10 Self-Care Tips for Adult Survivors of Family Scapegoating

10 Self-Care Tips for Adult Survivors of Family Scapegoating

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.

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 like Betterhelp also offer financial aid. 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

2 thoughts on “10 Self-Care Tips for Adult Survivors of Family Scapegoating

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

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