This week’s article is written by Dr. Erin Watson, who is a Trauma Recovery and Family Scapegoating Abuse specialist. Both Dr. Watson and I appreciate the feedback we received on last week’s post – we hear you! This week’s post specifically addresses the needs and concerns of adult survivors of FSA. Learn more about Dr. Watson by scrolling to the end of this article. (If you’d also like to watch a YouTube video with Rebecca C. Mandeville on Traumatic Invalidation go here.)
In September, 2022, Rebecca posted an insightful article about the “reunion and repair fantasy” that so many scapegoats experience on their journey of piecing together and coping with the immense trauma they have experienced related to family scapegoating abuse (FSA). In this article, Rebecca explained that the ‘repair fantasy’ is the fantasy that if the adult survivor of FSA 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. In this article, I will be discussing the fantasy of validation and vindication and the positive impact of focused, intentional visualizations as related to family scapegoating trauma recovery.
Many adult survivors of FSA are faced with the painful reality that repair and reunion with their family simply isn’t possible. For some, it is a conscious choice to stay away from their toxic family system as attempting to re-integrate would result in further psycho-emotional injury. Others were unceremoniously ‘ejected’ from their family-of-origin when they began to assert boundaries or call out the abuse, making any type of reconciliation both undesirable and impossible.
In either case, the conditions to be met for some semblance of reunion and repair are unrealistic. The scapegoated family member would need to grovel, pander, and contort themselves mentally and emotionally just to “earn” a seat at the “family table” again. Although it can be an excruciating choice to have to make, many scapegoated adults do indeed opt to remove themselves, choosing to prioritize their own inner-repair and reunion with self.
This doesn’t mean scapegoated adult children don’t grieve the loss of family as a concept. Many FSA adult survivors hold fantasies about growing up in a loving and supportive household, as well as fantasies about their family members apologizing to them and atoning for their harmful behaviors. Such fantasies about being released from the shackles of trauma that have pained them and held them back in life are understandably common.
The Vindication Fantasy: Imagining The Moment When The Truth Is Exposed and You Are Believed!
One fantasy that is prevalent for scapegoated adult children who have experienced traumatic invalidation is the fantasy of vindication and validation. We imagine scenarios where someday everyone will see the truth of what happened. For example, that the actual facts (not the false narrative carefully curated and shared by scapegoating family members) will be revealed and that the smear campaigns and character assassinations will break down as the reality of the abuse is exposed.
One rather hopeful fantasy is that the abusive family members themselves will “clue in” to the ways in which they have harmed us and will own it and atone for it. We picture that glorious moment when they won’t be able to hide behind their mask of denial any longer. We paint the picture within our minds of our family’s emotional awakening, because we hold out hope that when they do wake up, they will finally become the parent (or sibling, etc) we always needed and deserved.
But most of us know this is not likely. And so we hold out hope for a bystander (such as an extended family member or close family friend) to pull back the curtain and recognize – even expose – what is truly happening behind closed doors. We revel in the image of our abusers’ facades and masks falling apart. We mentally run through the scenario whereby those who have been ‘duped’ by abusive family members finally glimpse the truth – and then act on it! We hear them say they see it now. They finally get it. That we were right all along. That it did happen. And they are oh-so-sorry for being silent and compliant. They tell us they will stand up for us and stand by our side. That we aren’t alone, betrayed, and abandoned anymore.
And at the heart of these vindication fantasies is an intense need for validation.
The Need For Validation In Trauma Recovery Processes
Many of us don’t want to integrate back into our family-of-origin. The damage is done. We realize we don’t even like our dysfunctional or narcissistic family very much. They don’t get us. They don’t share our values. They don’t have the integrity, empathy, compassion or justice that we value in the world and others. They simply aren’t our people.
But we do need our reality to be heard, acknowledged, understood, validated, and honored. In fact, it feels vital to our recovery efforts to have someone external to us validate our experience due to the effects of scapegoating and traumatic invalidation, which for many adult survivors results in feelings of isolation and disconnection.
Part of the trauma recovery journey is passing through a stage of learning to trust ourselves and our perceptions. We have been gaslit and denied our reality for most of our lives, and so it is critical that we build up our inner strength, intuition, and knowingness. This teaches us to trust we aren’t crazy; we aren’t the abuser (as many of us have been told); that our emotions, feelings, intuition, and bodily sensations are healthy cues that we can rely on; and that our reactions to the abuse (even if not productive) were normal reactions to abnormal events.
What can be understandably difficult for some FSA adult survivors to realize and ‘radically accept’ is that having their truth validated by extended family, close family friends, or siblings is not necessary to their recovery. In fact, waiting on or hoping for their understanding and approval may hinder recovery efforts.
I want to make it clear that having your reality validated externally is helpful. Being believed by a safe person such as a true friend or partner is incredibly useful in helping you build that inner self-trust. Being believed by any professional you are working with, such as your coach or therapist, is crucial. Any professional you work with needs to honor and validate your experience in order to effectively and compassionately support you.
We can get stuck, however, when we rely on those “too close” to the abuse to validate our experience and feelings. These individuals have been fed a narrative about you and the situation for so long that it may be impossible to dismantle it. Relying on their external acknowledgement would mean placing your life and recovery process on hold indefinitely.
The Benefits of Visualizing Your Truth
Validation fantasies can actually be productive. By visualizing over and over moments where people see you for you (which is to say, they see you without the filter of the abuser’s ‘scapegoat narrative’ about you) where they recognize what is happening and act on your behalf, we can actually build up a stronger tolerance for being in our bodies and connecting to our lived experience. These validation fantasies help affirm that what we went through was unjust and we deserved protection. This forms the basis of many re-parenting techniques used in attachment-trauma recovery methods.
When you have been rejected, shamed, and blamed for merely existing in a way that isn’t compliant with other people’s needs and expectations, you may hold your pain and grief inside as a way to keep safe. Validation fantasies can be cathartic because they teach your body it is safe to release some of the pain, fear, guilt, and grief that has been building up. Imagining a ‘Gotcha!’ moment is cathartic. It is also a safer way of advocating for yourself; something you were never able to do before as a child trying to survive an abusive family system.
While you do not want to live in a fantasy world forever, this type of intentional fantasizing can help build new neural pathways that can “push out” the old limiting beliefs about your worth and loveability. Visualizations are tools to be used strategically. By imagining the type of support and acknowledgement you deserve, you can use that as a basis to start giving yourself care. Borrow phrases that you wished others would have said in your fantasies, and use them as your own personal mantras. Re-imagine yourself as the strong, confident, worthy person that you are.
Do your best not judge, shame, or blame yourself for how you survived in the past. Your voice may never have had a place in the family and speaking up may have been dangerous. However, the fact that there was no space for your truth to exist does not mean you got it all wrong. Trying to convince family members (or people connected to your family) of your pain due to family scapegoating abuse so as to feel seen and validated is understandable, but in the end is usually a waste of time, energy, and effort. You cannot drag people to the truth when they are committed to a distorted version of reality – especially if that distortion benefits them.
Stay tuned for Part 2: How To Use Validation Fantasies for Justice Without Trying To Fix Or Cure Your Toxic Family System
If you want to learn more about how to heal from the trauma of family abuse, you may subscribe to my newsletter at https://dr-erin-watson.ck.page/335b30adde or follow me on Instagram @drerinwatson.
About Dr. Erin Watson: Dr. Watson is a clinically-trained recovery coach and educator helping people rebuild their energy, identities and confidence after experiencing severe attachment wounds. She has a Doctorate in Family Relationships and Human Development and a clinical background in trauma therapy and family therapy. She has 15+ years of experience supporting survivors of family dysfunction, childhood abuse, and toxic relationships and has taught university courses on family theory and human relationships for over a decade at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She currently specializes in helping people rebuild after the damaging effects of Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) and Abusive Narcissism and is currently pursuing certification in FSA Recovery Coaching. Her research has been published academically and in the popular press. You can connect with Dr. Watson via her Instagram: @drerinwatson
Copyright 2023 | Dr. Erin Watson | All Rights Reserved
2 comments / Add your comment below
Excellent article, looking forward to part 2 🙂
That is the hardest part for me to consume. They will never know what they did to me, even if it was unconsciously done. Almost my entire life is a mystery to me, I’m 58 and I can recall telling my mother I don’t know who I am just a few years ago. I just found out there was a name for what I have been struggling with my entire life. If I only know better even ten years ago.
When I listen to you and what scapegoating does to a person, the layers of my life unfold. It all makes sense. But how do I deal with being robbed of my life, literally it took any chance away for having a normal or somewhat productive life. Now that I know what really happened how do I undue all the damage done. I couldn’t have a healthy relationship with most people, I couldn’t hold a job, I self medicated myself for over 11 yrs struggling with a severe heroin addiction. Finding out hasn’t been easy on me and the depression has been unbearable. I just went no contact over ten months ago and I must except that there won’t be an apology or a I’m so sorry I just didn’t know because these people are not capable of seeing anything but there own take on things. It’s loss all the way around. What was the worst worst thing to except was that this really happened.
All this doctor’s that I saw who diagnosed me after suicide attempts never asked once how was your childhood. How my life would have turned out if twenty years ago if I met a trauma informed therapist or social worker. Thank you doctor Mandeville for trying to spread the word. You legacy will change a lot of lives one day. Keep on going and thank you.