is this just fantasy neon sign

The Fantasy “Repair” Experience of the FSA Adult Survivor

One of the things that keeps survivors of family scapegoating abuse (FSA) stuck and unable to progress in their recovery is the fantasy that if they can just say the ‘right’ thing to the ‘right’ person within (or connected to) their family-of-origin, the fact of their abuse will be acknowledged and validated. Tragically, this is unlikely to happen. But this does not change the truth of what happened to you, and your truth deserves to be both told and then heard and validated by people who have the capacity to care.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

Winston Churchill

“I Don’t Want To Hear It”

Being the target of family scapegoating abuse (FSA) is a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The stories of familial systemic “invisible” (psycho-emotional) abuse that I read while conducting my original research on FSA, as well as stories from those who write me after reading my blog articles or book, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed, are at times horrific and incomprehensible. Yet, I have no reason to doubt their veracity.

I hear similar stories from clients in my FSA recovery coaching practice. And while the details of their experiences may differ, all those who write me or seek out my services have this in common: Nobody in their nuclear or extended family wants to hear about what is happening to them. If they share their story with a family member who they believes cares about them (often impulsively, due to their own denial or desperation), they are invariably called a “liar,” “crazy,” “bipolar,” or similar (if not to their face, then behind their back). If they attempt to tell others outside the family about what is happening to them, their story may or may not be believed.

For example, many of my FSA recovery coaching clients have told me that they attempted in the past to tell a sibling, cousin, or influential family friend about the disturbing and distressing dynamics occurring between themselves and one or more family members. The standard answer they receive is, “I don’t want to hear it”; “I don’t want to get involved”; “All families fight sometimes”; or “I don’t want to have to take sides.” Needless to say, this only adds to the sense of helplessness (and, at times, shame and vulnerability) that the victim of FSA already experiences. Such experiences are also reflected and collaborated within my FSA research results.

The Fantasy “Repair” Experience

Nearly all of my FSA recovery coaching clients have shared with me that they spend an inordinate amount of time remembering past incidents with family and wishing they had been able to stick up for themselves versus going into the trauma-based ‘fawn/submit’ response.

They also share that they are distressed by how frequently they find themselves having imaginary conversations with family members in which they are somehow able to make them see how they are being scapegoated and how painful, unjust, and destructive (to the entire family) it is. They realize that these imaginary scenarios in which the family suddenly sees what has been happening and apologizes or asks for forgiveness are unlikely to ever occur, and yet their preoccupation with fantasy “repair” experiences persist.

These sorts of fantasies, while understandable, are in actuality an aspect of ‘bargaining’ – a pre-recovery stage that may rotate with ‘denial’. Meaning, the true situation that the FSA adult survivor finds themselves in may not have been fully accepted.

Accepting the reality that you are unlikely to ever know justice when it comes to your family-of-origin’s beliefs about you – much less their maltreatment of you (not to mention the beliefs of extended family and family friends who may have been inoculated with the damaging ‘scapegoat narrative’ designed to discredit you) is admittedly a hard pill to swallow. But it must indeed be swallowed if it is your intention to fully recover from the unique hell of being in the ‘family scapegoat’ or ‘identified patient’ (IP) role.

Accepting What Happened To You

I suspect that those who have an interest in denying the reality of FSA prefer to think that their (scapegoated) family member is indeed a liar or crazy (as is the therapist or self-help author they are listening to). After all, it makes things so much easier for them!

By closing their minds to the possibility that an insidious family projective identification process is at work (often based in unrecognized intergenerational trauma, as discussed in Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed), your family does not have to look at their own behavior. They do not have to feel terrible about what they have done to you (whether unconscious and unintentional or conscious and intentional). And – best of all (for them) – they do not have to ever apologize to you (read my article, Five Reasons Your Family Won’t Apologize For Scapegoating You, to learn more).

But let me assure you: What happened to you IS real and you HAVE been harmed in a manner that few people raised in healthy, loving families could imagine or would want to believe. Therefore, a critical step in recovering from FSA is to notice when you are in denial or minimizing your family’s harmful treatment of you (this could be one particular family member, or your entire family-of-origin, depending on how far the poisonous ‘scapegoat narrative’ about you has spread).

Another crucial step is to notice when you are having magical ‘repair’ fantasies about your scapegoating (or overtly abusive) family members and recognize this as part of the ‘bargaining’ stage that is preventing you from accepting reality and feeling the full grief of your losses (as discussed in Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed).

Most importantly, acknowledge and ‘radically accept’ the terrible truth of what has happened to you in your family, and how this has impacted your life (i.e., you may be suffering from symptoms of complex trauma rooted in your abusive family experiences, including betrayal trauma). From this place of radical acceptance, you can begin to make wise choices in regard to your recovery from FSA. And, by accepting the truth of what has happened to you, you will be better able to discern who genuinely wants to hear your truth, and who does not because it is inconvenient or threatening.

If you would like to share the truth of what has happened to you in your family here in a comment, you are welcome to do so. If you are concerned about your privacy, use ‘Anonymous’ as your name.

If you learned something of value from this article, consider sharing it with others via the social media icons, below.

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Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

Rebecca C. Mandeville coined the research-supported terms 'family scapegoating abuse' (FSA) and 'family scapegoat trauma' (FST) and is a recognized thought leader in understanding the consequences of being in the family 'identified patient' or 'scapegoat' role. She also created the FSA Recovery Coaching℠ process. Her best-selling book, 'Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed', is the first book ever written on FSA. Rebecca serves as a YouTube Health Partner via her channel 'Beyond Family Scapegoating Abuse' and is also active on Instagram and Facebook.

17 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Doctor Mandeville I keep snagging myself over and over again by my fantasies that my family will hear me. Also that your tools must be taken into one’s soul before we can actually change and heal. Besides the fantasies I think what I’m learning is being absorbed and then I go right back into my stinking thinking.

    I struggled with addiction my whole adulthood. I just had a very short relapse a few days ago and I’m starting from scratch in my healing. The reason for this is because my daughter has contact with my family while I’m no contact. The reason for the stinking thinking not why I actually relapsed. But when I hear there scapegoating her, it sets me off to the race’s literally.

    Here’s one fantasy I recently had. I’m an empath and animals have been my family for my whole life. I have a beloved OTTB horse for over 16 yrs, he is now 28 and still carries me around with pride. I would always say, he never colics but the day he does will be the day he dies. Well at 6am my amazing husband ran in from the barn to tell me my beloved horse Noble was not eating and trying to lay down. I fly out the door put on his halter and we start walking waiting for the vet. He started to pull on the lead like he just couldn’t walk and I thought this is it. One of my biggest fears are coming true I’m going to lose him. It was a beautiful Dec morning chilly but the sun was just rising. As it came through the trees I told my guy that if it was his time that he served me well. But, something else happened to me, it was a beautiful sense of calm and I felt that every thing happens for a reason and I must forgive my family. With Christmas coming around the corner I’m going to just show up at the Xmas dinner and read a statement in front of all of them with a warning at the end that I will not tolerate any of there bullshit but that it’s time to heal. Talk about fantasies! But what I was not going to do was to ask for there validation, any warm emotions or any apologies from any of them, I don’t need it. I know what happened and so do all of you and anytime you want to gather around for a lie detector test I’ll be available.

    I don’t know what the outcome would have been but I realized I did learn something. I didn’t want or need there apologies. Now I don’t know if this was a good or bad fantasy but I think it was a little of both.

    I not gonna do it just show up for I’m not healed nor am I prepared to be re-traumatized by them. The feeling of forgiveness and all the beauty in the world and that meant saying goodbye to a beloved horse I’m grateful for that morning that I wanted to share it. By the way, the vet came in time to stop the colic and my long premonition of my horses death was all wrong because he still has more time to carry me around.

    Doc, I know you suffered with your family and how hard it must be to stay strong for all of us and the toll it takes on you. Go out into nature even if it’s for a little while and remember the good work you’re doing for all of us and how much beauty there is in that. You will fin your strength. Thank you!!!

  2. I only recently came upon this post and it is a topic especially relevant to me.

    My brother exists as the sole human being in my family and exception to the rule. He both understands and identifies with what I experience. This (I believe) is because he has suffered tremendous pain from his own abuse from the tyranny of our father, along with a painful and debilitating back condition inflicted when he was he was 16 and doctors incompetently left him damaged from surgery for scoliosis that destroyed his life as a talented athlete and parents who ignored the psycho-emotional damage). (Both of us were abused by both parents, but he was targeted by my father and I was targeted by my mother.) He sees into the senseless cruelty of my sisters, the twisted meanness of our mother, and has a visceral hate for the golden child who, behind her calm and quiet exterior, is smugly entitled with a superior attitude, country club values, judging demeanor and my mother’s most loyal flying monkey.

    We have both had our lives littered with tragedy and misfortune beyond our control. As the only boy, they have only sympathy for my brother. In my case, it’s an occasion for my family to get their fix of power and superiority, never missing a chance to manipulate, blame, shame, condemn, and then exclude me– especially my sisters who are often much worse than my mother.

    It’s a Kafka-esque Catch-22 world of circular logic, reversed caused and effect, and glaring hypocrisy as routine insult and abuse chase me away and out of harm’s way, when they then stalk me with love bombing; failing to reply, they go into their innocent little girl narrative of wanting to be my friend but the big bad big sister only pushes them away and spurns their goodwill. Or they attack with the indignant complaint of always being mad at somebody or other, “proving” I’m just an angry person who doesn’t want to be part of the family.

    I wasn’t grieving the loss of my husband — I just wanted everyone to come running to NYC every weekend (try two weekends in two years) to take care of my life so I wouldn’t have to. I didn’t need any support– No one came running when her boyfriend broke up her [seven years ago]. My company didn’t lose business because of the worst recession in nearly a century– I was incompetent and mismanaged my company (not even knowing the name of my company). I wasn’t left in ruin at 58 due to being railroaded by my father into an unnecessary bankruptcy in a corrupt court– It was my fault for hiring the wrong the attorney.

    I wasn’t made destitute a short while later when the pandemic forced the closing of my company — “You’re punishing yourself just so you can hurt mom.” I didn’t need to sell jewelry for food– “You need to ask God’s forgiveness for your problems, real and imagined,” My sister didn’t renege on a promise to share part of an inheritance from our uncle–“I can’t afford to subsidize you living in NYC. (BTW, what do you think of this Oriental rug I just got?” [an interest my husband and I once shared, now obviously out of reach]). I don’t need help for clinical depression– “You’re 65! Grow up! Get over it already! Get a life!” My mother doesn’t financially abuse me with unreliable and inconsistent distribution of trust funds, insufficient to cover household expenses–she can’t setup automatic deposits because her account will get hacked. She doesn’t routinely offer to cover medical and health needs to renege on every promise– She is the victim whose financial ruin I secretly intend to cause.

    Achieve enlightenment? I can explain to them about human beings being social creatures, wired to be with and need other people; our need to feel connected to others, loved and with a sense of belonging; that this is the role and responsibility of family. I can talk to them about family dynamics, parenting models, attachment style, sense of self and identity; emotional regulation, individuation and a differentiated self, etc.

    I can explain the role of emotions how behavior is learned; that what we believe, how we interact with people, whether we find success and happiness in life all trace back to what we saw, modeled, copied, and were taught by parents; that innate traits, inherited characteristics, natural talents and tendencies– that all these matter only insofar as how they are expressed, developed, encouraged, or rewarded, or they are ignored, denied, suppressed, or punished.

    I can talk about uninvolved parenting, emotional neglect, an insecure self, emotional dysregulation, lack of individuation, an undifferentiated self, emotional abuse, projection, projective identification, dysfunctional behavior, narcissism– vulnerable and malignant, scapegoating, complex trauma, pathogenic beliefs, and all the transgenerational realities of what is passed down.

    But will I enlighten them? Not a chance.

    I can hear everything they will say to me (they’re not very creative): I’m trying to blame others for my life and avoid taking responsibility myself. I want others to fix my problems so I don’t have to. I did this to myself, I messed up my own life and I’m the one responsible for fixing it. They didn’t do anything, they’re not to blame for messing up my life, and they owe me nothing. What makes me think that they have to do anything to help me when I did this to myself and now I want them to pay for my mistakes.

  3. As ever, a spot on recognition of my and no doubt many other’s situations Rebecca. It really does help to see it in words by someone who knows what they are talking about even though it is somewhat re traumatizing too.
    I have had the fantasies you mention, along with the nightmares. I’m in a pretty good place now and after being subjected to the silent treatment for 5 years for calling out my sisters narcissistic lies, I decided to see if my 87 year old father who is trauma bonded to her, was up for a lunch meet.

    I had just discovered from her ex boyfriend that this sister, the chief scapegoater, NPD sufferer and I might add psychotherapist! was in fact a long term cocaine addict and alcoholic.

    Furthermore the ex sent me copies of her text messages procuring cocaine deals to be delivered to her boots placed outside her psychotherapy practice where I might add, she treats people for addictions!!

    My dad did meet me several times for lunch over a few months period where I spoke with him about his childhood and the treatment I had had for cptsd as a result of my late mother (his late ex wife). We certainly agreed on these matters.
    My dad has had his own horrifically traumatic childhood although he doesn’t see it that way at all. To him it was ‘normal’. But in discussion he did admit to having an inner critic as well as struggling to feel any emotions.

    On the 4th visit I revealed that my sister (the person who he is both codependent and trauma bonded to) is a cocaine addict and alcoholic and showed him the texts.

    He nearly collapsed and I really felt for a moment that his trance like state might collapse too.

    He has massive low self esteem although doesn’t realize it and actually started talking about getting some therapy.

    A few weeks on we have maintained contact but I don’t think he has told any other family members including his current wife.
    The fact is that he speaks to me like i am an enemy that he would rather hold close so he can see my thoughts. He tries to hide it but his scorn is palpable. Really it is the scorn his mother showed his father, and his father showed him…I understand and am protected from it now having rewritten those pathways of need from him.

    I thought I used to have a very close relationship with him but through therapy I understood that it was always superficial and in fact he had made me emotionally dependent on him.

    Through therapy I have managed very painfully to unemesh emotionally from him so I was able to feel compassion and also observe that he is suffering the mental illness of living in a codependent and trauma-bonded false reality.

    You have spoken many times of the false narrative of scapegoaters and it was with clear eyes I observed how my dad lives in a different world, a world where narcissists (he loves them) are great people and anyone who is not a narcissist deserves to be walked over, including himself because his own mother was a narcissist and his father codependent, they both neglected and abused him in their own ways.

    He is just repeating his own childhood dynamic, and where he encounters people like me who fit into the category of non narcissists, he himself adopts the role of narcissistic abuser.

    It was so clear to see that it allowed me to drop any and all fantasies of reconciliation or recognition of the last 5 years of shocking smear campaigning and passive aggression.

    We are dealing with mental illness on behalf of our scapegoaters here and the more solidly we get that in our minds the easier it is for our mind to unemesh.

    Yes, we are suffering cptsd as a result of the abuse we suffered but we are healing and are aware of the family dynamics, those in it are not. They are in a kind of mad hellhole where their needs to feel ok force them to create a damaging enabling structure based on a false narrative.

    Part of that narrative is that it is either our fault or that by dumping their repressed anger and hate on us, all will be ok.

    I am concerned that my dad has disinherited me, I don’t know for sure but I am fairly certain it has which will make my life pretty difficult in the future especially if I fall ill.

    I will maintain a contact with him as long as he can but I divest myself of any fantasies of true reconciliation because that would require me to become insane too, it is up to me to make my life without my family of origin now.

    Fortunately, I found a great psychotherapist as well as getting good support from my lovely wife who is a psychotherapist too. ( A real one).

    The fantasy of returning to a loving family is just that, a fantasy. By making new friends who feel like the family I actually needed and getting good psycho-education from books like yours, Rebecca, as well as using a variety of psychological techniques and practices, I have been able to disentangle from the emotional enmeshment of my family of origin and look forward to a life of abundance, happiness and finally inner peace. CPTSD symptoms linger, but I know what they are and am working on them. The main part of the work is done, its about tidying up the debris now.

    This is recoverable from with courage, knowledge, insight, consistency, and determination.

    I hope this is useful to some of you here.

  4. I am someone who felt emotionally abused
    My dad survived the death and anti semitic actions of his army relationships of ww2
    He felt he did such a great job that he wanted me to replicate his heroics
    1st he needed me to feel abused and secondly survive it just like he did
    He called this love
    I was in a men’s group last night and it was obvious to me that I was in deep trouble cause the topic was sexuality
    At 18 I not only wanted sex but I mostly wanted a highly spiritual connection but what I got was the dread of my dad’s abuse for me and love for him
    I didn’t know how to explain to myself or any female why I needed such a strong spiritual connection
    I didn’t even know what a spiritual connection was that had to do with sex
    I was a transcendental mediator so I knew what spirit was
    I didn’t know why sex should be spiritual and how to find 18 year olds to share that with
    Bottom line , just like my dad kept the abuse of war in his front mirror I learned to keep him in mine
    At all costs I didn’t want to live without feeling his abuse
    I mistakenly thought if I held onto his abuse than it could not overwhelm me
    Little did I know it destroyed my being able to enjoy anything, including sexuality
    Joy took a back seat to trying to control the abuse and the abuser
    I lost perspective
    So there I was in men’s group listening to men talk about not being as blocked as I was and there was nothing I could do about that
    I did the best I knew how to
    It’s not easy being an abused person
    I made some unwise decisions about trying to eliminate and control the abuse rather than live the best I could with it

    1. Self-compassion is critical in healing from this type of abuse, Fred. I am glad to see that you are able to acknowledge ‘unwise decisions’, and I also hope you are giving yourself some grace. Living haphazardly is typical for abuse survivors living with unrecognized, untreated trauma – ‘Choices’ are often made when we are highly activated or seeking a sense of safety. This is why having compassion for the traumatized, abused self is so critical – you were just doing what you needed to do to survive. With more awareness – and the ability to recognize when we as adult survivors of this form of abuse are ‘triggered’ or activated – different, wiser choices can be made.

  5. I definitely have this fantasy. I didn’t realize it was related to the bargaining phase, but that makes sense. I have been 8 months no contact with my entire nuclear family.

  6. Indeed, I did try to tell something to my favorite aunt & uncle that I loved & who I felt were really warm & wonderful and who I knew loved & cared about me as well.

    I was no longer in the original at-home abusive situation and had a good life with my husband & children. However, my sister’s ex-husband, (who was an abusive narcissist who had done much damage by lying about me to our mother), continued to fan the flames of her hatred of me. (Weirdly, he’d maintained his relationship with his EX-mother-in-law!). His lies about me had increased to the point where she had actually cut off contact, disowned me and moved to another city! (That was rather nice, actually).

    I had always hoped that his lying would be recognized.

    One day, this aunt & uncle stopped by for a visit. It had been years since I’d seen them and it was wonderful. At the time, I was feeling upset about the situation because I was fed up with the escalation of his attacks against me. So I told them what he’d been doing.

    They listened to what I told them. But they didn’t comment or ask me any questions. They were simply polite & the visit ended pleasantly.

    However, as they were walking away, I heard one of them say, “She probably just needed to talk to feel better”.
    There was no acknowledgement that I had been telling them something factual & disturbing about a situation that was ongoing.

    There was no hope that they would intercede on my behalf by explaining anything to my mother.
    Perhaps they hadn’t even believed me in the first place. (One of his main lies about me was that I, myself, simply lied about everything. As relatives they may have heard that. I don’t know. It’s possible).

    So, that was my one experience of sharing with a relative, with hope. Many years ago now.
    Very discouraging.

    1. Hi Jan, this is how it goes for most all FSA adult survivors who attempt to share their story, as confirmed by my FSA research. It is discouraging indeed, but I commend you for trying to get your truth out there to set the record straight. Sadly, the FSA adult survivor is coated with the toxic family ‘scapegoat’ narrative, so there is little chance that their story of being the victim of scapegoating / a smear campaign will be believed – although I have seen it a few times via reports from my clients. These clients were believed by people connected to the family who are healthy, discerning, and aware. This is usually a cousin or a family friend; rarely a sibling or parent.

      1. Rebecca, I was reading last night in one of your articles about after the death of the family narcissistic abuser, that one or more other family members will attempt to assume the role of abuser as they have been part of the team that gangs up on the scapegoat. You said it could get extremely vicious at that point.
        It has.
        All three of my siblings banned me from my father’s funeral after I was the one who care for him in his final two years of life. It would be very helpful if you could point me in the right direction to find which article it was. I cannot seem to find it.
        Thanks

        1. Hi Duncan, I am so sorry this is happening to you, but it is indeed common. I will look for the article, but in the meantime, watch this video – I address this exact thing in it. And I hope you subscribe to my channel. Check out the Community tab as well, where I leave additional information. Have you read my book yet, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed? If not, I recommend you do. SIBLING ESTRANGEMENT and FAMILY SCAPEGOATING: Understanding the INSIDIOUS Family Projection Process
          https://youtu.be/lhb5WdUV2q0

          1. Rebecca,
            Thank you for responding so promptly. I will watch the video. I have subscribed to both your website blog and signed up for emails and subscribed on youtube. I just discovered that last night. Reading your work was how I spent new years eve. I have been signed up emails for sometime since I first discovered your work. I bought several copies of your book and gave one to my mother, with whom you have conversed about our situation. I signed up on your waiting list and have searched for a therapist who knowledgeable about trauma and CPTSD on your previous recommendation.
            Well, we finally found a therapist and I introduced him to your work and reading it he agreed, that indeed I was the victim of severe scapegoating and it has nearly ruined my life. I was ready to call it quits and kill myself after I was severely beaten, had my retirement stolen, company I built embezzled into nothing and from the beating was no longer able to continue my career as a commercial pilot.
            I was foolish enough to not press charges.
            They pulled a DARVO and blamed me and filed restraining orders against me.
            We are now no contact.
            Finding your book saved my life.
            Thank you.

          2. Duncan, I am so sorry to hear what you have been through. I do not know who your mother is, actually, but to protect everyone’s privacy we need not sort that out here publicly. I am relieved to know you reached out for help and are getting the support you need with your new therapist. Please know that recovery from FSA and what I call ‘family scapegoating trauma’ (FST) is indeed possible. I hope you will continue to find my offerings helpful. Thank you for letting me know what you have done to help yourself – You are now on your way!

        2. Thank you for responding so quickly. I have subscribed to your blog, newsletter, and now YouTube which I just discovered last night. I have had a hard time getting through your book because it brings up so much trauma. In a previous conversation you recommended I look up trauma & CPTSD. I bought a book for my mother as well as she was a victim too. I signed up for your waiting list and it took me a longtime to find a therapist who understood the concepts. After sharing your book with him, he completely agreed that both my mother and I were victims of severe scapegoating.
          I have had everything I worked for in life stolen from me and been DARVO’d on every aspect of my life. I will watch the video and keep learning. I was nearly ready to give up as I am now also disabled due to the violent assaults I endured over the years. I had to retire as a commercial pilot due to medical complications from the beatings I endured.
          Two months after a cervical neck fusion and on blood thinners from multiple pulmonary embolisms, my youngest brother, while drunk, body slammed me and strangled me nearly to death. I can no longer fly. Then my sister embezzled the business that my older brother and I built into nothing. Now my retirement is gone.
          All of this got the DARVO treatment. It’s all my fault.
          My sister-in-law joined in and alternately accuses my mother and then I for having stolen the golf clubs she misplaced.
          It’s pure insanity and I have gone no contact with them all, my mother still talks to them, but it never goes well. They invited her for Christmas dinner a few weeks ago, and then left their house so she pulls up to an empty house. Intolerable cruelty.

          1. Hi Duncan, I responded to your other comment but will post this one here as well, in case others will learn from it. FSA can indeed be severe and may include physical violence. I have had clients report being physically assaulted by parents and siblings – as ADULTS – and somehow this is not seen as a big issue within the (dysfunctional or narcissistic) family system. This is how distorted reality can get when FSA dynamics are at work. Glad you are with a therapist now and have found my work on FSA and FST (family scapegoating trauma) – as well as C-PTSD (complex trauma) and I trust you will now receive the help you need – and deserve.

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