Are You The Family Scapegoat? How To Cope
A few months back I wrote about how to love (and preferably, leave) a sociopath.
Who loves and supports the family scapegoat?
What is a family scapegoat?
A very deep and complex question.
It’s not the family member who is lovingly teased, tickled mercilessly, guilted into washing and drying dishes more than sibling counterparts at family get-togethers.
It’s not exactly the black sheep of the family, either – the member who has a history of destructive drunkenness at holiday time, a consistently foul mouth, or an aggressive temper – the family member other family members would prefer not to associate with.
Family scapegoating is much more serious. More disturbing.
Family scapegoating occurs when a specific family member has been delegated The Chosen One – the one blamed ‘on behalf of the family,’ for acknowledged, family-wide secrets, disturbing behaviours, and serious family dysfunction.
Other family members know ‘the truth’ of this extensive dysfunction and into which categories it falls, they probably know who is responsible. But they don’t cope with or face it. Instead, they choose to ‘scapegoat’ a family member.
In effect, consciously blaming one family member for the family dysfunction that exists.
What happens to someone who is scapegoated?
The scapegoat faces family abandonment, ostracization, rejection, alienation, blame, shame and guilt. And much more.
What makes this syndrome more sinister, according to experts, is that, typically, the person scapegoated is not to blame for family problems.
Think of politics, where the scapegoat phenomenon can thrive. Politicians effortlessly blame innocent others for their own predicaments. Heads of governments blame otherwise trusted colleagues. Others in power hurl blame on those caught in the crossfire.
Politicians use the scapegoat game to deflect responsibility, keep their bloated egos alive, their careers and reputations intact. That’s the game of politics: to survive.
This is the case with the family scapegoat syndrome too.
A family inflicts blame upon another family member – to survive.
‘Politics’ is often considered a game. There should be no such games in healthy families.
Certified counselling therapist Glynis Sherwood, who specializes in family scapegoating, calls scapegoating “a painful experience of betrayal and cruelty” for the victim.
The victim often comes to believe that he or she is to blame for all that has gone wrong in the family. Why? Because they are told so, by other family members, in words or actions that are destructive, subtle, manipulative and callous.
“In fact,” says Sherwood, “many scapegoats come to believe the family myth that they’re the ‘bad guy,’ rather than understanding that they are being abused.”
Yes, say the experts. People who profess to love you, who turn against you, who decide to give you a good swift kick of blame are abusing you. They decide you’re responsible for family secrets and serious dysfunction, when you’re not. You’re left holding the toxic bag and branded the bad guy. Left all alone.
That’s bullying. That’s abuse. That’s the innocent, lonely kid in a school playground, pointed at and taunted, day in, day out, for no valid reason.
Sherwood says scapegoating represents the difference between being part a healthy family that resolves its issues lovingly and supportively, and one that does not.
“Healthy families take responsibility for difficulties as they occur,” says Sherwood, “and they take steps to try and resolve challenges constructively. This does not occur in families who ‘scapegoat’ another family member. ”
Those scapegoated can be the vulnerable, loving, sensitive, quiet ones who ‘behaved’ in the family system, played mute and looked the other way, And, or – they were whistle blowers when they could no longer tolerate the serious family dysfunction, hypocrisy, favouritism, lies.
No matter how it manifests, family scapegoating represents a cruel condemnation of a human being. It results in a crushing realization: a core group of influential people who supposedly loved and cared about you – that you loved and cared about – perhaps don’t love you, maybe never did. Their aim is, always was, to save themselves – at your expense. Their survival is the only thing that matters.
How does the scapegoated individual cope?
Through a epiphany, experts say, realizing that what happened in your family of origin is not your fault. You were part of a family system that, instead of choosing to comfort, support and care for members fairly and evenly, and working out problems lovingly, instead developed alliances, perpetuated lies, gossiped among themselves in order to judge and alienate other family members, and perpetuated a very unhealthy family system.
Certain members haven chosen to bully the victim (the scapegoat) with cruel words, threats, guilt, shame and blame – to spare themselves, keep the family reputation clean. And sully yours.
None of this is normal, nor healthy.
Glynis Sherwood offers victims of scapegoating comfort, and a healthy dose of reality.
Her post “12 Steps to Breaking Free from Being the Family Scapegoat” and a secondary post on the subject “Scapegoating: When You Get Stuck Trying to Outrun Someone Else’s Shadow” explain how victims can view this treatment for what it is. And then try to heal from it.
One of Sherwood’s most difficult suggestions is the most important: “Stop trying to win the favour of abusive and uncaring family members…Anyone who engages in this type of inappropriate behaviour has personality problems, especially [true of] a parent who did not love their child.”
For: bullying is bullying. Abuse is abuse. The truth is the truth.
If you choose to cling to people who scapegoat you, you’re condemned to a life where you have no voice, no power, no freedom to be yourself, and, a promise of very low sense of self-esteem and worth. You won’t change or grow. You’ll continue to buy into a family “system” that is static, where members are not equal, where cruel games have been played, continue to be played. This is not good for you.
But make no mistake.
Other people do and will love you, will celebrate you, will honour you: your friends, neighbours, work colleagues. Lean on other people for their goodness, integrity, caring. Bask in their kindness. It’s out there.
Remind yourself that you are loveable, valuable and worthy. Repeat this to yourself, many times, every single day. Or check out my previous post about affirmation meditations, to settle yourself comfortably and safely into a warm, self-affirming cocoon, so that you can begin, slowly, to change your way of thinking about yourself, one meditation, one day at a time.
Seek out a therapist who specializes in family scapegoating, or read about this syndrome – there’s a great deal of helpful (no bull) information available about it online. Above all, make sure you get help and direction to liberate yourself from the intense pain and suffering that this betrayal delivers.
And learn to love yourself.
In this situation, in all situations.
Scapegoated individuals may never have felt loved or valued due to serious family dysfunction that was never properly addressed, never resolved.
Loving yourself is your birthright. If you know this, if you can learn this, you will move forward. It will take time. But the experts insist: it is possible.
It may at first seem impossible to undo the damage that’s been done, feeling the intense, deep wounds inflicted upon your soul – willingly – by those who you trusted. The rejection, abandonment and shockingly cruel words may resonate in some place in your heart forever. This treatment is not easily forgotten. Some days the pain will sear, like a thousand cuts. But once you recover your voice, your belief in the truth, your knowledge that scapegoating truly isn’t about you, but about others, you will carry on. Then suddenly, and blissfully, you will realize that you need not accept the struggle and pain as yours to carry anymore. You can pass it back to those who gave it to you. And free yourself.
Many thanks to Glynis Sherwood for her frank insight into this serious and destructive family syndrome. For more information on family scapegoating, see the following excellent resources: www.mindfulofthoughts.com, www.outofthefog.net lightshouse.org and, www.kellevision.com