Waking Up From the Distorted Family Narrative
Recovering from family scapegoating abuse (FSA) requires recognizing that being the ‘identified patient’ is symptomatic of generations of systemic dysfunction within one’s family, fueled by unrecognized anxiety and even trauma.
In a certain sense, members of a dysfunctional family are participating in a ‘consensual trance‘, i.e., a ‘survival trance’ supported by false narratives, toxic shame, anxiety, and egoic defense mechanisms, such as denial and projection.
It was not until I did my family genogram as part of my Masters in Counseling Psychology training that I learned of some of the devastating, traumatic events that had impacted my family-of-origin.
Many genograms my psychotherapy clients have done as part of their family systems exploration reveal sudden, unexpected deaths (including suicides); illness; stillbirths; divorce; abandonment; missing relatives; and profound financial setbacks and losses.
The resulting family patterns, behaviors, and ‘roles’ that are transmitted from generation-to-generation due to underlying anxiety and trauma form a ‘matrix’, of sorts, one that can feel like an energetic spider web that is impossible to escape from.
When you do ‘wake up’ and realize that there is another reality outside the one you were inoculated into since infancy, it can be a bit of a shock – similar to Keanu Reeves’ experience in the 1999 film, ‘The Matrix‘ after he was ejected from the dystopian simulated reality he had unknowingly been existing within.
The truth, once uncovered, cannot be forgotten about or ignored. And truth can act as a destabilizing force in families that depend on false narratives, control, and denial to maintain their equilibrium.
Scapegoating and Complex Trauma
While disagreements and interpersonal conflicts are common in even the healthiest of family systems, family scapegoating goes far beyond this, making recovering from its impact and effects difficult.
For example, more than half of those who responded to a Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) survey I conducted have been described as “mentally ill”; “emotionally sick,” or “a liar” by a parent or other relative when there was absolutely no truth to this whatsoever. Naturally, being spoken about in this way can be confusing, angering, and even traumatizing to the target of such hostile and defamatory statements.
In addition to the challenges related to dis-identifying from the family ‘scapegoat story’ and attendant distorted narratives, it has been my observation that many FSA survivors are suffering from symptoms of undiagnosed, untreated Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) as well as Betrayal Trauma. Thus, trauma is an area that must also be addressed if one is to fully recover from the negative effects of being scapegoated by their family.
While being scapegoated within one’s family-of-origin is recognized as being harmful, the damage done is most often categorized as mental and emotional. However, being in the role of the family scapegoat can also result in the targeted child being physically bullied, sexually abused, or denied medical care. We as a society need to acknowledge this and stop putting our heads in the sand so as to avoid overwhelming and unpleasant realities.
Rebecca C. Mandeville, MFT is a Psychotherapist and trauma-informed Recovery Coach, as well as an internationally recognized Family Systems expert. She served as Core Faculty at the world-renowned Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, where she first began identifying, defining, describing, and bringing attention to what she named (for research purposes) Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA).
To learn more about Rebecca’s FSA recovery counseling and coaching services visit her website.