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.
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Rebecca C. Mandeville is a licensed psychotherapist; certified clinical trauma professional; and recognized family systems expert. Her book, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed, is the first book written on “family scapegoating abuse” or “FSA” (a term she coined during the course of her family systems research). Rebecca has dedicated her 20-year career in Mental Health to advocating for those whose voices are not heard due to being systemically disempowered.