Scapegoated! (as published in The Friday Edition of HeartBalm Healing at https://heartbalm.substack.com)
For the adult who blames themselves – who see things go wrong around them and perceives the familiar feelings of self-blame, guilt, shame, and “it’s my fault” wash over them you recognize these feelings as the family scapegoat. I still feel these pangs of dread and assume I am to blame for all that goes wrong. I was programmed so early in my life to believe that I was at fault for all that was wrong in my family household and world. A difficult emotion arises in a family member – it’s my fault, a challenge arises – it’s my fault, my mother’s dessert isn’t perfect – it’s my fault, the carpet isn’t vacuumed well enough – it’s my fault, my brother gets caught smoking in school – oh poor dear son, I am reprimanded at school for chewing gum – I’m a horrible human being that must be grounded and punished.
As I got older it felt like there was a handbook given out to allegiant family members, and loyal friends who joined in treating me as the scapegoat, using and labeling me as the family problem and black sheep, just as my queen mother had outlined and decided. Even now as an adult, living so far away and visiting occasionally they still find ways to project their bullshit onto me. Even now, when they know I will not put up with it there is still something there that gives them the hubris, and permission to humiliate me, treat me as the problem, ambush me with their nonsense, and generally continue to treat me as they always have, like I am nothing and not even part of the family. I was repeatedly told from a very young age that I was adopted, or that I was hatched because I didn’t have a birthmark. I was a twin so knew full well that this was untrue. While it was couched in their sick humor, the repetitive nature of it alongside the ongoing abuses did a lot of damage.
My penchant for the truth started very early and as they say, scapegoats in the family structure are usually the truth-tellers; the ones that will not sell their soul to become something that the abuser, and in my case the narcissistic abuser wants. I never understood the bullying, the scapegoating, the gaslighting, and the lies and manipulation. When I tried to reason with my mother, my main abuser, her lies would just continue and her position of power would overwhelm me, and I was left in utter confusion, lack of affection, empathy, or understanding, cold and alone. I remember deciding at an early age to begin to memorize the dictionary because I thought if I knew all the words, and could understand adult vocabulary I could plead my case, and make her understand. I could stand up to her and say effectively what was wrong and make it all make sense. I was very smart which did not help me in this or many other situations in these cases, although at that age I did not know any better. I don’t know how far I got in memorizing the dictionary but now I know it would have never made any difference. Nothing I would’ve tried, attempted, fixed, or not fixed would ever make a difference. You can’t speak the truth or argue the facts with abusers, especially when your mother and her minions have a deceitful agenda.
As the scapegoat child, any ‘argument’ you have with your wounded unhealthy parent – has no beginning, middle or end. It’s not meant to.
As I grew up I realized that all I could tolerate was the truth. I would tell boyfriends that they should be honest with me always because no matter what they tried to hide – the truth would always find me – even if I wasn’t looking for it, or didn’t need or want to know. I was a magnet for the truth and still am – it finds me wherever I am. It is not always welcome but I am grateful nevertheless, for something reliable and constant in my life that walks with me as a beacon of light, and authenticity; this beacon that has lit my way through the darkness on so many occasions and stages of my life. This truth has made me face things I would not normally have faced or at the very least, taken me much longer to understand or deal with. It doesn’t help my very ‘fighty’ / ‘flighty’ nervous system but even in that sacrifice, I must learn how to love myself, even more, to be able to function and get through another day.
A relationship with the Truth is not casual. It’s not a one-night stand. It’s monogamous, deep and personal. Truth will not wander from your side. It will be your constant, your real ride or die. Truth won’t have you dress to arouse anyone but your soul. And it won’t let you define your worth with anything that doesn’t make you whole. Truth won’t give you a single reason not to love who you are. Truth will remind you that you’re more than words and you’re made of stars.
When I began to work I found that so many people have selfish agendas and reasons to manipulate and skew the truth – and more often than not they are the people in power, at the top, and even those with just a scintilla of power who want to lie and manipulate. This is intolerable, and untenable for me. I became a business consultant in my 40s which gave me a unique perspective of many businesses, owners, employees, and stakeholders, and I realized that most problems in business, as in most families are a top-down issue, it is rarely a bottom-up issue! But because so many of those in power, that are dysfunctional, whether, in business, government, or family structure does not want to be accountable for their abuse they can decide to target someone and make them the problem without repercussion. Lower-level soldiers under this power position, who want to maintain their place of power, will go along with this lie and target the chosen scapegoat as well. Hence the cycle continues without anyone raising an alarm, and the scapegoat is trapped in a growing, and abusive web of enablers, and lies. Even those newly entering these dysfunctional spheres will listen to those in power and most will ignore all signs to the contrary, in compliance and allegiance. Over time the scapegoat may try to find help, or tell others what’s happening but when they are ignored, and the person in whom they are confiding befriends the abuser it is another betrayal, and feelings of hopelessness, despair, and further isolation is experienced. The desire to raise the alarm, ask for help or make others understand falls on deaf ears, and the scapegoat is left unaided, alone and without help once again. Once this pattern emerges, it is difficult to unravel its grip and be free.
I have seen this pattern crop up time and time again. Yet throughout my life, I have developed a kind of addiction, of sorts – the need to fix everything and figure out what is wrong or broken and correct it so the focus is off of me. Even though logically I know and can see that it has nothing to do with me, and is not my fault the pressure still builds and this rote part of me feels compelled to jump in, understand it, correct it, fix it and make it all better.
I have become more aware of this pattern, and through mindfulness, a growing necessity for wholeness, healing, self-love, and self-care I can mitigate this compulsion now but the trigger remains, and when it arises still makes me nauseous and uneasy. It is in this trigger, however, that I know I have to come closer to it, and hear its voice to reassure this part of me that it is not my fault, and never was – to put down the bat I am using to hurt myself, and assure myself that everything is going to be okay because there is nothing I have to fix, figure out or make better for anyone. It is not my responsibility. I can choose to say “ENOUGH!”
As I’ve done parts-work I have come to understand that the child’s mind under such duress and abuse will fracture and mirror the abuser. The child relies on the parents/guardians for survival, and cannot survive on their own so will only have the option of turning on themselves to survive the abuse. The child is unable to recognize that the abuse, gaslighting, blame, and scapegoating are not their fault. Even in a healthy household, children will try and make everything their fault when they do not understand something, but to add on to that innocent burden with more blame, lies, manipulation and familial dysfunction is child abuse. The child’s mind fractures and develops a separate part that will continue to beat themselves up as the parent and family have done. This space is set up in a survival attempt to demonstrate the willingness of the scapegoated child to begin beating themselves up, to lessen the abuse, so the abuser doesn’t feel the need to continue since the child is taking on that role. It is akin to a bully who repeatedly terrorizes the victim, and at some point when the bully returns for another attack sees the victim has picked up a bat and is beating themselves. The bully sees the victim’s self-abuse and realizes there’s no fun in it anymore and moves on. Whether or not this lessens the parents or family’s scapegoating of the child is a coin toss but it represents the scale at which the child’s mind, under traumatic circumstances, will drastically alter and cope to survive abuse.
When a child is not accepted by their parent – that puts them into a survival response. Their nervous system goes into a state of shock. It IS a life or death situation.
As I have begun to unearth the fractured selves of my psyche I have found many parts separated because of abuse: an inner-scapegoater, inner-negator, severe inner-critic, and inner-saboteur. I have developed a counter-strategy to these parts when they arise with a healthy, loving but tough inner coach that assists in positively guiding these parts when they are triggered with encouraging self-talk, loving attention, and sometimes coach-like strictness when needed. This is not easy work – to heal from such things – to break through and find ways to love ourselves back to integration and wholeness. Some days feel endless and as if the work will take lifetimes. It is exhausting. It takes courage, bravery, and continuing to revere the self enough to keep trying and showing up every day, and with every trigger that arises.
As part of my complex trauma, being scapegoated has been one of the hardest to understand and deal with. It began so early in my life that it is oftentimes difficult to pin down or make sense of it – when I know full well I can’t make sense of it. Yet, for much of my life, I knew logically this abuse wasn’t my fault but couldn’t feel that truth. I resonated so much with the movie “Good Will Hunting” when at the end Robin William’s character is toe to toe with Matt Damon’s character saying over and over again that “it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.” Matt Damon’s character understands it logically but can’t feel it initially, and at some point, the truth sinks in fully, he understands that none of what happened to him in the past was his fault, and he breaks down in tears. I remember sitting in that space knowing that pain but not being able to feel the truth or the freedom from the past yet. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get to that full acceptance, and I was heartbroken because I wanted that knowledge so badly. Understanding scapegoating and how my child’s mind broke into a part to survive and deal with this abuse was what finally released me and allowed me to know deep in my heart and soul that it was not my fault – none of it was my fault – none of the abuse, trauma, blame, shame, neglect or rejection was my fault. The release and freedom I felt when I finally “got” this was a huge shift in my life.
I was over 50 when this knowing finally occurred. Much of me feels cheated and deprived of being able to live a full, healthy normal life, and the freedom to have an abundant life filled with intimacy and healthy relationships. But at this age, I give up all that I feel I was deprived of or did not have because I am not willing to carry around the anger and resentment that would try to hold me hostage, any longer. I choose to love myself now for who I am; the incredible, powerful, courageous, intelligent, fearless, amazing woman that I am right now, at this moment. I can look back and see what an extraordinary warrior I was for truth, hope, and love, and how I survived for so long. If it were not for my very close friends growing up, and my paternal grandmother, and great-aunt I would not have faired so well. I am forever grateful for each of them – they loved me unconditionally, and still do.
In my opinion, there is not enough said about ending generational trauma, and as part of my healing, I feel that my life’s burden and purpose is to heal and stop the abuse. It goes no further – it stops here. The next phase for me is to educate and share with others who find themselves overwhelmed and confused by complex trauma, and abuse, and bear witness to those who have also been scapegoated, terrorized, and bullied by their own families.
Never underestimate a cycle breaker. Not only did they experience years of generational trauma, but they stood in the face of the trauma and fought to say “this ends with me.” This is brave. This is powerful. This comes at a significant cost. Never underestimate a cycle breaker.
There is a way through to healing, to living and thriving instead of just surviving. Many hear you, understand, can help you, and know what you’re going through and are dealing with. Please reach out, and ask for help. You are the brave soul who is here to heal and add another light for those that need the beacon of truth to guide them out of their darkness. We can come together and join hands in a shared approach to heal and love ourselves, and each other.
Sunny Lynn, OMC is a spiritual counselor, writer, poet, photographer, meditator, and nature lover on a mission of transmuting complex trauma through self-love, healing, and bringing balm to hearts everywhere. She has a blog and podcast – HeartBalm at heartbalm.substack.com that speaks on the topic of self-care and self-love, mindfulness and healing while living with CPTSD.