Family Scapegoat Signs – Take This 10 Question Quiz

Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA
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Rebecca C. Mandeville is a Trauma-Informed Psychotherapist and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional; recognized Family Systems expert; Educator; and author of the first book ever written on what she named ‘Family Scapegoating Abuse’ (FSA), Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed. Rebecca is a pioneer in identifying the overlapping symptoms of family scapegoating abuse (FSA), complex trauma (C-PTSD), betrayal trauma, and the devastating impact and effects of multigenerational trauma on adult survivors of dysfunctional and narcissistic, family systems.

It would be nice to believe that when children turn into adults they are somehow magically released from the ‘family scapegoat’ role. However, this is not at all the case. In fact, many individuals who come to me for therapy suffer from Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) due to continued family abuse that has resulted in them feeling psycho-emotionally paralyzed and worthless – even suicidal.

What Is Family Scapegoating Abuse?

Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) is a term I created while researching family scapegoating dynamics while serving as Core Faculty at a Bay Area university. I now use it in my clinical practice to describe a constellation of symptoms that can arise when one is scapegoated or made the ‘identified patient‘ in their family-of-origin.

Family scapegoating abuse occurs when your primary caregivers or other important ‘power holders’ in the family (grandparents, dominant siblings, or extended family members) single you out as being ‘defective’ and repeatedly give you the message that you are ‘bad’, ‘different’, or ‘not good enough’.

Some children experience scapegoating that qualifies as severe, traumatizing abuse. For example, I once worked with a family at a school for the severely emotionally disturbed (SED) who had had their 5 year-old child publicly exorcised three different times in front of their entire church congregation, believing their child’s acting out behaviors were a sign they were demonically possessed.

Can you even imagine what this (now) adult child might struggle with to this day?

Below is a brief FSA self-assessment (a sample taken from my full FSA self-test, which is available in my book, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed: Help and Hope for Adults in the Family Scapegoat Role). How many of these ten signs, symptoms, and experiences do you relate to?

FSA QUIZ: Were You Scapegoated By Your Family?

  1. Did you grow up hearing a ‘story’ about yourself, including via ‘smear campaigns’ or subtle forms of ‘reality distortion’ (aka ‘gaslighting‘), in which you were made out to be somehow bad, different, worthless, ‘less than’, or defective, stories that portrayed you in a negative, ‘shaming and blaming’ manner?
  2. Were you the problem child or identified patient in your family-of-origin (you may still be struggling to escape these stifling roles today as an ‘adult child’)?
  3. Do you identify as being codependent or highly sensitive and empathic?
  4. Were you the truth teller in your family and was it implied that you were emotionally / mentally ill or that you were bad, wrong, or a liar when you spoke your mind and/or contradicted the family story being promoted by one or both of your parents and/or a dominant sibling (or other dominant nuclear or extended family member)?
  5. Do you find it difficult to develop healthy, mutually respectful relationships with one or more siblings or do you have a dominant sibling who now treats you in the same manner your dysfunctional / abusive parent did (perhaps taking over the ‘smear campaign’ that keeps the propaganda machine portraying you as defective alive)?
  6. Do you struggle with addiction, codependency, or complex trauma (C-PTSD) symptoms?
  7. Do you have difficulty identifying your own wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings, and do all you can to keep the peace and/or avoid conflict at all cost?
  8. Have you struggled as an adult with forming healthy, mutually respectful, trusting relationships?
  9. Do you feel chronically anxious, depressed, and/or wrestle with severe self doubt, including imposter syndrome?
  10. Have you chosen to limit or end contact with one or more family members to protect your mental and emotional health?

If you answered ‘yes’ to questions 1 or 10, or if you answered ‘yes’ to at least three of the ten questions, you may be in the ‘scapegoat’ or ‘identified patient’ role in your family. You may wish to check out my book on family scapegoating abuse to learn more.

Purchase Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed from Amazon to learn more about family scapegoating and toxic family systems

You can also purchase it at these online Book Retailers

Copyright 2020 Rebecca C. Mandeville. All rights reserved.

11 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Another excellent and insightful article Rebecca. Thank you so much for bringing this subject out of the darkness. As a recovered family scapegoat who reads a lot on cptsd and codependency, I can honestly say that you are the most spot on commentator on this aspect of familial abuse. Your every sentence has me nodding in agreement and feeling gratitude and validation from your words. You manage to compress complex and disparate feelings into succinct statements that hit the nail right on the head. Please don’t be discouraged by lack of comments as it takes time for your website to start ranking well on the Google results pages and for word to get around about your specialty in this field. I certainly recommend your pages on the Quora groups I interact with, and I am sure other blog subscribers will do the same.
    Your articles have been key in helping me to understand the mechanics and effects of family scapegoating abuse, as well as helping me to consolidate the ‘real’ reality of what was going on in my family, along with my own inner experience of it. Thank you again, and please do continue to enlighten us with your laser-like vision on the subject.

    1. What a lovely, thoughtful, and heartwarming comment, Andrew. Nice to meet you here, and I am so pleased that you find my writings helpful. I’m guessing you know about my book on what I named Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) – Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed – and I hope you found this informative as well. Wishing you the very best in your recovery journey!

      1. Dear Rebecca, I have your book on order and it is on it’s way. I know it will be a very welcome addition to the body of knowledge already out there and contain a treasure trove of your distilled insight.

        Thank you again for the fantastic work you are doing.

    2. This is by far the best book I have read about family scapegoating. I was scapegoated as a child and it’s still going on and I’m 58 yrs old. I grew tired of the abuse and tried to defend or just explain the injustice only to be told. It’s all about you. The best one is, to keep the peace I would apologize to my mother and sister after blowing up from being mistreated only to be told, it’s your bi-polar disorder.

      1. Thank you, Joanna. I’m glad you found my book helpful. They say to “write about what you know,” so… You likely now know that you were acting out the trauma-based ‘fawn/submit’ response by “keeping the peace” via apologizing. The blowing up (explosive anger) is the trauma-based ‘fight’ response. These were (are?) survival responses and served you as they were meant to – meaning, they helped you survive the environment you found yourself in. However, as adults, these responses become maladaptive. If we become healthy and stop fawning/submitting or begin speaking our truth minus the explosive blow-up, a dysfunctional family system will have difficulty tolerating the “new” you, due to the fact that such systems communicate in a side-ways manner, and only the family power-holder is ‘allowed’ to be direct in their communications. Thus, many FSA adult survivors get to a point where they limit or end contact to protect their own mental and emotional health. Who can blame them, really? (Although they will indeed be blamed…)

  2. Wow! I can’t believe how much your quiz covers a lot of what’s going on with my situation. Reading it was validation. I just found you today. I have a lot of reading to do!
    Thank you for putting in the work (your research, your published work) all of your efforts will help those in the muck.

    Not sure what you intended for getting the word out there, but a sure fire way of doing it is an AMA (ask me anything) on the site Reddit. It can connect you to communities in much need of your work.

    Thank you again!

  3. Dear Rebecca, I have been signed up for a long time now thank you. I can’t wait to receive your book as work on this subject is sparse and understanding the dynamics and effects of family scapegoating abuse is so crucial to recovery. I am based in the Far East so there is a 1 month delay for free delivery from The book Depository so i am waiting patiently. My wife is trauma informed psychotherapist who often guides her clients to your articles and website depending on appropriateness. She is also looking forward to reading your work which will help her better understand and support her scapegoated and cptsd clients.
    Thanks again.

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