by Glynis Sherwood MEd
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March 2019 Question: How Do I Protect Myself from Narcissistic Family Abuse and Scapegoating?
Q: I’m 32 and, after reading your articles, have just realized that I am the scapegoat of the family. On the one hand, it’s a bit of a shock but, on the other hand, this has actually been going on since I was a kid. For years my younger brother and my mother have ganged up on me, telling me I’m stupid, ignorant and the cause of their unhappiness and problems. They make snide remarks in my presence, implying I’m a loser and a failure, even though I have a good job and marriage.
I don’t understand why they treat me this way as all I’ve ever wanted to do is to fit in and feel like I’m part of the family. I even used to take care of my brother and cooked dinner when we were younger, which mom insisted on so she could get a break. In the meantime, my brother was treated like a prince, though he never lifted a finger around the house, and could do no wrong in my mother’s eyes. My mother seems to have no appreciation, or memory, for this fact, and my brother acts like I owe him something. I feel hurt and have had enough. What should I do next to look out for myself?
A: I’m very sorry to learn that you have been subjected to family scapegoating. The two key words that come to mind here are ‘self protection’. You have just passed the first step, ie. gaining the knowledge necessary to have a frame of reference by which to understand what you have been dealing with – a dysfunctional family system, that operates on a victim-perpetrator dynamic. People are assigned stereotypical roles in these kinds of families, rather than being seen as individuals. In your family’s case, you are the Scapegoat, and your brother is what’s known as the Golden Child. This can be, as you imply, both shocking and enlightening.
Your next step would be to use this enlightened understanding to begin to make decisions about how to act on your own behalf, and in the spirit of mental health, moving forward. Using the information you have gained as a jumping off point, what insights are you gaining – not only about family scapegoating – but your own role in this drama that you would like to change? For example, putting other people first who don’t treat you right, in an attempt to gain approval that never comes.
This brings us to the next step – determining what actions or behavior change to initiate that will help you feel more protected. You will need a game plan for this. For example: Do you need to withdraw from the conflict by either refusing to take the bait or get into an argument? Do you need to stop trying to get through to family who have shown no interest in hearing, never mind respecting, your point of view? What kind of limits do you need to set with family members? Do you need to go low or no contact? How will you respond should abusive family members push back?
Last but certainly not least is attending to Emotional First Aid. Family scapegoating is a devastating form of abuse that can leave targets feeling deeply distressed, anxious, grief stricken and unsure of themselves and their self worth. These effects can last a lifetime if steps aren’t taken to change this.
Minimizing or ending contact with abusive family members, though it initially may be disorienting, should begin to settle down your nervous system and bring greater peace of mind. Use this time to focus on self care and healing.
You may find that you waver. If that happens, remind yourself of the damage that has occurred that led to your decision to set firmer boundaries, and what you hope to gain by doing this. Write all of this down. This will help you greatly if you are having a bad day, as you can quickly get back in touch with your reality-based motivation for putting your foot down. There will likely be some form of fear, loneliness and/or false guilt that you need to resolve.
People who pull back from scapegoating family dynamics also tend to experience a lot of grief – both for the family they never had, and will likely not ever get to have. It is important to seek support from others as you navigate this difficult time.
If you are unable to find this support, it may be beneficial to seek counseling. You need to work with a therapist who understands the devastating nature of scapegoating and narcissistic abuse, the need to limit contact and to process deep loss and betrayal with a supportive witness.
Need help dealing with family scapegoating or narcissistic abuse? Request a Counselling Appointment with Glynis Sherwood
Counseling and Therapy is available by Video around the world.
Glynis Sherwood – MEd is a Counseling Therapist specializing in recovery from the pain of Childhood Abuse and Neglect, Family Scapegoating, Chronic Anxiety and Grief, Relationship Problems, and Love Addiction.