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Thank you for your excellent website Kellen- it is a revalation to me.

Since I found this site, just a few weeks ago, I have been able to see so much more clearly all the problems that people have with their thoughts of themselves, thoughts and worries that they live so long with because they are unable to realise the role or roles they have had to play within the family- if this were common knowledge, so many lives would be so much better!Even some counsellors that I have spoken to do not seem to realise the importance of the family roles; must it be a fault of their teaching?

As well as heaping praise on youI do have a question that I hope you could help me with; I have a friend that has spent her life being the scapegoat and lost child. There was violence within the family from an early age, a pregnancy at the age of 17 and constant criticism. She has spent her life being a victim of abuse, firstly from her mother and later from a partner who also abused her daughter. I have to watch every word I say so I do not upset her because she is very fragile, but I want to let her know that I have discovered the psychology of family roles and I hope to help her realise that her negative feelings of self that she has struggled with for so long are not her fault; I want her to see that she has just had to play her part within a dysfunctional family and that the person she sees as herself is not her true self- her real self she can now discover and love. I also see the roles that her children play and I would love to break the cycle of neglect and abuse to free these people from further generations of sadness.

The problem is that she is so frail that I feel that if I tell her of this site and explain the roles her children play, I believe she could blame herself yet again and decend even further down the spiral of self hatred- please help; is there a kind way to help her see the simplicity of the necessary realisation?

Hi Felix,

Thank you for your kind words. I am very pleased this information is helping you make sense of things. You are right, family roles are not taught to all counselors. Counselors who are LMFTs (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists) or who are trained in Bowenian or Systems theory are more likely to understand the importance of the whole family system and everyones parts within it (rather than focusing on one individual as the source of all familial problems). I hope this will help you screen your next therapist. It is entirely appropriate and intelligent to ask them as many questions as they ask you. (smiles)

As for your friend, Im wondering what causes you to think she is so frail. It sounds like she has survived a lot, and if so, must be stronger than anyone thinks (including herself). I cant provide therapy for someone Ive never met. I can only give suggestions how you might help her as a friend. Perhaps you could present it as something which has helped you a great deal and ask if she would be interested in reading more about it. I wish there was a book to which I could refer you, but I dont know of a really good one on this topic.

One thing I have found about the Scapegoat in the family - telling them the story of the original scapegoat seems to reach them in a very moving way. I dont know if this will help, but Ill post it here for your use. Use your own judgment.

The Origins of the Scapegoat

(I always preface this with a statement that no animals are injured in the telling of this story. (Smile))

In olden times, when a community suffered from drought, famine, plague or other disasters, they often assumed that God was mad at them and punishing them for their sins. However, they could not know who in the community had committed the sin for which the entire community was being punished. So they came together and placed a goat in the middle of the town. They they went through a ritual in which everyone placed their sins (metaphorically) on the goat. The goat was then driven out of the community, into the desert. This drove the sins of the community away from it and left it appearing unblemished.

The Scapegoat role in a family works the same way. The sins of the family are heaped upon the Scapegoat, who is then driven away from the family. Sometimes the Scapegoat will develop an obvious affliction, often mental illness or a substance abuse problem. This makes it even easier to label them as the problem and separate them from the family.

Naturally this is all done unconsciously. The family doesnt hold a meeting and select Jane to be the family scapegoat. But which member of the family is most likely to become the Scapegoat?

The strongest. And the most loving. To live in isolation out in the desert and bear the burden for the entire family the Scapegoat must be the strongest. To sacrifice their own well being for the good of the family they must be the most loving.

Thank you for your reply Kellen,

I do agree that I too view this person as being the strongest and most loving. I feel that she may be tired of taking on all this burden and perhaps she is using her apparent frailty in an attempt to block further abuse. I see this possibility as good news; meaning that at some level she recognizes her strength.

You wonder why I believe she is so frail; I do accept that you cannot provide therapy, but do you believe I could be correct? I will think on this for a while.

I do find the theory of roles played within the family most interesting and also believe that when there is a divorce, leaving one member seperated from the main family unit that the family still continues to exist with the family roles intact, or at least changed; but with no less potency.

Hi Kellen,

I have decided on my course of action; I will do my best to describe the family roles and use myself and my past as an example. As we all know, that is the hard part- and I will have a job to explain my position of having an alcholic mother who neglected us on an isolated farm, with, I suspect, a very relaxed attitude towards potty training. We were neglected but only quietly abused- we just kept out of the way. I suspect that I was the hero of the family- with a touch of lost child.
I wonder that by taking this action it may arouse the loving and caring side of my scapegoat friend's needs and she may well gain the necessary interest in the family roles to enable her to help herself.

I will use the description of the scapegoat you kindly gave and live in hope for a while; a while because I too have a life to live- all for myself!

Be happy and smile!


Your friend sounds very lucky to have you. And I like what you say about maintaining your own self care.

I wish you the best of luck. Please let me know how it goes.

Dear Kelly,

I am glad that you said a scapegoat in the family is the strongest and most loving. My mum told me even as a very young child as 5 or 6 I allowed my older sister to beat me without hitting back. I would feel sad if anyone or animal was sad or hurt. I would ensure my family's time bomb my father will not blow up. I was the counsellor, peace-maker and I told all the sisters to go party and I would stay at home. But I grew up depressed all the time. Thankfully, I am healing from this role.


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