by R.C. Mandeville, MA
Are You the Family Scapegoat?
Many scapegoat abuse victims fail to realize that they have actually suffered from emotional abuse growing up, and even therapists and counselors can miss the signs and symptoms associated with the chronic bullying that constitutes scapegoating.
The client’s genuine distress associated with family connections may be minimized by helping professionals, (e.g., “But they’re your family, of course they love you”; “Family connections are so important, it can’t be that bad”; “It’s best if you forgive, we need to maintain ties with our family to be healthy”), which only serves to reinforce the scapegoated adult’s fear that they are somehow fundamentally to blame for their strained (or non-existent) family relationships.
[bctt tweet=”Family scapegoating is far more common than people realize. ‘The Scapegoat’ is one of the roles given to a child growing up in a dysfunctional family system, and can have a lasting negative effect. ” username=”scapegoathelp”]
Children who have been scapegoated by their family are at much higher risk of experiencing ‘toxic shame‘, low self esteem, anxiety, depression, ‘disenfranchised grief‘, and even trauma symptoms (including Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome) throughout their adult lives. They may also ‘act out’ in anger at the unfair treatment they experience repeatedly as the scapegoated child.
Due to the damage to the emerging self, the growing child may struggle to identify wants and needs, and struggles to form secure attachments with primary figures in their life. As an adult, the scapegoated individual may lack the confidence to pursue goals and dreams, and has difficulty forming lasting, trusting attachments with others. They may feel that they don’t have a right to be, to feel, or to express their true self-nature in an authentic manner with others.
If you relate to 5 or more of the 16 signs I list below, you may be the family scapegoat or ‘identified patient’ in your family. It is possible that you are suffering from Family Scapegoat Abuse Syndrome™ and have had trouble finding a counselor or coach who can truly understand and help you. Visit the home page of this website to learn more.
16 Signs You May Be the ‘Family Scapegoat’
- You may identify as being ‘codependent’ or ‘highly sensitive’ and ‘empathic’
- You may have difficulty expressing your feelings because at a very young age you learned to be careful about revealing too much of yourself as it would be used against you by family members. You may have been told that you are “cold”, “insensitive”, “heartless”, “selfish”, and that you cannot love, including by a scapegoating parent. As a result of stuffing down (repressing) your feelings, you may experience various physical ailments, struggle with addiction and/or codependency, anxiety, depression, and/or obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
- You are made to feel solely responsible for the quality of your relationship with a parent, primary caregiver, dominant sibling, or others in your family; if there are ‘problems’ in the relationship it is viewed as being your fault, no matter what
- If you attempt to share your side of the story or disagree with the version a dominant family member is putting forth (including via a ‘smear campaign’) you are labelled ‘a liar’, ‘crazy’, and/or ‘emotionally / mentally ill’
- One or more family members have been physically, emotionally, or mentally abusive toward you (including ‘gaslighting’ you, i.e., denying, distorting, and twisting events to show themselves in a better light at your expense)
- Extended family members or even non-family members are informed that you are a troubled, ‘problem’ child that is difficult to deal with and cannot be trusted or believed
- If you try to inform others within or outside the family of the abuse you are experiencing (as a child, or years later as an adult), you are not believed and the abusive family member will deny their behavior (often via a ‘smear campaign’ whereby you are once again “a liar” or emotionally / mentally defective)
- You are objectified and dehumanized in various ways, e.g., you are labelled as ‘difficult’, ‘too sensitive’, ‘dramatic’, ‘a liar’, and are even described in those terms to others – in your presence (e.g., “Janie was such a difficult baby, she has so many emotional problems”) – even to perfect strangers
- You may be accused of ‘faking’ a genuine illness by scapegoating family members (nuclear and/or extended); this may be done to your face or via a covert ‘smear campaign’ designed to discredit you.
- You blame yourself for any relationship difficulties you experience as an adult, fearing that there is something innately wrong with you and that you are somehow damaged and defective
- You feel uncomfortable around your family-of-origin (separate, different, ‘not part of’); you feel trapped in a role of some kind, feel stifled and constricted in your interactions (e.g., a sense of having to ‘walk on egg shells’), and are not able to be your ‘true self’ around your family – You may wonder who your ‘true self’ even is
- You may have difficulty forming healthy attachments and trusting, loving connections with others – and you blame yourself for this. You may be attracted to addicts, narcissists, or abusers, know it’s unhealthy, but continue to make self-damaging relationship choices.
- You have struggled with anxiety, depression, and/or ‘imposter syndrome’, and may suffer from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome, as well as unrecognized disenfranchised grief.
- You are ‘the client that cannot be helped’, i.e., you have consulted with various health professionals but no clinician or counselor is able to help you figure out why you feel the way you do or get to the heart of the matter so that you can heal at a deep, core level. Talk therapy, mindfulness-based practices, and/or medications help a little, but not much (unless the healing professional understands you are suffering from dysfunctional family system abuse)
- Your family minimizes or ignores your personal and/or professional accomplishments. No matter how highly regarded you may be outside of your family-of-origin, to your family you are essentially a “fake” and have somehow managed to fool everyone by pretending you are something that you couldn’t possibly be (e.g., a successful, healthy, high functioning, respected in your profession, etc).
- You may have had no choice but to reduce or limit contact with one or more family members to protect your own mental / emotional health, yet you question yourself for this decision and/or feel guilty, ‘bad’, or ‘wrong’ for distancing yourself from your family
Do you relate to any of these signs? Visit the home page of this website to learn more. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section here also!
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About Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA, LMFT
Rebecca C. Mandeville, MFT, specializes in recovering from the negative effects of being raised in dysfunctional / abusive family systems. She served as Core Faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and is a pioneer in defining and describing what she named (for research purposes) Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA). Today she focuses on helping family scapegoating abuse survivors navigate the unique challenges they face.
Rebecca works with clients online via the ‘Simple Practice’ secure video platform as a Counselor and Childhood Trauma and FSA Recovery Life Coach. You may email her at email@example.com to set up your 20 minute online consultation to see if her counseling or coaching services are right for you. To follow Rebecca on Facebook visit Family Scapegoat Recovery.
©2019 R.C. Mandeville, MACP
About Scapegoat Recovery Life Coaching
In my career as a licensed clinician and coach, I’ve devoted myself to helping adult children of dysfunctional families free themselves from the old, worn out family scapegoat role so that they can create a life based on who they really are (versus who others declare them to be). Many clients I have worked with have told me that they feel “free”, “whole”, and “hopeful” for the first time in their adult lives as they learn to reclaim their own life story and shed the stories and perceptions of others – no matter who they are!
I developed the Scapegoat Recovery Life Coaching Process to help adult survivor discover and reclaim their true identity, free of the distorted family narrative that has painted them as ‘bad’ and ‘defective’. To ‘reclaim’ means to retrieve, redeem, recover, return to, reform, recall, to cultivate, to cry out against, to tame, to save. Via the Scapegoat Recovery Life Coaching Process I developed, my clients are able to rediscover lost parts of themselves as they develop awareness and learn how to release the scapegoat story and become the author of their own lives, versus remaining trapped in the story created by the power-holders in their family-of-origin.