Scapegoated By My Whole Family – Ask the Therapist – July 2020
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I’m currently 45, living with my wonderful fiancé and enjoying life. I’ve been a charity worker for 17 years, helping people flee violence and trauma, and I’ve worked in various parts of the sector.
But I was abused as a child. I went no contact in my early 20s and finally 30s, and my healing moved on boundlessly after that, but it was very hard. But I made a lot of progress and grew a lot as a woman and professional.
My childhood includes – divorced parents from when I was 7, lived with our mother, being hit a lot, smacked round the face multiple times, pushed and shoved over onto the floor, kicked, bitten, grabbed round the face and neck, shoved against the wall and head banged on the wall, shaken, spat on, dragged by hair. We were not allowed to bathe ourselves or things of that ilk, lasting way too long. The entire atmosphere was one of shouting, anger, tight control and fear.
Mother shouted at me while holding me by the neck that she hated me and wished I’d never been born (she got PND 1. after me, being sure I was a boy). My mother used to wash me in the bath and hold my head under water to rinse the shampoo and conditioner out. In-out, in-out of the water. She pushed me half way down a flight of stairs. She smashed crockery on my head. She whipped me with the cable to my stereo and I had wheel marks of blood sticking my school shirt to my back.
I am the middle of three. Two unwanted girls and then a boy who became the favourite. My elder sister was abused but not like me, but she became good and perfect. My brother was sunny, but then spoilt and bad tempered. They were taught how to treat me and it continued when we grew up, although all violence stopped.
When I left university I got into counselling (the best decision ever and I thank my lucky stars for it) and learnt about abuse and started my healing journey. I’m 45 now so it’s been a long time. I decided I couldn’t stomach seeing my mother anymore so that stopped, then my brother said he wouldn’t see me anymore. So he sided with her. My dad and my sister were a group then. We were in contact but it was difficult. Everyone just wanted what had happened to fade away like it was nothing – and they still treated me badly. In my 30s I cut contact with my dad and sister.
It had been 10 years since I heard from any family member when my sister made contact out of the blue. She was going through a crisis. I was delighted to hear from her and we started seeing one another. But it felt wrong to me, like I had ‘gone back.’ Over time I saw nothing had changed. And my sister, although herself a victim, took part in activities against me that were very borderline sexual abuse. She has never talked with me about this and nor will she apologise. She just shouts and swears at me. She has done very little work but sometimes it gets on top of her and she tries.
But it didn’t feel right to me to be in touch with her and I ended it. Sure enough, she turned on me and called me all the names under the sun. It had been a long time since anyone had spoken to me like that and I was hurt.
Two years later she wrote again saying she was pregnant, and it was my choice to start writing that time, as I cared that she got on OK. Again it went wrong and I didn’t know what to do. I did nothing. Then I got abusive emails from her and felt that was my out.
But then I made a mistake. I emailed her saying she was selfish and shallow. She will not address the past with me and she treats me just the same, thinly veiled dislike and I am firmly in my place as dirt eater of the family. I will not stand for it and I told her.
It was a Sunday and I spent the entire day fielding emails from my sister, my brother (after 20 years) and then also one from my mother (again after 20 years – “I’m so sorry you’re still so hurt…”). It was a horrible day and I was shaking. My brother wrote “Get over it – no-one cares. I suggest you climb back under the stone you crawled out from and never bother any of us ever again.” He also made out he was the victim of me because I didn’t congratulate him on his wedding. My sister said I am a liar and don’t know the truth from fiction, that I have a personality disorder and am delusional. And she gave my self-help book a one star review online, which hurt me greatly as that is my professional life. The only good thing about it was that I addressed my mother after all those years and I was very tough on her. She is getting old now and she still hasn’t ever said sorry or given us answers as to why the abuse happened, even though my sister and I have asked many times. My brother doesn’t want to talk about it ever; he closes my sister down and is aggressive to her when she tries. Yet he wrote in his emails to me that they are close. I forgot to point out that he is not close and protective of his sister if he denies her the right to get closure on the abuse she suffered and he protects the abuser with his actions.
But I felt mad, on that Sunday, and I resoundingly lost the argument to them all. And that is why I am writing to you, to see what you’d have to say to my family in that scenario.
I came away feeling horrible and wrong and maybe I had no leg to stand on. But then I remember that my mother made me stick out my tongue and she held a lit cigarette over it, and she also hit my breasts one at a time, time after time, one night in the living room, and I know remembering these things that I am not wrong.
After all these years where I have worked with abuse and seen clearly what it is, I cannot accept that they don’t want to agree that I was abused and discuss it. I just don’t understand how that can be acceptable to them, to anyone.
Remembering my brother’s words helped oddly, because it is true – they don’t care. It happened, it’s over and they don’t care. It has really strengthened my resolve to never deal with them again because that Sunday I got myself well and truly burned.
So I am writing to you to ask for your professional help as a survivor now. I think there are a lot of people out there who have suffered in this way and you are one of the best sites out there in my view.
Thanks for your question. You have a generous spirit helping people who have been traumatized, especially given that you were psychologically injured by your own family.
It must have taken a lot of courage to go No Contact in your young adult life, given there was so little public knowledge about narcissistic abuse in families at that time, including the very legitimate need to establish firm boundaries with family in order to protect your psychological well being.
I feel breathless reading about the depth of violence you were subjected to by your own mother – someone who should have been there to protect and support you. How frightened and alone you must have felt being subjected to this torture.
It seems that not only were you abused and betrayed as the family scapegoat, but that it had a misogynistic tone to it. Like most families who scapegoat, siblings are conditioned to take sides against the target, and slotted into other dysfunctional roles such as ‘Golden Child’ i.e. the favored one. Children can compete aggressively against siblings for the scarce or non-existent resources of parental attention and approval. Narcissistic parents often play an active role in pitting siblings against each other, the result being that they grow up never having experienced the value and importance of family loyalty, support and emotional safety. Instead, the narcissistic family is a war zone, and sadly children raised under these circumstances are often programmed to view their siblings as the enemy. Healthy attachment patterns are neither modeled nor encouraged. Your family atmosphere seems to be one where loyalty was openly discouraged and betrayal was rampant.
Like a lot of siblings in narcissitically abusive families, your sister sounds confused and frightened, with a shifting sense of loyalty and morals, especially when it comes to you. You have been remarkably empathic and understanding towards your sister in spite of the fact that she never seems to have truly been on your side. This says a lot about your strength of character and, sadly, in a dysfunctional family like yours, makes you even more vulnerable to further abuse.
It seems possible that your sister also has some narcissistic traits that make it both difficult for her to understand the difference between right and wrong, and to be honest with herself about the extent to which the poisonous family atmosphere has caused harm to both you and herself.
In classic narcissistically abusive fashion, your family has mobbed you for daring to hold onto the truth, and requiring respect. Your brother appears to be the lead henchman now, meaning he believes his job is to punish you for not buying into the myth of the good family, thereby ‘upsetting’ your mother, and holding the family accountable for mistreating you. Extremely narcissistically disturbed people view any feedback that is not flattering or unconditionally supportive as an unwarranted attack that must be retaliated against with impunity. It’s a primitive black and white world where basic sanity and reality is in short supply. Your mother has done a thorough job programming and harming your siblings psychologically by requiring that they buy into this toxic family system. Children align with these unhealthy family system rules out of fear of punishment and the desire to gain the favor they legitimately need from parents. The price they pay is their mental health.
You cannot stand up to a narcissistic family system with the ‘facts’, unless they are favorable to the perpetrators. Narcissistic Personality Disordered (NPD) 2. folks are thin skinned, lack insight and empathy. I like to say NPDs are insensitive but easily hurt. In a sense, they are operating on the level of the ‘terrible twos’, a selfish but important developmental phase toddlers go through in order to help them establish their identities. If a NPD parent is unable to tolerate the need for ‘healthy narcissism’ in their very young child, because parenting is based on getting their emotional needs met rather than their child’s, then the neglected child can become stuck in arrested development during this phase. Children trapped in arrested development during the ‘narcissistic’ phase turn into adults with profoundly unmet needs for mirroring, support, validation and security.
The emotionally neglected child goes through life feeling hungry for attention and entitled to be the center of the universe. Both of these unmet childhood ‘narcissistic needs’ represent essential nurturing they never received. Unfortunately, the psychological injury inflicted by a NPD caregiver, may result in the toddler never progressing into the next healthy developmental stage which is prosocial, whereby they learn to consider the needs and feelings of others. In this way, children become emotionally stunted by narcissistic abuse, as are their caregivers, and the cycle of Narcissistic Personality Disordered (NPD) is handed down from one generation to the next.
It’s very common for narcissistic abuse survivors to doubt themselves, as a consequence of repetitive negative programming by NPD family who project their flaws, problems, bad behavior and other serious limitations onto the scapegoat. Projection is a – if not the – major narcissistic defense, which allows the perpetrator to dissociate from any version of himself which is unflattering or cruel. This is called ‘blame shifting’ 3., where the sins of the perpetrator are attributed to the target. However, as you so painfully point out, your memories tell you that you are neither wrong nor at fault. Trust that. Write down your truths, especially when you have a hard time holding onto reality, due to onslaughts from your family. You will need this anchor of truth to help you keep your mental feet on the ground.
You are most certainly correct that the abuse you went through and still experience at the hands of your family is completely unacceptable, but – and this is a big but – it’s not important to people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. NPD is a serious mental disorder that undermines the development of a mature conscience, responsibility, empathy and the ability to see reality. Some narcissists also have more pronounced anti-social, sadistic tendencies, that bring them closer to the sociopathic end of the continuum. I don’t know if any of your family members have antisocial traits, but clearly your family is disconnected from an ability to support and care for you, and are prepared to discredit you if you don’t go along with pathological family beliefs and behaviors.
Yes, you must look to yourself as the arbiter of reality and truth. The end goal is to create and reclaim the narrative – the truth – of who you really are: a woman of courage, intelligence, integrity and heart. I wish you all the best on your healing journey.
Photo by Shashank Sahay – Unsplash
Notes / References
- Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea or paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnoea (PND) is an attack of severe shortness of breath and coughing that generally occur at night. It usually awakens the person from sleep, and may be quite frightening. Wikipedia, June 2020
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder , Wikipedia
- Narcissists, Controllers, and the Art of Blame-Shifting, Peg Streep, Psychology Today, June 2020
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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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