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The Healing Power of a ‘Victim Impact Statement’ for FSA Survivors

In my FSA (Family Scapegoating Abuse) Recovery Coaching practice, I often invite clients to write letters to family that have harmed or abused them that they only share with me.

These letters allow for the expression of powerful emotions that may have been unconsciously held back and repressed by the FSA survivor for years, such as ‘righteous rage’, anger, sadness, and deep grief.

Such letters are meant to serve as an emotional release and I encourage my clients to leave them raw and unedited. Although difficult to write initially, clients in my practice report feeling much lighter and more free within days of completing this type of letter and processing their contents with me in session.

The purpose of such an exercise is for the adult survivor of family scapegoating abuse to have an opportunity to hear and validate their painful experiences which have cost them so much in their life. Given how effective these types of “emotional release’ letters have been, I’ve decided to experiment with the potential healing power of an ‘FSA Victim Impact Statement’, i.e., a statement that allows the FSA survivor to specify the damage that has been done to them via family scapegoating behaviors.

In case you’d like the opportunity to construct such a statement yourself, here’s a few tips on how to write a Victim Impact Statement as a survivor of family scapegoating abuse (FSA). Please remember that it is not advisable to share this statement with family; rather, this exercise’s purpose is for you to be able to hear and validate yourself and your genuine pain and suffering by writing out the harm done to you by scapegoating family members.

With that said, I do know FSA survivors that have used the material generated in these written exercises to construct ‘Personal Statements’ that are attached to their Will. These statements will be delivered to any surviving scapegoating family members upon their death. This is another option you can consider if you have lived your life feeling unheard, invalidated, dismissed, or gaslighted by family when you attempt to describe your experiences, pain, and suffering as a target of family scapegoating behaviors.

FSA Victim Impact Statement

If you decide to prepare an FSA Victim Impact Statement, you will want to allow adequate space and time for such an endeavor. You also may want to seek out the support of an understanding friend, 12-Step sponsor, therapist, or coach who will be there for you throughout this process.

As you consider how being the victim of family scapegoating abuse has impacted (or changed) your life, you may use the following suggestions and questions to guide you. Do be aware that thinking and writing about something so painful may be difficult for you. Pace yourself and don’t feel that you need to complete your FSA Victim Impact Statement in one sitting. Be sensitive to your process; tune into your bodily sensations and breathing; and take as many breaks as you need.

Do:  

  • Write a couple of sentences about how difficult it is to prepare this statement, and why it is so difficult. 
  • Write simply and descriptively, focusing not just on facts, but also on feelings and bodily sensations:

For example, which of the following statements give you more understanding?  

  1. Every morning when I wake up, I think about my family. 
  2. Every morning when I wake up, I remember how my parent told all my relatives I was “crazy” so nobody would believe me if I ever told them the truth about how they were abusing me mentally and emotionally behind closed doors. My heart starts to pound as I think of how unjust and unfair it all is and I see no way to fix it. I feel a sense of rage but exhausted at the same time, and I dread facing another day.

The second sentence goes beyond a simple description by offering a detailed narrative with emotions and bodily sensations. As many FSA survivors suffer from complex trauma (C-PTSD) symptoms, writing down how your body is “remembering” past trauma is a powerful way to validate your own experiences as an abuse survivor.

  • Be specific. List each incident that caused you grave harm (unless doing so feels ‘triggering’ or traumatizing for you, in which case, stick to generalities).
  • Imagine and write about what I call a ‘Justice Scenario’. Specifically: If you could have justice in regard to your being scapegoated by family, what form would this justice take? It need not be reasonable, rational, or logical. Focus on what you wish could happen to right the wrongs done to you, even if it is not possible in your mind.
  • Write about any trauma suffered as a result of being scapegoated by family, and it’s effects. For example, if you suffer from complex trauma (C-PTSD) as a result of family scapegoating abuse, how has this affected you physically (e.g., frequent headaches, increased fatigue, heart or stomach issues, etc)? Have you gained or lost a significant amount of weight? Do you have a compromised immune system? Have you developed stress-related illnesses due to family scapegoating abuse?
  • Don’t:

    Get lost in the emotions, especially anger and rage. Save that for a dedicated ’emotional release’ letter (as mentioned at the beginning of this article). Your goal with the FSA Victim Impact Statement is to express the depth of your pain and the various losses you have suffered as a means of validating your experiences.

    Tips to Remember:

    • Focus on what being a victim of family scapegoating abuse means to you physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, and spiritually.
    • Write from the heart about your pain.
    • This exercise acknowledges that you were a victim of mental and emotional abuse, and is designed to help you acknowledge the ‘invisible wounds’ caused by family scapegoating abuse. Allow yourself to identify with the ‘victim’ role for this exercise, even as you transcend the role of victim so as to take responsibility for your healing and recovery from abuse.

    Once done with the FSA Victim Impact Statement, consider sharing it with someone you trust and who you feel emotionally safe with – Someone who will understand this is an exercise and who will not judge you but will be supportive of your process. As noted above, this might be a close friend, a 12-Step Sponsor, a therapist, or a coach.

    Your comments are appreciated. Would you ever consider writing an FSA Victim Impact statement? Why or why not?

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    Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

    Copyright 2021 | Rebecca C. Mandeville | All Rights Reserved

    17 comments / Add your comment below

    1. I got as far as example #2 that starts out with “I wake up every morning…” it hit home so hard and I’m crying my eyes out but it feels good somehow. I’m gonna share this with my FSA facebook support group “Scapegoat Daughters of Narcissists” and suggest that we each pick a partner from group to work with on our Victim Impact Statements. I believe this is going to help us tremendously on our individual healing journeys. THANK YOU again for all you do to validate and help us scapegoat abuse survivors and especially for bringing much needed awareness to FSA.

      I was recently reminded just how much farther we have to go to bring awareness to FSA by a Dear Abby column and not only her response to it…. but also the response to some even within my own group. To me, it was quite obvious that Dear Abby got it wrong and when I posted it my group assuming that all of the members would be as outraged as I was, I was shocked that some of them agreed with her and didn’t recognize the obvious family scapegoating abuse. I am still puzzled by that. This was in yesterday’s Dear Abby…. I’d love to hear your take on this:

      DEAR ABBY: I have a younger sister I love dearly. I respect and admire her. “Elise” is intelligent and talented. She is a minister’s wife and a mother to small children. Due to some unfortunate family circumstances when she was young, she has some emotional scars she’s trying to overcome. Sometimes at family gatherings she’ll “explode” and lash out at whoever triggered her. Her outbursts usually take us all by surprise.

      How do we, as siblings who have grown up in the same environment, handle this? We don’t think our childhoods so terrible, although we did have some challenges, and our daddy does have narcissistic tendencies. He actually recognizes that and is trying to improve himself. Sometimes we feel she makes mountains out of molehills, but we want to be sensitive to her pain. I’m concerned she’ll end up controlling our family gatherings in a negative way if these flare-ups don’t stop. What do you think could be done? — BEFUDDLED BIG SIS

      DEAR BIG SIS: What could (and should) be done is an intervention by you and your siblings in which Elise is advised to seek professional help for her explosive anger issues. If she refuses and her behavior continues, let her know you support her but can no longer include her.

      1. Hi Rhonda, this is a classic example of what happens when people who have no understanding of family systems attempt to advise others on how to handle a ‘problematic’ or ‘troubled’ (or “crazy”, “lying”) family member. Sadly, much of the literature currently available on scapegoating and narcissistic abuse also neglects to incorporate a family systems perspective. As you already know, I have attempted to ameliorate this state of affairs somewhat with my introductory guide on what I named ‘family scapegoating abuse’ (FSA), Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed. Family systems theory has been around for a half century or so, and the role of ‘identified patient’ in dysfunctional families is well-researched. We, as humans, and as humans in family systems, do not exist in isolation. To understand family scapegoating, we need to understand family systems and concepts / realities like ‘projective identification’, ‘false narratives’, denial, and a myriad of other defense mechanisms and egoic defensive maneuvers. The story you share via ‘Dear Abby’ is a story I hear often in my practice, and a story I have lived myself. And it is a sad story, indeed. Thank you for sharing this example of how we can harm when trying to help.

    2. If a family abuses a child, that’s illegal. If anyone abuses a family senior citizen over 65, that’s illegal too. But if you’re not a kid or elderly, it’s fair game for families to brutally and sadistically harass a scapegoated family member, which causes true mental anguish for them. And there are no laws to protect scapegoats. Geez, there are more laws to protect abused/neglected animals than there are to help adult people who are being abused by their own parents and siblings.

    3. I’ve often wondered why it is we can sue McDonald’s when we spill their hot coffee on ourselves, yet parents are completely unaccountable for what they do to their kids, even when they destroy the life of a child.

      Big Sis and Abby seem to have both bought into the broad “the girl is crazy” mental model, oblivious to any idea that the problem is likely more broadly family based– apparent in the fact that Big Sis seems willing to talk about it with anyone but the sister in need. There is not even a genuine desire to help which is simply to involve herself in her sister’s life, step into her shoes, and open a dialogue. (Any bets on how many suggest Prozac?)

      Indeed, one of the most angering aspects of the 60+ years in my own scapegoating is the complete lack of responsibility of anyone, for their simply awful behavior or the impact of that behavior. (“You’re just trying to blame others for your own lack of responsibility.”) Reading this, I even felt some of my old anger rising up.

      Sadly, imbedded our cultural/political era is the notion that we have no responsibility to anyone, not even society, but only to ourselves — i.e., ‘personal responsibility.’ It is a powerful theme that works against our healing

      Rule No.1 (in family dysfunction): Deny that it exists. Deny, dismiss, deflect, and lie.
      Rule No.2: Conformity to the dominant narrative must be maintained at all times

      What better way to deny than to blame the victim?

      1. Hi Rae, thank you for your thoughtful and pointed comments. You might check out the response I just posted to Rhonda’s original comment on the ‘Dear Abby’ article. I also can affirm that for most all of my FSA Recovery Coaching clients, the lack of justice and the suppression of the truth via those with louder voices in a family (who thereby control the ‘scapegoat’ narrative) is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome on the road of recovery and releasing the scapegoat story and all the pain attached to it. It is a long road to travel, but worth it.

    4. I have cut off almost all contact with my family. The only contact is digital, mostly via Facebook, some texts, no phone conversations. I have drawn a line against the abuse and have even blocked members of family from participating in my life, even on a public forum. I have warned members of family that choose to continue the abuse, that if they choose to continue to censor, censure, and chastise me, that I will uninvited them from being part of my life.

      I guess some of them didn’t like that boundary very much. My 22 year old daughter decided to attend a family reunion that I had chosen not to attend due to a combination of the emotional abuse, and health concerns of my beautiful wife. She had become immune compromised, and we decided that the health risks in the current pandemic would not be in our best interests. After the reunion, my daughter quit talking to me. She ignored my texts, wouldn’t answer the phone. Etc etc. I became genuinely concerned for her, so I called her work. She answered and gave me the excuse that she had been busy. I let her know that I had been worried about her, that I loved her, and that since I knew she was ok, I would leave her alone. She has since blocked me from all forms of contact. And since I now know she has done so on purpose, I have chosen to only reach out to her when I am sending group messages to all my kids about family functions. One of my step kids found out she wasn’t talking to me and came by the house. She asked for a moment of time in my office, with her mom there, and told me that one of the in-laws had told her that my daughter had told them that while she was at the reunion, my sisters had told her a bunch of negative stuff about me. Since they can’t reach me directly any more, they have taken a more sinister tour of using (and abusing) my daughter to get to me.

      If I say anything about it to her, I will only be validating (in her mind) everything they told her. The one sibling that I thought could see through this as being emotionally abusive to both me and my daughter, was unwilling to see even that negative talk about me to my daughter as abusive. That one sibling goes into panic attacks at the very thought that I would even dare think that I was emotionally abused as a child, and that it was continuing as an adult. She plays the role of the golden child and the “fixer” and it seems that my refusal to accept that abuse is an indication of my own failure.

      She wanted to talk on the phone. She says “texts are not a good way for us to communicate.” That isn’t actually true. It works fine for me. Lol! When I text, I can think about my answer. I can put the blame aside, I can be bold in my statement of what I am feeling. The pattern of abuse makes it so that I can’t do that in person or in a phone conversation. I start to accept it all back again. I don’t like feeling like that. So, I told her I was willing to have a phone conversation with one foundation agreement, that it was emotionally abusive of me and my daughter to use her to get to me by them feeding her negative ideas about me as a person. She was unable to make even that concession.

      That sister was the one hope I had of ever allowing myself to be part of my core family again. She is in the power circle, almost the “mom” role, the role of seeing but not admitting, not doing anything to stop it, even though she could make a difference. The role of supporting the abusers and telling the abused that they are the one that needs to change. She is a good person, but she too has a lifetime of family dynamics that she learned her coping mechanisms to deal with. I don’t hate her. I am sad for her. Sad for my whole family that has unconsciously developed these habits of abuse, and of accepting abuse as the normal way of life.

      I have coined a phrase for myself. I believe in forgiveness as a way of letting go of past hurts and anger. My phrase though is, “forgiveness does not mean continuing to put yourself in a spot to be abused by those with a history of abuse.” I believe that with all my heart.

      1. Hi JHN, what a powerful comment. I’m sure that many here will relate to most every word you say, and every experience you share. Regarding ‘forgiveness’: For my clients who struggle with this aspect of recovery, I invite them to consider moving toward a state of ‘radical acceptance’ instead. There is a saying from the East: “Do the clouds ask forgiveness from the Sun for passing across its face?” Some family members are like these clouds. Their contempt for the scapegoated family member is like a force of nature. The family system whirls about the ‘scapegoat narrative’ like a tornado whipping itself into a destructive frenzy. And the destruction can be great indeed, including having one’s own child turn against them based on lies and smear campaigns. All to preserve the ‘false narrative’ that the family is attached to and seemingly *must* believe, for if they ever dared to question it, they might have to look at themselves and admit their errors, mistakes, and cruelty. And (Heaven Forbid) – they might even recognize that an apology is due to the one they have harmed. It is tragic all the way around. I am sorry for not only your loss, but for your daughter’s loss of connection with her father as well. What a sorry business.

    5. REW — a quick follow up, if this indeed is a genuine situation . . . .

      The more I read Dear Abby’s reply, the more outraged I feel to her insensitive and inappropriate response. I can almost predict that to follow this advice would be a very traumatizing and harmful experience for the younger sister.

      I know it would have for me. My primary identity in my family was The Angry One. Anger was the only thing my father had to recommend me (hah!) to my future husband, as he joked “Come see me if she gives you a hard time.” (Hah, hah!)

      It was a lifetime of being bullied – first, by my father as he projected his unresolved anger from being badly abused by his father on to me with his teasing that went too far for a little girl. Then, my siblings followed suit and made me their favorite windup toy — good for a few laughs and better than kicking the dog. This was folded in as part of the scapegoating they had already learned from mom. They provoked me then manipulated the situation to cast themselves as victims and say it was my fault, I’m so mean to them!

      Anger in mine and other situations is a reaction to being treated in an unjust or unfair manner and being unable to defend yourself.

      I suspect a similar dynamic may exist in this family. Some of the details are familiar, such as that Big Sis does not/cannot identify the triggers to her sister’s anger.

      If the younger sister has not identified and worked through any abuse, Abby’s advice could traumatize her with humiliation and even more rage. We can only hope not.

      However, the signs point to simply giving the younger woman a copy of the Dear Abby response and say they did their duty.

      I know the routine!

    6. I think I’m the scapegoat… but at about 13 I just checked out… I became bulimic,( due to I think, my mother putting me on diets when I was 10) lied, would steal to support food habit. I feel like I just stopped caring. I moved far away when I was 20, and 11 years later they followed.

    7. I understand the rage and anger. I am the same wind up toy in my family. I want out of this role….

    8. Hi Jeanne, I identify with having a narcissistic mother. I can’t imagine what you went through. My heart goes out to you. I am the youngest of ten and definitely the scapegoat. 3 years ago my husband and I (and children) had no choice but to go no contact. The peace we now have has been amazing to say the least. It is worth everything we had to go through to get to this point. They are 6 hours away; that helps a lot. Have you tried to go “no contact”? Jennifer

    9. Hi Jennifer, I have blocked all my sib from my phone. Which has been nice, yet makes me so sad and mad at the same time. I will start therapy this week and try to work through this sense of shame I feel…

      1. Glad to hear you are reaching out for professional support, Jeanne. Guilt and shame stem from the false belief that we as the scapegoated child/adult child are at fault for the mistreatment we endure. I discuss this in my book, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed, in the chapter on the False Self. I hope you have a chance to read this. Wishing you the best, Rebecca

      2. Hi Jeanne, I completely identify with your frustration in having to block siblings. We had to go no contact. It was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made, but also the BEST decision I’ve ever made. I have grown to be brave and more resilient, however I feel as though I need some help in regards to the hurt, profound hurt from them turning all of my nieces and nephews away from me with lies, slander, etc. I do feel some shame but I don’t know exactly why. I was going to recommend Rebecca Mandeville’s book “Rejected, Shamed, & Blamed”; she already did! It is absolutely fantastic. It includes some practical steps and strategies that are very effective and freeing.

    10. Hi , I have been abused by my father and siblings my entire life. I walked away when my mum died 14 years ago. I moved houses 2 years ago, everywhere I go they find me, slander me to my neighbors to stop me forming relationships, my work , everyone in my life. The police can’t help as they need so much evidence. We know it’s my family as they have always marginalized me . Nobody has ever really understood what I’m dealing with and how it’s effected me . Trauma every day.

    11. For anybody who has been victimized as scapegoats by Narcissists:
      I am sure that your story is similar to mine. My parents operated in the most insidious manner with the abuse, which allowed for plausible deniability or outright deniability. 55 years ago, when the abuse by mother was at its worst, there were no child protective agencies, no cell phones to record what was going on, no internet to research this. All I knew is that the abuse was deliberate to make me feel bad.

      Any objection by me, or acting out, was solved by making me the identified patient. The parents are dead, golden brother lives out of state and we are estranged. He of course would deny the abuse.

      Looking outward, since most families did not experience this situation, they cannot fathom how sick some parents can be. Let’s face it – society frowns on us if we don’t honor them. The same thing applies to work managers. We are supposed to believe that “cream rises to the top.” Anybody who has had a Narc manager knows better.

      A few years ago, I wrote a paper for an Organizational Behavior MBA class. Of course we we were supposed to form our thesis only from “peer reviewed sources” from the college database (I believe the only reason for that is laziness by the professors. They use “turn it in” to grade solely by plagiarism).

      My theme was on abusive managers, and the best source I had in the paper was a lengthy admission from our own military that the high rate of veteran suicides was attributed to Narcissistic leaders that abused subordinates. You can find it for yourself online.

      For anybody who has taken college management classes, you already know that there is practically no acknowledgement of how abusive managers can ruin morale. According to these classes, any problem is attributable to bad employees. Needless to say, I did not get a very high grade on the paper, because I was a nonconformist. Well, screw the grade. I see that my inner defiant child is alive and well.

      1. Thank you for your highly interesting (and intriguing) comment, Rick. I couldn’t agree with you more on all fronts. I also do Executive Coaching and as a therapist used to present at conferences regarding how we can find ourselves re-living the dynamics of our toxic family system in the workplace. Narcissistic employers are often bullies, and if they have enough power in the company and are in a leadership role the entire work atmosphere will resemble a narcissistic family system. I can see how this could also be true in a military environment. I imagine we could talk about this all day. I’d love to see that paper as well!

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