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« Major Depression Overdiagnosed? | Main | Building Self Esteem through Self Care »

September 14, 2009

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I wonder sometimes if the results of being the family scapegoat are that it conditions a person to be healthier when it comes to their own self esteem. If they have grown up with their own self esteem being whacked at every opportunity by the basic unit of their life, (that being the family unit)then perhaps all the other whacks at their self esteem that everyone normally encounters outside the unit (like being yelled at by the boss) bounce right off this "shield" that they've become conditioned with.

This can be determined by a number of other factors, of course - personality, basic mental health/stability, etc. I'm not saying it's good that it happens, but may be a strength that someone with this issue has developed.

Wow, that is an excellent point Dave. I think you may be right. In my experience they are not afraid to confront as people in other family roles often are. I would imagine they have a much thicker skin as well, as you point out. The danger comes in believing the family dogma that there is something wrong with them. If they can avoid buying into that it can have its advantages.

Thanks for sharing. You have a great blog of your own there.

I totally disagree Dave, if a family scapegoats a child, they rob him/her sense of self and self-esteem/self-worth.

The damage this SICK family psychological distortions are like murdering a child's spirit and it casts a shadow that will last a life time.
If as an adult that child, now person does not reject or indetify the role they were given by their family's dysfunction, they will most likely will keep playing the victim or scapegoat and re-enacting that role to their detriment....is very sad.

And the families that scapegoat a child are very sick.

I like the way you word that Pamela. Being scapegoated does cast a shadow over someone for the rest of their lives, unless they identify the problem and fight to overcome it. As you point out, they will continue to re-enact that role in all of their future relationships unless they break out of the role. Breaking out of the role is difficult enough in their adult relationships, but getting out of the role within the family is especially difficult. The family of origin has a lot to lose if they stop having a scapegoat - they will have to own their own dysfunction - and most are not willing to do that.

Thanks for comments.

I'm dealing with being the scapegoat and the truth teller now. In my family of origin that's what I was, and now in my adult family (husband and his children) I've fallen into that role. It is apparent to me now, and so difficult to change in myself. My family of origin deserted me when I found a good husband and a better life than they have...but there is this underlying guilt for having those better things, since they apparently convinced me that I don't deserve it. When I stopped being their scapegoat, they wanted nothing to do with me.

It is a daily struggle to avoid playing this out as a wife and stepmother. Being the truth teller has been something I've just automatically done in so many of my relationships, and of course, never works.

Can people leave that origin behind and live happy and independent (non-codependent) lives?

I, too was the scapegoat in my family and feel that I have taken great strides in overcoming it. My concern is that my niece is now doing the same to my daughter as my sister did to me. Do families find new scapegoats and if so, is there anything I can do to stop this now.

Also, do dysfunctional families' behavior escalate when they feel that they are not having the same effect on the scapegoat?

Hi Frick,

Families will be desperate to identify a new scapegoat if the original one escapes their grasp. And yes, they will violently escalate if they feel their scapegoat is getting away from them. If the original scapegoat gets away one of THEM will have to be the new one. So they will put enormous pressure on the original scapegoat to stay in the role.

I only know three things to do to stop it: 1) do not continue to be the scapegoat, 2) do not participate in scapegoating anyone else and 3) educate family members about the scapegoating pattern - if they are willing to listen. Some will not want to hear it. In my experience, the scapegoat will recognize it as the truth immediately. So if your niece is in this role, she will most likely recognize the truth when you tell it.

Granted, these three things are not as easy as they seem since these patterns are old and run deep. But it can be done. Obviously, if the entire family is dedicated to stopping the pattern it will be far easier than if the scapegoat alone is trying to break free.

Whether your niece will be able to break free of the role depends on far too many variables to post here. Also, I can't know your family's specific dynamics. Once you have shown her the light, it is up to her to carry it Frick. I don't know about you specifically, but being the scapegoat is often about sacrificing yourself to save others, so be careful in trying to save your niece.

I'm thrilled to hear you have broken the chains yourself. This is probably the best way you can help your niece. Tell her about the family pattern, then model for her how to escape being the scapegoat. A picture is worth a thousand words. The rest is up to her.

I am the family scapegoat and have distanced myself from family for a couple of years. I tried everything to appease, confront, discuss, be assertive etc. and nothing has worked. Their behavior finally cost me my mental health so I really must stay away from them for my own good!
It bothers me terribly that this decision had to be made and every day I blame myself for not finding a better solution. It is so painful emotionally. I watched this scapegoating behavior handed down through the family. Still it is difficult to really believe this has happened to me. Any suggestions? Thanks for the wonderful articles.

Are you still carrying the sins of the whole family? Stop! You are not responsible for their behavior. "This decision" was made by them, not you. You are simply not playing into it. My response to Frick above may help you too. You can only be responsible for yourself. Learn to separate yourself from them and to only take responsibility for your own choices and your own behaviors is part of stopping the scapegoat role.

Refusing to be their scapegoat may cost you your family if they are heavily invested in keeping you in that role. But you will stop the pattern from being handed down to your children and you may show the children of other family members how to stop it from being handed down to them and their children.

Hang in there and work on boundaries, boundaries, boundaries. You'll make it. You're strong and intelligent and you want the truth. That's how you got to be the scapegoat. Those same qualities will help you get out of being the scapegoat.

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