- Radical Acceptance and Scapegoat Recovery: The Power of Accepting What IS - November 5, 2023
- Study on Childhood Verbal Abuse - October 7, 2023
- Key Findings From My Recent FSA Survey (2023) - September 3, 2023
In this week’s article I share one of the biggest myths about going no contact with family and how I handle issues related to ending contact with scapegoating family members in a trauma-informed manner.
I recently put up a poll in the Community section of my YouTube channel for my subscribers who have gone ‘no contact’ with family. We had 245 votes on this poll and the results were as follows:
- 27 percent of people who participated said that they ended contact with their entire family abruptly.
- 23 percent said they ended contact with only specific family members abruptly.
- 33 percent said they ended contact with their entire family slowly or gradually.
- 18 percent said they ended contact with specific family members slowly and gradually.
This type of data is important because although it is obviously not peer-reviewed research, it is an informal form of what we call qualitative research, meaning the data reflects people’s lived experience. As a researcher myself, I value qualitative research because it reflects the thoughts, feelings, and stories of those who have actually lived the experience being studied.
I receive messages from adult survivors all over the world and have heard (and read) many stories of child and adult child psycho-emotional abuse, including as related to what I eventually named ‘family scapegoating abuse’ or FSA. I therefore have an abundance of potential data points to draw from when I create my research-related surveys. Based on past research I’ve done on going no contact with family, this informal poll (above) mirrors results from more formal qualitative research studies I’ve done on the subject of ending contact with scapegoating family members.
A simple poll like this can be helpful to FSA adult survivors because for many people, the thought of having to cut ties with family can understandably bring up many fears, concerns, and a sense of being ‘different’ or alone. Alternatively, for those FSA adult survivors who have a clear idea of what happened to them in their family-of-origin, the hope they feel regarding the possibility of going no contact with abusive family members outweighs any uncertainty or doubt.
When You Know You’re DONE
I make a point of telling my FSA Recovery Coaching clients that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to end contact with family members, nor is there a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time. A client who is ready to cut ties might begin a session by saying, “I’m done!” Knowing, and being able to say, “I’m done” is significant in that such clients may have remained in contact with harmful, scapegoating family members longer than what was good for them, no matter how often I might have reflected their distressful family connections back to them and/or expressed my clinical concerns (specifically, that engaging with abusive family members is counter-therapeutic).
I have a lot of clients that are therapists themselves and they really do try everything they can think of to remain connected to their family in some fashion so as to maintain connections with beloved nieces and nephews, etc. When my therapist clients say they’re “done,” they are also saying that they have used every tool and approach available to them as a clinician and they are still being harmed by members of their family-of-origin – sometimes by their entire dysfunctional or narcissistic family system.
The Number One Myth Regarding Cutting Ties
This leads me to one of the biggest myths about going no contact with one’s family-of-origin: It is a myth that adult survivors of any type of family abuse end contact because they’re “selfish” or “spoiled” or “narcissistic” or just pissed off and having a ‘hissy fit’ (aka an attention-seeking “tantrum”). That’s not what’s happening here.
I hear from FSA adult survivors who contact me from all around the world to share their family situations and their decision to end ties with family. It’s very rare that someone is not experiencing some genuine sadness that they were pushed to the point of having to end contact. They’re also feeling appropriate anger, or what I call “righteous rage,” along with disenfranchised grief and a host of other deep and painful feelings. However, the truth is that the only way that those who are in the ‘scapegoat’ role in their family can gain traction in their psycho-emotional healing is to significantly limit or end contact so that their traumatized and over-activated nervous system can settle down.
If you’d like to hear more about how I work with ‘no contact’ issues in a trauma-informed manner, you can watch my latest video .
It’s important that people realize that scapegoated adults who end contact with family are rarely making such a decision lightly. Such a decision is typically made after experiencing much anguish and trauma for a good many years. Even after the decision to cut ties is made, it’s still a long healing process, given the state of one’s nervous system after being repeatedly harmed and traumatized by family scapegoating behaviors.
Establishing a Healing Container for Trauma Recovery
A primary symptom FSA adult survivors experience both before and after going no contact with family is rumination: Ruminating over and over again on people, situations, and events that harmed them and wondering “What if I had said this or that?” or “What if I’d stood up for myself sooner?” when in reality, standing up for yourself when you’re being scapegoated by family is when you are most likely going to realize you need to limit or end contact because your dysfunctional or narcissistic family system simply cannot tolerate the new, healthier, more boundaried you.
When I have clients come to me who are obviously experiencing significant psycho-emotional distress, I explain to them that we need to make a healing container where their entire nervous system can start to settle down. I explain to my clients that family scapegoating trauma symptoms such as rumination can be the result of an over-activated amygdala and the jumble of distressful feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations are actually responses to ‘triggers’ brought on by engaging with scapegoating family members.
As a trauma-informed psychotherapist and clinical coach, I follow SAMHSA’s Six Principles for Trauma-Informed care when working with clients who are struggling to end ties with abusive family members. It is important that the client not feel judged or shamed for still being in contact with family. There may be cultural or financial considerations or other issues like trauma-bonding that are preventing my client from cutting ties with scapegoating family members.
My client must first and foremost work with me to establish a sense of inner and outer safety, including in regard to a safe healing container for us to do our work in. If, after every family engagement my client feels depressed, anxious, traumatized, and unsafe, that will be important information to consider when discussing ending contact with family. I will continue to psycho-educate my client while following trauma-informed principles until eventually they can see for themselves that continuing to engage with family who abuse them is counter-therapeutic.
Feeling Pressured to “Forgive”? Read My Article on Radical Acceptance Versus Forgiveness
Setting the Intention to Heal From FSA
Think about if you have a container that’s going to support your healing or are you reactivating your nervous system over and over again by engaging with people that are scapegoating you. Notice if you’re in a highly dysfunctional situation that’s not serving you, and remember that gaining awareness around painful family dynamics takes time.
Set the intention that you are going to try to make a safe space for yourself one way or another and remain focused on cultivating emotionally “safe enough” relationships with people who can genuinely love and care for you.
If you are still in touch with abusive family members and are having trouble ending ties, just know that there will be a time when perhaps you can make decisions that will benefit your long-term healing and growth and it’s okay if you’re not there yet. It’s okay if you’re not done or need to take time to make a plan where you have the resources to take care of yourself if you’re financially (or otherwise) dependent on scapegoating family members at this time.