When did you realize?

Tburgh’s comment over in the Mothers’ Day Mayday post was so relevant to the experience of people scapegoated by their families, I thought I’d give it it’s own blog entry:

Tburgh said

May 9, 2011 at 12:22 pm e

I would like to know when you (and any of your readers) first realized you were cast as the scapegoat. What was the circumstance? What instigated the realization? What did you say or do, if anything, to the family?

For me it was like consciousness blew the back door out of my perceptions. It was a realization that I’ve carried a perception of myself as “one of them”, but suddenly realizing I’m not like them at all. It’s a redefining of what, exactly, do I believe? It gets multi-layered. False perceptions have to be peeled away layer by layer.

Any comments?

To add to Tburgh’s question, have you inadvertently replicated your scapegoat role in other situations?

I’m going to write about my own experience in reply to Tburgh’s question and I encourage all who are comfortable to doing so to share their own.

I first became familiar with the term scapegoat in the family/therapy sense in the 80s while reading Adult Child of Alcoholics self help books.  But I thought one had to get in trouble with the law or at least in school to get that label.  I was the dutiful, law abiding daughter who brought home good grades, for the most part and stayed out of trouble.  So I didn’t realize it applied to me until I sought therapy as the result of the estrangement. 

I didn’t recognize it as scapegoating, but there was a lot of favoritism for others and dislike for me by my mother early on.  For example, before I even was in kindergarten, she told me I’d be prettier if I had blonde hair & blue eyes like my cousin instead of  dark hair & brown eyes, which is my natural coloring.  I was probably the only kid in school who felt vindicated when I learned about Mendel’s squares.  I had 3 dark haired, blue eyed grandparents and one grandparent with dark blond hair & very dark brown eyes.  Of course, I ended up with dark hair and light brown eyes!  It was the rules of dominant/recessive genes at work!  My mother somehow thought she was going to get a blue eyed blonde out of that gene pool!

Early on, I was expected to clean up after my younger brother, even when he got old enough to clean up after himself.  He would leave things around because he knew he didn’t have to clean them up.  It got so bad, I once walked in my sleep, picked up a pair of socks he’d left there, and rolled them into a ball.  I then walked to his room, opened the door and threw them in his direction.  I yelled at him, “keep your damned socks out of the living room.”  I didn’t even recall doing this.

When my dad moved out, my mom expected me to clean up after her too.  She expected ash trays emptied and cleaned.  Any clothing or jewelry was expected to be returned to its place in her bedroom, or in the case of dirty clothes, placed in the hamper.  I did most of the family’s laundry from 11 or 12 on. If it wasn’t done and she had to do some on a Saturday when we were with my father, she’d have one of her meltdowns when I got home.

She also expected me, when I was a pre-teen/early teen years to act as her confidant and reassure her about relationship problems with her boyfriend, work and finances. When I wasn’t adequate for the task, after all who could be with someone who likely has a personality disorder, let alone a kid, she would get angry with me.   And tell me how my brother understood her better and made her feel better.

There are more incidents from my adult life, but I’m going to take a break & then come back and edit this post.

11 thoughts on “When did you realize?

  1. I think for each person the timing is different. My kids and husband would complain to me how my mother treated me and I would defend her. I had been in counseling several years when my cousin came out to take care of my mother after a knee replacement surgery. I had to watch my mother in action with someone else that she deemed her ‘care taker’ before I really understood the position of 3rd class citizen that I lived. She would say she loved me but her actions didn’t match. Words like enmeshed, extension of my mother, manipulated, gaslighting, scapegoat became my new vocabulary. I also learned the role my enabling father had. The feelings of betrayal, distrust, anger, and like I had woken up out of a twisted fantasy. I was almost 50 years old. I like the term FOG used with narcissism. I came out of the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt.) It is a situation that once you become aware, you can’t go back. My relationships with my family of origin changed completely. My relationships with my children and husband have all improved. Letting go of the negative makes it easier to embrace the positive.

    1. I know exactly what you mean about the actions not matching the words. With my mother, she made a big show of telling people how she loves me, trying to put her arm around me, etc. Yet, in private, she would berate me and scream at me, even as an adult. As a result, I didn’t want her touching me.

  2. I definitely noticed the favoritism very early. My younger sister (only sibling) got everything she wanted and I was denied all these same things (even if I asked first). I was always told “we can’t afford it” then they’d turn around and spend literally $1000s on my sister.

    Example: I’ve always had a profound interest in music. My whole life I wanted to play percussion. It was a well known fact. I always listened to music and had a huge collection of cassettes. My sister did not share this interest and maybe owned 1 cassette. When enrolling in middle school, they asked if I wanted to join the school band and I was so excited but it was quickly rejected by my mom with the typical ‘we can’t afford it’ excuse. However, 2 yrs later, when my sister enrolled in middle school, she suddenly had an interest in music (she had a friend in band therefore she wanted to join band also). Well my parents suddenly had the money to let her join band, spent 100s on her band uniforms, 1000s on her instruments and private lessons, band trip to Europe, etc. When I mentioned how unfair this was, I was told it was her ticket to college (scholarship). Yet I was the only one who had an interest in pursuing music, why couldn’t it have been my ticket to college? (because I wasn’t expected to attend college as I was the loser…btw, I am the one who tested at a genius level IQ, not my sister). She of course did not get a scholarship and never pursued music past HS. I still spend 1000s on stereo systems, albums, and concerts, travel all over to see favorite artists (going to another country this year to see a favorite artist that I’ve wanted to see my whole life). That’s just one example of many.

    Situations like that made the favoritism obvious. Plus, as mentioned in the blog, I also had to do a lot of chores which my sister was never required to do (mow the lawn, bring in groceries, bath the dog, etc). Also, I was physically abused by my father and my sister never was. He left her alone. When he needed to say something to her, he’d knock on her door before entering, yet barge into my room like Kramer on Seinfeld.

    I didn’t learn of the word “scapegoat” as a description of my situation until a psychologist I was seeing in college told me. However, she didn’t go into detail and I didn’t really learn about it until the past couple years after researching Narcissistic Personality Disorder (which my dad likely has).

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. What I find crazymaking is that they will treat siblings so differently, yet deny it.

  3. I remember the day, where I was in the house, which house and the circumstance when, as a 10 or 12 year old, I realized I was emotionally on my own in a family of seven. I cried harder than any time before or since. I knew I wasn’t as dumb as they said I was or the trouble-maker or the looser but I didn’t realize I played the scapegoat role until my 50’s.

    I spent most of my life in my head mentally arguing with family, trying to convince them I am worth their respect and attention. Actually talking and arguing with them did and still does no good. The angry dialogue tapes in my head have been exhausting. My desperation eventually moved from needs from family to the need to quit the 24/7 loop of arguing and fighting mental dialogue. I was afraid it would eventually give me a stroke or heart attack. I have an especially patient and long suffering friend who listened to me for years while I would spout about my anger towards family — I had to get it out somehow. But I only received temporary relief.

    I, like Nina, was finally able to “tag” what is really going on (her narcissistic father): each family member has their own “shame demon” they haven’t the ability or courage to recognize. They have to project and it is therefore not possible for them to “see” the real me. It’s just not possible.

    I’ve been scapegoated a few other times in work situations and I had to take a serious and frightening look at what I was doing to create my own victim-ness. When things get out of balance in any group situation, there will always be the need for a scapegoat. Every group has the Nazi potential. I carried the aura of “I’m expendable” and it was me they ostracized. I realized I’m an enabler to the self-absorbed. I realized, too, that I have a juvenile need for acceptance and appreciation. Once I realized how I’ve been playing a self-destructive part, the battle fatigued tapes in my head stopped. As long as I focus on my “sins”, I, ironically, am happy. I actually have peaceful mental moments — from hours to entire days — for the first time in my life.

    1. I was scapegoated in 3rd grade, middle school and a couple of workplaces. I didn’t realize the role I played in it until I went for therapy after the estrangement and learned about scapegoating. If you haven’t already read the Scapegoat section on Kellevision.com, I highly recommend it (it’s in my links section). It’s by a therapist who was a scapegoat herself growing up. I tend to get scapegoated for my inclination to truth tell. There’s a great checklist over at Kellevision.com which asks questions like “what do I intend to accomplish by telling this truth? Does it need to be told?” It was life changing for me to read it. I’ve been able to sidestep some scapegoating situations as a result. And you’re right, far less drama and stress, more peace and calm!

      And I relate to what you say about the tapes. One of my December 2009 entries is about how I dealt with my own harsh inner critic (mother’s voice).

  4. I’ve been on a path of healing/recovery/discovery for the last four years – since I told the truth and made a stand on my mother’s prescription medication addiction and near overdose.

    At the time, my only siblings (older sister, younger brother) as well as my BIL and nephew all lived in the same house with my parents, thirteen miles from the nearest town. None of them had jobs, unless we’re counting the flooring company that my husband and I had financed start-up of for my bro and BIL. I lived in town with my husband and two daughters, in a house that we owned and my husband and I both worked full time jobs. When my sister discovered the potentially lethal dose of missing pills, she called me. It was my job to come up with a plan to fix it, and at that time I didn’t know that I was the family scapegoat, so I did.
    As we’d already been managing mom’s pills for six months (since we first discovered that she was abusing them,) I said that I thought we needed to have a ‘full blown intervention.’ That all of the adults in the family would sit down with mom, deliver our impact statements about her drug abuse and that we’d come up with a plan for treatment.
    I was tasked with finding a sitter for my children as well as my nephew, which I did. By the time my husband and I were able to get away from work, get the sitter out to the kids 13 miles from town and gather with the family for the unpleasant task, my brother had already started talking to my mom about it. So, having sabotaged the impact of an intervention and having given the addict time to scheme, it was a mess. She was as convincing and charming as only addicts can be and presented with an “I do have a problem and only you all can help me,” defense.

    My husband and I pushed for professional therapy or rehabilitation or at least that my mother would see another doctor about her mysterious and undiagnosed illnesses (as all the many pills in the narcotic cocktail were coming from the same doctor.) Everyone else agreed that the best way to ‘manage mom’ was to keep doing… exactly what had already been done. My dad and sister had already been ‘monitoring’ mom’s pills and keeping them under lock and key. She’d managed to work two prescriptions, though.

    So, being the only ones in the family with any perspective, we decided to make a stand. We went back out the previous night to tell them that we didn’t agree with the decision, but there was nothing we could do about that. We delivered our decision, though, that our daughters would not be allowed to be around without either my self or my husband present, mostly as we were concerned that mom liked to take the kids for drives.

    We managed to escape with our lives, which I say slightly tongue in cheek, after my sister screamed at me for a while (absolutely verbatim, the first words out of her mouth: I knew you’d do this you f@#ing b*&^h,) and my dad and brother acted physically intimidating toward my husband and my BIL tried to explain to us that our kids would have to go through addiction at some point in their lives, so wouldn’t it be better for them to go through it with someone they loved? (WTF?!)
    My mother just said over and over, “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.” Yep, YOU’RE doing this to ME.

    So, it was horrible and messy and we went through another six months of me trying desperately for acceptance. I arranged that I would bring my daughters to visit them at their (clan) house on Sundays. Eventually one of them would corner me while one of the others took my children aside to explain to the 9 and 11 year old girls what was wrong with me.

    My sister, the mouthpiece of the clan, would call my phone at 2 am and just leave the most horrible messages. One day her 2 year old son got out of the car as they pulled into the driveway and repeated what he’d obviously been hearing, “Why you gotta be such a b*&^h Auntie?”

    Eventually I had to cut off contact with her, which meant that I had to cut off contact with all of them (They’re a clan; you’re in or you’re out.) It’s been almost four years, and I have rebutted every sneaky attempt at contact with this phrase,
    “I will be happy to meet with you and have a discussion, but the only place I am willing to do so is in my counselor’s office. Please call there and set up an appointment if you’d like to talk to me.”
    So far… no appointments have been made.

    I’m so glad, though, that all this happened, because it’s given me the greatest blessings of my life. In addition to finally being free of them (and this is just the story of the end, the beginning and the middle were really no different as this is how they’ve always treated me,) I saved my children.
    My youngest daughter was starting to become the next generation scapegoat in my family, and no matter how bad/lonely/scared/shamed/scapegoated I feel sometimes, I remember that all of my work has BROKEN the cycle for my own children.

    Thanks for this excellent question and blog, and sorry that this post was so long!

    1. Don’t apologize for the length, you had a lot of ground to cover! I’m glad you were able to make difficult, but healthy choices for the benefit of you & your family.

      During my first estrangement with my mother, one of my conditions was meeting with a family counseling therapist. Not suprisingly, she hesitated, made and appointment and cancelled. She had a good reason, but she should have made that appointment a priority. I refused to see her at the time.

      Of course they don’t want a therapist present. It’s harder, though not impossible, to manipulate someone with training. It would also mean their scapegoat isn’t alone and has what they perceive as “allies”

  5. I coulda been somebody, I coulda been a contender… That’s what I think sometimes when I think back to the times when I did get something like attention from my mom–it was when I was sick enough that the doctors would run tests and maybe even put me in the hospital–then I was suddenly the object of some concern–not actually toward me–but rather toward those who could be told about it.

    sigh.. my cousin came up tot me at mom’s funeral and said how my mom had freaked out that the kids had out run me or something and left me behind–“She has a heart condition!” she yelled.
    I was thinking– when she told me of her memory–too bad I got better. I coulda been somebody. 🙂

    I ended up the scapegoat because I had a big mouth I guess–i would argue when things were unfair–which was a lot. I would stand up for siblings who got the shaft from other siblings.. I guess that is a scapegoaters role–to be the truth teller.

    As I got older I found it really hard to relate to my family because I wanted to live my own life and mom–in particular couldn’t have that.

    Eventually we were living pretty far away. I think to be honest, my family resented that I wasn’t having to deal with it. Don’t know–but I do know that my ‘job’ as scape goat came back BIG time when Mom died. I’m thinking every bit of self loathing my siblings had in them got cast on me. And I still find them blaming or assuming the worst of me–even when I haven’t seen them in a couple years.

    So that’s it I guess. I could say much more, but it seems not that constructive. I know I’m sad/angry/lonely/distracted and depressed and I can’t decide if I want my extended family to be healthier so I can be there–or if I just want out.

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