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16 Family Scapegoat Signs: Are You Suffering From Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA)?

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 scapegoatrecovery@gmail.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.

Learn more about how Scapegoat Recovery Life Coaching can help you by clicking here

R.C. Mandeville is a licensed Clinician, Trauma-Informed Life Coach, and Family Systems expert. She is a pioneer in identifying, defining, describing, and bringing attention to Family Scapegoat Abuse (FSA). She is also the creator of the Scapegoat Recovery Life Coaching Process™. She is currently authoring a book on Family Scapegoat Recovery, which will be released in 2020, and has an 'Expert' blog on Psych Central ('Scapegoat Recovery').

15 Comments

  1. Hi Julian: Thank you for your comment / question. My experience has been that we can definitely heal and recover – but we will always have scars. Which only increase our ability to feel compassion toward self and others.

  2. Thank you very much. What do you men by scars? (I just would like to know this so I know what I will have to live with).

    1. Hi Julian, I’m working on a book right now that will be discussing all of this – including the kinds of (invisible) psycho-emotional scars that can result from scapegoating. I also just now released a free handbook that briefly reviews scapegoat dynamics and how to heal and recover from being in this role. So just go back to my home page and you will see how to get the handbook and the book I am currently writing there! – Best, R.C.

  3. I am crying reading this, im 56, I am the family scapegoat. first in my childhood and it carried into my own family to this day, I can hardly do, say, think or feel anything right, im a mess according to most family members if not all, I really dont know anymore. I went to mothers day brunch with my son and his wife they invited me, we had a student staying with us that was interning at my husbands company and when my husband and I got up to go to the buffett my son and daughter in law told this student (who would only be in my life for 6 weeks) he should not get too close to me, that I was crazy, mean and a narcissist. He was shocked and bewildered why they did this and it happens with any and every person im around, they go to extremes to do this to me, but they smile to my face. Its insanity I know moms who were drug addicts and did terrible things who have family that forgace and love them….ive done nothing like that, im not perfect Ive made miatakes and ive paid dearly for them and everyone elses too, I dont know why this is happening to me. Or why my daughter wont defend me in the family she is the only one that feels bad for me….now theres a name for this, ive tried so hard to be what my family wants me to be and ive failed miserably at all of it. I dont want to live anymore, my 10 ur grandson calls me crazy grandma, wierdo, and when I retreat to my room hurt and emotional they all say see all he did was joke with her….. It never stops, I cant get off the crazy train. Thank you for this validation, im overwhelmed with emotion right now, it may have saved my life literally.

    1. Hi Jill, so glad you reached out. You seem to be in a lot of emotional pain (understandably) – It may be that you would benefit from receiving dedicated support from someone who understands dysfunctional family roles and dynamics – likely a licensed family therapist would be best. Do you have resources or ways to access therapists in your area? If not, you might try an online service like Betterhelp or TalkSpace. Also, I just now added ways to access my free handbook and also to be alerted of my book release on Amazon. If you go back to my home page you will see how you can get the handbook now and be notified of my book release and pre-order information.
      Best, R.C.

  4. Thanks f’or posting this RC. It took me so long to read through the article completely as my mind kept trying to distract me. I was surprised when I read paragraph about being ‘untreatable’. This has happened to me recently. The therapists I’ve wound up with just don’t get it. I don’t normally comment on facebook and twitter as my family and friends will see it and they’re all part of the problem. I’m glad to belong to your closed group on facebook where I can share what’s on my mind (when I’m ready).

    1. Hi Lesley,

      I am so glad you found your way to my site (and other resources I offer). I hope to educate clinicians as well as suffers of scapegoating and narcissistic abuse symptoms via these resources, as well as the book I am currently working on. I look forward to getting to know you better in our group! If you know of other ‘silent sufferers’ who are ready for deep recovery and healing, please feel free to share my resource link here with others. I’ll be adding dedicated Narcissistic Recovery resource links soon as well. Link to resources here: https://linktr.ee/scapegoatguide Best, RCScapegoat & Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Resources

  5. I’ve been in and out of therapy since I was about 7… I’m now 28. I’ve been suicidally depressed since I was 4. I have always been the family dumping ground. I don’t understand how I’ve never heard of this before… I have 14 of the signs.

  6. tesla’s mustache, i hit 15 of these marks, i’m a teen and i was just accused of faking OSDD-1b but my parents and i’ve been really struggling with why i might have it. i’m realizing that a lot of the things my parents do to me aren’t normal.

  7. Although having gained sobriety that lasted 17 years, when my mom went into dementia, my father and sister really battered me, and my father actually did cut me out of his Will. I broke down and drank, after all those years of having beaten that addiction. I now cannot stop. I guess I don’t want to stop, because nothing else dulls the pain of these final insults. Now, Dad is dead. My siblings do not speak to each other, and certainly not to me. I am now 61, childless and divorced, and due to the pain, kept digging for information until I found the words “family scapegoat” and all my questions have been answered. However, at my age, there is no hope for me to begin to lead a “productive, fulfilling life”. There won’t be a relationship for me. (I did, however, become a successful oil painter, and creating has been one of the most fulfilling joys in my life.) My “toxic shame” can never be alleviated or removed. Therapy has not worked…. I believe in God, in the goodness of God. And so I cannot understand how a loving God would have allowed my father and sister to have wrecked my life in such an irretrievable way. I isolate, (now) drink alone, and am slowly killing myself. I attributed my past sobriety to God removing the compulsion. I refuse to blame my relapse on myself. I don’t blame God, but I am disillusioned, and full of guilt and shame over that.

    1. Your feelings are very understandable, Karen. Coping with injustices that can never be made ‘right’ is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in recovering from family scapegoating abuse (FSA). Not sure if you have the link to my Psych Central blog – I wrote an article recently about the ‘Just World’ fallacy. I am wondering if you have already joined AA (?) Drinking can indeed be a form of passive suicide, as you seem to already understand. FSA is not an easy thing to recover from, but it is possible, provided that trauma symptoms are properly assessed and treated – and the therapist (or ‘coach’) is genuinely ‘trauma informed’ and meeting standards set forth by SAMHSA – something that often does not happen, sadly. Link to my blog, here: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/scapegoat-recovery/

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