Being The Scapegoat

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.

This article and this one describe the phenomenon clearly.

How to Tell if You Have Been Scapegoated:

  1. 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.
  2. You are attacked and disbelieved if you tell the truth and ‘blow the whistle’ on negative and/or inappropriate family dynamics.
  3. 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.
  4. 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”.
  5. 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.
  6. Being the mentally healthiest family member, but being accused of being sick, bad, etc.
  7. Occupying the role of family outcast, and being treated with disdain or disgust by family or yourself.
  8. Your achievements are belittled, minimized, criticized and rejected.
 Ta-da!    Seven out of eight.

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.

The History, Part 2 – Mom’s Death

So, after all this shit happened — believe it or not, 3 months later, my mother dies.

So we travel back to my home town, and are staying at my dad’s house, which hasn’t been sold yet.

I spent most of the the time clearing out my mom’s assisted living quarters by myself, and I avoided everyone else as much as I could.

But two important things happened during that time.

One was that right after Mom died, as we were walking along the hospital halls, I apparently said something about our mom that my youngest brother considered insensitive, and all hell broke loose.  While no one can remember what it actually was that I said, Joe later wrote that it was “disparaging and disrespectful” and “completely disregarding the feelings of others that had a better relationship.”

I have apologized to my youngest brother for whatever it was I said multiple times, and specifically for hurting his feelings with this mystery comment.

As far as I know, he still insists on believing that my motivation for making that remark was to “get back at everyone” for what happened at Dad’s death.

(Which is interesting, because it shows that on some level he recognizes that the two situations are in fact parallels.  But it simply isn’t true that I made my remark with intention for revenge — although ascribing such a nasty motive to me without any evidence is a completely normal thing to do to a scapegoat.  Scapegoats are guilty, even if they are proven innocent.  I also think that even if I had done it out of revenge, I’d think I might have some justification, after that horrible experience.)

Anyway, just to recap:

  • Susan had a jolly, laughing conversation with a hospice nurse shortly after Dad’s death (laughing while standing in the room with his body!).  I found that upsetting, and politely asked them to take it elsewhere. That is me overreacting, and I am the one at fault for that.
  • I said something shortly after Mom’s death, while walking down the hallway away from the hospital room.  My brother finds it upsetting.  But he is not overreacting. His angry, upset reaction is perfectly acceptable. I am at fault for that conflict, too.

The two events are basically equivalent.  But I am at fault in BOTH of these situations. Susan “did nothing wrong”.  I, on the other hand, was completely wrong.

This set of events is what led me down the road of wondering how this is possible.  From there I learned about narcissism and scapegoating.  Voilà.  It explains many things that are otherwise inexplicable.


The other thing that happened was bullying.  While my husband and I were staying in my Dad’s room, at one point my youngest brother decided he needed to shout at me for something (I am not sure if it was the above-mentioned remark, or what).

He came into our room to yell at me, he stood in my way so I couldn’t escape, and he refused to get out after I clearly and repeatedly told him to. Once again, no one came to my aid, other than my husband. No one told my brother that he was out of line to physically corner me in that room, and shout at me, and refuse to get out or let me leave.

No one found it unacceptable to let him bully me like that.

When I told my therapist about all this, she said, mystified, “You aren’t even allowed to defend yourself.”

This led me to the concept of healthy personal boundaries, as well as figuring out that I probably don’t have very good ones.

Boundaries are learned. If yours weren’t valued as a child, you didn’t learn you had them. Any kind of abuse violates personal boundaries… You may not believe you have any rights if yours weren’t respected growing up.

And guess who else doesn’t have healthy boundaries?  Probably just about everyone in this family, because the immediate reaction to conflict in this group is not to empathize, communicate, and resolve — but to shirk responsibility (my sister and my eldest brother) and to blame (Joe and Susan and my youngest brother).

… since you’re accountable for your feelings and actions, you don’t blame others.

Another article on boundaries has this to say:

…an enmeshed relationship between a parent and child may look like this… Mom is a narcissist, while the [child] is codependent, “the person who lives to give.” Mom knows that her [child] is the only one who will listen to her and help her. The [child] is afraid of standing up to Mom, and she exploits his caregiving.

I am instantly reminded of my sister’s words about testifying for our mother in the divorce hearing:  “… She had no one else.  NO ONE.”

Odd, that my sister could find it in her heart to stick up for my mother in those difficult circumstances, yet refuses to get involved with the current conflict.

Well, not so odd.  My sister was parentified by our mother worse than anyone else in the family, probably because she was a girl.

…parentification, where the parent leads the child to believe that they have to take care of their parents at all costs, be it financial, physical or emotional care. The child may have to be the parent’s therapist, or take one parent’s side against the other, lots of housework, paying the bills and so on.

And of course, if boundaries are learned, and our mother had lousy ones, then how would anyone else have learned anything healthy from her?

(click here for Part 3)

Orange Juice

I was close to 30 before I began to realize just how manipulative my mother was.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By that time I was married, and we had a house in Dallas.  Mom was visiting us.

We were all in the kitchen having breakfast.  Mom was at the table, drinking orange juice.  I was at the stove, probably cooking eggs or pancakes or something — I know I had my hands full.  So I am not sure whether my husband was seated or standing.

I heard my mother say, “This orange juice is delicious.”  Either I heard her put down the empty glass, or I looked over to see.  Either way, I knew she had just finished the glass of juice that she had.

I heard my husband say, “I’m glad you like it.”

A few seconds’ pause.

Then, almost as if it were someone else speaking, I heard the words come out of my mouth, explaining to my husband, “That means she wants you to get her some more.”

Another few seconds’ pause, while he looked at me in surprise, then at my mother.  Finally he asked — in a tone that I recognized as one where he wasn’t sure what the rules were now, feeling his way, learning — “Would you like some more orange juice?”

My mother said, “Oh, yes, that would be nice,” as if I hadn’t spoken.

As if I hadn’t just begun training my own husband that what he was supposed to be doing all the time was to interpret her seemingly innocuous remarks, figure out what she wanted, and provide it.

In this case, she wanted to be waited on hand and foot.  She wanted someone else to take care of getting what she wanted.  It’s not like she wasn’t capable of getting her ass up from the table and walking the length of the kitchen to get to the refrigerator.  She just didn’t want to, BUT SHE STILL WANTED THAT JUICE.

And she couldn’t just ask for it:  “Would you mind getting me another glass of juice, please?”  Simple enough.  But that carries the risk of giving the other person agency, a choice in the matter, a decision about whether they will agree, or say “no”.

The solution?  Manipulate your daughter into doing it, or get her to start training her own husband to do it.

From healthy to toast…

See if you can guess where my family is on this continuum!

  • Something is broken, we know it’s broken, we can fix it right away and we’ll learn from it.
  • It’s broken, we know it’s broken, we fixed it, don’t worry, but we learned nothing, it will break again, I’m just doing my job.
  • It’s broken, we know it’s broken, but we don’t think we can afford to fix it.
  • It’s broken, but we don’t know it’s broken.
  • It’s not broken (it is, but we’re not willing to admit it).
  • It’s broken, we may or may not know it’s broken, but mostly, we don’t care enough to try to fix it, to learn how we could fix it better or even to accept help from people who care.

At one point we kind of did the second one: we “fixed” it (by writing a half-ass apology, by getting angry and writing nasty emails, telling me it was all my problem, etc).

Now things are solidly in the “toast” end.

Seth Godin writes about marketing, but I find his posts to be relevant to many more areas of life.  This list was brazenly copied from “Different Kinds of Broken Systems“.

Wake Up Call

I have wondered many times whether my parents would have stayed married if my mom had had a resource like Flylady to help her get her shit together.

Now I wonder what my mom would have made of this essay by Flylady!  LOL. No one in our family has ever dared tell it like this.  Holy shit, Mom can’t possibly be responsible for any of the problem!

I have used the phrase that, “my mother liked to be taken care of, rather than taking care of anyone else.”  Flylady uses the rather more straightforward and less delicate word, “coddling”.

My mother also was not good at solving her own problems.  Her idea of doing something about a problem was to pray about it.  It worked about as well as you might think it would.

At first when I came across this essay I found it sort of funny.  Now after a second or third reading, I am finding it rather sad.

————————————————————————————-

“Anger has a way of eating at you and it really only scratches the surface toward the person you are angry with. If the truth be told and we never like to hear the truth; you are really angry with yourself and just trying to put the blame on your spouse or children. Now don’t email complaining that I have no clue how much they can mess up; because I have seen others deal with this problem and find success at setting the example for them and before you know it; they are picking up after themselves.

“So what is your problem? YOU ARE STILL PLAYING THE MARTYR ROLE! And no one loves a martyr! Even you!  I am not about to hold your hand and say there there! It will be OK, because it is not! unless you get off your Franny and do something to get rid of your martyrdom and anger toward your family!

“Yes I am tough! I have never pretended to be anything else! But I am this way because you need an attitude adjustment! Your anger is pushing your family further and further away from you and if you don’t stop this behavior you are going to be a bitter old person with no one! And do you want to know something else! YOUR HOME WILL STILL BE MESSY! All because you never learned the most important lesson I am trying to teach you!

“You should bless your home for you! Not for your kids, husband or wife! But YOU! You deserve to live in a home that is comfortable and inviting! NO WHINING HERE EITHER!

“You married your husband or wife because you loved him/her! You did not have your babies to be slaves in your home! Hold your horses here! NO WHINING ALLOWED! Finish reading this before you blast off an email! It is your responsibility to teach your children respect and love; if they see none of this from you, how are they ever going to learn it!

“Just look at the example you have been setting for them; whiny, anger, ugly hurtful words. No wonder no one wants to be around you! You have become an ogre. Your family is walking on eggshells around you and they run to keep from making you mad! Is this any way to live and treat your family! Do you want to know why you are doing this?

“It is all because you don’t love yourself enough to stop! YOU are constantly blaming others and not taking responsibilities for your own actions! If you will look around the room you will see your stuff every where too! I can hear the words coming out of your mouth now, “but I am going to get back to that in a bit!” So how long has it been there anyway! 6 months! A year! When we don’t pick up after ourselves we tell the rest of the family that it is OK to leave things lying around! Mom doesn’t mind she does it all the time. You may not say the words, but they are coming through loud and clear! It is only when you set the example and quit trying to preach what you are not practicing that your family will begin to take notice and start helping!

<snip>

I have tried every way in the world to get this across to you! Holding your hand just doesn’t do it! Because you will continue to refocus the blame! It is up to you! I didn’t make the rules either! As women we may not like it, but guess what we wouldn’t want it any other way either! So accept your responsibility for setting the tone in your home and just quit whining about it! NO SULKING or POUTING either! That is whining without spoken words.

“In the south we say, “If momma ain’t happy; ain’t nobody happy!” and I am going to add something new to this phrase! I am the only one that can truly make ME Happy! When you realize this you will be FLYing!

“Bless your home for you! Quit blaming others and set the example in love you will see a remarkable change in your attitude and the attitudes of everyone in your home!

“I love you all, but I won’t coddle you!”

 

After the Last Straw

This was not written by me, but with a few changes (from “friend” to “family”) — it could have been.  Originally written by lightshouse, I first found a paraphrasing on a thread at outofthefog.net:

you are ASSUMING that if a big enough tragedy struck you, these people would be there for you. They would care. They would make you pots of chicken soup and babysit your children and go the distance for you if ever needed them desperately. Because they know that’s what you’d unfailingly do for them, of course.

But hold on a second — you’re the one who never troubles them. You’re the one who usually gives more than you get. You’re the one they like because you’re so “easy” to know. You don’t make requests, much less demands. You’ve been a piece of cake — a free ride.

And what kind of person really wants the kind of friend who makes sure a person never has to go out of their way too much?

A lame friend, that’s who. A self-centered, uncaring, unempathetic, fair-weather friend. They just LOVE people who never ask for things, because they don’t like giving much, and they like to get more than they give! When you are at your absolute lowest moment in life and most desperately need the support of others, these people you haven’t asked enough from are the ones who will shame, dump, and even smear you.

Fine time for someone to start treating you like garbage, right? But that’s when their true colors will come right through — when suddenly, they have to make a significant effort to stand by you. Because they won’t do it, and they never planned to have to.

All of a sudden, they’ll be telling you that you’re just too high-maintenance, and they’re too busy, too overwhelmed, or too important to support you. They’ll criticize and reject you, and they’ll try to make you feel like you’re just impossible to live with. The truth is, they’re suddenly not getting more than they give, and that’s just not acceptable to them. You have to go back to being their nice, easy friend who never asks anything of them, or you’ve got to go.

You’ll be shocked and horrified, you won’t believe what they’ll do, and you’ll wonder what is so wrong with the world that in your time of deepest need or pain, there is yet another awful realization heaped on your shoulders — your “friend” has no empathy and doesn’t like to give.

Character Assassination With Sugar On Top

This is my SIL in a nutshell (where she belongs).  Read the whole article by Gail Meyers here.
“This is how a narcissist gossips without appearing to be slandering anyone. The narcissist may even be perceived as a concerned, caring person. For example, [the Narcissist]… expresses her great concern… about [The Target’s] fragile emotional state. In reality, [the Narcissist] is being abusive and [the Target] is responding to the abuse, but [the Narcissist] is using that response as proof of your instability.”

So in a very real sense, the narcissist uses your reactions of anger, frustration or outrage to their abuse, to cause you to look crazy to other people.

“When A Narcissist Tells You

a tale in which they are the innocent victim of some irrational monster… you are being recruited as a flying monkey.” ~~ Gail Meyers

Which is precisely what Susan did to me with my family, and what my mother also did to the older siblings.  I suppose I ought to feel sorry for them, having got out of the clutches of one, only to have another marry into the group — and someday, I hope I can feel sorry for them.  I do realize what a fucked-up mess they are, on an intellectual level, but I’m not at the point of empathy yet.

When I wrote my personal Declaration of Independence to my family in 2013, my sister wrote back and admitted that she refused to read what I had written, but nonetheless felt able to write her own angry screed in return.  Among the items on her numbered list:

(7) If you had a bad relationship with Mom, please think about the fact that Dad certainly colored your opinion — and as a 6-,7-, or 8- year old, you would not have even been aware of it.

The irony is breathtaking.
If anyone in my family colored anyone else’s opinions, it was Mom blaming Dad for just about everything, and playing the martyr to make people feel sorry for her.

Gail writes,

What I have realized is the flying monkeys generally have their own reasons for behaving the way they do…  They may know the truth, but lack the backbone to stand up for what is right. They may themselves fear becoming a target of the narcissist. They may have been a target of the narcissist in the past. They may have been taught to get along with everyone regardless. They may also be a narcissist themselves or hiding their own troubling behavior.

While the situation with my mother is more complicated — with The Susan Incident, I can put names to almost every one of those reasons.  What I can’t believe is that Gail left out the one that always worked for my mother, and works for Susan:

“They feel sorry for the narcissist.”

The full article by Gail Meyers can be read here.