Scapegoat Child Recovery Of The True Self

How the Scapegoat Child Develops a ‘False’ Self

Children in the ‘scapegoat’ role in a dysfunctional or narcissistic family can develop a false ‘survival self’ in response to chronic rejection, shaming, blaming, attachment trauma, and betrayal trauma, which will eventually result in their experiencing complex trauma (C-PTSD) symptoms as adults. In this TWO-PART article, Psychotherapist and Family Systems expert Rebecca C. Mandeville (author of the best-selling book on family scapegoating abuse, ‘Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed), explains how growing up in broken, energetically ‘split’ family ground impacts children and why scapegoated children can ‘split’ intrapsychically and begin to identify with a false, trauma-based survival self.

If you prefer to listen to the contents of this article in a more expanded form, you can access my YouTube video here.

An important, sometimes even critical, aspect of recovering from family scapegoating abuse (FSA) is to recognize that you may have developed a ‘false’ or ‘survival’ self very early in life to survive a hostile or threatening family environment.

Those of you who have my book and have read it may already be familiar with my discussion about the development of the ‘False Self’. I dedicate a chapter to it, chapter 11, which is followed up by how we can learn to recover, reclaim, resurrect, and reconnect with our authentic self, true self nature, real self – however you like to conceptualize this aspect of healing from child psycho-emotional abuse.

Said differently, this could mean ‘realigning’ with the ‘true’ self’ that you were when you came into the world before you were reshaped, reconditioned, and distorted through growing up in broken family ground.

In this two-part article, I would like to share more with you about how the false self-develops; how I define the false self; and why I felt this was a critical aspect of recovering from family scapegoating abuse.

The ‘False Self’ Versus the ‘True Self’ Nature

My transpersonal orientation as a psychotherapist supports this idea that we come into the world with a true self nature; that we first enter our family-of-origin environments as uniquely distinct, one-of-a-kind beings. There will never be another one of us ever in this world; however, we can be conditioned early on in life to not be ‘at one’ with our ‘true self’ nature.

Those of you who have held an infant and are looking into their eyes, there’s not a developed egoic ‘self’ identity there but I bet you felt that you had a sense of this little being’s unique ‘true self’ nature. There’s something that comes through the eyes. I see this in animals as well – in all sentient beings there is ‘something’ there and that something is unique to each of us.

Yet sadly, tragically, that precious, unique one-of-a-kind ‘somethingness’ or ‘suchness’ that each of us are can get reshaped and twisted and distorted through family scapegoating abuse, as well as through social conditioning. We help children to develop egos; we tell them the rules and the boundaries and the do’s and the don’ts and the ego develops, and that sense of “I-ness,” but there’s a lot of social conditioning happening and the first society you’re born into is your family. That’s your Matrix. That’s your first experience of collective ‘reality’. As an infant and young child, your family-of-origin reality is what you are constantly exposed to and immersed within. That’s all you know.

Think of how vulnerable any small, young human being is. You’re born into your ‘family matrix’ and it’s sink or swim. And for scapegoated children – children who are victims of ‘splitting’ within the family system and splitting within a parent’s psyche (which I address in more detail in Part Two of this article), you may be viewed as the “difficult” one; the “problem” one; the “needy” one…the one who reflects the ‘disowned’, unacceptable parts of the ‘split’ and dysfunctional (or narcissistic) family system you find yourself existing within.

Babies, infants, young children who are subjected to this sort of systemic and/or parental ‘split’ projection are victimized by many things at once, and all are designed to to push you into separating, disconnecting, dissociating from your authentic (or ‘real’ or ‘true’) self and existing as a false self. (Learn more about the Family Projective Identification Process via my article here).

Trauma Responses: How the True Self Nature Gets Repressed

As a child growing up in these types of dysfunctional, ‘split’ family systems develops a functional self (i.e., a self that has had to repress many aspects of who they actually are in order to survive in a rejecting, shaming, and blaming environment), you may have inadvertently repressed or sublimated parts of yourself deemed unacceptable by your family-of-origin in order to survive, ‘get along’, and get by. This, then, is how the false self first begins to develop.

When you are in the ‘Identified Patient’ or ‘family scapegoat’ role, you may have intrapsychically buried many aspects of your true self nature in order to feel like you were acceptable to your family. This process of denying and repressing our true self is largely unconscious, of course. Somehow children who have dysfunctional, narcissistic, and otherwise unstable and ‘disordered’ parents innately know that their personality, their full vibrancy, is not going to be tolerated in the environment they find themselves trapped within.

Finding themselves in a chronically stressful, rejecting, and/or outright abusive environment from which there is no escape, such children will likely develop trauma responses as a means of surviving a psycho-emotionally dangerous environment, such as fawn/submit; freeze; flight; fight; or the ‘cry for help’ response.

There’s no right or wrong trauma response when you’re in these highly dysfunctional or narcissistic family systems and it’s so important that you commend yourself and the child that you were (and your psyche) for somehow allowing you to survive what could have been a chronically stressful, dangerous, and hostile environment.

Remember, instead of being protected by your parents, you may have been projected on to by them and were not ever seen for who you were, or who you had the potential to be. You may have been the victim of a shared family projection that I now call a Folie à Family – the ‘madness’ of the family all adopting, believing, and sharing a distorted ‘scapegoat narrative’ regarding you and your character, often being driven by unrecognized, unaddressed intergenerational trauma or a narcissistic family power-holder (most typically a parent).

The ‘Double Bind’ of Family Scapegoating Abuse

Once this distorted ‘bad’, ‘different’, ‘weird’ (etc) projection lands on you, there’s no way out of it. You can’t reason with your family as an adult scapegoated child. You can’t explain your way out of being scapegoated. You can’t give your family a book like mine and make them see that you’re being scapegoated – they will simply disregard and dismiss this information as it does not fit in with the ‘scapegoat narrative’ that now is firmly attached to you.

Some of you may have already woken up to the truth of this ‘double bind’ you find yourself tied up in via these dysfunctional or narcissistic family dynamics and the anger or grief hits you, and what I call ‘righteous rage’. And because “we go to what we know,” you may have recreated your dysfunctional or narcissistic family dynamics unconsciously and unintentionally through who you married or by staying in a work environment that is abusive or a living situation that’s not healthy because it feels familiar to you.

You may also have developed a high tolerance for dysfunction and various forms of psycho-emotional mistreatment or abuse via your original family system so it may not seem urgent or necessary to get yourself out of what could be a very damaging situation because you’re used to it.

To learn more about family scapegoating abuse dynamics, you may purchase my book, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed, via this secure universal buy link: books2read/


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.

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. My Mother told me over and over that she felt fake. She explained she knew she judged people and would act like she liked them but only tolerated them. I know her mother was “Not a mother at all and that she just wasn’t right”, my Mom said to me. My mother said she figured out early on that she and her Baby Brother and Older Sister had to take care of themselves. She shared inappropriate adult topics with them and pitted people against each other with her choice of speech and Mom said “She was always frustrating us kids”.

    How is the False (Survival) Self that I developed that was talked about in your article any different than my mothers or my grandmothers? I don’t think I really want to know the answer to that.

    1. The difference may be that you have the ability and courage to ask these difficult questions, and you appear to have the ego strength required to search honestly for answers. With increased awareness, we can make different choices – including how we are treating others in our life.

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