Family Scapegoating: Part 1
Over and over and over again, I hear stories from women (and a few men but I do not generally converse with men about their abusive pasts) who leave abusive marriages, head into therapy or some sort of counseling, and discover that their family of origin is also abusive. When a former victim desires to heal, she will begin to look at the “why’s”: Why did I marry an abuser? Why did I allow people to treat me this way? Why have I so little respect for myself? Why do I feel like I am ‘different’ than others? All of these questions are important for healing and help. And, most often than not, a victim has been a victim before. Victimhood is her normal. And it began as a child, or as a teen or during another trauma in her life.
When the victim begins to fully comprehend the dysfunction in her immediate family (or family of origin), she naturally begins to pull away. Her eyes are opened. She begins to take steps toward boundaries. And the family of origin begins to be scared. And angry: She is not abusable anymore. She is not even around anymore! Even worse . . . she seems to be growing and blooming and understanding herself better. She is setting up boundaries. She says “no” sometimes. We can no longer do what we want with her.
Most terrifying for this dysfunctional family, at this point, is that she will talk. Other people might hear about the dysfunction. The family of origin cannot handle this . . . they are not ready to look at their past and problems. So, they try to head her off at the pass. They “scapegoat” her. Indeed, they have been scape-goating her all her life but now things heat up.
Family Scapegoating is not exactly like the scapegoating described in Scripture. The Bible describes the Old Testament practice of “placing” the sins on a goat and then sending the goat away. The goat bears the sins of the people . . . . and then, disappears. Dysfunctional/Abusive families who practice scapegoating will choose one child to blame for all of life’s problems. This child (or teen or adult child) typically is more sensitive and vulnerable. He or she may be unable to abide by the abuse that characterizes the family and home life and the family recognizes this. Parents who scapegoat their child do so, purposefully, out of fear that this child will blab. Scapegoating is usually due to having one parent with a personality disorder, although an entire family can “bond” by scapegoating one member of a family. Scapegoating includes: blaming, minimizing accomplishments, put-downs, criticisms, exploitations of the scapegoat’s greatest fears, manipulation and neglect. The scapegoated child believes that he or she is the reason that things are miserable in the family atmosphere. Obviously, it is a form of abuse that over-laps with other forms of abuse. The family scapegoat grows into a very insecure adult who struggles with intimate relationships. The victim does not normally ask for anything she needs; she assumes her needs are not important yet, ironically, everyone else’s are. She does not believe she has worth simply as a Child of God; she mutes her own desires and dreams, believing that she does not need to be loved, taken care of or encouraged . . . . believing that she does not deserve this. She is a “doer”, desperately attempting to win some love. She panics at the idea of abandonment. She may suffer from PTSD. She has been conditioned to believe that all of life’s problems are her own fault so she fears other people becoming close and discovering her “secret”: that there is somehow something inherently wrong with her and that she is just bad and she may ruin their lives, as well.
The chances of a family scapegoat escaping are slim and usually do not occur until a person reaches their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. And, when a victim does, indeed, escape and boundaries go up, the family is viciously angry. The victim continues to be the scapegoat and the family further bonds with each other in their hatred for the victim. But, he or she is no longer available to accuse. Accusations are slung in other, less direct capacities (blog posts, letters to friends, letters to the workplace). However, after a while, as the victim is no longer bothered by this, they cease. More attacks may come up later but, all in all, with “no contact” from the victim, things get better. The family of origin, however, begins bickering, back-biting, gossiping and dramatizing within their own cesspool of hatred and they, eventually, find another scapegoat! And the cycle begins again.
So, what often happens is, a man or woman leaves an abusive marriage, pursues divorce (enormous amount of bravery required here) and the family of origin begins to (for lack of a better term) freak out. They are afraid that their secrets will be revealed as they watch the strength of their former victim blossoming. Their grip on the victim’s emotions becomes tighter than ever. The victim is laying on the floor, trying to rise and the dysfunctional family stands on his or her neck. They make a healthy relationship impossible (unless the victim is willing to place his- or herself under their control) so the victim begins to set up healthy boundaries. The family of origin then claims “abandonment”. Mud-slinging begins. And the victim is left shattered in pieces . . . completely dazed and frantic as he or she tries to make sense of the world that has gone crazy in a few short weeks.
She was always the scapegoat; and she will continue to be. The only hope for her is to escape, go “no contact”, and learn how to become all that God intended her to be in Him. This is no easy feat and takes a lot of time. But, it can be done. For my next blog on Scapegoating, I will do just that — give biblical suggestions for how to break free from the Scapegoat persona.
Here is Part 2 of this two-part series on Scapegoating