The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Friday, February 1, 2008

Ridding Myself of the Family Scapegoat Mantel

Healing from my role as the family scapegoat was one of the last steps that fell into place on my healing journey. I had many more immediate and pressing issues to deal with first. In the beginning of my recovery, I was an open wound – simply oozing with pain. I had to deal with my hurt, denial, confusion, anger, and grief, before I could even begin to construct a healthy new me.

All along the way, I struggled with my scapegoat mantel. I thought I was alone in this experience. I’ve since discovered that it is a common practice in abusive family systems to choose one individual to carry the blame and shame for the rest of the family.

My role as the family scapegoat took root at a very young age. I constantly tried to convince my mother that our physical abuse was the source of our family problems, not my pleas for help. I pleaded with her to protect my brother’s and me, rather than to blame me for complaining about our abuse. Because I was dependent on my mother for my safety, the only way I new how to end my mistreatment was to try to convince her that I shouldn't be abused (or scapegoated).

Other family members and bystanders accepted my mother’s persuasive arguments that I was responsible for the angst in my family.

When met with blame, I’d ask, "Why am I to blame when my stepfather burns my hands? “How can I be responsible for my mother’s choice of partners? Why am I to blame for seeking help? Don’t you get this? Can’t you see?”

Once a pattern becomes ingrained in childhood, it is hard to recognize that pattern in adulthood or to develop a new way to respond. I didn't understand that I had different choices as an adult than I did as a child, or what those choices could look like. I kept defending myself and trying to "convince" others that I wasn’t responsible for our family dysfunction.

I put my energy in this argument for years. I didn’t know what else to do.

After years of healing from my childhood, I still kept finding myself in the position of scapegoat and I didn't understand why. Whenever this happened, I felt a primal sense of desperation and needed immediate relief from the pain that seemed to threaten my emotional survival. I didn't understand that when I found myself in an old familiar situation, I kept reacting just as I learned as a child.

I looked outward to others for relief rather than inward to myself, because I viewed my scapegoat mantel as something only my family and/or others could undo. I was frantic to get them to see this. I didn’t realize that it was something only I could undo. I needed to find new ways to respond to an old problem.

Understanding and dealing with my role as the family scapegoat was a layer of healing I couldn’t extricate myself from until I had first built a strong foundation of healing.

It took me a long time to realize that by becoming defensive and engaging in the old argument, I was wearing my scapegoat mantle well. A friend of mine (also a scapegoat) introduced me to her term, “being a woodpecker.” Where you peck and peck and peck and just dig yourself deeper into a negative place. For example: I’d say, “This is what happened. Get it?” When they argued, I’d say, “I’ll explain it this way. Now do you get it?” And so on – each time become more desperate. I always placed my safety and serenity in someone else’s ability to “get it,” rather than taking responsibility for my own well-being.

It wasn’t until I had healed enough (and this wasn’t easy) to stand confidently in my own experience that I was able to extricate myself from the scapegoat role.

Knowing when and with whom I could talk about my abuse was an important lesson for me. Validation was key to ridding myself from a wide array of childhood traumas. The trick is to differentiate from those who are supportive and those whom we want to be supportive – but are not.

In other words, whenever anyone suggested that I was wholly responsible for my childhood abuse or family estrangement, I learned to say, “I have a different experience,” and changed the subject. Over a period of many years, with the aid of supportive individuals – who did “get it” - I learned to stand boldly in my truth, in my needs, and to set and guard my boundaries – without defending or arguing. With time, it didn’t matter if everyone “got it.” I got it! I wasn't responsible for my mistreatment and the brokenness of my family. I no longer “felt” like a scapegoat so the title didn’t fit. It no longer held power over me. I had empowered myself to achieve a place of self-assured peace.

36 comments:

Karen said...

Ahhh, this post is like a warm blanket wrapped around me. I love what you said here: "The trick is to differentiate from those who are supportive and those whom we want to be supportive – but are not." I've wanted so badly for my parents to be supportive and have just recently accepted the reality that they are not.

I also love that you said: "Over a period of many years, with the aid of supportive individuals – who did “get it” - I learned to stand boldly in my truth, in my needs, and to set and guard my boundaries – without defending or arguing." This is very validating and empowering to me. I have begun this with my parents and am truly feeling more confident with myself.

As you said, it is not easy. It is a lot of hard work but it is so worth it. I'm so glad that you have the courage to share your experience and healing with us. Thank you!

healandforgive said...

Dear Karen,

Thank you for your comments.

I agree, one of the hardest, saddest, and necessary realizations we can make - is when our parents are not able to support our healing journey.

I'm sorry that your parents have not been supportive. I'm glad that you are taking care of yourself and are feeling more confident. With growth comes loss - and eventually strength.

My best,
Nancy

Anonymous said...

Hi Nancy,

Thank you for such a simple but still so profound message. I think we get 'stuck' at times when we've come to some realization and even acceptance, of the original hurt or particular deed or pattern of abuse, and we're able to fully see it for what it is, but then we turn around "armed" with the truth and our own strength in telling it, only to find that all of those who would and should be comforting us and validating us, instead turn away from us. It's like being abused twice over. Especially for a child, but even for an adult who is finally breaking free and who has the full emotional "vocabulary" to be able to articulate what happened. It's like you have this natural expectation that those who love you (or at least profess to love you) are going to embrace you and your truth and do everything in their power to support you and help you heal. As in your case, my family has scapegoated me for many years. I was always the one who "couldn't get over it" and who "couldn't just let the past go" like there was something terribly wrong with ME.

I have just stumbled upon your blog and have only read a tiny bit, but already have gleaned much from this one single entry.

Nancy, you are not alone. And even the most self-assured and self-sufficient "evolved" person can see there is a connectedness that is absolutely pivotal in all healthy individuals. So please know that I for one, and many others out here, do know that you have a truth that is valid, and that you deserve to be heard. Some of us do, indeed, "get it"...that alone is like a healing thing.

Thank you again, and I look forward to reading more.

Jennifer

healandforgive said...

Dear Jennifer,

Thank you for your kind words and comments.

You articulated the experience very well. Your words are very validating.

I found the following comment you made to be very profound:

even for an adult who is finally breaking free and who has the full emotional "vocabulary" to be able to articulate what happened. It's like you have this natural expectation that those who love you (or at least profess to love you) are going to embrace you and your truth and do everything in their power to support you and help you heal.

Thanks again!
Nancy

Anonymous said...

Nancy, your writings have aided me in my healing journey more than I can express. Thank you so much for sharing all that you do. This peice on scapegoating was especially poignant for me. I only discovered your site recently, and was amazed to realize so many parallels in our life story, though my mother, not step father was the main abusive one. I was the family scapegoat, crying out for love and help for years, blamed by seven for allegedly causing my mothers alcoholism and poor choices, told by birth father "just zip your lip and stay out of her way." blamed by sibs, extended family, and others for causing the very thing I was railing against from an early age, saying "this is wrong." For ten years I slept with a dresser up against my door, in hiding, but no way to escape the soul crushing abuse. Thank you for your writing, as it is helping me to heal. God Bless you Nancy.

healandforgive said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for sharing your story with me.

The scapegoat role is a lonely, "soul crushing," and maddening experience that holds on way too long.

Thank you for taking the time to let me know that the sharing of my experience is helpful to you.

Your words are helpful to me!

I wish you peace on your continued journey.

Many blessings,
Nancy

allihave2say said...

I am the scapegoat. I enter healing then something happens and I am wounded again. It seems everyone dumped (projected) everything onto me and have gone on to have rather fulfilling lives, while I suffer in loneliness and pain.

Born to an unwed teen mom, who's father was an abusive alcoholic, she pawned off on all her siblings. Who have all identified me as a "burden". My mother was married when my sister was born and she is the "golden child". Everyone response to us according to the roles my mother defined, even when their experiences with us have been contrary to the roles we are assigned.
I boldly speak about the abuse we ALL have suffered and I believe they hate me for that too. Even though at times while I was helping and supporting everyone-they were backstabbing each other. Now, they "get along" and I'm still out the outside. I have no friends because I either chose familiar types of people as friends or friends couldn't relate to my hurt and abandoned me. My mother and my own daughter both narcissists who used me as their footstools.
Father will help a stranger, a drug addict in his neighborhood,his niece who went to prison before he offers any help to any of his kids. He often states that I don't need any help.
Is there any permanent glue for my wounds?

healandforgive said...

Dear AllIHAVE2SAY,

Thank you for sharing some of your story. My heart is always heaving when I hear from a "scapegoat."

The scapegoat carries the burden of an entire dysfunctional family who can't face their own demons.

I speak with knowing empathy of just how painful,lonely, crazy-making, and isolating the experience is.

To answer your question, yes, there is permanent glue for your wounds. However, there isn't a "light-switch" kind of healing. It is more like a dimmer switch as we peel away the layers of our wounds until we reach the core and then rebuild a new healthy foundation.

At first the growth is so small it is hardly detectable, and even after you've made a great deal of progress, sometimes the progress is hard to see because until we are completely pain free, it is hard to acknowledge all of our growth; but then the day comes when we figure it out and we are no longer the scapegoat.

all my best,
Nancy

Anonymous said...

Thank you...

healandforgive said...

You're very welcome!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this helpful and hopeful post; in my research about NPD and my scapegoat role, I was beginning to lose hope that I could ever break free especially when my family makes it difficult for me to have low contact, giving me the guilt trip and all. I think the worst part about the realization of my role and family dynamics is that my family is completely unsupportive and acknowledges nothing. It sort of makes my depression 10x worse - but I'm hopeful now that things have to be worse before they can be better? I really do hope so because right now I feel doomed.

healandforgive said...

You're welcome! I am always happy when my words are helpful.

I'm sorry you feel doomed right now. I can empathize. I remember feeling very doomed for a very long time. But, absolutely, there is hope! With hard work and healing, your future can be good.

If you haven't already read it, check out my post Hope for the Future:

http://healandforgive.blogspot.com/2009/01/hope-for-future.html

Stay strong!
All my best,
Nancy

janice said...

I am now 63 years old and inherited a bipolar disorder. My mother had it and the family couldn't handle it, thus I became the scapegoat, feeling shame my entire life. Shortly before mom died she called me a "blacksheep since I was born, and when she passed everthing was left to my favored sibling. A good therapist finally explained it to me and I at last can have peace that I am, and always was, a person of dignity and worth.

healandforgive said...

"and I at last can have peace that I am, and always was, a person of dignity and worth."

Bravo Janice!

Your words touched me deeply!

Anonymous said...

After 50 years and a horrendous experience last week at my beloved Grandmothers funeral a lightbulb went on in my head. I searched "how to cope with being the family blacksheep" and was led to scapegoating. I'm on the road to recovery now and want to thank you for your wonderful and intelligent insights. They are helping me immensely on the road to healing.

healandforgive said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for taking the time out to let my know that my blog has been helpful to you!

I wish you much healing on your journey!

My best,
Nancy

Anonymous said...

Very well said!
I have been trying to get someone to believe me for my whole life. It's like I've been yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre but I'm invisible- nobody sees me-nobody hears me-I have wondered most of my life if I am even a real person. I've been looking for years for the answers to what happened to me and to my life. I could articulate the details of everything that happened but only in the last 2 weeks have found the labels "narcissistic family" "scapegoat" etc... I have always been very intuitive so I not only had a clear understanding of the family dynamic but I also understood the motivations of all involved (of course we were a "WONDERFUL CHRISTIAN FAMILY"- the party line). I always believed something was just wrong with me on some deep unseeable level and I didnt know what. We moved around alot I was always the new kid in school and I was bullied terribly - no relief at home. I was a good kid a straight A student- won every contest I was allowed to participate in and excelled at everything I was allowed to try which wasnt much. I wrote directed and starred in a play when I was 11. A teacher in 6th grade told me I had real talent and that I could be a writer someday. I rushed home and told my parents and was so excited I told them" I think she really likes me "and they said "she just doesnt know you like we do". They did not allow me to pursue any interests or participate in any activities. I was told we.could not afford it but my siblings all got musical instruments sports and dirt bikes . There were so many things I wanted to do and learn and try and they took pleasure in denying me and in having complete control over every aspect of my life. It sometimes felt like I was being slowly starved and suffocated at the same time. Time passed so slowly then and it seemed like it would be forever until I could grow up and get away. My father was an overt N and my mother is a covert N- My sister the golden child N. Strange the similarities to your article. I have been desperate for someone to believe me . It' s like I am blocked somehow and I am standing on the outside looking in watching others enjoy their lives and I just cant seem to break through the barrier
I have basically just shut down and am struggling to function. I am as I was then -hopeless and powerless and I have been looking for help. No money or insurance. Where do you even start. I know intellectually that I should not feel defective, ashamed, worthless etc... but I just have not been able to overcome the terribly defective mental programming and my life is a disaster. Feels hopeless that I will ever be able to change this. they have been actively sabotaging me for years and I have also done my share of self sabotage . I am exhausted and burnt out from the struggle to just survive.
I honestly think they are hoping I will comitt suicide. I have half finished novels that I never completed because I just didnt think they were good enough and a couple years ago someone wrote a screenplay very similar to one of my stories- it was a blockbuster hit movie. I have an invention on my kitchen table that I have been told by people in the related industry would be very successful but I am frozen broke and cant move forward. I cant even make a living and my health has been affected. What can I do? Im so screwed up I dont even know where to start. I am alone and no friends as I am tired of attracting more of the N's-I just want to fix my relationship with the one person I.can never escape-myself. I want to see if its too late to make some sort of life for myself.

healandforgive said...

Dear Anonymous,

It is NEVER to late!

You are extremely articulate - clearly capable - and not alone in your experience.

I also thought I was the "only one"; however, with the advent of the internet, it is much easier to connect with others who have had similar experiences.

There are many online support groups for abuse survivors. But, you need to do a little research to find the one that is best for you. You could start at ASCA (Adult Survivors of Child Abuse) and look for resources.

One of the reasons your story is so heartbreaking is because as a scapegoat you are "programmed" to view your whole life through a lens that was constructed by others who were mentally ill - unfair!

When in fact you are strong (you survived), capable, and creative. There is definitely hope for the future.

All my best on your journey!
Nancy

Stottoh said...

After 20 years in sobriety I relapsed having found I'm a love addict - constantly seeking the approval and love of a mother figure that, at 47 was possible not likely to come any time soon (!)

I entered SLAA and CODA to deal with my dysfunctional life strategies and childhood susrvival techniques. It worked and I got worse as I detoxed.

In 2010 I finished a contract and had a breakdown. Depression hit and the many mists of trauma re emerged. I relapsed again on legal highs.

However. As you say - this is a drip feed recovery to access very, very deep pain that was installed (with buttons) many years ago.

I have 3 scapegoaters - my father's untreated alanon girlfriend (hero), my sister - no longer in recovery (hero) and my ex-wife (hero & martyr).

It's been so easy to spell scapegoat v-i-c-t-i-m - and with great justification - especially when no one seems to hear, no one seems to understand.

Having now done a year's trauma, somatic experiencing, general therapy and 8 month's NLP on childhood abuse recovery - I had a revelation yesterday:

It's been me that has rejected them. Yes, I had to to survive, but what if this is common? What if isolating is a common tool for a scapegoat to 'proect' but also blame? What if the other people in my family know no better.

I was digging in the garden at the time and the tears started.

I've been looking for the tools to move on, let go - foregive even. But how could I if I validated myself as the scapegoat. I could only move on if I accepted theo others were simply following their survival tools - one of which was me.

More tears and I can now feel a calmness as I look at this stuff. Could that be acceptance? Oh dear - I may be getting well! Can't let the family know as I'll probably be doing it wrong!

So I agree - foregivenss is coming as I accept we're all messed up and I've been as messed up as the others. Each time I reied to whisper, talk, justify, scream my truth even - it wasn't that they didn't want to - it was because they couldn't. They just heard more fodder for justifying their positions.

So now, what do I do. I've got friends who are safe - my wonderful CODA men's meeting - and I can share my truth there. It would be good for me to work on my foregiveness and acceptance (my inner teenager is NOT happy about that) and I can reap the benefit:

Gratitude that I listened to me and I'm moving on. My truth is factually based, it's real and I have the worth to believe me.

healandforgive said...

Hello Stottoh,

Thank you for sharing your story! I found your journey very inspiring.

I remember the day I had a similar revelation when a much younger brother wrote me a hate filled letter. I read the letter and thought, "Oh, he's in pain and doesn't know what he's doing." I felt stirrings of forgiveness towards him and wondered - if he doesn't know what he has done, maybe the rest of my family doesn't either. And thus began a long journey towards forgiveness.

I love your statement, "Oh dear, I may be getting well!"

I think you are correct!

All my best on your continued journey!
Nancy

Chrissy said...

This is the first page of this blog that I have read.
After a day of feeling upset at myself for never standing up for myself, and wondering how family bullies would react if their victim committed suicide, I googled "family scapegoat" and "suicide"
I must say, that post by Anon, the writer who has un-finished books, really resonated with me.
I want that person to read this post and to see how their post resonated with me.
I will bookmark this blog and read some more.
I feel a sense of doom. Having your own mother not accept you makes you feel like you are not welcome on earth itself.

healandforgive said...

Dear Chrissy,

I do understand the devastation of not being accepted by your mother.

I'm glad you found this blog. There is hope for the future. I hope you are able to find validation, hope, and healing while reading the posts.

All my best on your journey!
Nancy

Anonymous said...

Your story could be mine, almost verbatim. I'm sorry you are having to endure this, but feel validated that I'm not the only one. It also helped me to learn that the "scapegoats" are usually more emotionally honest and outspoken while growing up, as well as more sensitive. I'm proud of those qualities, but it sure hasn't made life any easier. It's never too late to be better than we are today; right? Hang in there

healandforgive said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for stopping by my blog and for your comment. I am grateful that the sharing of my experience is helpful!

Stay strong!
Nancy

Anonymous said...

I'm still doing what they want me to. I've left, moved far away. To another country. But I'm still doing what they want me to. Always self-sabotaging. Having lots of opportunities but always somehow just letting them go - so that I can be "less". I know it but can't seem to do anything about it.

healandforgive said...

I'm so sorry. Undoing our childhood programming is a labor intensive feat. Like you, I moved away after I had grown (out of state, not out of country)thinking it would help.

Unfortunately, the past has a way of traveling with us. I was plagued with PTSD and behaviors born of old wiring. But please keep hope, you can and will transition to a more healed you.

It took me a very long time to learn to stop treating myself the way my mother did. But I did learn to treat myself better and you can too!

Stay strong!
Nancy

Gillian Woods said...

Hi,

I really like your writing. It's always inspiring to meet and read about people who have overcome their horrific experiences as the family scapegoat.

I am at a bit of a crossroads, and I feel pretty hopeless.
Though I finally understand family dynamics an for the most part NC, and am not begging for their love (which invites more abuse) I am still a scapegoat to the outer world.

My body language, eye contact, mannerisms, all scream "I'm weak and scared, and I won't fight back" because of this. This creates probles: no friends, bullying, isolation, problems getting hired/fired. Without social support and finances I feel like the world's scapegoat. I'm pretty scared. Is there any hope in healing this?

People are afraid of me (I consistently get freaked out looks in reaction) because I look so hostile angry and scared, even if it's not my intent. Often I don't look people in the eye at all, not to be rude but because I am afraid to. Smiling is very difficult. Sometimes I twich or shake from nervousness. This has gotten worse over the years as the abuse has gone from insane to unimaginablelly horrific.

I'm wondering if you ever carried yourself like a scapegoat (shifty eyes, angry face, no eye contact, flincy,looks of terror for no reason when seeing a stranger,shaking hands, hunched over back) and if so, were you able to overcome these physical symptoms? And if so, how did you do it?

Thank you.

healandforgive said...

Hi Gillian,

I'm sorry you are having a difficult time. My heart goes out to you. Being the scapegoat is the worst - isn't it?

It has been a long time since I felt like a scapegoat so the feelings aren't present for me, but my recollection is that of utter terror. I didn't feel like a scapegoat all the time, only when something triggered in me that old scapegoat feeling. When that happened, I became terrified and irrational.My heightened anxiety caused me to react from a primal fear place rather than an intellectual place. I later identified that as PTSD. (Read my PTSD and ME post) My whole body used to shake uncontrollably when I had PTSD.

Your scapegoating may be causing PTSD in you too. Many of the current symptoms you describe sound like PTSD. You could be suffering from the effects of scapegoating and PTSD from the scapegoating. If that is the case, treating the PTSD would be most beneficial. I tried talk therapy for years concerning my scapegoating and PTSD, and although it was helpful, it never took away all of my symptoms because talking about it seemed to re-traumatize me. EMDR therapy was the only thing that truly took away my symptoms.

One way or another, I don't believe we can heal if we are still in abusive relationships. Further, we all need help and support, nobody can travel this journey alone. If you can't afford therapy, see if the psych department of your local university offers free or reduced trauma therapy or if they know someone in your area who does. You may also try social services.

All my best on your continued journey,
Nancy

Anonymous said...

Nancy:

This was a wonderful post! I have struggled for decades with the scapegoat mantle, and because of it struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide.

I get it! I know the compulsion to explain and explain trying to make my family understand me. It is only very recently, this year, this week, that I've discovered the true extend of my family's dysfunction, and their hatred for me. That even the one member I trusted and thought was protecting me, was actually colluding in the mythology––and is perhaps the source of the problem. That is so hard to process.

That's why I loved your post. Because you're right, I understand intellectually, that this is their problem not mine. That I can simply not accept their belief system. And what a relief!

Of course, now I have to understand it emotionally––a much harder task.

Thank you for this post.

healandforgive said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment. It was a real revelation for me when I "got it" too.

I also get what you mean by "Of course, now I have to understand it emotionally––a much harder task."

I always understand emotional concepts intellectually long before they travel the distance to my heart.

All my best on your continued journey,
Nancy

Anonymous said...

Nancy, I love that you wrote this and I wish I had read it years ago. I've distanced myself from family for years, and am slowly reintegrating myself with various family members trying to keep the toxic ones at bay. I was recently in a situation with a family member that blindsided me (a niece) and sadly I've learned the scapegoating has passed down from one generation to the next. I found myself, for many years, trying to over explain and defend myself. Some people don't get it. After psychotherapy, I learned they'll never get it. A good friend who witnessed the recent wrath was dumbfounded and said to me repeatedly, "I don't know how you survived in that family." That's all I could do was survive. It wasn't until adulthood that I learned to channel those emotions and I'm human, things still hurt, but at the same time I can let it go. It doesn't control me, and I had to explain that to my friend. She thinks I'm putting up a wall. It's not a wall, it's letting go of the toxicity and not letting it control me. I'm in a happy place now and I look at my family like I'm on the outside looking in. This is THEIR handicap, not mine. I'm at peace with myself and who I am. Thank you for the wonderful read.

healandforgive said...

You are Welcome! And Kudos to you for reaping the benefits of all your hard work!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I need solution to these problems where I am not the victim.
I was a victim as a kid but not today.
That doesn't mean I don't hurt - I do - and I've screwed up my life so badly I can't see a way out - but maybe that's an illusion too.
As long as we are ok in our insides that's what matters.
I have fears to face and pain to sit through but I know God is there. (He IS the solution.)
It is up to me now.

healandforgive said...

Thank you for your comment.

All my best to you on your brave journey!

Nancy

Annette said...

I do understand and good for you for making it out! I have been in counseling for 2 1/2 years. Started because I could not understand why people blamed me so much. Going back into my childhood and learning that I was the family scapegoat was not easy, infact very hurtful, but it all made sense to me. I could finally see all this was not my fault, that I am a good person and I deserved better. My little sister is the golden child and we have emailed a couple times but I realize she did not walk in my shoes and cannot see what I endured. She is protective of our mother and believes every word she says. I have been labeled the trouble maker, the person my parents need to beware of, a person who loves chaos.

Thank goodness I had my grandmother who showed me unconditional love. This is the love all children deserve. She is gone now but she could see what happened, she saw my mom's indifference. It is my grandmother's examples I have used to raise my own children rather than the hatred my mother displayed.

I have not spoke to my mom in 2 years. I feel it would do not good to try and talk about the past.

Currently I am working on forgiveness trying to move on in my own life.

healandforgive said...

Dear Annette,

I'm so glad you had your grandmother. Being the family scapegoat is such a terrible thing. Everyone needs love and support. One person can make all the difference in the world.

My best to you on your continued journey,

Nancy