with spectator. He needs to learn to be more assertive, more attractive to other members of the family, more energetic in terms of family participation, more giving in social and emotional terms, more playful and more responsible in terms of the value of and need for his active participation in the family.



The family FACILITATOR plays an interesting and somewhat unusual game. The main difficulty in spotting the game comes in terms of the apparent value or desirability of playing facilitator's game. He is helpful, will do almost anything for anyone, and is always there when others need him. These desirable qualities mask or hide the underlying game. The dual win comes first in terms of having others feel obligated to facilitator. They owe him for past favors. The apparently freely given favors and services are the hook. The underlying aspect of the win comes in terms of facilitator's not needing to accept responsibility, make decisions, show leadership, or deal with his fair share of the give and take within family life. Even if these negatives are upsetting or irritating to others, they have difficulty dealing with facilitator about them since they feel obligated as a function of past favors and as a function of favors and services anticipated in the future. The result is that facilitator is left free from sanction or criticism.



The key to dealing with facilitator comes in terms of simply refusing to accept favors or services which one could get along without or reasonably provide for himself. In addition, it is equally important to avoid feeling that one should 'pay back' the facilitator by not holding him responsible for family involvement and participation. He might say, 'Why do you treat me this way after all I have done for you?' An appropriate response would be, 'I relate to you and deal with you in what I believe to be reasonable and fair ways of relating to and dealing with members of our family. All you have done is indicative of the way you choose to relate to and deal with the rest of us. In our family, we are helpful to each other and also hold each other accountable for and responsible for appropriate participation.' Facilitator needs to learn to be more personally accountable, more responsible, more dependable during times of difficulty or stress, and more open and up front about his motivations and interest.



BABY SWEETATOR concludes the discussion about games played within families. His game is similar to that of the FACILITATOR, although the hook is in terms of personality as opposed to doing favors and providing services for others. The game is to be and remain highly attractive to other family members in physical, emotional, and social terms and to emphasize positive interpersonal gain within relationships. Being involved with someone who reflects these characteristics is the first level of the hook and is a nice and pleasant experience for everyone else. The second level of the hook comes in terms of Baby Sweetator's getting upset, crying, and implying through his behavior that others are being insensitive, inconsiderate, unjustifiably harsh, and unappreciative. The win comes, of course, through avoiding responsibility, criticism and negative interaction with others, and being held accountable for his behavior in both positive and negative terms.



Dealing with baby sweetator is handled the same way as was seen with the FACILITATOR. Basically, one says, 'You're nice, a lot of fun, and very pleasant to be around most of the time. Nonetheless, this does not excuse you from responsibility, accountability, or full participation in the family.' One then deals with baby sweetator in a straightforward, reasonably objective manner, enjoying the positive aspects of the relationship and dealing directly with the more negative or problematic aspects of the relationships. Baby Sweetator needs to learn to be more consistent, more dependable, more helpful, more socially and emotionally honest, and more responsible in terms of his overall participation within the family.



By Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. March 24, 2017