In the last post on this topic, I promised to create a third post to help the scapegoated person cope with the situation, to help keep you from being scapegoated.
I have to put a note here, that I am not a psychologist. These are serious issues. If you have read this far and realize you are in a family where you are being scapegoated, it would be best for you to get help from a qualified counselor. If you are in danger, or if a family member is in danger, then that is also a signal of a need for greater help than you can get from a web site. Go get help! On the other hand, if you are an ordinary person facing some family drama or pattern, but where there is no present danger, this post may be for you.
If you are a family scapegoat in a mildly dysfunctional family (and if you are, you probably recognize yourself!), my suggestion to you is this:
“What?” you ask, “Something terrible is happening, and you tell me to do nothing about it?!”
I don’t mean do nothing to change the pattern. I mean, change the family pattern by doing nothing, instead of what you have been doing. What I am suggesting is that you have been doing something that is causing you to be cast in the role of the scapegoat. What is it that you have been doing? Whatever it is, stop that. That is what I mean by “do nothing”.
Most likely, the thing you have been doing is this: you have been the family “truth teller”. The problem is, this is not a role your family has appreciated. So, you are to stop.
Your stopping will disrupt the family pattern, and it will force change, hopefully in a positive direction. But it will not be easy for them, or for you!
Now, let’s back up. To understand this better, let’s back up to the distant past, when you were a small child.
Imagine this picture. Imagine you are a small child. Now, imagine an adult engaging in damaging behavior that affects not only you, but your whole family. It could be alcoholism, it could be child abuse, it could be something else. You know what it is.
Is this an accurate picture of something in your family background?
Imagine this small child confronting the adult. What is it that you say? Are you taking on the role for yourself of telling the truth to the adult?
If so, what to you notice the other children in the family doing, or the other parent? Do you notice that the others in the family receive the benefit of what you are doing? If they are other children, are they hiding behind you or looking you for a protection of some sort? If they are an adult, does this mean that they themselves are relieved from having to do the confronting?
In other words, as long as you are the truth-teller, as long as you are the champion, no one else has to step up to the plate and do it themselves.
This small child, the truth teller in the family, has become the spokesperson for all the other children. The family truth-teller.
So, what happens as a result?
The person in the family who does not want to hear this truth (perhaps the alcoholic, the abuser, or whatever), finds some way to scapegoat the small child. Bear in mind, this is not a conscious decision to create a scapegoat. It is a figment of the adult’s imagination that is designed to keep them from having to hear the truth.
The alcoholic parent says to the child, “I am not an alcoholic. You are an impertinent so-and-so.” The abuser says, “You made that up. You are a liar”
This sets up the scapegoat complex. The adult in the family labels the child as being the one who has the problem: impertinent, liar, irresponsible, stingy, whatever.
What do the other children perceive and hear? They hear, “Our brother or sister (the truth-teller) is a troublemaker (or whatever the label isl).”
Your siblings buy into the scapegoat theory without even realizing that they are doing so! They may actually come to believe that you are a troublemaker. Even at the same time they are standing behind you, receiving the benefit of your standing up to the adult.
Your actions as family truth-teller may have protected them to some degree. Perhaps the truth-teller was successful in stopping the drinking or the abuse to some degree. But your actions as family truth-teller also earned you the label of “troublemaker.”
Now, consider what happens to the other children in this family unit. Do they ever have to tell the truth, themselves? No! Not as long as there is a scapegoat who is willing to do the dirty work for them.
In fact, they get it both ways. They get to participate in the family story which labels you as a a troublemaker, and at the same time they also never have to speak the truth, because you always do it for them (and you take the heat for it, too)!
In scapegoating families, this story has been going on a long time. The family members who have been able to hide behind the shield of the scapegoated child (or parent) are not used to stepping up to the plate to speak the truth themselves. They may also be used to applying the same family labels to the scapegoat. Your siblings (or coworkers, whatever) may actually believe that you are a troublemaker, a liar, or stingy (whatever the scapegoat label is).
So, your siblings have you as a shield, and at the same time they get to label you as a problem. How convenient! And, as long as you are in that role, why would anyone (but you) need for anything to change?
It’s up to you to change it. So how?
I suggest that one way to step out of the scapegoat role is, to step out of the role. Do nothing. Stop creating a shield for other people to hide behind.
(1) Your silence disrupts the dysfunctional family system by taking you out of the middle. It forces other family members to step up to the plate.
(2) Your silence disrupts the dysfunctional family system by taking away the activity that created the “impertinent” label (or whatever your particular label may be).
When I say “do nothing,” I do not mean absolutely nothing. If you are in danger, by all means take steps to get yourself safe. Remove yourself from any dangerous situation.
But think twice before jumping in to someone else’s defense. Think twice about being the family truth-teller.
Before you speak, ask yourself, “Is it absolutely necessary for me to speak truth in this situation?”
Before you speak, ask yourself, “Is there anyone else who is capable of speaking the truth here?”
If no one else is speaking the truth, ask yourself, “Why is no one else speaking the truth in this situation?”
If they are not speaking the truth, ask yourself why it is that you are feeling such a compelling need to speak the truth.
Then, let go.
If you are a Christian, you may have heard the saying, “Let go and let God.” It refers to the idea that we sometimes can stop trying to control things ourselves and have faith in a higher power. In this case, when we let go of trying always ourselves to be the truth-teller, what we do is to give someone else a chance to be the truth teller.
So, the scapegoat’s job in part is to let go of the truth. Give it up a bit. Let someone else be the truth teller. Trust God to supply that need. What you are doing is giving other people a chance to do the right thing. Why hog that opportunity for yourself?!
It might be a bit bumpy at the start. It might take some time for the family “system” to realize that something has changed. Imagine if you had a roommate, but only one of you ever washed the dishes. Suppose one day, you switched roles, and you just quit washing dishes. It might take a while for your roommate to catch on. The whole sink might get full of dishes. There might be nothing left to eat on. But eventually, your roommate would probably catch on and start washing a few. The same here. It might take awhile. You are asking a family system to change the way it functions. But at least you get the immediate benefit that you aren’t washing so many dishes, and in time the family may take on more healthy division of roles.
And remember, you can’t save anyone from themselves. Each of us makes choices. Make your choice to keep yourself safe. Keep your children safe. Remove yourself from dangerous situations. If there is a real threat of violence or bodily harm, report it to the appropriate authorities. But your speaking the truth won’t save an alcoholic parent from themselves. In reality, only they can do that.
So, overall, stop jumping into the fight! Before you leap to the rescue of someone else or try to save someone from themselves, ask yourself, “Is it really necessary for me to get involved here?” Unless your own safety is involved, the answer generally speaking is, “No.”
This is going to be hard. Get support. A counselor, a friend, a coach, a teacher.
You will WANT to step back into the same old pattern. It may drive you crazy to sit by and watch and do nothing! It may drive you crazy to see that sink get full of dishes! But that may be what you have to do. Just remember, you are not the only person capable of telling the truth. Let someone else do it this time.
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