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FSA and Family Mobbing: Dynamics, Impact, and Coping Strategies

grief young black woman sitting near wooden wall and crying

Introduction: Family, typically regarded as a sanctuary of love and support, can sometimes harbor complex dynamics that lead to unexpected forms of conflict and distress, as well as covert or overt forms of individual and/or systemic abuse.

One such phenomenon that qualifies as systemic abuse is family mobbing, a term often associated with workplace bullying but equally applicable within familial settings, particularly as related to the phenomenon I named family scapegoating abuse (FSA).

In this article, I delve into the concept of family mobbing, exploring its definitions, manifestations, impacts on the ‘mobbed’ family member (who often is in the ‘family scapegoat’ role), and strategies for coping with this type of systemic aggression from one’s parents, siblings, and at times, extended relatives.


Family Mobbing Scapegoat Abuse

Prefer video content over this article? Watch my video on Family Mobbing dynamics here: https://youtu.be/6gb_dDqWLiQ


Defining Family Mobbing

Family mobbing, also known as familial bullying or harassment, describes a disturbing systemic phenomenon whereby one or more family members relentlessly engage in a pattern of malicious behavior towards another family member.

This insidious form of abuse can manifest in various ways, including verbal attacks, emotional manipulation, social ostracization, and even physical aggression, such as slapping, pushing, and hitting.

Drawing on the pioneering work of Dr. Heinz Leymann, a renowned expert on workplace mobbing, the concept of family mobbing underscores the uniquely damaging dynamics at play within the intimate context of the family unit.

Just as workplace mobbing can have devastating consequences for its victims, family mobbing can inflict profound psychological, social, and even physical harm, undermining the very foundation of trust and support that should characterize familial relationships.

Family mobbing can manifest in diverse ways, often fueled by underlying trauma, unconscious systemic processes, past or current conflicts, jealousy, or unresolved issues within the family unit – the very same dynamics that often drive and support family scapegoating abuse (FSA). Learn more about FSA by reading my introductory book on Family Scapegoating Abuse, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed.

Mobbing may involve a dominant family member exerting control over others through intimidation and coercion (behaviors that are often associated with a narcissistic parent), or it could entail collective harassment whereby family members target a specific individual perceived as vulnerable or different (such as the ‘Empath child’).

Examples of family mobbing behaviors include scapegoating (as mentioned); gaslighting (distorting reality to gain an advantage over another); spreading rumors (which may include defamation of character); harassment; cyberbullying; and undermining the victim’s sense of identity and self-esteem.

Understanding the complex power dynamics and the profound impact of family mobbing is crucial for identifying and addressing this pervasive issue, which can have lasting repercussions on the well-being of its targets and the overall family ecosystem.

Why Family Mobbing Happens

In dysfunctional or narcissistic family systems, the dynamics often revolve around maintaining a façade of perfection or superiority. When a family member challenges this image or threatens the delicate balance of power (what we call in Family Systems the family homeostasis), other members may engage in mobbing behaviors as a means of self-preservation.

Similar to family scapegoating, family mobbing behaviors serve as a convenient outlet for deflecting attention away from deeper family issues and onto an individual who becomes the target of collective blame. By projecting their own insecurities onto one particular family member, the dysfunctional or narcissistic family system may avoid confronting uncomfortable truths about themselves or the dysfunctional / abusive dynamics within the family unit.

Furthermore, narcissistic family systems in particular thrive on control and manipulation, with a designated hierarchy that reinforces the narcissistic individual’s sense of entitlement and superiority. The scapegoat often becomes a threat to this hierarchy by refusing to conform to the family’s distorted reality or by challenging the narcissist’s authority.

In response, the family may resort to bullying tactics to enforce compliance and silence dissent. Through mobbing behaviors, they attempt to isolate and discredit the scapegoat ‘truth-teller’, ensuring that their own power and control remain unchallenged.

Moreover, family mobbing serves to maintain the status quo and perpetuate toxic patterns of behavior within the family system. By targeting the scapegoat, dysfunctional families avoid addressing underlying issues such as emotional neglect, abuse, or dysfunction.

Instead of fostering healthy communication and resolution, they resort to scapegoating as a means of preserving the dysfunctional equilibrium. In doing so, they not only harm the scapegoated child or FSA adult survivor but also perpetuate a cycle of dysfunction that may continue for generations unless addressed and confronted.

Family Mobbing’s Impact on Victims

The impact of family mobbing on victims can be truly devastating, with profound and long-lasting consequences that permeate every facet of their well-being.

Victims of family mobbing will typically find themselves grappling with a host of debilitating mental, emotional, and physical repercussions. Anxiety and depression can take hold, as the relentless harassment and mistreatment they face chisels away at their self-worth and self-esteem.

The sense of isolation they experience, cut off from the very people who should provide a nurturing support system, can be utterly crippling. Moreover, the insidious nature of family mobbing goes beyond just the individual, as it has the power to rupture the very fabric of familial bonds.

The erosion of trust and the breakdown in communication among family members can leave victims feeling alone, isolated, and adrift. As I said in a recent video regarding what can happen if you try to be a healthy, boundaried person in a toxic family system, the mobbing victim’s family-of-origin is not a safe haven – it is a battleground with all guns pointed at them.

“Does Family Mobbing Mean My Family Hates Me?”

I’m often asked by my blog and YouTube subscribers if family mobbing means your family hates you. As a Family Systems specialist, I am able to speak to the dynamics and behaviors at play, not to what is going on in someone’s mind and heart.

The fact is, family systems – as well as the individuals making up a given family – are incredibly complex. Many families that engage in family mobbing and family scapegoating behaviors unknowingly suffer from generations of unacknowledged, unprocessed individual and systemic trauma, which influences their behaviors and can result in family members acting out aggressively toward each other.

Simplifying complex systemic processes by reducing human behavior into ‘black-and-white’ terms (“They love me” / “They hate me”) may provide temporary relief but will not expand one’s awareness or lead to deep, long-lasting healing in the end as it can result in adult survivors of family abuse perpetually cycling through feelings of anger and resentment and ‘split’ thinking (e.g., “I’m all good; my family is all bad”).

This does not mean that those who cause harm to others should not be held accountable for their egregious behaviors. It is possible, however, to hold others accountable for their acts of abuse without repeating generational patterns that support maltreatment of others, such as dehumanizing aggressive family members by reducing them to “always and only bad” which (ironically) is the same type of ‘split’ polarizing thinking that fuels scapegoating behaviors in families.

Coping Strategies for Victims of Family Mobbing

Coping with family mobbing requires resilience and proactive measures to protect one’s mental, emotional, and physical health.

Seeking support from trusted friends, relatives outside the immediate family, a support forum, or mental health professionals who understand dysfunctional family systems can provide victims of family mobbing validation and a broader perspective. Setting boundaries and asserting oneself as someone who refuses to tolerate family mobbing or abuse of any kind, though challenging, is crucial in protecting oneself from further harm and reclaiming personal autonomy.

With that said, families that engage in mobbing behaviors are often too dysfunctional or narcissistic in their construction to ever be ‘safe enough’ places for an FSA adult survivor to be. This is because being mobbed, ganged up on, and bullied by one’s family can be shocking, frightening, stressful, and traumatizing.

Resolving family mobbing would require open communication, empathy, and a willingness to address underlying conflicts constructively. Dysfunctional and narcissistic family systems typically exhibit none of these critical traits.

This is why a Mental Health professional who understands family mobbing and bullying will often recommend their client limit or end contact with abusive family members unless aggressive family members are willing (and able) to acknowledge that they are causing harm and need help.

As a clinician and Family Systems expert, I find it disturbing that the standard advice typically given to victims of family mobbing is to “seek out Family therapy or mediation sessions facilitated by trained professionals to address concerns, clarify misunderstandings, and work towards reconciliation” (I grabbed this phrase off of a quick Google search on family mobbing).

I’ve been a practicing Family Systems therapist for over 20 years and I consider the above advice to be frankly dangerous. Targets of family mobbing, bullying, and systemic aggression – including FSA adult survivors – are in reality being set up for retraumatization with such advice, except in rare circumstances.

As I emphasize in my introductory book on FSA, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed, family members engaging in mobbing behaviors must first acknowledge that they are the ones who need help, and multiple treatment professionals (e.g., extremely experienced Family Systems therapists) should be involved in any type of healing and reunification process. This is in part to ensure that the victim of family mobbing have an informed and protective ‘ally’ in the room who will ensure that mobbing behaviors will not be carried out in the therapeutic setting (something I witnessed first-hand when interning at Drug/Alcoholic Treatment programs).

Furthermore, I also advise my clients that In cases where the abuse is severe or persistent, seeking legal intervention – such as a restraining or ‘cease and desist’ order – may be necessary for self-preservation and healing.

Conclusion: Family mobbing represents a profoundly complex and deeply distressing form of systemic and interpersonal conflict that can severely undermine and erode the very foundation of familial relationships.

This insidious phenomenon, characterized by sustained and coordinated efforts by family members to ostracize, marginalize, and psychologically torment an individual, can have devastating consequences on the victim’s well-being, self-worth, and sense of belonging within the very unit that should provide unconditional love and support.

By developing a comprehensive understanding of the intricate dynamics underlying family mobbing, recognizing the far-reaching impact it can have on the targeted individual, and employing effective coping strategies, victims of this form of abuse can reclaim their personal agency and seek pathways towards resolution and healing.

Becoming educated about Family Systems – as well as complex trauma and family scapegoating abuse, if you are an adult survivor of FSA – can be critical steps in recovering from the pain and trauma of family mobbing. In addition, engaging with a supportive network of allies – such as a private online community for FSA adult survivors – and prioritizing self-care practices can also be essential steps towards breaking free from the insidious cycle of abuse and fostering the development of healthier relationships with people outside of one’s family.

Attributions:

  • Dr. Heinz Leymann: Dr. Heinz Leymann was a Swedish psychologist and researcher who extensively studied workplace bullying and coined the term “mobbing” in the context of workplace harassment.
  • Definitions and manifestations of family mobbing: The concepts and descriptions provided are based on psychological research into family dynamics, interpersonal conflict, and bullying behavior.
  • Impact on victims: Psychological and sociological studies on the effects of bullying and harassment within familial settings inform the discussion of the impact on victims.
  • Coping strategies and resolution: Recommendations for coping and resolution draw from established principles of trauma-informed care, conflict resolution techniques, and therapeutic interventions.

10 thoughts on “FSA and Family Mobbing: Dynamics, Impact, and Coping Strategies”

  1. Allie R

    Your work is a beacon of light in the dark that so many of us have been battling through most of our lives, with little or no understanding or support to date from either professionals or friends. Thank you so much.
    My training as a counselling psychologist in the UK never even mentioned this insidious form of abuse and, most shockingly, neither did my one year family -systems training at the Tavistock Institute, London.
    A couple of observations come to mind that might help other survivors of FSA, family mobbing and triangulation .
    There is a growing body of research that links chronic physical illness, such as autoimmune conditions etc, to ACEs and abuse, but also to ongoing adult family abuse, and isolation. I am struggling very much with this myself, and I know that part of my physical healing is to become much stronger in my sense of self and identity. It is a matter of trust in your own intuition. However, what is incredibly hard is that often the very wonderful qualities you possess and should be so proud of, are the very triggers that made the family choose you as scapegoat. And so it feels very dangerous to allow oneself to see and be those good qualities. For me., being highly empathic and compassionate, able to see the truth, having both academic and musical talents are all things that I should be able to embrace and take to my full potential, but in fact make me so confused because they are the very things that made my family reject me, convince me I was the opposite of those qualities, and permanently exclude me. In fact, the more I achieved and overcome challenges – many of which caused by them! – the worse it got. To the extent that when I misguidedly reconnected with my mother after years of no contact to allow my 8-year old daughter to have more extended family, my mother then turbo- charged the old dynamic by conducting a full-scale covert, systematic character -assassination of me and alienation of my daughter from me for four years. Thankfully, I eventually found out, but it has taken my daughter and me most of her teenage years to ( almost) undo the terrible emotional damage done to both my daughter, and our relationship. And I was so determined that I would be the generation where this stopped ! The final observation I have is how confusing but sad it is that when one confides in friends that you assume know you well and have a great empathy, the fact of destructive family dynamics is not something they can accept. It seems to be a step too far for them, and their only solution to avoiding their own cognitive dissonance seems to be to blame you, assume you must’ve caused it, judge and / or leave. I have lost two long-term friendships like this.- a trauma that simply deepens the original trauma from one’s family. So Rebecca’s wonderful work and that of other coaches, therapists and survivors openly talking about it is really changing things, but we seem to have a way to go yet. I will definitely do my bit when I can! My final comment – in what seems to have turned into an essay ! – is for all we survivors to remember that we are most often the healthily and strong members of the system, and as such, we can find a way out, and heal. I’m sending love to all who have suffered in this way.

    1. Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

      Thank you, Allie, for this full and rich comment, which echoes the main points in my research-driven introductory book on Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA), ‘Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed’ (in case you haven’t read it). I include a dedicated chapter on FSA and the family Empath in it, by the way. I hope to offer a certification program in FSA Recovery Coaching training soon for Mental Health professionals; if you want to be alerted to it, be sure to subscribe to my Newsletter via this website’s menu if you haven’t yet.

  2. boisebookclub

    Hugely helpful article, I’m just learning about FSA and am so glad I found your website and resources. Thank you for leading out on this little known area and putting your professional expertise to helping heal others.

  3. Kane

    Thank you again & again & again Rebecca, for continuing to share your insights & knowledge & educating the masses, explaining & validating & documenting your work.
    You & your work are of value way beyond price or measure and provide a valuable resource for explaining to others what HELL literally is going on for individuals suffering FSA & Family Mobbing.
    Thank you again.
    Enormous respect & love for you
    Jane xxx

  4. Rosalee D

    Dear Rebecca, Another outstanding article! I can’t tell you how much your knowledge, insight and articles mean to me. The validation and understanding you provide on the painful and destructive effects of Family Scapegoat Abuse and Family Mobbing is so crucial for any healing and provides salve for the wounds As a person who endured Family Scapegoat Abuse and Family Mobbing I didn’t realize what it was and just how dangerous it was. I kept telling myself it was just ‘sibling rivalry’ or a passing phase etc until my two eldest sisters attacked me while I was enduring cancer treatments. They covertly contacted health care providers to smear my character and made up very damaging lies that were put into my electronic records as fact. The lies had horrible consequences on how I was viewed and treated by doctors during cancer treatment and in the years since as I cannot get their damaging lies removed from my health records. If I had been aware of the dangers of FSA back then I would have broken all contact before they could do such lasting harm. Thanks and bless you for all you do to bring awareness to a subject that is usually kept in the dark and inflicts so much harm.

    1. Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

      Thank you, Rosalee. If only more people understood just how destructive and devastating FSA and related dynamics, such as family mobbing, can be. You might be interested in this research about chronic stress – I’ll do an article about this soon. Yet another reason why ending contact is sometimes the only option if one wants to survive – and heal – including physically. https://www.healthline.com/health/general-adaptation-syndrome

      1. Rosalee D

        Thank you, it is a helpful article. I have your book Rejected, Shamed and Blamed which I highly recommend to anyone who does not understand how stressful and harmful FSA is. And also your website and YouTube videos. Best regards.

    2. Jane

      Oh Rosalee (georgeous name by the way!) on reading your reply I feel such an overwhelming sense of horror, emotional pain and outrage, the audacity that ýour sisters could speak to your doctors and have false manipulative details about you recorded in your medical records, I feel compelled to write to you. I would throughly wish for there to be a way that you could have any false reporting removed from your records but its not likely, yet at the very least for you to have the truth restored, with an acknowledgement in your records that you’ve been subject to family mobbing & family scapegoating abuse. If I was in your position I’d print a copy of this very article by Rebecca C Mandeville and write an accompanying letter outlining your family situation with your experience with your sisters & your medical records and take it in person to your GP / Doctor & demand that they are both placed /scanned into your medical records & file. You will then have these to refer back to if & when ever needed. Its highly likely most medical practitioner’s are ignorant about the subject of FSA & Family Mobbing but this article and your letter can be there to enlighten them when required. Your sisters have NO right to influence your health care in this abusive way! As a nurse myself (UK) I would certainly hugely appreciate & acknowledge & respect your documented input. Unfortunately you are not likely to be able to change what’s already been documented but you can add to it yourself by placing your own documentation into it! Hopefully you can over rightyour sisters past false input and rectify future health professionals perspectives. I truly hope you get a sense of resolution and reclaim what is rightfully yours. You & your health and YOUR health care records matter and are none of your sisters business! You can have it documented that unless you stipulate otherwize you don’t want your sisters involved in your health care. I hope this helps. I really feel for you & send my love & strength to you. Your not alone ❤
      Big love Jane xxx

  5. Gloria J

    What a wonderful article. As a survivor of family scapegoating and mobbing, this website helps me to stay balanced and safe in my journey to wellness. Most people simply do not understand this dynamic and are unwilling to acknowledge that dysfunctional families resort to these tactics often to protect an abuser. But I have lived through this tragic situation. Thank you so much, Rebecca

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