Rebecca C. Mandeville is a Trauma-Informed Psychotherapist and Recovery Coach, Educator, and author of Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed. She 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?
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?
- 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?
- Were you the problem child or identified patient in your family-of-origin (you may even still be struggling to escape these stifling roles today)?
- Do you identify as being codependent or highly sensitive and empathic?
- 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)?
- 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)?
- Do you struggle with addiction, codependency, or complex trauma (C-PTSD) symptoms?
- Do you have difficulty identifying your own wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings, and do you choose to remain silent to keep the peace and/or avoid conflict at all cost?
- Have you struggled as an adult with forming healthy, mutually respectful, trusting relationships?
- Do you feel chronically anxious, depressed, and/or wrestle with severe self doubt, including imposter syndrome?
- Have you chosen to reduce or limit contact with one or more family members, yet question yourself for this decision and/or feel guilty, ashamed, bad, or wrong for distancing yourself from your family?
If you answered ‘yes’ to questions 1, 2, or 10, and also answered ‘yes’ to at least one of the other questions, it is very possible that you are the ‘scapegoat’ or ‘identified patient’ in your family-of-origin. (Article continues below…)
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Copyright 2020 Rebecca C. Mandeville. All rights reserved.
Rebecca C.Mandeville, LMFT, CCTP, is an internationally recognized expert in family systems. She is a psychotherapist, certified complex trauma professional, researcher, author, and media contributor on child psycho-emotional abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She specializes in helping victims of ‘invisible’ family abuse reclaim their life narrative and so that they can live freely and joyously as their true self. Rebecca is the author of Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed – the first research-based book on what she named family scapegoating abuse (FSA).