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
scapegoat (false) narrative.
Letting Go of False Family Narratives
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, 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 ‘bad’. If they recognize what is actually going on and protest against being ‘defined and maligned’ in this way, few in the family will align with them or come to their defense or aid.
Assumptions and conclusions are made about their character and motivations that are typically damning, unjust, and unfair. To make matters worse, they have no way to assert their truth, as whatever they say in their own defense is unlikely to be believed due to their having been discredited and dis-empowered within their family system.
A Shocking Moment of Clarity
The analogy I use for describing that “Aha!” moment when you realize you are the ‘family scapegoat’ is taken from the final scene of the 1995 film, “The Usual Suspects.” In this story about five criminals who are arrested and brought in for questioning, the entire narrative of the film relies on an unreliable narrator.
As with the ending of this movie, realizing that nothing was as you believed it to be can be both devastating and dazzling, once you get over the initial confusion, outrage, and disbelief. Understanding that the truth of ourselves has been twisted into something else (something we do not relate to or identify with), we must begin re-constructing the actual ‘plot’, or ‘story’, of our lives – a plot in which we were negatively impacted by a family projection process that co-opted our personal narrative. This process of uncovering and discovering the truth of our actual position in the family is the first step toward healing and recovering from being in the ‘family scapegoat’ role.
How does a person go about releasing the ‘scapegoat story’ in order to reclaim the truth of who they are after having their unique life story hijacked and co-opted by their family? Although there are many possible pathways for healing from the negative effects of family scapegoating abuse, one thing that must happen is your personal narrative, your unique life story, your sense of who you are, and the deepest truths about yourself must be recovered, aligned with, integrated, and embodied for genuine healing and transformation to take place. Said differently, your reality, your voice, and your truth need to be reclaimed and restored – whether your family can acknowledge and support this process or not.
The above was excerpted from my book on family scapegoating abuse, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed.
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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.