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Family Scapegoat Syndrome

Updated: Mar 26

Whilst I am struggling with my traumas recently, my sister is obsessing over a new guy. She lives her life almost untouched – though not quite fully – and I live my life in a flurry of attachment disorders, trust issues and complex PTSD. We spent the majority of our lives living under the same roof.


Family scapegoat syndrome… this may not be a term you are familiar with. I wasn’t either, until today. For years I have tried and tried to explain to people why I was the only sibling to be placed in care. That I was the one subject to most if not all of the abuse. People who don’t have experience with the care system – ‘everyday people’ so to speak – will every single time without fail serve me a look as though I am the headache of the family. In my mind I’m thinking “Yes!! Spot on! You just nailed the exact look I received on a daily basis from all members of my family!!!”. I have even had the enjoyment of this same judgement from fellow care leavers. When the vast majority of the community I personally know have been subject to their traumas due to parental drug abuse, it makes it hard getting that understanding across. Most care experienced people I know had the entirety of their siblings placed into care or were an only child. It’s hard explaining that my mother was a psycho with a plethora of mental health issues. That she tormented just the one kid. And yes, my dad was in my life (most of the time at least) but he seemed to share the psycho, just presented in different ways. My dad has a fantastic criminal record all based around assault. Thankfully social care did not see him as fit to be a parent. And off to foster care it was…!


You always expect an abusers excuse to come down to drug or alcohol misuse. Whilst I can say that for my father on the most part, the same cannot be said for my mother. I know she has her demons, life has not been easy on either side of my family. Many people don’t accept this as a sound reason for abusive behaviours. Though when it is the cause, that is where the family scapegoat often comes in.


So what is this family scapegoat syndrome I speak of? It is where one member of the family is blamed, isolated and bullied. You are blamed for every mishap that occurs. You can never do anything right thus everything is your fault. It is someone who is seen as a convenient receptacle by a member of the family who are incapable of taking responsibility for their own faults. You are isolated to a point that you do not even feel like a member of your own family. You are not invited to things like outings or birthdays. Being ignored is a daily occurrence and even if you are listened to nothing is taken in. Remember, everything is your fault so everything you say is invalid! You are bullied more than someone at school or work could ever accomplish. Through this you are subject to verbal abuse. Even if the culprit has been curled up on the sofa all day whilst you run around for them you are lazy!!! Of course you are! E v e r y t h i n g is your fault! But whilst we’re at it you’re not just lazy, you’re also stupid and useless! Why are you even here? You are labelled as the disappointment of the family. The rest of your beloved follow suit. You become the punching bag, the original abuser being the owner of a gym and your family members all willing customers. Chances are the entire family have a skewed concept of what healthy relations should look like. Gaslighting becomes a common theme that people readily accept.


For me, being the family scapegoat is something that still has an impact on me to this very day. It still rules the relationships I have with biological family. My mother was the scapegoat-er whilst I was the scapegoat-ee. She managed to brainwash everyone around her. My sister being the most vulnerable to the hypnosis she transmitted. I have even had troubles with starting this blog up. I have been writing posts for almost three weeks now, the design of my site all set up and ready to go. The only issue is my sister still does not believe I was abused. My mother too is blissfully unaware of the wrongdoings done by her own hand. It is like she has gotten so far into deflecting the blame that she could never come back. Undoubtedly my sister will read at least one of my posts at some point and she will not be happy with me to say the least.


I just got speaking to my mother again recently. We were talking about my biological father and how he had done wrong. She then came out with “It’s like when you were playing up and I had to drop you off on his doorstep and he took you straight to your friends as he couldn’t look after you...”. I honestly do not know how this sentence sounds to other people, I don’t know if you pick up those red flags right away. When you’ve grown up hearing a lot worse this sentence is awfully tame. But here lies a perfect example of that scapegoat-ism. I was around 12 years old when she started doing this. She would take me to where my father was living completely unannounced. Where he was living at the time was not his house. It was his partner’s. His partner whom he had many arguments and difficulties with. His partner that made it clear from the beginning she had her time with bringing up kids and therefore didn’t want to be around someone else’s all the time – understandable. My mother would kick me out of the car and drive off before I even made it to the front door. Why? So my father had no choice but to take me in that night. It would always be late, dark and on a weekday. It would result in my father having to take the next day off of work in an already unstable job to find me somewhere to stay and me missing yet more school. Many times I’d be interrupting an argument or even him being kicked out himself.


So why did my beloved birth parent do this? The woman that should unconditionally love you? Well of course after an entire lifetime of abuse and being said scapegoat-ee you tend to get a little traumatised and depressed. I was so low that I simply did not care for what consequence came next. So I started standing up to her. Luckily, she no longer hit me at this age. Instead it would be a face to face screaming match and when I say face to face I mean molecules apart. You know when guys get all angsty before a boxing match and their foreheads are practically touching? Yup, spitting image. This of course was all a result of her behaviours and yet I was the problem, hence why I was the one removed from the situation.


8 years later and this woman still blames a child for that situation. It was all in that ‘you’. Like I said, this is a very tame example of what it is like to be that family scapegoat. I was subject to years of these kinds of behaviours and at much worse levels. I remember missing out on my baby brother’s birthdays – still am not invited to his celebrations now! There was once when he was so young and he was coughing up blood and had to be taken to the hospital, it was like a whole family trip minus me. And speaking of family trips, there’d be plenty! Shopping trips in bigger cities, movies in cinema we were all anticipating, even recently when there was a free space on holiday. I was invited to none. Like I didn’t exist. When the step-family came in, the two older kids and dad thought they’d join in and mercilessly bully child me. These are just a very small number of the less traumatising things I suffered. Imagine this happening on a daily basis. It becomes very evident how worthless and unloved you are.


My mother had so many people on board with thinking I’m the problem I even bumped into someone that still believes it wasn’t abuse to this day. This someone is employed under social care. She saw my case notes come up on her system when I was first taken into foster care. She was never even a member of the family, she was just the parent of some kids my mother childminded for a few years. I remember in our catch up she defined the reason for me being in care as me and my mother having some ‘difficulties’. I am still struggling with this in my head, it brought back many a trauma hearing someone say that. What she did was unknowingly belittle a lifetime of child abuse. Bare in mind this woman works with vulnerable and abused children daily, she can spot the signs. Believe it or not but a person really can be that manipulative that they cloud over a professionals eyes with ease.


Always listen to the child’s story. It is in fact more common for a child to lie by covering up abuse than to lie by saying it is happening. You never know who could be a victim of family scapegoat syndrome – even you yourself could be a partial victim, someone that has fallen under that dangerous spell.

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