Dysfunctional families are not the exception, they are the rule.
You may or may not be the person who finds their family an impossible love. You love them you just can’t take the rejection and pain of loving them. Maybe that pain is so bad or they’ve made you feel so alienated for so long you’ve opted for carrying their guilt just to keep them around. Or maybe, by being so outnumbered, you’ve convinced yourself it surely must all be you. Maybe you’ve figured them out or maybe you’ve spent years trying and regardless of those honest efforts you cannot come to any epiphany about what it is, about ‘you,’ that deserves such “hate.”
Been there, seen that, done that.
I haven’t blogged much about my experiences in this paradox, except around its edges, because the subject was so emotionally unbearable; because I hadn’t made sense of it yet (though, without realizing, truly I had); because no matter how honestly I tried to find that ‘awful thing’ inside of me that so merited my family’s disdain, I could not find it. That incessant coming-up-empty search, alone, was a huge indicator that what was going on was on a much larger scale than me.
The immeasurable pain of my family experiences is exactly what led to developing this WordPress blog, hoping to find answers through writing. But how could I hope to do that when even writing about those complexities felt so impossible? When I unknowingly did stumble on its truth (above link), I bore tremendous guilt for recognizing it for what it was; for that truth being the only thing that did make sense regardless how I wanted to reject the sense it did make. Surely I had to be wrong. I wasn’t.
Every time I re-learn how important it is to listen to my gut instincts yet another lesson reminds me of just how much I push those away. For some reason I keep wanting to give more benefit-of-doubt to others than they deserve and I keep failing myself in doing that. I suppose subconsciously it’s a mechanism that tries to go around the pain rather than transcending though it (which is the only healthy way of dealing with pain). I was so ashamed of myself for believing so poorly of my family that I wouldn’t even link that revealing old post (The Funeral) to others. It was such an intense pain that for six-months after posting it I couldn’t even try to write here again.
Still unconvinced of my own understandings, my solution was to start counseling and every time I went to an appointment I reminded him first thing of my reason for being there: “I want to understand why my family hates me. I don’t care how uncomfortable those realities are. I have to understand this – I have to know what it is about me that is so horrible.” I was the common denominator in all of that family hate so it had to be ‘me.’
Well, not so fast … .
Now I understand Family Scapegoating. I presume when this linked dialogue opens he’s addressing those who partake in it rather than subjects of it, because there was not one darned thing in what he said that was ‘uncomfortable’ for me, as he’d forewarned. Quite the opposite. It was 100% affirmation & validation of exactly what I’d come to terms with myself but refused to give myself credit for – to give my family credit for – which is why I am only now able to openly address it.
The link doesn’t differentiate between parent or sibling Scapegoating so I assume both are a possibility. I relate to it strictly in terms of four siblings. It seems logical to me that the more siblings there are in a family the better chance of one being made the subject of it. In my experience, as well, Scapegoating is passed-on to the next generation, wherein, by mere virtue of such vociferous promulgations, it self-validates.
I’d not heard of this term until now but apparently it is a soundly-acknowledged psychological foundation of behavior in most if not all families. It doesn’t mean families don’t love you. It just means they’re dysfunctional, which my counselor tried to tell me with less convincing clarity. If I had to make a choice of whether to be like them, as individuals, or to be all that is ‘me,’ I would definitely pick my personal integrity over theirs. And that is the very strength of character that one’s family most disdains.
Scapegoating is usually directed at the more sensitive, creative and successful family member. I perceive it as a potentially subconscious reaction in comforting oneself that others in the family need to do to make themselves feel better. They may not realize they are doing it (and some may well know they are), but it is no direct reflection on their love for you. It’s a protective reaction to their own feelings of inadequacy.
Scapegoating is when others find personal comforts by ganging-up on another because that one’s successes or strengths make the others feel uncomfortable. They will project their inadequacies on the one to ease themselves and, as the sayings go, “misery loves company” and “there’s strength in numbers.” Your ability to sustain a stronger character than what they perceive of themselves is actually what they do hate. The Scapegoat links (above & below) explain it much better, but I most certainly know and sympathize with the agonizing personal experiences of living it.
Your family can love you and still indulge this gang-style behavior. You’ve been selected – you’re it – because that’s what they need and, for what are actually good reasons about yourself, you’re the most likely prospect. There’s nothing you can do to change the dynamic without fundamentally changing your presence in it. How you go about doing that probably depends on how reliant you allow yourself to be on family. Maybe it’s worth it to endure where they’ve positioned you; or maybe it isn’t and you need to remove yourself from the toxicity all together.
Perhaps later in life than should be and at a particularly (the most) vulnerable juncture of mine, family Scapegoating slammed me to the ground so hard and with such piling-on that for sake of sanity I was forced to confront it – to transcend it. I’d known of its existence from a small child, in terms of it ‘being there.’ Until extreme vulnerability & insecurity of late-life divorce and carrying overwhelming burdens arising from those circumstances, I hadn’t had to face my family’s Scapegoating with any frequency and I could always return to the sanctity of my own living when it got too much to bear. Not so then – I had no sanctity – they were my only sanctity. How convenient for them.
When I most needed the support of family, when I was the most reliant on it, I foolishly believed that if ever there was a time when they would be supportive, surely it would be then. Only by adding unbearable pain to what was already unbearable pain, did I have to accept what was happening was in fact a viciously-behaving family vying for stronger positions within an already carved hierarchy that did not include me – that never had included me.
Deliberately-imposed cruelties by one then another and another were unimaginable on top of the loss of self & home already suffered. One coming on the heels of another was maddening. I spent days, weeks, months into years, journaling and journaling and journaling, searching my soul for what made me so unwanted. No matter how deep I dove, how honestly I looked at myself, the answer always came up the same: My heart was good and there was no logical reason for it – no logical reason that had anything to do with ‘me,’ but were resentments of me for being the survivor I, by nature, am.
The final straw came with my Father’s dying. Family made it so recognizable then that the mere blatancy of their behaviors gave me the strength & purpose needed to deal with it in the only way that did make sense: To walk away on my own terms. I had to remove myself from their dynamic and remove them from mine. It had come down to emotional survival. With my absence since not providing new fodder, much as not feeding fuel to a fire, I’ve wondered how long their stale misgivings of me could smolder before needing to turn among themselves for their next “weakest link” rekindling.
If you’re the subject of Family Scapegoating, take a few moments to understand it. It’ll not only save your sanity, it’ll save your heart. You can still love your family and they’ll still love you in their own ways, but sometimes that has to be from afar.
In conjunction with WordPress Daily Prompt, “Survival.”