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Radical Acceptance and Scapegoat Recovery: The Power of Accepting What IS

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Summary: This article explains the concept of radical acceptance in trauma treatment and its relevance to recovering from family scapegoating abuse (FSA). It provides clear distinctions between forgiveness and radical acceptance and offers thought-provoking questions for readers to consider. The article also emphasizes the importance of accepting painful truths as part of the healing process.

Those of you who have read my introductory guide on family scapegoating abuse (FSA), Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed, may remember that I briefly discussed the benefits of adult survivors cultivating an “attitude of radical acceptance” when recovering from FSA and its traumatizing effects. In this article, I share why I invite clients to explore “radical acceptance” to support healing from family mistreatment and abuse.

Radical Acceptance in Trauma Treatment

I was first introduced to the concept of radical acceptance via the work of Carl Rogers (one of the founders of Humanistic Psychology), who theorized that accepting one’s situation is the first step to change.

Some time later, I discovered that ‘radical acceptance’ is also prominently featured in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and is used in the treatment of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Within the DBT framework, radical acceptance is viewed as the act of opening your mind to accept that an event happened to you.

Over time, as my clinical practice began to focus more on the treatment of traumatized adult survivors of child abuse, I began to incorporate ‘radical acceptance’ into my psychotherapy and coaching practices with clients who presented with PTSD or complex trauma (C-PTSD) symptoms. (You can learn more about FSA and the importance of treating complex trauma by reading my article here.)

The Power of Accepting What Is

When I think of the term ‘radical acceptance’, I remember a story I heard years ago about a Sage and their student. It goes as follows:

A student had been studying with a Sage for many years, but the experience of ‘enlightenment’ he was earnestly seeking continued to elude him.

One day, the student had (in his mind) a profound realization. He ran to see his Master, exclaiming with excitement: “Master! At last I have surrendered! I accept everything – ALL of reality – JUST AS IT IS!”

The Master looked at their student with a slight smile, and then softly replied: “My son, that is wonderful. But what choice did you ever really have?”


When working with FSA adult survivors as a clinician or coach, I am aware of the many painful realities that need to be fully digested and accepted as part of the FSA healing process. For example, when a client tells me that they struggle with rumination, I know that they may benefit from learning about – and applying – the concept of radical acceptance to support their healing and recovery process.

Specifically: When I hear that a survivor of FSA is struggling with rumination (e.g., repetitive, intrusive thoughts that typically begin with, “How could they have…”; “What if I had…”; “Maybe they will…”; “I can’t believe that they…”; “They’re all so…”; “I’ll never accept that…”; “It’s not fair that…”; etc.), I know that they are (understandably) struggling to accept the devastating realities associated with family scapegoating abuse and the injustices and pain experienced in their dysfunctional or narcissistic family system.

Forgiveness Versus Radical Acceptance

I find that the terms ‘forgiveness’ and ‘radical acceptance’ are often viewed as being synonymous. However, they are actually very different concepts. Forgiveness is an act of reconciliation with another, while the process of radical acceptance is individual and personal.

Forcing the idea of forgiveness on any type of abuse survivor is inherently not trauma-informed. Although there is research indicating that forgiveness can positively impact one’s psycho-emotional health, few studies address forgiveness and its impact on trauma survivors. As a trauma-oriented psychotherapist, it is my role to assist my client in exploring whether or not forgiving family members for harms done will benefit their recovery at this particular time.

Issues related to forgiveness that I invite my FSA-impacted clients to consider include:

  1. “Am I forgiving this person to benefit myself – or them?”
  2. “By forgiving this person, am I diminishing the impact that being scapegoated has had on me?”
  3. “Am I fully aware of what I am actually forgiving, i.e., have I recognized, felt, and processed the various pains and harms I’ve experienced in relation to FSA?”
  4. “Will my forgiving those in my family who have harmed me be yet another way that I am unconsciously colluding with my family system to invalidate my pain and silence my voice?”
  5. “If I choose not to forgive – at least, not right now – will I feel shame and/or guilt related to my religious beliefs? If so, how might I reconcile this within my heart, mind, and spirit?

Alternatively, when I explore radical acceptance with my clients, I invite them to consider the following:

  1. “Can I accept that being subjected to this type of systemic abuse is a part of my story – a part of my story that need not define me or permanently influence or control my life?
  2. “Can I accept that the fact of my abuse may not ever be recognized within my family and others connected to my family system?”
  3. “Can I accept the inherent injustice of my situation – and all the emotions and feelings and thoughts associated with this injustice – and at some point decide to live (and live well), anyway?”
  4. “Can I accept that I have choices – including the choice to accept the past and do all I can now to recover from FSA?”
  5. “Can I accept that I am more than the painful events I have experienced, and know that my life has value and that I’m worth saving?”

Of course, it need not be “either/or” when it comes to forgiveness and radical acceptance. In cases where a client would like to consciously move through a forgiveness process, they often find that incorporating radical acceptance into their forgiveness work can be very helpful.

Meaningless Suffering Versus Meaningful Suffering

Releasing attachment to highly charged emotions and events does not mean that one is “giving up” on themselves or “giving in” to abuse from others. It is simply a process that supports people in coping with past and/or current life circumstances that cannot be changed and that they are powerless over.

Radical acceptance requires one to cultivate a mindful, nonattached psycho-emotional stance so as to distinguish between painful emotions versus painful events. What has happened is in the past and can’t be changed. The goal instead is to become aware of, process, and release debilitating thoughts and emotions, while accepting the unchangeable, unalterable nature of a given situation.

It has been both my personal and professional experience that accepting incomprehensible realities that cannot be adjusted or altered is essential to recovering from FSA and over time can ease mental and emotional anguish.

The way I explain radical acceptance to my clients is that they can experience meaningless suffering or meaningful suffering as they courageously take the steps needed to heal from being scapegoated by family.

Examples of meaningless suffering caused by resisting what is might include ruminating over past, present, or possible future events; continually reaching out to connect with (or try to “fix” relationships with) abusive family members; succumbing to feelings of despair, hopelessness, and/or learned helplessness; and engaging in abusive acts toward oneself (such as negative self-talk; shaming oneself; etc).

Examples of meaningful suffering that acknowledges what is might include ending contact with abusive family members and accepting the reality of lost family connections; releasing the fantasy that your family will wake up one day and suddenly realize how they have put you in the ‘scapegoat’ role; and releasing the hope that you will one day receive apologies from family members who have gravely harmed you.

Accepting Reality Just As It Is

Remember, mental and emotional acceptance of painful realities does not mean you are weak or complacent, nor does it mean that you are passive or submissive. Ask yourself what you have the power to change, and what you have no choice but to accept. For example, I’ve had clients whose inheritances were wrongly taken from them due to scapegoating dynamics, and several of them chose to pursue restitution in court – and they won.

Cultivating an attitude of radical acceptance also does not mean that you do not experience anger, grief, sadness, etc, regarding what has happened to you within your family-of-origin. It simply means that while you are moving through various emotions and feelings, you are also consciously choosing to adopt a life attitude that supports an acceptance of what has occurred.

As you begin to practice radical acceptance, you may discover a newfound ability to embrace difficult facts while still acknowledging the full depth of your emotions. In doing so, you will be better able to assess the truth of your situation so as to develop ways to effectively cope with it, even as you accept life just as it is, and things just as they are.

Over time, as you begin to fully accept the past and present, you may find yourself increasingly able to focus on what you can actually control, versus wrestling with what you cannot, allowing you to focus on building a future you want, free from mistreatment and abuse.

To learn more about radical acceptance and practical steps you can take toward cultivating this life attitude, read my article, Radical Acceptance and Family Scapegoating Abuse Recovery.

Attention: To those of you on my waiting list for ​Single-Session Consultations​, I am still out on medical leave but hope to be seeing clients again by this coming January.

Available in Digital, Paperback, or Hard Cover

Purchase my introductory book on FSA via this secure, international Universal Book Link (includes Amazon)

17 thoughts on “Radical Acceptance and Scapegoat Recovery: The Power of Accepting What IS”

  1. Brittany P

    I was wondering how I find a therapist that deals with scapegoat abuse in Oklahoma City I’ve been through tons of therapists I always leave in the first session and never go back because they usually re-traumatize me by telling me that maybe I’m the problem and I don’t want to hear that anymore the next person that tells me that I’m just going to claw their face off that’s why I just don’t go to therapy but I’m struggling to do everyday activities my stuff that I’m supposed to do is piling up I’m missing deadlines and most days I don’t want to get out of bed and I’m a halfway functioning addict and I’ve tried to stop but most of the time they help me from thinking about my daughter she’s 26 she’s blinded to the fact that she loves me because she’s been brainwashed for 9 years so she thinks I hate her so she feels nothing for me she doesn’t hate me she doesn’t love me she feels absolutely nothing but disgust and it’s so sad I have an almost five year old grandson that I’ve only seen a couple of times he doesn’t understand why he can’t come see me and my daughter’s collateral damage in the the fact that my family just wants to hurt me they do not give two craps about me or her my brother usually tells me on the holidays he’ll send me a message on messenger and tell me why am I still here why don’t I just off myself because nobody would care if I just disappeared it’s really sad

    1. Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

      Hi Brittany, you might try the search function on Dr. Janina Fisher’s website – these therapists are often certified in Dr. Fisher’s Trauma Informed Stabilization Treatment techniques. Therapists trained in Internal Family Systems who do ‘parts’ work can also be helpful for adult survivors of FSA – but they should understand ‘external’ family systems as well, including family roles – especially the ‘scapegoat role’. Link to Janina’s site, as well as other resources, can be found on my updated resource list here:

  2. Jo

    Once again Doctor M gets into the meat of the subject. Radical acceptance is a very easy concept that comes with a tremendous amount of pain and loss. Loss of hope and loss of all the things that should have been but weren’t. Radical acceptance leaves me holding the bag all by myself and for me I was left an emotional amputee. Finding out about FSA so late in my life left me fighting for my sanity and everyday is a struggle. It’s a twisted knot of self doubt not knowing who I am at all. See i never saw there behavior as any type of abuse because it started so young and ended so very late for me. My daughter said how could you not know what they were doing was abuse. I said it was all I knew. The concept of gray rocking after many yrs of no contact is all I see in the future for my family and myself. My daughter is getting married in six months and the whole tribe will be there and it scares me to even face them. None of my siblings ever cared what I had to say or how I felt. They shamed me into silence every time I tried. There is no more trying and the fantasies of what and how I want to explain my innocence to my family is finally slowly dying. What’s the point!

  3. Ge

    How do you accept your whole family is gone? Your brothers, sisters, nieces and nefews, uncles and aunts and all their surrounding partners and friends? How do you accept their smear-campains towards your friends and wider social circle? How they managed to isolate you with lies and wicked talk just to disarm you behind your back?
    How to accept the truth of this tremendous betrayal?
    And how to start all over again?

    I’m going over it almost every day. Trying to remember almost day by day over years what happened and why. Putting things in a story/timeline that fits facts.
    Where did I go wrong? Where did they go wrong? It’s just so hard.
    I know I tried everything in my way to solve the problems with them. But while trying they only got worse with them.

    I had to give up, but it’s such a loss. I’ve tried so hard (in hindsight) to be a good son, brother, friend. I did all my best to support them anyway I could. I payed thousends of dollars on them to save them from further harm (and my mother from bankrupcy). Motivated them to get good education which mostly succeeded.

    Still I’m this awfull, bad scapegoat in their eyes.
    I can accept people leaving me for many different honest reasons of their own. But not on false accusations and smearing. I’ll never accept this.
    I know I have to go on without them and it’s very hard and lonely.
    I know I have to accept this. But the way foreward is very difficult to see once you see radical exeptance is all you can do.

  4. Christie O

    Your article is a good reminder of the wisdom of not fighting reality, no matter how painful it was and is. A part of me spoke up as I finished reading to say that it can be hard to accept what you don’t fully know. So I suppose radical acceptance is a process. You accept what you know at the present time, and commit to remaining open to accepting more as you remember and learn more. This takes a lot of courage and willingness to love parts of yourself that, heretofore, you have not loved, because your parents didn’t.

  5. Rosalee

    I very much appreciate your book and ongoing work and knowledge to help people deal with Family Scapegoat abuse. I accepted my elder sisters are who they are, and will never change and I’ve had no contact with them since 2010. However they were able to inflict such lasting damage in 2010 it continues to create new and compounding traumas and harm. They decided to carry out a smear campaign against me while I was in the midst of grueling cancer treatments. They did this by phoning medical doctors I was seeing during cancer treatment to make up lies about my mental health and my character. Unbeknownst to me 4 psych labels based on their lies plus the lies themselves, were published onto my electronic medical records as factual. When I later obtained my medical records and discovered the lies and labels I tried many times without success to get my records corrected. I then ended up suing my eldest sister for defamation. She finally issued a legal retraction (that was carefully worded to protect herself). I submitted the retraction along with letters from my family doctor and 3 other mental health professionals who all disputed the psych labels but to this day I cannot get the system or the doctor to amend my records. This false, damaging info on my records has resulted in every health care provider I have interacted with since 2010 (except for my family doctor) treating me in a cruel and very dehumanizing manner and to be repeatedly denied much needed health care services even for treatments my family doctor referred me for. As a result my physical health keeps declining and I live with more debilitating pain from being denied services due to the lies and psych labels. Not sure what else I can do at this point but having the information and validation of FSA has been very helpful.

    1. Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

      Thank you for taking the time to share your painful FSA experiences with us. I do hope you are now cancer free. Your position is a very difficult one. I’m glad you are finding my work here helpful, and in case you missed it, here is a link to updated resources for FSA adult survivors that I put together. You might find Rhonda’s private Facebook group helpful (link is included):

  6. Elizabeth

    Yes, we carry ourselves forward and away from the cruelty and the lies that were waged to stop us. They tried and failed to destroy us. Let them reap their reward of nothingness because it’s well earned.

    Each step we take away from the past and boldly into the future as survivors of mistreatment is proof of the profound victory of Truth.

  7. btj

    this is an excellent article. I can never forgive my family, and what they have done is not over. That is the hard thing to accept. it comes as no shock to me that they did it. But it has been going on for 9 years. None of what they did is in the past. They have continued their destruction of my life into my professional life. They teamed up with a former employer and stole a lot of money from me, denied me my rights to my mother’s estate. The attorney for the employer and my sister has shown up in my affairs over and over. The guy doesn’t go away. They are on a revenge rampage because I keep catching them. One sister and a co-worker tipped me off about it all. Now they have written me off as crazy and I think they likely did something legally with regard to it. A psychologist looked into the matter for me and said to “get a lawyer”. However, I can’t get a lawyer. Nobody in this city is going to help me because of all the illegal and unethical actions that were taken to do what they did to me. So, I continue to live with people who with no consent or authority handle my affairs and I have given no permission for any person or organization to ever do so. So, they are gone from my life but still continue to destroy me every second, minute and hour of every day. I am in a postion where I cannot move forward in my life until it’s fixed.

  8. J.V. M

    I really like what Stephanie Dowrick says about forgiveness. She says Forgiveness is about ceasing to feel bitterness towards a person, ceasing to wish for bad things to happen to them. It is letting go of that, clearing yourself of the harm such mindset causes you. It is not about forgetting what they did, or even accommodating them in any way. You may choose never to see this person again, never to contact them again, and to avoid them if they are anywhere near you, if that is what you need to be safe, to be comfortable, to hold to the limits you need for yourself. And you don’t need to communicate with them at all about having let go of that, clearing them out of your mind and heart and soul if you have chosen to do so.
    And when I studied DBT, I was taught that Radical Acceptance is about choosing to stop the suffering you experience when you fight accepting reality as it is. It is saying things are not as they should be, they are not what you deserve, but they are what they are. For example, I may choose to visit my mean, narcissistic mother in her aged care home once a week because I feel strongly that it is important to give her that contact as a good daughter, even though she says savage things that make me cry when I see her. If I choose Radical Acceptance to manage the suffering the situation causes me, it means accepting that I am making this choice, accepting that when I see her my mother will say cruel things, and then I must consider whether meeting my own standards matters enough to me, I can let go of the suffering I feel when as always she says cruel things. And if the satisfaction and self-pride that gives me is important enough, I then will be able to stop letting it get to me. Alternatively, I could choose not to see her and to Radically Accept that I am not measuring up to my own standards of what a good daughter does, but to say that being staunch to myself and keeping myself from such treatment is the more important thing and to be happy with that decision, and accept the reality of that situation.

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