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.