Rebecca C. Mandeville is a licensed Psychotherapist and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional; recognized Family Systems expert; Educator; and author of Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed, the first book ever written on what she named ‘Family Scapegoating Abuse’ (FSA). 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.
If you’re in the ‘family scapegoat’ role and in contact with family members who continue to subject you to mental and emotional abuse, manipulation, gaslighting, and narcissistic behaviors, this checklist will aid you in protecting your emotional and mental health.
Self-Care Checklist for FSA Adult Survivors
Step 1: Recognize unsafe, triggering, harmful statements and people
Examples of such statements include:
- “You’re too sensitive – I was only kidding!”
- “I was only joking – Why are you getting so upset?”
- “You can fool other people, but you can’t fool us – we know what you’re really like.”
- “You can’t cut ties with your family – you need to find a way to work it out.”
- “The real problem is that you won’t “forgive and forget” – You need to get over it and move on.”
- “Don’t tell anyone you’re being abused by a family member. It might damage their reputation and ‘abuse’ is too strong a word, anyway.”
- “What did they do, anyway? Nothing that’s bad that you’d need to end contact with family.”
- “Are you sure you didn’t do something that caused your family to say these things about you / treat you this way?”
- “You need to tolerate your family’s harmful behaviors and learn to let it roll off of your back – They don’t realize what they’re doing so don’t take it so personally.”
Anyone who suggests or implies that you are “too sensitive” or “over-reacting” when you attempt to tell them what’s really happening to you in your family, or that you need to “toughen up” and learn to tolerate mental and emotional maltreatment, is not a person who can be supportive in your family scapegoating abuse (FSA) recovery process. Such statements are in fact harmful and may even re-traumatize you.
If the people you confide in about your family’s mistreatment of you don’t believe you or minimize your experience of trauma and abuse, whether they are a friend, therapist, coach, or minister, you need to recognize this fact and seek help from those who are willing and able to hear you and listen to your experiences without invalidating your feelings.
Step 2: Establish a support network of other adult survivors
There are many online forums for those who have experienced childhood abuse who continue to experience abuse from family today. Those forums that recognize C-PTSD symptoms tend to work well for adult survivors of family scapegoating abuse (FSA), such as Out of the Storm. Social media groups are often public, so use caution when sharing sensitive events or information on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Step 3: Develop daily self-care practices
Self-care usually goes out the window when one is suffering from family scapegoating abuse and/or complex trauma symptoms. Checking out and dissociating are maladaptive survival responses that leave us feeling disconnected and distant from our own body, thoughts, and feelings.
Deciding to nurture yourself and tend to your body’s needs is an important aspect of recovering from any type of psycho-emotional abuse. Keep it simple at first. A soothing cup of hot herbal tea each morning; lavender misters; scented candles; ‘spa’ music; relaxing walks; Epsom-salt baths – these are just a few of the daily practices you can experiment with as you begin to develop self-nurturing practices and habits.
Step 4: Find a trauma-informed Psychotherapist or Certified Recovery Coach
Many therapists and coaches are working online now, and some offer low-fee slots to those who are in financial need. Psychology Today’s website allows you to use filters to find therapists in your area who address your specific issues and you can filter for online service providers as well. Click on the filter ‘Types of Therapy’, then ‘Show More Types of Therapy’ and then ‘Family Systems’ to find a therapist who will be familiar with family roles such as ‘identified patient’ and ‘family scapegoat’. Mental Health telehealth platforms also offer financial aid if you reach out to their support team. You also can ask to be matched with a licensed Marriage, Family Therapist (LMFT), as these psychotherapists are required to receive a great amount of training in Family Systems as part of their Masters programs. Recovering from family scapegoating abuse is difficult to do alone or only with the help of an online forum or self-help book, especially if C-PTSD symptoms are present. Decide to get help, and don’t stop until you do.
Step 5: Release the need to figure out why your family scapegoats you
This is a real trap that most people who are scapegoated fall into. “Why would my family do this to me?” is a question I often hear from new clients. There are many possible reasons a particular family member might be scapegoated, as discussed in my book, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed. While none of us are perfect, nobody deserves to be on the receiving end of cruel, unjust treatment that qualifies as mental and emotional abuse – especially when the perpetrator of the abuse is one’s own family member.
Understanding family systems concepts and the consequences of intergenerational trauma (also referred to as multigenerational or transgenerational trauma) can be helpful, but it is important that this does not cause you to minimize the harm that has been done to you as a child or adult victim of family scapegoating abuse (FSA). What matters is that you begin to understand how family scapegoating behaviors have affected you so that you can take steps to heal from the consequences of FSA and any attendant complex trauma (C-PTSD) symptoms.
To heal from FSA requires you to first admit that you were in fact abused by the very people who should have cared for, loved, and protected you the most: Your family-of-origin. So while understanding why a family scapegoats one of their own may eventually allow for more expansive, compassionate awareness, it is important that you first have compassion for yourself as you recognize the harm that has been done to you so you can begin to heal.
Step 6: Do not engage in Family Therapy until your family has stopped abusing you
This is another trap FSA adult survivors can innocently fall into. If you are the ‘identified patient‘ in your family, your truth and your experience of being scapegoated is likely to be overwhelmed by the ‘stories’ and negative narrative your family has about you, which they will be more than happy to share with the family therapist. When it comes to abuse, it is critical to remember that there is only truth, and what actually happened is what matters – not your family’s story about you and what you supposedly did to ‘deserve’ less than humane treatment.
For example, if there are people in your family who claim you are “a liar”; “crazy”; “a fake”; etc, when you are none of these things, they will be quite comfortable – even eager – to tell the Family Therapist these same things with you right there in the room with them, which is understandably re-traumatizing for victims of FSA.
If, on the other hand, your family is no longer abusing you and seems open and willing to participate in family therapy so as to make amends and work toward reconciliation, then working with a highly skilled, trauma-informed Family Systems therapist might indeed be helpful, should you wish to remain connected with select members of your family.
Sadly, there are some Mental Health professionals who are unable to hold parents, siblings, or other relatives accountable for their abusive behaviors. We especially don’t like to think that a mother or a father would harm their child, whether intentionally or unintentionally. When victims of abuse sense that their reports of family maltreatment are minimized or invalidated by the therapist, it can be a devastating experience that causes them to fear ever reaching out for help again. This is why it is critical that any therapist or recovery coach you engage with be trauma-informed and familiar with family scapegoating dynamics and the harms that such dysfunctional, toxic dynamics can cause.
Step 7: Examine your current boundaries
If you are an adult survivor of family scapegoating abuse (FSA), you may have developed the trauma response of fawning, which can interfere with your ability to establish boundaries and protect yourself from abusive behaviors and people.
Setting boundaries with family members can be particularly difficult. Ask yourself, “Would I put up with this behavior if I weren’t related to this person?” If the answer is “no,” then you may need to work on establishing healthy boundaries with everyone in your life, including your family. You’ll find some great information about boundaries in this article to help you get started until you find professional support. You need not tolerate abusive, disrespectful behavior, ever. From anyone.
Step 8: Commit to developing self-compassion and self-love
If you’re an adult survivor of family scapegoating abuse (FSA), you may unknowingly be swimming in a sea of toxic shame, which can interfere with your ability to protect yourself from abuse so you can heal. The antidote to toxic shame is developing self-compassion and self-love. This article from the Positive Psychology website provides some excellent information and resources to help you do just that.
Step 9: Limit or end contact with family who persist in their scapegoating behaviors
I realize this is not an easy decision, but in the end, abuse is abuse. If someone in your family is unable to treat you with kindness, consideration, and respect and is actively harming you, whether overtly or covertly, you would be wise to ask yourself why you are putting up with this behavior.
I’ve heard all kinds of reasons people remain in touch with abusive family members during the 20-plus years I’ve been a practicing clinician, but none are compelling enough to convince me that remaining in an abusive relationship is worth the price that is paid, no matter what the reason. If you’re struggling with your decision regarding remaining in close contact with abusive family members, consider reaching out to a licensed Mental Health professional or certified trauma-informed recovery coach who understands family scapegoating dynamics for support.
Step 10: Learn what you are recovering from
Family scapegoating is a form of psycho-emotional abuse that is under-researched and not well understood, even by Mental Health professionals. To learn more about the abusive aspects of family scapegoating and how this form of abuse can result in complex trauma (C-PTSD) symptoms, consider reading my introductory guide on understanding family scapegoating abuse (FSA).
If you found this article helpful, consider sharing it with others via the social media icons, below. I’d also love to hear from you in the comments – What’s helped you take care of yourself as an FSA adult survivor?
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
Copyright 2021 | Rebecca C. Mandeville | All RIghts Reserved
Rebecca C. Mandeville is a thought leader in understanding the consequences of child psycho-emotional abuse and family scapegoating. She is a licensed Psychotherapist; Certified Clinical Trauma Professional; and Family Systems expert. Rebecca’s book, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed, is the first book ever written on “Family Scapegoating Abuse” or “FSA” (a term she coined during the course of her Family Systems research). She is also a YouTube Health Partner serving as a recognized Family Systems and Complex Trauma expert via her channel Beyond Family Scapegoating Abuse.
6 comments / Add your comment below
Unfortunately, on the Psychology Today therapist search tool, there is no way to search for a therapist specializing in Family Scapegoating. I’m not sure how else to even describe what I am seeking.
Hi Calista, thank you for pointing this out. Regarding PsychologyToday.com: I just amended my article by adding the following: “Click on the filter ‘Types of Therapy’, then ‘Show More Types of Therapy’ and then ‘Family Systems’ to find a therapist who will be familiar with family roles such as ‘identified patient’ and ‘scapegoating’.” Also, ideally the therapist will be trauma-informed and familiar with C-PTSD symptoms as related to scapegoating and family abuse.
I’ve been studying/researching NPD and family scapegoating since 2009. I never knew there was a name for what had happened to me until I Googled the phrase “Why do my mother and sister always gang up on me” and found a blog written by a scapegoat. As soon as I read the first article I knew immediately this was what I was experiencing. While this discovery was initially validating, it was surreal to see that my family members are literally perfect textbook examples of malignant overt/covert narcissistic personality disorder. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Anyone on the outside would say my abusers were “wonderful people -good christians”. The abuse was hidden even though there were many, many visits to our home by CPS and police. Even after neighbors, parents of friends, extended family and teachers reported the abuse the “family” framed me as a crazy liar and used the “christian church member” status to get away with crimes that should have been charged as felonies.
As a child I was attractive, a straight A student, a good athlete and very creative. I was also an empath who saw through my parent’s/ siblings false personas. I had potential and they crushed me simply because they could. My mother and sister hated me for having traits they envied, one of which was simply being genuine. As a kid I always felt powerless, hopeless and trapped. I started trying to get away when I was 12. I ran away from home many times. They always had the police drag me back. When I was 16 I ran away and stayed with a boyfriend who promised to help me get through college. I got pregnant because my mother would not sign off on birth control. He turned out to be an abusive lying alcoholic but it was better than my parent’s house.
This began a seemingly endless cycle of bouncing back and forth between abusive men and the abusive “family”. Once I had a child at 17 and another a few yrs later that I could not afford to provide for I was trapped under their thumb and their relentless need to crush me for decades.
Instead of allowing me to get on my feet they seized the opportunity to further abuse me and my children. This put them in a position to sabotage every aspect of my life.
The abuse was so bad that I was in my late 40’s before I realized (intellectually) that I was a real person wno deserved a life. Over the course of 9 yrs following my discovery of scapegoating/NPD I repeatedly confronted them about the vicious physical, psychological and emotional abuse and the blatant sabotage my despicable “christian family” used to destroy my life and the lives of my children. I read them articles that detailed actual scenarios and types of behavior that were literally identical to what I had experienced. They got it. I saw it in their eyes, their masks slipped but it only took a moment for them to recover the false sense of entitlement they always used to justify their heinous acts. It is simply not their nature to honestly admit wrongdoing, apologize and do better. Of course, they refused to admit the truth. They know exactly what they did and the lifelong damage they caused. They just don’t care. They used all the typical narcissistic tactics to justify their pathological lying and sick behaviors.
I tried to get them to therapy but the cowards refused. Over 4 yrs ago I realized resolution was impossible and went no contact. At this point I am stuck in cptsd rage. I want them held accountable and I find it shocking that there seems to be no legal way to achieve this. We have stronger laws protecting property than human lives. At one time I had great potential and big dreams but was thwarted, my efforts frustrated at every turn by these monsters and my life was in shambles. I always thought something was wrong with me. That I was defective, somehow innately flawed. They sabotaged every aspect of my life. Relationships, self image, education, finances development of any inherent talents or interests and especially any ability to create and control my livelihood. These were all allowed for my siblings- not for me. They could not allow me any success or even one shred of dignity. After all, financial success and independence would have allowed me to escape and they could not lose their built in punching bag. It was an egregious abuse of parental power. They are masters of false allegations who will stop at nothing to prevent my success and destroy me.
After 5 decades of torture they wore me out. I suffer from severe mental and physical effects of the unnecessary stress they caused. The stress was so great I developed a severe form of PMDD ( there are studies linking this with severe cptsd) along with adrenal fatigue and other stress related illness which I could not afford to treat due to years of financial abuse and career sabotage. I cannot afford healthcare. Every single time I was on the brink of success they stepped in and destroyed me. They made sure that nothing good would ever work out for me. I have lived my whole life in a state of fight or flight from which I cannot escape. The suffering they caused is incalculable.
This society needs a major update. Scapegoating should be illegal and screening/proving hidden abuse should be a function of our legal system. These monsters need to be held financially and criminally responsible and should face full public exposure. Scapegoating and all the forms of abuse that come with it need to be spotlighted and efforts made to protect people from narcissistic families. Medical and psychological therapies need to be available for everyone. For many like me who have been financially abused these services are unattainable and we remain trapped in the hell created by evil disordered “families”. What they do is nothing short of murder and it’s a slow, agonizing death.
When I discovered scapegoating and NPD I could not even find a therapist who had heard of it. Why is this not more widely known? Why are there no systems in place to educate the public, support victims with affordable help and punish perpetrators? How do you ever break free of the anger and desire for justice? The thought of reprogramming my mind is overwhelming. I wish I could just be free and enjoy whatever time I have left but I think no such mercy awaits me. What can I do? Is there any hope for me?
I am so very sorry you have had to endure such horrific events and traumatizing family dynamics. Your story mirrors the stories of many FSA adult survivors who write to me from all over the world, and stories gathered during my research on what I named family scapegoating abuse (FSA).
I can say with certainty that there is reason to hope, based on my experiences with clients in my therapy and FSA recovery coaching practices. But the road to recovery is not easy, and does require trauma-informed therapy that targets both FSA and C-PTSD / betrayal trauma symptoms. If you haven’t yet read my book, ‘Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed’, I encourage you to do so. In it, I discuss what to look for in a therapist, and how to find someone familiar with scapegoating and family systems – AND, the therapist should also be very experienced in addressing complex trauma symptoms rooted in FSA (the term I created during my research on the family ‘identified patient’).
The brain CAN repair (I have clients in their seventies and eighties healing from FSA and C-PTSD), but yes, it is a lot of work, and it can indeed seem unjust and unfair to be the victim of psycho-emotional abuse and have no acknowledgement of this fact from family or even society – and little to no support in regard to recovering from this type of abuse.
I do have some articles here on my blog that address the injustices of being scapegoated by family – and how this is often becomes an (understandable) ‘stuck’ point in the FSA adult survivor’s recovery – but it is not an insurmountable hurdle – and I also discuss this in my book (I include a resource section in there as well). Use the search feature on my website and search on the word ‘injustice’ to find those articles. Thank you for sharing your experiences with others here.
Things got out of hand in our family. For 50 years, the abuse my kid brother and I endured from mom and stepfather was completely unreal, which began when my mother remarried a man she barely knew before I turned 4 years old. Our biological dad had just died in an accident. Our mother allowed sadistic abuse to happen to her own children for decades! She later died 30+ years ago from what they said was cancer, but I know better. She lost her will to live because she was stuck married a Master Narcissist. One of my invisible guardian angels led me to your Scapegoat book, via the Internet. I read it, and it changed my life. I finally put my foot down recently with my brother, who is a lawyer, and filed a malpractice lawsuit against him for screwing up a business debt collection case. The whole mess was bumped up to federal district court, and the loss and damages he INTENTIONALLY caused me and my company were financially settled, and I prevailed. It’s crazy that my brother idolizes our Narc stepfather. The worst part is realizing that my family is kaput. No matter what I do, nothing will ever be corrected. Thank you, Rebecca, for your book. Without it, I would have never been able to sue my brother and recognize that family scapegoating is real.
Ronelle, thank you for this update. This is the sort of justice so few FSA adult survivors ever experience. I’m sure I won’t be the only one here celebrating your hard-earned and much-deserved victory over attempted foul play from a scapegoating family member.