Am I A Scapegoat For Life? – Ask the Therapist – January 2021
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If a family scapegoat continually gets scapegoated in the real world,
can anything really change that dynamic?
I am 58 years old, and have lost several jobs to bullying. I even had a neighbor threaten my life before I even formally met him, and I’m a very kind person. People say bullying stops, but it never stopped for me. I can’t seem to cope well in the real world, and it doesn’t feel like anything will ever change that.
I’ve lost job after job in such a bizarre, yet consistent way, it’s baffling. This included a coworker who confided in me that she tortures her dog, and then started sabotaging my work so I lost my job; a boss who told me she “despised me” because I was “a bleeding heart liberal” even though politics never came into the job. I even went to a depression workshop where the facilitator told me he “didn’t like me because I was easy to manipulate and made people feel bad about themselves.” That one was a good lesson, but he treated me horribly and I paid a lot of money for the workshop, so I was heartbroken yet again.
I have so many stories like this. The only person who has made some sense of this for me (outside of my readings about scapegoating) was a psychic who told me “You are a mirror out in the world. If people have bad things in them that they don’t want to see, they see it in you and attack you.”
So I found myself at home taking care of my handicapped mother due to all of these job losses and then slowly realized the bullying originated in my home. I was around the age of 50 when I first found the term “family scapegoat”. My family always discounted anything I said, told people in front of me that I was crazy and to be ignored. I realized at a neighborhood reunion that my siblings were telling people I was making up the fact I had a paper route (like all my siblings had) when, in fact, I had a paper route. I remember it clearly and I’m sure my customers remember me. I remember getting up every morning and rolling the papers together, delivering them, going collecting, paying the office, etc. I remember how wonderful Halloween and Christmas were especially nice because our customers would remember us and do things for us. I couldn’t understand why my siblings would change my own history in other people’s eyes. This was horrifying to me. What else were they changing?
My childhood had its own horrors of being slapped awake every morning by my father, and my father telling my siblings to ignore me whenever I cried. I remember spending days in a room by myself just crying. Being the youngest I was also told by several people including my siblings that I was pampered and spoiled. That just seemed to sum up my childhood. I don’t remember much else.
But my parents weren’t horrible people. They fed me and kept me alive and I know they loved me and they did all they could while having 4 other children and jobs to deal with. I had birthday cakes and presents and my mom even sewed several outfits for me. Just because “I love you” was never said, it was clearly there.
My mother eventually needed help after a childhood back injury got much worse, so my father and I did the best we could to take care of her broken back. But he suddenly died in 2005 and I was stuck taking care of her because my siblings said that it wasn’t true about her back. They said she was lying, despite her endless visits to neurologists and neurosurgeons to try to get some relief from her pain. They all told us the injury was too old to fix and to just keep my mother sedated. She ended up on pain pills the rest of her life and did the best to distract herself from the pain, by becoming a painter and an avid reader.
But she would also tell my siblings to ignore me and that I was making mountains out of nothing. She would then, conversely, confide in me of how much pain she was in. She would cry. It was horrible. Now that she has passed away at 94, I’m left trying to find a job while knowing this scapegoat pattern hasn’t changed. I still have the neighbor who threatened my life to deal with. He has not suddenly become friendly. I can hold onto Jesus, tell myself these people are simply acting out their own pain, I’m just a mirror, and pray for their healing. I do all of that, and do my best to walk away or avoid people who are trouble, but will I finally find a job that I won’t lose? Maybe it’s become a belief that I simply have to change. I don’t know.
What a painful pattern for you to be dealing with. To be repeatedly victimized is disheartening. My short answer to your question regarding whether that bullying dynamic can change is ‘Yes and No’. As the saying goes, you can change your own behavior, but not necessarily that of others. On the other hand, your behavior will – often – have some impact on how others treat you. I say ‘often’, as there are negative exceptions. For instance, trying to influence anti-social personality types is usually fruitless and may lead to escalation, as they thrive on upsetting people and inflicting pain. In that case, your core strategy would be self protection. However, a self protective stance, and being careful about disclosing personal information are generally good rules of thumb when you first meet someone, and have no reference points regarding how fair, reasonable, rational or trustworthy they may be.
Family scapegoating can also set you up to be vulnerable to further abuse, for multiple reasons, including trusting too easily, naivety, not valuing ourselves enough, not understanding what healthy boundaries look like – as in being too open or too soon, or not believing we deserve better, due to false shame and low self worth.
You’ve had to navigate more than your fair share of nasty people on your journey through life. I am particularly troubled by your recounting of the depression workshop facilitator who acted so cruelly and unprofessionally towards you. That must have been particularly hard for you, given that you were there explicitly to get help for emotional distress. It sounds like your psychic was the only individual you encountered who understood narcissistic projection! But you certainly don’t want to be a mark.
All that being said, I’m wondering if there may be even a kernel of truth in what the unkind depression workshop facilitator said about you being “easy to manipulate”. Abusive or narcissistic people hone in on traits in others – some quite positive – that make them easier to target. For example, being empathic, kind, shy, easy going, insecure, fearful or being too open with someone you don’t know that well. Do you possess any of these traits that would make it easier for bullies to victimize you? If so, that’s what you need to work on, so you can protect yourself against ill meaning folks.
It’s so critical that you have figured out the painful truth that you have been scapegoated by your family. It’s very hard to deal with this kind of betrayal and hurt but, on the other hand, you now have a better handle on what you are dealing with, what was missing from your growing up years, and how family have harmed you. It appears that there’s a long history of you being treated very shabbily and maliciously by your family, especially your siblings, who seem to have gone out of their way to undermine, betray and ‘gaslight’ you 1. This is a demoralizing reality to be working through, but at the same time, may shed some light into how you may have developed certain vulnerabilities that bullies pick up on and exploit.
If you haven’t done this already, I’d encourage you to really look within and pinpoint how this unkind treatment by your family of origin has influenced your sense of self. In other words, do you feel unsure of yourself, do you harbor self doubt, are you plagued by false guilt and shame, do you find it hard to form positive or healthy relationships, is it difficult to stand up for yourself, are you too open with people who haven’t earned your trust, is there an inner critic – what I call the ‘Troll’ – that tears you down and makes your feel small, etc? Take an inventory as to how your family’s abuse has hurt you. This is what you need to focus on in order to heal and to strengthen yourself against present and future bullies.
Your father’s cruel behavior is not only an example of bad behavior, but also sadistic. Rather than feeling protective and caring towards you, the child he chose to have, he openly aggressed against you and encouraged your siblings to treat your pain with contempt. How insecure and frightened this must have made you feel. To make things worse, your family created a false narrative suggesting that you were overly indulged, when nothing could have been further from the truth, making it even harder for your understandable distress to be taken seriously. This was not only a convenient cover up of the harshness of your life, should anyone be looking in, but also a complete denial of reality. The end result of this attempt to disqualify your feelings and needs was to make you feel rejected, alone and a perpetual outsider. You deserved so much better than this.
While your parents put a roof over your head, unless I am missing something, I do not see much evidence of you having been shown a lot of love, at least not consistently. This can be hard to face, but the truth is that real love doesn’t hurt. Love makes children feel valuable, seen and safe, knowing that parents and siblings are in their corner as they grow into the adults they will become. Healthy parental love should be a demonstration of investment in the psychological, spiritual and physical well being of their child. It should be about fostering a sense of emotional safety and belonging, not about creating an atmosphere of fear, rejection and insecurity.
How kind and loyal of you to be there to care for your ailing mother. It seems like you tend to be loyal to family members who are in distress, whereas your sibs behave in the opposite fashion. This has understandably been very challenging for you, given that your siblings have a habit of dismissing and disbelieving suffering family members.
I’d encourage you to dig a little deeper to see where your siblings learned this callous attitude and cynical behavior. I suspect it has a lot to do with your father, but perhaps it is more complex than that, as your mother was also discredited by your siblings. How long would you say that this cruel, unsupportive family dynamic has existed? What was your mother’s part in that? Did you see this kind of toxic behavior in grandparents or aunts and uncles? Often intergenerational trauma 2 is at play in families who operate like this.
Although your mother was mistreated by your siblings, she also was capable of emotionally betraying the one adult child she could depend on – You! I’d invite you to ask yourself how loving this feels, especially given the sacrifices you made to care for her. I’m very sorry your mother has died. At the same time, it frees you up to understand and pursue your own life. I hear how you still feel like a vulnerable outcast. This is not your fault. It’s a product of lifelong abuse, especially at a critical time in your childhood and youth, that can interfere with the development of healthy self worth, identity and relationship savvy. Sometimes people who have been raised under these kinds of difficult circumstances develop Complex PTSD 3, a traumatic attachment disorder. CPTSD usually requires skilled therapy in order to recover and heal.
So to make a long story shorter, the problems you are grappling with certainly did start with your dysfunctional family system, which I suspect led you to feel unsure of yourself and your value in the world. This family abuse history is likely still negatively impacting your sense of self identity and self worth. This tends to cause confusion, uncertainty and overwhelm when trying to assess who to trust versus how to protect yourself when dealing with aggressive people who lack empathy and/or a moral compass.
You can strengthen yourself, become more self protective and feel much safer and welcome in the world. It will take work on your part to become the person you are meant to be, with confidence and peace of mind. You are not alone. Others who were treated unfairly have gone on to learn to love and care for themselves as they enjoy the healthy relationships they deserve. Wishing you all the best on your healing journey!
Photo by Karim Manjra – Unsplash
Notes / References
- Gaslighting Definition, Wikipedia
- InterGenerational Trauma aka Transgenerational Trauma Definition, American Psychological Association Monitor, 2019
- Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) – CPTSD Foundation, 2019
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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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