Five years ago, my world split open with the truth of a family betrayal. As a child, I was the daughter to blame, insult, and punish for the problems the adults could not or did not want to handle. Growing up, I heard every name and accusation, both verbal and insinuated, from siblings and parents alike. I was an embarrassment, an idiot, a delinquent, a loser, a pain in the neck, selfish, too sensitive, dramatic, lazy, a problem child, weak, nasty, ungrateful. I ruined the family.
I was the family scapegoat.
Scapegoating* a child is more than verbal abuse, which serves as a gaslighting technique to break down the child’s self-esteem. Often accompanied by emotional neglect and physical abuse, she is the adhesive component of a dysfunctional family system so that adult accountability can be avoided. It is a role so crucial to the dysfunction that betrayals are denied, destroying the victim’s trust in her own perception. Starved for approval and normalcy, she learns to suffer for love.
Scapegoating is an invisible abuse. The mind of the victim has been derailed and she cannot see the abuse for what it is. Scapegoating is therefore difficult to detect and will last until it is confronted, often when the grown child reaches her 30s, 40s, 50s, or longer, when she finally confronts the truth of her emotional deprivations. Long-term exposure to any abuse is traumatic.
Five years have passed since truth and disillusionment set me free from the role of blind victim. I celebrate October, my birth month, as a commitment to my strength and integrity. This is my favorite month to honor and celebrate my inner child who grew up doubting that she was worthy of love. She was a champion of resilience.
Healing began when I finally saw the people entrusted to take care of me for who they really are. These past five years, I have deepened my understanding of the family cycle of trauma. Through intentional writing, I have processed my experience and expanded my self-belief from victim to warrior, and it is my obligation and my honor to share my story for those without a voice or the language to articulate their own experiences. Creating deep connections with others requires raw and courageous truths. I celebrate the resilience of humanity who possesses the strength of mind to overcome their fears and furies. Autumn is a season of transformation, and as the temperatures plummet, I celebrate the reward of fierce introspection and the truth that sets us free from the tethers of illusion. This month, I honor the courageous hearts who have not given up believing in themselves.
*Educated by Tara Westover is a beautifully written account of scapegoating.
A list of questions to ask yourself if you suspect you are the family scapegoat.
A child should never endure abuse at the hands of an adult. If you think a child is being exploited in any way, please call for help. National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
2 thoughts on “Wednesday Wisdom: Celebrate”
Thank you for this post. Two thoughts. One is that, based on your descriptions (both here and previously) the potential for PTSD seems significant. Most people associate PTSD with war but there are many sources (I’ve written about some of my experiences, of you are interested). It sounds like scapegoating could be one.
Second, I have a friend who is estranged from his siblings and his children. His father essentially wrote him out of his will. From what I know about him this makes little sense. But maybe there is more going on than I know.
Yes! Thank you for bringing up PTSD. It is a bi-product I live with, but have tried to navigate with pride. There is no shame in having mental illness if you have the right mindset: are confident enough to ask for what you need; can apologize when your behavior hurts others; ride its waves without falling into the trap of thinking each episode is catastrophic. In other words, owning it instead of it owning you. As for your friend, I don’t know the history, but if there is a pattern of diminishment and a feeling that the family is against him, and he unknowingly passed this fear on to his children, I’d suspect he has unhealed trauma as the family scapegoat.
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