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Ask the Therapist – December 2019
I’ve been the Family Scapegoat my whole life. Could you shed some light on my family of origin’s complete lack of remorse, empathy and love for me?
Everything about being the family scapegoat is emotionally difficult. I have a narcissistic father, my mother an enabler and flying monkey, and my brother is the golden child. One part I personally struggle with more so at times though is the complete lack of empathy and love from all family members, after the abuse has occurred. If I said or did something that caused my husband, whom I love, visible emotional pain I wouldn’t be able to apologize or comfort him fast enough, never could I look at him in a visibly distressed state and say or do nothing then go about my business as if nothing had happened.
My family has been scapegoating me for 50 years – since I was born. I have minimal contact with them, and in all those years none of them have ever apologized, shown any remorse, comforted me, expressed any guilt etc. It’s like they feel justified. Now I can understand the lack of compassion and love from my narcissistic, self centered father as he lacks empathy. But what about my mother and brother, they don’t? Even when they had the opportunity, and it was safe for them to show me love and empathy when I was in emotional pain, because of their abuse or my father’s abuse, they didn’t and haven’t ever to this day, even when I’ve tried speaking to them about it.
Can you possibly shed some light on their complete lack of remorse, empathy and love for me? Is it brainwashing? Do they just not love me? Do they feel justified? Even so, that still shouldn’t elicit any remorse or empathy at all. How does a mother who isn’t a narcissist, but their enabler, never show her own daughter any love, compassion or comfort when her daughter is in visible emotional pain because she’s being emotionally abused in front of her or by her, even when that daughter was a vulnerable innocent and sweet little child? I just don’t get it.
What a terribly difficult situation for you with your family. It’s understandable that you “just don’t get it” – i.e. the cruelty, mistreatment, lack of compassion, etc. Unfortunately, it seems that you have been ‘getting it’ from all sides of your family of origin!
As you are probably aware, the way your family operates reflects classic narcissistic family dynamics, with a ‘head’ narcissist (usually a parent), an enabler or codependent (often the partner, but can be children too), and golden child (who also has narcissistic traits) and the scapegoat (usually one child, but can be more than one, or rotates). Narcissistic family ‘systems’ are characterized by abuse, fear, insecurity, competition, betrayal, power grabs, egotism and blame shifting. This kind of toxic narcissistic family structure undermines the development of loyalty, support, understanding, and empathy – the very qualities that you value and relate strongly to, but are so flagrantly absent from your family of origin.
One of the main hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disordered (NPD) family is the absence of fellow feeling – aka empathy. Although I do not know who of your family members besides your father possesses NPD traits, as you have pointed out, everyone is deeply influenced by the system. Family members may be motivated by fear and / or power to go along with the narcissistic family structure dynamic. They may not want to rock the boat for fear of losing their place in the family and becoming scapegoats themselves. On the other hand, family members may enjoy secondary gains from aligning with the narcissistic parent, such as status, approval, assets, etc.
People who are Codependent in NPD family systems, have an unhealthy allegiance with the ‘head narcissist’. Codependents both recognize the problem while operating from the false belief that they can ‘manage’ the situation, thereby enabling the family system to continue. Codependents falsely believe they are being helpful by caretaking the narcissist and strive for ongoing acceptance and approval. But really they are avoiding their own problems by egotistically focusing on either ‘fixing’ or managing the narcissist. The codependent is likely ‘trauma bonded’ to the narcissist they are loyal to and lack critical thinking skills as they are ensnared by their own complementary pathologies. Other family members may have difficulty distinguishing right from wrong, as this was never role modeled in a healthy manner.
Furthermore, and usually most damaging for targets, there is a dehumanizing attitude towards scapegoats which I refer to as ‘awfulizing’. Awfulizing leads to rationalizing the denial of basic human qualities and rights to the family scapegoat, who is viewed as being punished or corrected for what amounts to fabricated defects. So in that respect, family members who scapegoat you do feel justified in mistreating you. It’s a world of black and white winners and losers, where the so-called loser – the scapegoat – is demonized and expelled by the family system, in spite of an absence of wrongdoing by the scapegoat.
Because your mother and brother align themselves with your narcissistic father, they also side with his version of ‘unreality’ against you. Narcissistic family systems – just like NPD folks – lack a conscience – the faculty that psychologically well people possess that instills a healthy sense of responsibility, empathy, and consideration for others. Narcissistic family systems are competitive, dog eat dog configurations, where power over others trumps the emotional safety and support of a healthy family system.
There is almost always some form of conditioning – aka brainwashing – going on in NPD family systems. This is a form of intergenerational trauma, where the offending parents likely grew up in narcissistic families themselves. The truth is that NPD parents don’t love their children – not because their children aren’t loveable, but because these parents, and other NPD family members, are incapable of love. As to whether your mother or brother love you seems unclear and would depend on the degree of their own problems along the narcissistic continuum. The important thing here though is that you have been persecuted, and are up against a ruthless family system that thrives on projecting blame onto an innocent party – in this case you. In this insidious way, the family system protects itself from being accountable for its problems or making positive change. Unfortunately, much of this toxic motivation and behavior is unconscious on the part of the perpetrators, as they defend themselves against reality by projecting, minimizing and denying the harms they inflict on the scapegoat.
Given the degree of difficulty for you here, and the depth of recurring hurt and psychological injury, do you feel you have enough distance from your family of origin? Many people find it challenging to maintain Low Contact for the reasons you outline. I certainly hope you have good support from the family you have created with your spouse. If you find yourself struggling with this pain, which is common and understandable, and would like some additional support, feel free to contact me for a counseling appointment. In the meantime, I wish you all the best.
Need help overcoming family scapegoating or dealing with selfishness and narcissism in family relationships? Check out my Family Scapegoat Counseling page
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Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counselor, Registered Clinical Counselor, specializes in recovery from Family Scapegoating, Narcissistic Abuse, Low Self Esteem, Chronic Anxiety, Estrangement Grief and Relationship Addiction.
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