Individuals intent on releasing the false family narrative that is the ‘scapegoat story’ face unique challenges in regard to their recovery. For example, if their family is unable to see them as a ‘whole’ person and continues to place them in the ‘family scapegoat’ role, some difficult decisions will need to be made in order to establish and protect their own mental and emotional well-being.
1. Family System Dysfunction and Homeostasis
Members of a dysfunctional family who covertly or overtly engage in scapegoating behaviors typically are unable or unwilling to acknowledge their harmful actions and words. They will resist participating in family therapy, and even if they do, their egoic defenses will make them intractable in their position that they are ‘right’ and that the scapegoated family member is the ‘offender’. They might even claim that they are the victim, denying their hurtful behaviors altogether, thereby victimizing the scapegoated family member twice. This strategic defense maneuver is known as DARVO, which stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender” (Freyd, J.J. 1997).
This is especially the case in families where there are ‘secrets’, such as sexual/physical abuse of the scapegoated child. Because such families are unlikely to seek treatment of their own accord, it is invariably the family ‘identified patient‘ that eventually seeks out some type of Mental Health assistance for their psycho-emotional distress. Therefore, the FSA survivor is typically in a position whereby they must act as their own ‘change agent’ to achieve a sense of well-being and intrapsychic wholeness, independent of their family-of-origin dynamics changing.
2. “Change back!” (Reject/Eject)
Remember, what the system cannot control, it will very often attempt to ‘reject and eject’. I often discuss ‘crab theory‘ or ‘crab mentality‘ with my clients to explain this aspect of family systems: Specifically, as a crab is trying to climb out of the bucket it is trapped in (as part of the day’s catch), other crabs will do their utmost to pull it back down into the bucket.
This is often how it is when you are trying to recover from the effects of being raised in a dysfunctional family system. As you become more able to exist as your true self, your family system will be challenged to accommodate and accept the healthier and more functional self you are becoming.
3. Dysfunctional Families Are Inflexible Systems
A reasonably healthy family system can make such adjustments to allow for personal, individual growth; however, a dysfunctional family system rarely can. Instead, the recovering adult survivor is pressured in various ways to change back to who and what the family is comfortable with and ‘knows’. However, most healthy adults do not want to be who they were in their childhood just to make their family comfortable, especially if their role in the family was that of ‘scapegoat’ or they had to behave in a subordinate manner to survive.
This is especially the case in families where the family system ‘power-holder’ (usually a parent, but not always) has an intractable Axis II Mental Health disorder, such as Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (as mentioned in the introduction) and fear their aggressive/abusive behaviors toward their now-adult child will be revealed if conversations become more open, honest, and authentic.
Healing Modalities and FSA Recovery
Based on responses to a comprehensive survey I conducted as part of my research on family scapegoating abuse, trauma-informed psychotherapy and treatment (such as Cognitive Process Therapy and EMDR); somatic-based therapies such as the Hakomi Method; and Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Meditation practices can be very helpful for the FSA (adult) survivor suffering from complex trauma (C-PTSD).
Narrative therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT)) offer evidence-based pathways for deep healing and integration. Internal Family Systems Therapy is especially helpful for those who are having trouble resolving family-of-origin issues. Psychosynthesis can assist in increasing awareness of a deeper identity beyond the ‘false’ (wounded) self.
For families that are willing to see a therapist, it is important to ensure the clinician is well-versed in Family Systems theory and practices, such as a Marriage, Family Therapist (MFT), and trauma-informed (if possible). Life Coaches who are certified in trauma-informed recovery approaches may also be able to help the FSA survivor.
Forums and Social Media venues that allow the adult survivor to process feelings and receive support can also be helpful, such as Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (ASCA) or online communities that focus on recovering from C-PTSD.
What has helped you the most in recovering from family scapegoating or narcissistic family abuse dynamics? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Freyd, J.J. (1997) Violations of power, adaptive blindness, and betrayal trauma theory. Feminism & Psychology, 7, 22-32.