There are many roles of a dysfunctional family. One of the hardest parts to play is the role of the lost child. Is this you?

I lived in a dysfunctional environment growing up. My family was most definitely dysfunctional and operated on a strange level. Although I wasn’t the lost child, my brother was. I can now see some of the side effects that this role had on him during childhood.

What is the lost child?

The role of the lost child in a dysfunctional family is quite different from other abusive roles. It isn’t loud and it doesn’t hog the spotlight. On the contrary, the lost child hides away far from any attention that’s dished out by parental figures. While others are physically and verbally abused, the lost child stays right outside the drama and keeps to themselves.

How is this a bad existence, you might ask. Well, being the lost child has detrimental effects on your later life.

Among the many roles in a dysfunctional family, namely, the hero, the mascot, or the scapegoat, the lost child draws little attention to themselves. It’s out of safety that they do this, but it leads to horrific damages later on.

To understand if you or someone you know was a lost child growing up in a dysfunctional family, there are a few indicators. Check these out for yourself.

1. Numb

The adult who was once a lost child in a dysfunctional family will have trouble feeling emotion. When something negative happens, they will have a hard time feeling sad or the least bit troubled about the situation, even when death occurs. They may also find it difficult to feel happy when good things happen as well. This is primarily because they practiced so much in childhood with hiding their emotions.

Hiding their emotions kept them from being noticed when other members of the family were absorbed in drama. Just imagine, having the ability to instantly wipe all emotion from your face, and then eventually removing that emotion from the very fabric of your being. It sounds scary, doesn’t it?

2. Isolated

Due to hiding away from stress as a child, the lost child will become an isolated adult. Although some people are natural introverts, the lost child will mimic those qualities. They will shy away from social activities and usually have few friends.

Of these few close acquaintances, they will be able to open up a little, but will still tend to be reserved about their personal lives and true feelings. Some lost children become totally recluse at an old age.

3. Lack of intimacy

Unfortunately, many of the lost children in dysfunctional families grow up alone. No matter how many intimate relationships they try to kindle, they all seem to fail. The usual reason for the failure is due to the lack of feelings and overall lack of physical and emotional intimacy.

Basically, as children, they did not make connections because they chose not to get involved with other members of the family. Because of this, as adults, they also aren’t really able to make any connections. Adult relationships, much like childhood ones, fall through and fade away.

4. Self-sacrificing

One of the good qualities of the lost child is their selflessness. If the lost child manages to create any relationships as an adult, they will generally sacrifice things for the people that they love.

When it comes to choosing between something they want or something for their loved ones, they will always sacrifice themselves. This also comes from being the child in the shadows who never asked for anything and never received that much in return.

5. Low self-esteem

Generally, the lost child will grow to have a rather low self-esteem. Although they didn’t really get noticed in a negative way much as a child, they also didn’t receive any praises either. The qualities needed to build a strong good self-esteem were not implemented into their lives while growing up, and so they learned to keep a low profile.

Unless they encountered a rather strong personality that cared enough to build them up, they remain a child with low self-image. Whatever this image was translated into an adult with the same character.

There is hope for the lost child

Like any other dysfunction, illness or disorder, the lost child can be redeemed and grow into a stronger person. Although the fabric of the lost child is woven tight within the adult, it can be loosened and reformed with lots of work.

If you were a lost child, never give up on being a better you. Even if hiding in the shadows of a dysfunctional childhood took its toll, hope is always the answer to becoming something much more powerful. Rebirth, regrowth, and reformation are tools for us all! Let’s use them as we will!



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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Paul

    Wow, great descriptions! Outlined succintly! I can see myself in all of them 🙁 but thank you for listing them, its a great starting point to help me overcome my problems.

  2. Lorenz Menke

    You describe me perfectly. I have known that I was the lost child for some time. The problems with relationships is catastrophic. Trying to save my marriage.

  3. Me

    This was 100% me as a child. I feel healed from this to some extent but my family seems to be assuming that this is still my role and I now rebel against it!

  4. Amy

    Any book recommendations that could help?

  5. Sam

    I’m also wondering about book recommendations. Most books directed to children of narcissistic parents focus on the more common outcomes (scapegoat etc).

  6. Alan Francis

    This was my role. Gone no contact with whole family on 24/12/22. I found it impossible to start healing without doing this. The dynamics of the dysfunctional family system was keeping me in this role. All family are in denial. The thought of them facing their repressed trauma is too much for them. Their choice. Now without the unconscious constraints of obeying the families rules the lost child is starting to “thaw”.
    A really good amount of information here with great insights.
    From my experience the lost child can be classed as a necessary ego defence to survive. You can also think of it as a toxic age regression trance, a schema, a self or part. As the lost child is a lens I see/ saw life through it’s all encompassing and impacts every area of my life. It’s probably been a talent in jobs. As I heal my lost child I can utilise these talents without the underlying trauma driving them.

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