“As a family therapist, I have worked with clients on more than one occasion who tried to get out of the role of the“ domestic scapegoat ”, not realizing that this is the reason for most of their life difficulties. They complained of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, but they believed that they had done themselves, and did not understand how total bad luck was associated with this unenviable status, ”says Rebecca Mandeville.
Scapegoats are far more common than we think. This is one of the roles imposed on a child who is brought up in a problem family, and its negative consequences often remain for life. Many adults do not fully realize that in childhood they were subjected to psycho-emotional violence in a particularly sophisticated form. Moreover, even specialists are not always able to recognize the symptoms.
Some psychologists and psychotherapists belittle or underestimate the genuine suffering of mature scapegoats because they don’t know how destructive this form of domestic violence is.
For example, a client who hopes to resolve a protracted family conflict is told: “But this is your family, they love you”, “Family ties are very important, probably not everything is so bad”, “Try to forgive them, because you need to maintain good relations with your family. “,” Do not break with them in the heat of the moment, because this is how you simply reinforce unhealthy parental attitudes. ” Recommendations like these only reinforce the clients’ fears that they are solely to blame for all the family troubles.
16 signs you’re the scapegoat
1. You are considered codependent, highly sensitive, and overly empathic. Or, on the contrary, painfully proud, which is quite understandable: your parents harassed you so that now even harmless remarks are perceived as an insult. You unnecessarily cut off anyone who behaves inappropriately towards you.
2. It is difficult for you to express your feelings, because from early childhood you have learned to talk less about yourself so that family members do not use the information received against you. Perhaps many (including your parents) call you an insensitive and heartless selfish, unable to love. Because you are used to suppressing emotions, you may have developed physical illness, addiction or codependency, anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
3. You have been taught that the quality of relationships with your parents, guardian, brother or sister, and other relatives depends only on you. It doesn’t matter who is to blame – all family troubles happen because of you.
4. If you tried to state your version of events or objected to family authority, you were called a liar, abnormal, “sick in the head.”
5. One or more family members have subjected you to physical, emotional or psychological abuse, including gaslighting, that is, denied, distorted and distorted facts in order to establish themselves at your expense.
6. Distant relatives and even acquaintances were informed that you are a naughty, “problematic” child who does everything in spite, cheats and lies at every step.
7. If as a child or adolescent you tried to complain to loved ones or strangers that you are offended, they did not believe you. Parents, brothers or sisters denied their actions and each time made you a liar.
8. You were slandered and humiliated: they called you “difficult”, “sissy”, “artist”
Relatives did not hesitate to describe your “shortcomings” to everyone they met – of course, in your presence. For example: “Oh, she was an unbearable child, she was always whining and capricious.”
9. When you fell ill, you were accused of pretense and informed all your relatives, near and far, about this, apparently in order to shame you once again.
10. As an adult, you continue to blame yourself for any failures in your relationship and suspect that you are so ugly – flawed and worthless.
11. You are uncomfortable with your family, you feel like a black sheep that does not belong here. It seems that you are squeezed from all sides, neither breathe nor make an extra movement. Just being yourself is unacceptable, and you may not even know what it is – your true self.
12. You find it difficult to create healthy attachments, trust people and love, and for this you blame yourself too. Most likely, you are attracted to narcissists, abusers, alcoholics or drug addicts, and although you understand what this threatens, you still get involved in destructive relationships.
13. You are struggling with anxiety, depression, impostor syndrome, or complex PTSD or bouts of unexplained pathological grief.
14. You are a “hopeless patient”: you have consulted with various specialists, but neither doctors nor psychologists are able to explain why you feel so bad, get to the bottom of it and prescribe adequate treatment. Conversations with a therapist, mindfulness practices, medications help little – unless the specialist understands that the roots of your illness lie in the once experienced domestic violence.
15. The family underestimates or overlooks your personal and professional achievements
No matter how highly others value you, for your family you still remain a “scammer” who fooled everyone and pretended to be what he cannot be: successful, healthy, competent, cool specialist, and so on.
16. You may have gone to extremes and limited your contact with relatives to maintain mental health. However, you doubt your decision and feel guilty that you acted dishonestly or wrongly by moving away from your family.
Many examples seem to be copied from you? Chances are you didn’t expect them to be attributed to the scapegoat raised by a violent family.
In adulthood, those who were scapegoated by relatives in childhood often suffer from toxic shame, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. They react aggressively to the slightest injustice, reliving difficult childhood experiences, and as a result, the family continues to attribute mental disorders to them. Despite the risk of self-harm, the growing up child struggles to maintain his needs and desires and strives to earn the respect of the most important figures in his life.
Adults do not believe that they are capable of achieving big goals, and do not know how to form strong trusting relationships with others. After all, when they were children, they were forbidden to be, feel and express their individuality on an equal basis with others.
The family’s scapegoat role can have dire consequences. If you are communicating with a therapist or planning to contact him, be sure to re-read the above examples: they may be the root causes of your problems.
About the Author: Rebecca Mandeville is a family psychotherapist, an expert in overcoming the negative consequences of parenting in dysfunctional families.