Family scapegoating abuse (FSA) may be intentionally overlooked or rationalized by family members. The scapegoated child or adult will rarely get validation if they attempt to share their experiences of mistreatment or abuse. Siblings will frequently adopt the ‘scapegoat narrative’ promoted by the family system power-holder (typically a parent), causing the FSA victim to become isolated and cut off within their family-of-origin.
The Damaging ‘Scapegoat Narrative’
A scapegoating parent (who is typically the ‘power-holder’ in the family system, and therefore in control of the family narrative) often has a ‘story’ about their child that they are quick to share with anyone who will listen – a story whereby they are ‘good’ and their (scapegoated) child is “difficult,” a “problem,” “bad” and somehow innately defective.
This distorted narrative designed to elevate the parent and demean the child is shared within and outside of the family, resulting in siblings, extended relatives, and friends of the family viewing the scapegoated child through this same distorted, negative lens.
For example, a number of my FSA clients have been described as “mentally ill” or “crazy” by one or more of their nuclear or extended family members. In every case, these clients are intelligent, well educated, and positively contributing to society. Many are quite successful in their personal and professional endeavors and are highly regarded within their communities. Not one of them has been diagnosed with psychosis or a severe Axis I disorder at any time in their life.
If these outrageous claims (which are actually a form of slander and a defamation of character) were not so egregious and personally/professionally harmful, they would be almost laughable. In any event, it certainly does seem to be the ‘go-to’ story in dysfunctional families that scapegoat one of their own.
While on the surface it may not seem to make much sense, this strangely common narrative that the scapegoated child/adult child is mentally ill is typical in families where aggressive, dominant family members seek to de-power and discredit the victim of their deliberately hostile behaviors. It is a defensive maneuver designed to establish the “sanity” of the abuser and the “insanity” of their victim. After all, who would believe the reports of a “crazy” person?
Releasing the ‘Scapegoat Story’
Although the work of freeing yourself from the painful and damaging role of ‘family scapegoat’ isn’t easy, it is indeed possible to reclaim the truth of who you are so that you can live a self-empowered life that includes love, respect, serenity, and clarity. Your recovery will hinge upon one basic concept: Cultivating a connection with, and embodying, your ‘true self’, free of the ‘shaming and blaming’ family
When I first begin to work with clients who are suffering from the mental and emotional anguish caused by family scapegoating abuse (FSA), I help them understand that they have been imprisoned in a role common to dysfunctional/narcissistic family systems. This highly destructive arrangement invariably benefits the power-holders in their family-of-origin (often one or both parents and/or a dominant sibling, but not always).
While educating my clients on FSA, I explain that their personal narrative, i.e., their unique life story, has been co-opted and distorted by those empowered within their family to do so as part of a macabre and complex multigenerational ‘dance’.
Said differently: Their identity has become embedded within a twisted, distorted, ‘shaming and blaming’ narrative which acts like a cancer that metastasizes and spreads throughout the ‘body’ of their nuclear and extended family.
In place of the truth of who they are, the scapegoated child/adult child becomes imprisoned within an extraordinarily damaging false narrative that requires them to accept their ‘role’ as faulty, damaged, and defective.
Recognizing this toxic narrative for the lie that it is will therefore be the first step in the FSA adult survivor’s healing. An intensive therapeutic focus on self-care, self-compassion, and self-love (which will include developing and setting boundaries and deciding who should or should not be in your life) must go hand-in-hand with releasing the destructive ‘family scapegoat’ narrative. Complex trauma symptoms must also be carefully assessed and addressed to ensure lasting recovery due to the genuinely traumatizing nature of family scapegoating abuse.
Parts of this article were excerpted from my book on family scapegoating abuse, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed. currently on sale on Amazon (Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover).
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.