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 (abusive) 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…)
Purchase Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed from Amazon to learn more about family scapegoating and toxic family systems
My book on what I named Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) is available on Amazon in both Kindle and Paperback formats. You can also purchase it at these online Book Retailers
Abuse of Power is Abuse!
One of the most important things that happen when I begin to work with clients in my Psychotherapy and FSA Recovery Coaching™ practices is my helping them to begin to understand that they have been imprisoned in a role given to them by the power-holders in their family system.
I explain to my clients that their personal narrative – their unique life story which each of us as human beings has a right to author for ourselves – has been taken from them and they have been given another negative and shaming story in its place – the story the dominant family member(s) has about them that has turned them into the scapegoat.
I also emphasize the fact that scapegoating is a form of chronic bullying, so theres a lot of feelings that have to be worked through: Depression, anxiety, anger, shame, disenfranchised grief, and ‘toxic shame’, to name just a few.
Recovering From Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA)
Although the work of freeing yourself from dysfunctional family roles and other people’s ‘stories’ about you isn’t easy, many of my clients have discovered that they are able to release the past and the wrongs that have been done to them, allowing them to live joyful, authentic, self-empowered lives based on self-love, self-respect, clarity, compassion, and integrity.
In my own recovery process, I eventually discovered that there are many gifts that come from having gone through the confusion, isolation, and pain of being the family ‘identified patient’. However, if somebody had told me that while I was in the thick of diving into all of the anger, grief, and distress, I would have had great difficulty in believing it, and may even have felt upset by the suggestion!
When my clients express disbelief that they could ever recover from such a damaging form of mental and emotional systemic abuse, I reply, “Believe nothing, entertain possibilities.” This is because I have witnessed first-hand many of my scapegoated clients heal, recover, and go on to live rich, fulfilling lives fueled by a sense of passion, mission, and purpose.
Needless to say, the emotional pain experienced by the scapegoated family member can be tremendous. For example, my FSA research revealed that many FSA survivors are unknowingly suffering from complex trauma (C-PTSD) and betrayal trauma.
If you’re not currently working with a therapist, you might look into consider working with a trauma-informed therapist or recovery coach who understands family systems and the psycho-emotional consequences of being trapped in this most devastating family role. I also provide additional recovery resources in my book on family scapegoating abuse if you are not able to work with a professional at this time.
Rebecca C. Mandeville is a Psychotherapist, Researcher, Educator, and author of Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed. She coined the term family scapegoating abuse (FSA) while researching family scapegoating’s impact on the targeted child / adult child She is a pioneer in researching 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, narcissistic, or abusive family systems.
Copyright 2020 Rebecca C. Mandeville. All rights reserved.
Rebecca C. Mandeville is a psychotherapist, recovery coach, writer, speaker, and media contributor on child psycho-emotional abuse, family scapegoating, and dysfunctional family systems. She has dedicated her 20-year career in Mental Health to advocating for those whose voices are not heard due to being systemically disempowered. Rebecca writes for various Mental Health organizations and her popular blog, Scapegoat Recovery. She is also the author of the best-selling book on what she named ‘Family Scapegoating Abuse’ (FSA), Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed: Help and Hope for Adults in the Family Scapegoat Role.