This article describes very clearly what it is like to be the family scapegoat in a toxic and abusive family dynamic.
This is a form of emotional abuse. Not only does it involve gas lighting where your experience of reality is denied and twisted, but it also can include collusion from all the family members. While they may not be as active at scapegoating, if they choose to be convinced and don’t take the time to reflect on what is really happening they are colluding with it.
How hard though is it for the person set up as the scapegoat to recover? The sad truth is very hard and this may take a lot of work and self-reflection. When these behaviour patterns get set into us in childhood we can take a lifetime to undo them.
If any of the points are resonating with you though, don’t give up hope. Because while it is hard work to recover, its worth it to find your authentic self and what you are truly capable of.
I come back to forms of emotional abuse again and again as I believe it is the least understood and acknowledged form of abuse.
Emotional abuse exists in all other forms of abuse, sexual, physical and neglect but it also occurs without these other signs and that is why it is so hard to recognise from the outside.
Even the victims may not realise what has happened to them, especially when it occurred in childhood. It can take years to come to terms with and recognise the relationship between the emotional abuse and low self-esteem, depression and anxiety that the adult who was emotionally abused in childhood may experience.
Low self-esteem involve being made to feel that the victim isn’t as important as everyone else, that their needs don’t count. Their abuser’s needs are put before their own and it may be done so subtly they don’t even know it has happened. It’s hard enough to realise it is happening as an adult, much more in a child.
The child victim may be very helpful and easy to deal with, after all they have already been taught their needs are less important than others. This is why they so often get missed. As they grow up, they may be sensitive to what they see as selfish behaviour in others. After all, they never put themselves first, how selfish that other people do so. This view can be a symptom of the abuse they don’t even realise they have suffered and they can be very judgemental of other people because of it.
They have been conditioned to the fact that they shouldn’t put themselves and their needs first. But really, we all have to do that. Even parents who are doing all they can for their children can’t be totally selfless all the time. After all, if they don’t look after themselves then what impact can that have?
Emotional abusers expect others to put them first and they have an array of tools to manipulate, shame and bully their victims into making this happen.
It is not a personality flaw to put yourself first, it doesn’t make you bad or selfish. It is part of self-care. What is damaging and abusive is to expect others to put you first as well and to be resentful and coercive when it doesn’t happen.
Below is a reminder of the scale of violence between intimate partners. This is an American organisation so the overall totals reflect that countries population but there is no reason to believe that the same ratio’s don’t apply in the UK. The EU wide survey published in 2014 documents one in three women (33 %) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since she was 15 years old.
This article describes really well what happens with imposter syndrome.
In my experience it is very linked to emotional abuse; not just from parents and guardians but also siblings.
Siblings who resent the attention that another sibling gets can cause great damage with their jealously. When you end up feeling insecure and paranoid because of doing well at something it doesn’t help you grow into a confident and secure adult.
Gas lighting takes away a persons ability to trust in reality and they can end up blaming themselves for the appalling behaviour of another person.
“If I was better/smarter/slimmer/kinder/quieter/cleverer/etc then they wouldn’t be so upset and frustrated with me”.
Other people can get pulled into it as well and can see the victim in the way the perpetrators wants them to so they miss the abuse that is happening.
This isn’t limited to gender roles either, despite the most common examples being reported as men abusing women. It also isn’t limited to partners; its a form of abuse that can occur with any type of relationship. Family, friends, work. I have worked with sibling abuse in this form and also adults who were raised by parents who did this.
It takes the victim time and space to trust their own perceptions again; to stop self blaming. They may never heal completely, but it is possible to bring about a lot of change.
I have found this incredibly moving piece on being the parent of a perpetrator and survivor of sibling abuse.
What is most distressing is the judgement the parents are experiencing and the lack of support and action by authorities. When will people take this abuse seriously? Why should the victims horrendous experiences be dismissed in this way because of the fact her abuser was her sister. As long as this keeps being swept under the carpet in this way nothing will change to tackle this dangerous form of abuse.
I come back to gas lighting a lot as it is a form of emotional abuse I feel people need to be more aware of.
There are two things in this post that particularly strike me.
1 – being told how you feel. I wonder if people notice how common this is in everyday conversation, not ones that are necessarily deliberately manipulative. For example someone is telling an experience to a friend and will be answer with “you must feel..” or “you will be feeling…”. The more aware of it the more I notice it, both inside and outside my counselling room. What is it that makes us want to define someone else’s feelings rather than give them space to share them? Is it because listening might be too painful? Does this type of interaction which is incredibly common add to the lack of awareness of gas lighting and other forms of emotional abuse?
2 – feeling that being sensitive makes you unlovable. When did being sensitive become a weakness or indeed a personality flaw? Why is this un-acceptable in society? Sensitivity to me is about being in touch with your feelings and experiencing them all, whether painful or not. Yet admitting to feeling pain, hurt or upset is deemed wrong. It should all be swept under the carpet. I see a lot of damage caused by this where clients have to fit a mould and try and be something they aren’t to meet approval from others.
I have written about gas lighting before. It doesn’t always happen within romantic relationships, its also common within families and even friendship groups. This powerful article describes what its like.