I have at least started to learn some healthy boundaries. One of them is to call out someone who mistreats you. Hello, Joe & Susan!
For about a dozen years, I tried to “just get over” all this, as instructed. I was told this is my problem, and I needed therapy to find a way for me to deal with it.
Well, I went to therapy, and learned a lot of things. Most of the stuff I am writing about here stems from those sessions.
We got to narcissism very quickly: on my second visit, after I had been asked to think about what beliefs operate in my family of origin, I said to my therapist, “Susan is never wrong, and Mom is never to blame. Are those two the same thing?” She got this huge, genuine, happy smile across her face, as though I had done something really clever. (I might add, I immediately had a very strong urge to do whatever I could to see another smile like that. This probably tells a lot about how little approval and smiling I got from the people around me, growing up.)
Another thing I learned about was scapegoating. Mine was relatively (ha!) subtle in some ways — until our parents died. While my father lived, he prevented the continuation of the old pattern as best he could. When he died, it came back with a vengeance.
How to Tell if You Have Been Scapegoated:
- You are held responsible for family problems, conflicts or challenges, even if they have nothing to do with you. Other people blame you for their actions. You may end up feeling a lot of shame for being ‘the bad guy’, and/or anger for being blamed for negative family dynamics.
- You are attacked and disbelieved if you tell the truth and ‘blow the whistle’ on negative and/or inappropriate family dynamics.
- There has been a history of one or more family members being verbally, emotionally or physically abusive towards you. Other family members seem to accept or look the other way when you are bullied or aggressed against like this. You may feel like the ‘black sheep’ of the family.
- You find yourself repeatedly being accused of behavior the scapegoater is engaged in. For example, a family member repeatedly yells at you, and then accuses you of being abusive, or being thoughtful and then told “all you care about is yourself”.
- You act out the negative ‘expectations’ of scapegoating such as not living up to your potential, or getting into relationships with abusive people because your self esteem is has been damaged.
- Being the mentally healthiest family member, but being accused of being sick, bad, etc.
- Occupying the role of family outcast, and being treated with disdain or disgust by family or yourself.
- Your achievements are belittled, minimized, criticized and rejected.
Those two articles, as well as this one, point out that the scapegoat is likely to be the healthiest one in the family, the one who goes looking for answers. And I found some.
If you are the scapegoat, I have good news and bad news. The good news is you are the one most likely to go searching for answers – and find them. That is because you are the one in the most pain from carrying the burden of blame for the family. The scapegoats are also usually the truly strong ones in the family, as well as being the truth tellers.
I guess you know the bad news. You are blamed for everything. The scapegoats are the ones who allow the rest of the family to appear to be “normal,” purged of their wrongs. Narcissistic personality disordered mothers chronically scapegoat. If everything is the scapegoat’s fault (and it’s not), then the rest of the family can continue to avoid the real issue. The narcissistic mother can keep pretending to be “normal,” since you are supposedly the problem. “While they [malignant narcissists] seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense.” The People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck, M.D.
The very existence of a scapegoat in the family signals a problem, because a scapegoat is only required in a family when someone consistently refuses to take responsibility for their own actions…
…Those same qualities of strength and emotional honesty or truth telling will greatly work in your favor in the healing process. If you are the scapegoat, you have the strength to escape, heal and lead a healthier life. As hard as it may be, try not to internalize all of the blaming and scapegoating. Realize you are dealing with a very sick parent. The truth hurts, but then it really does set you free.
So for the past couple of years, I have instead been trying the healthier alternative of calling out this mistreatment of me to the people involved (or, as in the case of my sister, studiously not involved). I figured I ought to at least give them a chance to learn, to grow, to address the issues that have plagued our family for decades.
It has not gone over well. My “family” have refused to hear any of this — probably because of their own unhealthy boundaries and behaviors. It is much easier for everyone else if I remain the scapegoat, if we all pretend that what Joe and Susan did to me was perfectly OK, and it was not hateful behavior on their part, but an over-reaction on mine. If we insist that me doing exactly the same thing as Susan did, three months later, is some sort of heinous crime the second time around.
Like I said, I tried that for a dozen years. It didn’t work for me. Another healthy personal boundary is to put one’s own needs first, and that is what I am now doing.
There may be some defensiveness and push-back from those involved… Be aware that some people in your life may fall away as a result of your outlook and demand for respect. But these aren’t people you want in your life anyway… Whatever you do, don’t compromise your values, integrity, and self-respect simply to keep someone in your life.