Transcending Family Dysfunction

Dysfunctional families are not the exception, they are the rule.family7

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.

family4The 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 … .

family5Now 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 afamily3 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.”

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13 thoughts on “Transcending Family Dysfunction

  1. In reading this post it has given me one indication of the beauty that lies within you very soul. God has created man and he has become rebellious. In saying that most of us go through life living gauged by peoples thoughts and their perspective, of who we are and our behaviors. With that said! It is abundantly clear we tend to look at our self as the problem. Thus carrying a guilt that we never should have in the first place. All of the thought and all of the pain will never change those who use others for their kicking stone. I have been in that spot countless times until I realized that no matter who I talk to or where I seek truth…… I will never be able to change another man’s heart. God has created us as beautiful and wonderful in his sight. We first must recognize that as our heritage and purpose. Until sin riddled man comes to the truth of God’s existence and what our purpose is in the grand scheme of things. There will always be those who destroy others for no other purpose than to deny their own sins. Precious lady please stop and really read what your are writing. You will see the beauty of why God created you. Re read each blog and see the beauty of a struggling soul searching for the answer which lies within your very being. You are a beautiful child of God with all the riches that can be given if just take them. Learn to forgive and learn to know that only God can change a heart. Men can give all the advice in the world but only God has the remedy. Believing in Him and His Son Jesus Christ. Just bask in the awe of who you are and how wonderfully you have been made. Stay humble and love no matter what for you are telling the story of man and his struggles. You are way to precious!!!

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    1. Tim, you are too kind for words. Thank you for your inspirations, here & long before here :). Your heart is so sincerely loving through Christ it warms the hearts of others as Christ would have of us. “When I grow up [in Christ] I want to be like you.” One thing I’ve not done in all the years I’ve ‘known’ you is learn more about what grounded your faith, how old you were, who had the most influence, what denomination you grew up in, how you manage to sustain living your faith so steadfastly … the story from beginning to end.

      I was reared in staunch humbleness of a non-instrumental Church Of Christ (not Latter Day Saints). As the denomination might imply, faith was something very intimate between you & God, not something to wear outwardly other than living & professing its principles. Coupled with their teachings being strict, it all led to an innate guilt-bearing position (though that was not the only guilt-influence, for sure). Dad took us to a church of considerable ornate flare once (similar to Catholicism), the exact “opposite end of the spectrum.” The whole while he spoke of its flamboyant icons & processes being unnecessary if not deceptively superficial, scriptures that supported that, etc.

      All of that is to say, I think it’s an integral part of my faith/upbringing (of me) to be obliged to a humbled position of guilt-bearing in giving first benefit of doubt to others – to look inside me, first, for the error of my ways. I only know that is inevitably what happens. When I refer to my “gut instincts,” I AM referring to the Holy Spirit, who so often speaks inside of me yet I continue to fail to have faith in His voice (in me). I am learning. I am giving Him considerable more attention and respect. But a lifetime of being caged in the opposite is not natural to overcome; and I am forever reminding myself there is just as much – if not more – danger in being too confident (too prideful, in Biblical speak). So I do tend to error on the side of caution.

      Writing of these things helps tremendously in coming to better terms with them, the people in them and with me & where I belong in that mix. Trust me when I say, I work very hard to keep truth at the core of personal events, to not just fall back on comfortable emotions that merely ease their pain. My whole struggle to put tough emotions into comprehensible written words & sentences is to get to the truth of me. It often is not easy. I do SO appreciate your interjections of faith and how God versus man would have us view these very same things, as it is easy to get sidetracked by the human web of digesting them without His influence. You are the angel on my shoulder who always blesses me. I love having you there :). Thank you for continuing to read & comment. You/Yours are always a welcomed pleasure.

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      1. Just remember how precious this blog is in so many ways. Precious lady God is using you in all ways. With deep love and respect I continue to read and enjoy all of your writing and the experiences that have brought you into my presence. God never makes mistakes!!!!

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  2. This is very interesting! So sorry that you had to go through that. I agree that all families are dysfunctional in the sense that no family is perfect. However, I believe the scale is rather large/long, I’ve seen plenty of friends having very good and constructive and healthy family patterns, most of the time. Then in my work with troubled families, I’ve seen the opposite of the scale, where parents abuse children so severely that they almost die… so The scale of dysfunction in my eyes ranges from almost zero to almost infinite…

    I hadn’t really thought too much about scapegoating in families until I met a true scapegoat – the sibling of my narcissist ex. Everybody in the narcissist’s family just sighed and shrugged at that sibling being a hopeless case whereas I saw many more nuances, the person in question had both many good and “bad” qualities… The rest of the family were the ones who were strange, in my eyes.
    Scapegoating and the golden child is very interesting! The narcissist in my case, was the golden child in his family of course.
    It sounds like you went through a lot of pain with the Scapegoating, but also that you have managed to come to some sort of peace with it. Good for you. 😊💜

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    1. Thank you for your compassion, Survived. It was the most painful of my life but I’ve been past it for a while, despite only now understanding what really was happening. Dad’s passing, oddly, helped because hanging-in with family in spite of this was for him, knowing how he needed to believe everyone was “one big happy family.” After he passed there wasn’t reasonable cause to subject myself to it anymore.

      The Scapegoat links provide psychological studies, doctors who’ve studied it and concise layman explanations of what was determined, which do much better at explaining it. I’m sure varying degrees are in every psychological condition and I think this is more related to a family dynamic than a ‘disorder.’ It is interesting that you viewed your narcissist’s scapegoat-ee as the more normal one. I totally understand that. As well, how your narcissist was so coddled as the golden child. In my family the sister-in-law was who egged on scapegoating, though others had their own insecurities in fueling the fires she set.

      An incident that brought my situation closest to home, though trivial of itself, was while visiting the SIL & brother. They’d laid down for midday couch-naps so I went to another room. I sat there for a couple of hours wishing my mind would turn off with sleep (ha). When I heard them stirring the first thing out of the SIL’s mouth, to the brother, was, “[your sister] sleeps more than anyone I’ve ever known!,” like something was horribly wrong with Me. That was such a gross distortion of their 2-hour naps that I couldn’t believe my ears. That’s when I unquestionably grasped the family dynamic, just not having a name for it then. There was no way I was going to spend the rest of my life arguing such petty nonsense to try to keep truth on the table; or my place in it at some level of acceptability, which would’ve been a futile exercise in any regard.

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      1. I can relate to how you have sudden insights through seemingly trivial events. Those events can often show us how absurd or unacceptable some patterns are.
        I think it is wonderful that you are writing about all this, I hope it helps even more, in cleaning out all those cobwebs from the soul and feel the light coming in. I feel that way about writing. Again, thanks for sharing, it was very interesting to hear about your family.
        Be well. 🙂

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        1. Only to add that I find writing therapeutic for two reasons: If I can make enough sense of something to form written words that describe it, then I can affirm or deny whether what I am feeling is accurate; and writing helps make sense of the pain while I am working through it. Thank you, Survived. I always appreciate you visiting and commenting.

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