As some of you know, I have been busy ‘crunching’ a tremendous amount of data related to qualitative research I have been conducting on what I named family scapegoating abuse (FSA) for over ten years now.
I plan to publish a book with my research results in 2022, but also thought this would be a good opportunity for me to answer some of your questions and offer suggestions regarding scapegoating dynamics, whether mild or severe.
I will answer those questions that come up most frequently and are of the greatest interest to FSA survivors. If you’d like to submit a question for me to consider for my book, you can ask me here in the comments or use this contact form.
As always, thank you for your continued support as I work to bring attention to what is an under-researched, poorly understood subject.
Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA, MACP, MFT
11 comments / Add your comment below
Hello and thank you for what your doing for all of us chosen ones!!!
Sometimes I see others trying to scapegoat someone in the workplace or in a family. Am I correct for calling it that or is it something else?
For instance: a woman at work thats lazy and a gossip decides to start a rumor about a coworker and her cronies (flying monkeys) start giving the coworker dirty looks and or ignoring her, but the worst is its a lie about the supervisor and the supervisor believes it despite a few of the non followers trying to tell the supervisor its not true. The supervisor begins to make work literally impossible for the attacked coworker, to the point that hours are cut and she’s verbally attacked. All because the attacked is friendly, bubbly, and extremely hard working.
A woman living in her townhouse community for nineteen years where there are no pets allowed, is 62 years of age, has brain surgery and gets anxiety and depression so her doctor tells her to get an ESA, writes a letter to mgmt. stating she needs an emotional support animal, so she finds the perfect rescue fit and is in love with her. The dog is sweet, extremely well trained and obedient. The womans life is completely changed for the better. You would think happily ever after right?
But ONE neighbor resents her having the dog and starts a smear campaign with all her friends all around the community. She’s a gossip and a drama queen. The woman gets a letter frim mgmt. saying she cant walk her dog around because people are complaining. The flying monkeys walk by her house and give her dirty looks, and SOMEONE keeps calling animal control for nothing. Animal control comes out each time and explains that they have to respond by has been invited in to see how sweet and amazing this dog is. Within six months tons of others get dogs and walk them past the womans house as if to show off they can walk their dogs but she cant. A happy nineteen year resident that was overcoming PTSD from childhood trauma is now suffering from a new life altering emotional trauma even though she has gone no contact with her family that mistreated her so bad, now she feels its right outside her door. Is this scapegoating?
A stepparent constantly picks on his stepson who lives with him because his own son resides with his mother and when he visits he acts like everyone owes him something and has no rules while the stepson who resides there is respectful and kind and never gets into trouble. Yet he’s critisized and picked on all the time by his stepfather.
Is the stepfather scapegoating the stepson? (I divorced his ass)
These are about me of course. Since I learned the hows and whys of my own abuse at home growing up that continued with betrayal, rejection, shame, and humiliation from smear campaigns, I cant help but wonder why I keep getting scapegoated everywhere and all through my life. Was I born this way or is it something im doing?
I am sorry you have had to go through these experiences. My research on FSA revealed that many people who experienced family scapegoating abuse (this would be chronic, repetitive, severe scapegoating in one’s family) find they are scapegoated in other groups or organizational systems as they get older. Many wonder if it is something about them that attracts or co-creates this behavior. It is also true that children from dysfunctional families find themselves in situations as adults that mirror their toxic family dynamics, including their ‘role’ within the family system. So much more research needs to be done on why this is the case – Why this ‘family dance’ (drama) plays itself out over and over again.
This is an important subject that deserves attention in my next book and so I will likely include a section on this and go into some depth. I have my own ideas and thoughts about why this occurs, and some are complex and will take time for me to further research and define. So thank you for these questions and the example you shared. Scapegoated children suffer so much when young; it is nothing short of tragic that the injustices and resultant suffering continue on into adulthood, not only within the family, but in other social systems the FSA survivor finds themselves in.
This is so helpful…and very painful yet relieving to read?Like having an illness for years and suddenly finding out that that what you are experiencing has a name. I’m finally aware of this as a syndrome- I never knew about it!
I always knew that I was the only one hit or emotionally targeted by my stepmother and her mother and my father and ultimately others in the family but I honestly thought it was just because I was weak and sensitive and the youngest. Now looking back 45 years later I’m realizing it’s so obvious that this role that I played for my family was very helpful for them and very harmful for me.
Over the last year I finally decided I need to really step back from my relationship with my sibling because I am just more aware now of how he still can be very unkind ( thankfully my stepmother is dead and my father is also passed on so I don’t have to feel conflicted about trying with either of them). I am aware now how my role in my family is to be the person that’s just overlooked and treated just a little different than others ( or a lot). Instead of being okay with nobody ever expressing curiosity about my life, and just sitting at the holiday table as they all show interest in themselves and their children and feeling like saying anything about myself is not welcomed I’ve just…decided to stop caring.
At this stage of my life I just don’t want it anymore. I decided finally to just not go home for the second Christmas in a row and it feels so wonderful. Sitting here and not calling for Thanksgiving because I just don’t want to speak with them feels amazing as well. Sad but so much better than flying hours to drink too much wine to pretend that it’s all okay. I just feel like…if I’m invisible let’s really just not be there.
I’m wondering if they care but more importantly I just know that I can’t do this anymore.
As far as the comments about being scapegoats later in life… I would say that’s happened to me at points and I think it’s because we moved around a lot and I was always having to make new friends. I had never learned how to create boundaries for myself so invariably once in a while someone would try to bully me. But this last year I’ve really started to learn about creating boundaries for myself and I can successfully set them up with people when I can sense that I’m being treated in a “less than” manner. So my take on it is that it can happen easily with a scapegoat due to us not having learned boundaries prior.
Please feel free to reach out for your research if you need any anecdotes. Boy do I have them.?
I am going to buy your book. And keep it in my nightstand. I’m just so relieved to finally recognize this- I don’t know how I never did before.
Thank you for this full and rich comment that I am sure many will relate to and understand – myself included. I’m so pleased you will be buying my book and I do hope you find it helpful and also validating. Do feel free to contact me with any questions you have after reading this first book on FSA so I can do my best to address them in the book I am working on now, which will include my answering questions from FSA survivors. My best to you and congratulations for discovering and enforcing boundaries, and creating a holiday that feels self-loving and self-nurturing.
After reading your 1st book I remarked to my husband of 51 yrs that I ought to be REALLY angry about how horrifically I was treated in my family!
Well, I’m 75. I did go through decades of emotional pain in sorting it all out, deeply. I live now in a state of “Fundamental Wellbeing”. Only recently did I come across an article about this and it was so validating. I achieved this through many yrs of hard work in therapy (reparenting the inner child) and self-therapy & education of many types. I’ve had a wonderful life for quite a few years now.
Your article on Radical Acceptance also describes this state.
I’m able to talk about everything as very interesting phenomena. It IS! Most other people, however, assume that if I’ve shared a relevant-to-a-discussion comment about those experiences it’s that I must be emotionally upset about it and require counselling! This is a bit frustrating but I recognize that they likely have never before met anyone like me and they are interpreting from their framework of working with (or reading about) mental health clients.
An interesting consequence of the family scapegoating combined with bullying in school and having no friends during all those yrs was that, as an adult in subsequent communities, I was easily drawn in by occasional narcissists who were friendly & wanted to be friends with me! How wonderful! I had no idea that there were people like that, who deliberately target others with the intent of destroying them. (I have some talents that I’ve developed considerably and that attract attention and sometimes jealousy). When these people dealt their blows after being very close friends it was a shock.
There were 2 of these situations in my current small community.
After the 1st one, when I was in a state of devastation, a book almost fell off a shelf into my shopping basket. It was about such people and was the key! It was an education.
The 2nd situation soon after was the result of persistence in friendly invitations by the next abuser. I’d weakened and decided I was perhaps being too judgmental & paranoid about her “too-friendly” behaviour. However I started keeping a list of every “red flag” that occurred. When she finally revealed herself in a performance of rage at me, it was no surprise.
However, the consequences of “friendship” with her is that she has never given up in smearing me in the community. She is determined! There are people who do know me, and there are those who are her “flying monkeys”, and there are new people who believe because they don’t yet have a clue.
There is nothing I can do except give up on really being known by some people here. Truth will win in some cases. There has been the JOY of actually blocking a few on fb! It’s a relief to do that!
It’s the recognition that I have continued to be ME all through the yrs, no matter what others have done. No one has succeeded in destroying me!
I have self-respect and boundaries that I didn’t have before. It is peaceful & I love my life right where I am.
Because I am naturally gentle & would still be identified as an easy target because of that, I’m no longer “easy”. I know that if someone came out of the woodwork to suddenly “need” to be friends with me, to run for the hills. That isn’t a healthy person! Friendships develop slowly & naturally.
I look forward to reading your full book.
Your story will no doubt inspire others who read it, Jan. Every now and again I receive a comment that I felt I could have written myself, word-for-word. Yours is one of them. And I agree: Due to not developing strong boundaries when young (typical in dysfunctional families that scapegoat), we can ‘attract’ narcissist-types and those relationships will eventually blow up in our faces. Been there, done that myself. FSA survivors are vulnerable to people who seem to want to offer acceptance, love, and admiration. Which narcissists are good at doing in the beginning. Ultimately, when we expand into our own wholeness and health, we will no longer be taken in by such people. Thank you for your comment, I hope many here will read it. You exemplify what I mean when I discuss the concept of ‘radical acceptance’. It’s a wonderful thing to finally be able to love, accept, and respect oneself and rejoice in one’s life, free of the scapegoating narrative.
LML, good for you! You don’t have to care about anyone other than yourself after you wake up and realize how horribly you have been treated. No one enjoys being disrespected like dirt by family during the holidays. You will really enjoy Rebecca’s book, because it will give you so much peace of mind and allow you to free yourself finally, no matter what age you are.
Does going to birthday parties, regular holiday gatherings, religious events and even weddings & anniversary parties with your family make you anxious? Try doing a beta test to see where you stand: when I was in my late twenties, everyone was sitting around our family table and bragging about their kids, jobs, new cars & houses, and everything else. Not one person asked me what was going on with my life and career. I intentionally didn’t initiate a conversation, or participate in any ongoing conversations because no one acknowledged that I was even sitting in that chair at the dining table. I was invisible. I did not say one word all night long, and no one noticed…. Or did they? They wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. They just needed somebody to sit in and “fill” an empty chair….. like they do with audience seats during the Academy Awards. I was so hurt and humiliated. If your family ever does this to you, that is mental abuse and you don’t need it.
I relate to what you describe about not even being noticed. They even talked ABOUT me as if I wasn’t right there! Not one word TO me, or even looking at me. Grateful for Rebecca’s continuing work.
I was the youngest so used to blame it on that. But then… (you know how it goes). Thank you for taking time to comment, Jan, and I hope people check out your website. Good stuff!
Oh, thank you for checking out my art. It, along with piano, were my lifesavers. My achievements weren’t acknowledged, however neither was I stopped from doing it, as I was invisible.
The phenomenon of there being a mother who is deaf & blind to the abilities & achievements of a child is a topic I hope you will write about in your book (or somewhere else).
I don’t know why my mother was like that; why she needed that. I know little about her own family; just that there were11 siblings, and I can only guess that it likely took alot to hold one’s own.
I can understand there being challenges accepting a daughter who has talents & a high IQ. There would be jealousy & competition.
But this was so extreme,
Despite yrs of evidence of her daughter being the top student in the school; despite teacher reports, she believed I was incapable of knowing anything or doing anything. It continued all her life.
She refused to look at my portfolio. (I suspect she believed I’d cut pictures out of magazines & was lying about them being my paintings.). The same with piano when I told her I’d written a piece she’d just heard & had said was nice. She’d become angry. She likely believed I was lying. The same when my husband told her I was the one who had made the dinner she’d just praised him for.
Have you heard extreme examples like this from others?
Is it more likely that she had an actual mental illness rather than a character disorder? Would it be the result of severe trauma that hadn’t been acknowledged or dealt with? She was very intelligent and talked & acted normally other than this.
Only once, in a novel, did I read about such a mother. The daughter had become so fed up with not being seen or heard that she set fire to the curtains. Despite fire trucks & much commotion, the mother wouldn’t acknowledge that anything whatsoever had happened. Well, yes, this would have been my mother! To me it was a description of fact, of a person I experienced. Other readers said it was unbelievable fiction.
Over the past 20 years I have heard many stories, and yes, I have heard of parents that are incapable of acknowledging their child’s achievements. Many factors can be at play here, including cultural. I see this quite often with Irish families in particular, for example. The accomplishments and successes are not only ignored, but sometimes deliberately sabotaged by the parent (or sibling, etc). Or denied, as you mentioned (“You didn’t really do this, you’re lying”).
Jealousy can also be a factor, and mental illness, as you mention. if you have not yet read Alice Miller’s ‘Drama of the Gifted Child’ then you will want to do so. Alice captures this dynamic perfectly. Much of today’s self-help literature on ‘toxic families’, etc, owes a debt to Alice, but her work is rarely acknowledged, despite her writing extensively about this sort of parental behavior, which, at it’s worst, constitutes mental and emotional (‘hidden’) abuse.
Your questions are good ones and I will do my best to address them in my 2nd book on FSA.