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.

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9 comments / Add your comment below

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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