The Scapegoat’s Narrow Role

There is an impulse in a scapegoat to plead for better treatment from their family, to entreat them to reason out their behaviour.  Much of the arguments I had with my mother when I was a teenager was in doing this, so they really weren’t much of arguments, really.  They were my mother mistreating me and me trying to get her to see that what she was doing was hurtful, that her characterization of me was incorrect, etc.  What a useless exercise that was.

I left my teens and early 20’s knowing there wasn’t ever going to be any justice or vindication for me there.  The only thing I could hope for was that she would begin to see me differently on her own, to finally have some empathy and a wish to have a normal relationship with me that many mothers have with their daughters.

I waited for decades for that to happen.  I already knew not to argue with her but I’ve also just realized finally that there is also no hope in being seen as a full person in my own right.

I’ve tried the exercise lately of how she must see me, how any narcissists or Cluster B mother would see the scapegoat daughter.  It’s hard to do because I have to imagine only seeing someone as the role that’s already been assigned to them, and, I think, distress if they seem to be deviating out of that role.

With my mother it seems she has two tools to get me back into that role in her head – she will either explode in anger in order to, I suppose, discipline me back into the image she needs me in or through ignoring me.  The ignoring I’m speaking of is hard to explain, but what it looks like is that I’ll say something or bring up a subject and she will continue what she’s doing with her head down, her eyes will sort of gloss over, and she won’t answer and act as if what I said didn’t happen or not of any consequence.  It’s almost as if her brain kind of fizzes out momentarily.

I should mention that the subjects in this example are not confrontational things.  They are things where my humanity shows up, like (and this is a completely random example), “There were some doves nesting in the neighbour’s yard and I was so happy to see there is a nest of doves in my yard this year, too.”  That is enough to make her go quiet and ignore me as I expressed feelings and a thought, it’s like she doesn’t know what to say because she doesn’t care what I think or feel, no matter the subject.  She will only respond when I say something about what we’re doing or what’s right in front of us.  Pragmatic things.

I am her bucket to deposit all her bad feelings into, or I am to remain neutral and kept at bay.  That’s my role.  I am to show up for family events but not as a whole real person.  I could best describe it as she wants the outer shell to show up for appearance’s sake but not the inner part to show up.  Ever.  Never.

It’s insulting every single time it happens.  I accepted it as the best I was going to get out of her as it’s always better than when she explodes into a controlling rage.  I don’t even want her best anymore if this is the most she’ll ever offer.

But, yeah, it’s an interesting exercise to see how to view a person with such a narrow role for them.  I think this is the black-and-white thing that is spoken of in mental health circles.  My mother has to see me as all black as I’m where she put all her bad feelings into when I was a child and teenager.

People may say that scapegoats (especially if they have BPD) tend to black-or-white people but my experience is that it’s usually the abuser that has done this.  I don’t see myself as a scapegoat doing this as I’ve always been keen to see all the nuances of people as part of my hypervigilance.  I may have had alarm bells that told me to stay away from someone, regardless of any good traits they had.  If I felt them to be a danger then their good traits were of no use to me anyway.  That’s not black-and-whiting as I was aware of the possibility of their having good traits, I just didn’t need to take them into account when removing myself from them.  The hypervigilance, on the other hand, IS a trait of a scapegoat.

Just food for my thoughts.


21 thoughts on “The Scapegoat’s Narrow Role

  1. Its great that you can articulate all of this. The best ever book I read on the Scapegoat is called the Scapegoat Complex by a Jungian Analyst, Sylvia Bretton Perrera. She explains how the scapegoat carries certain qualities the scapegoaters are not related to in themselves. Its difficult for a child to understand this as they see the parent as omnipotent and if they aren’t responding in a kind or loving way the child thinks it is about them, rather than a lack in the parent.
    It may be giftedness and intelligence and an emotional depth, too, that the scapegoat carries (most often is) or a connection to primal emotional depths that the family is too shallow to relate to..
    Its only natural to develop hyper-vigilance if you were hurt or misunderstood and then we carry that fear into every single relationship, especially if we have been hurt deeply. Its a lot of work to separate out who you truly are from them and know the gifts you have are valuable and precious but just could not be recognised in the family.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Those are great thoughts.

      I do believe that scapegoats may tend to be ‘deeper’ and more complex than many in their nuclear family. I think this is part of the giftedness you spoke of. It develops, I believe, from the child needing to go within to navigate the abuse and so ends up with a complex inner life. The more intelligent the child, the more labrynth-like the mind would have become in by their constant self-protective need to analyze their situation.

      This removes them even further from the abuser/s in the family because by the time the scapegoats are teenagers they have the ability to speak and think in a depth that the abuser cannot. Therefore, the scapegoat, in the abuser’s mind, is growing to show herself as ‘odd’, a distinct person who is obviously not fitting in with the family culture. They are now free to further scapegoat the child as now they have ongoing proof that there was something wrong with them all along, when it really was because of the abuse in the first place.

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      • Yes and they are invested in denying the abuse and so they try to deflect and blame the scapegoat for what really arose due to their own lack of ability to have empathy and depth.
        It is only we who can liberate ourselves from this one way mirror.
        And healing comes as the scapegoat realises the scapegoaters are limited and inherently flawed in their ability to show any empathy.
        Attempts to elicit it end in further trauma until the penny finally drops.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I also believe that healing also requires we drop the role of victim and stop showing up to be revictimised, which happens when we look to them for affirmation of our inner gold and get upset at them for not giving it. This doesn’t mean denying valid hurt but not unconsciously getting hooked into the old pattern.

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          • Yes, although that can be a complicated process when it’s due to childhood trauma as the abuse has wired the brain in a manner that it’s not only about making the decision but also getting the brain to re-wire. I think this is why childhood trauma isn’t fully confronted until in the 40s, 50s or 60s. All the different phases in adulthood experienced with the family to finally get there were part of the re-wiring process needed to finally one day give the scapegoat a good separate sense of self away from them.

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          • That is why corrective relationships are very important as we need to undo old patterning. And just telling our story again and again in such a way as we can start to make sense and see blind spots also helps the brain make reconnections and understand the faulty or mistaken beliefs and programmes lodged into us in childhood, adolescence and even young adult hood.

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        • This is very true. The rejection of the scapegoat all over again when they become a natural product of their abuse. And a teenage scapegoat will also begin to attempt to ‘negotiate’ the craziness with the abusive parent, creating whole new ways for the parent to abuse their child (gaslighting, telling them directly that they constantly fail to interpret events right, etc.)

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      • Sometimes not fitting in is the greatest blessing in life, because if you fit into that, what kind of person would you be? I’m going to rethink the pain of not fitting in as a good thing when the culture you don’t fit into is so very sick!

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  2. Your mother’s complete lack of a response when you make an offhand remark that reveals your inner thoughts… the example of your comment about nesting doves being ignored… I could SEE that as I read it. I could FEEL it.

    To me, such an experience is like a nightmare where you look in the mirror and nothing is there. No face, just an empty nothing. A horrible, lonely, terrifying feeling.

    Some of my traumas were very extreme. It does not get much more extreme than having your mother try to gas the whole family to death. But…. the thing that has hurt me the most in my life by far, is the kind of rejection you describe. Not being wanted, not being liked, unappreciated, scapegoated, and ignored and condemned for simply being myself. Over the long haul, these day in, day out, “little” rejections have done far more damage to my soul than the really big, but very sporadic, episodes of abuse.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Exactly! It’s the constant ongoing little rejections. I remember once mentioning in one of my earliest posts that my mother said the only reason she didn’t abort me was to spite her father (for whatever reason). I really feel like there was no more use for me after I was born. I really had no point after that, thus the “You’re here but just really don’t be here” kind of manner of relating to me.

      Big traumas a person can point to. Little traumas are made worse because of the plausible deniability. They’re crazy-making. When you’re a little older and point out the rudeness, dismissals, etc., you’re too sensitive or always seeing intentions that just aren’t there/meant, yet no explanation follows for what else it could have meant. It’s a messing of your mind.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. This is the 10000 paper cuts that makes you bleed to death. Those insidious ways of letting you know your worthlessness. Sometimes the fawning over the golden child/children while you are ignored in the corner is just part of the endless quest to destroy the scapegoat. A cousin told me recently how embarrassed she was when my mother went on and on how beautiful she was and how she wanted to pay her way to modeling school while ignoring me. She thought it was clearly meant to insult me.

    So, she’d pay the cousins way to modeling school while refusing to get my teeth fixed because that was too expensive. I could do the math about what that meant. And if I couldn’t do the math she repeatedly said (but not in front of witnesses) “If you hadn’t been born I would have had a good life”, something she didn’t say to my brother or my younger sister ever.

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    • I think that was very kind of your cousin to bring up how she felt during that to help you with that memory. It means the world for someone who had witnessed the abuse to acknowledge the cruelty and to share that they weren’t in agreement with it.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Yes, exactly! Witnesses are so important and can be life saving. It is what frustrates me about siblings that don’t stand up and say “I saw it, it was wrong” when they could. Instead they join in the abuse because they have no courage. My cousin that I lost contact with until a few years ago was so important as a witness. A witness lets you know you aren’t imagining these things, you are n’t causing them either… but she was living through a similar situation in her family. Later in life she understood what was really going on her affirmation about the little contact she had with my family meant the world to me

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          • Linda lee, thank you for taking the time to write what had happened as I’ll remember this story for a long time.

            I so understand, I think, the power of the emotions that put you in bed for two years as you probably hoped your whole life that someone could understand what you went through.. There was the grief of losing your friendly cousin who validated your perception of your mother compounded with the grief of losing the only one person in the world left who COULD validate it. Maybe you felt that now you were thrown back into a pit of emotional isolation and, as God tells us in the Bible, hope deferred makes the heart sick. (Prov 13:12)

            Even if I didn’t capture that feeling exactly, i DO know that feeling of being with someone who you feel others have already poisoned the well with when it comes to you, and then wondering if the friendliness is an act of charity. What a crummy feeling, and you described it so well.

            What a treasure that dog tag is! I love how God does these things! I’m sure He didn’t do it sooner because, unlike what the medical community says, depression is a natural and necessary stage in someone in grief or shock. God made our bodies to depress and check out so it can do some repair work in our bodies and souls, and I think He knew you had more than just the grief of your cousin to heal from. So He just let you lie there and repair and then, when it was time, He took you by the hand and helped you out of bed again.

            I am very inspired by your recounting this.

            Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: My Miracle Dog Tag: A Story of Sorrow and of Blessing – A Blog About Healing From PTSD

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