Tag Archives: Child abuse

Article: How Narcissistic Parents Scapegoat Their Children

The following article was written by Peg Streep and posted here:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-support/201711/how-narcissistic-parents-scapegoat-their-children

We think about familial bonds between and among parents and their children as being forged by caring, love, support, and shared experiences: frolicking in the snow or going to the beach, roasting marshmallows, holidays and celebrations, etc. And, yes, there are families whose old photo albums and newer Instagram accounts look just like that — potential subjects for a contemporary Norman Rockwell and the stuff that television commercials are made of. In dysfunctional families, though, bonds are formed differently and a lot less prettily. This is especially true when a narcissistic, combative, or controlling mother is at the helm of the family ship. That brings us to the scapegoated child.

Scapegoating: the glue that holds a family together

In ancient tribal societies, a goat — yes, that’s where the term comes from — was chosen to represent the group’s collective sins to appease an angry deity. By casting the animal out, the tribe symbolically guaranteed itself a clean slate going forward. Scapegoating appears in most, if not all, groups — from entire nations to towns to organizations to families — in times of turmoil. Naming a scapegoat and blaming him/her/them for the crisis at hand facilitates not just a sense of unity (us versus them), but also in authoritarian societies provides a go-to explanation for societal problems.

This process happens in families as well, and it can be driven by both conscious and unconscious motives. Becoming the scapegoat can be a temporary role (and family members may rotate in and out of it) or a permanent one. Let’s look at the temporary role first and its effects on family interactions.

Taking turns being the fall guy

The rotating scapegoat role can become institutionalized in a family with a controlling mother. This mother leaves little to chance; she’s a perfectionist who believes that there’s a “right” and a “wrong” way of doing things, and she wants everything “just so.” When things don’t go as planned or as she imagined them taking place, she both needs a reason for what she considers a disaster and a person to blame it on, other than herself. Controlling mothers rarely concede that it’s their mistake that prompted whatever it is she’s calling a disaster. So when the dog gets out and digs up the neighbor’s garden, it’s going to be Aidan or Leann who takes the fall for not latching the door, and that will prompt either or both children to tattle on each other. Controlling people want there to be a reason bad things happen and someone to pin it on. Let’s say the family car gets vandalized in the driveway. A reasonably well-adjusted person is irritated, but figures this was the work of random thugs. Not so the controller, who discovers that when Nancy came home, she didn’t leave the porch light on. Voila! She’s an instant scapegoat as the parent focuses on the cover of darkness without which the thugs wouldn’t have acted. Yes, the vandalism becomes Nancy’s “fault” in this particular household.

Knowing that someone is going to have to bear the blame, regardless of the circumstances, sets siblings against each other, working hard to stay in Mom’s good graces. As part of their strategy to duck and cover, they participate in the blame game.

     “My whole childhood was like navigating a minefield, making sure that I didn’t get on her wrong side. Mornings were torture, because if we were late getting to school, there had to be a fall guy. My brother made sure that he never took the heat and always was quick to make sure either I was responsible or my sister. It’s no different as an adult. Same deal. It’s her way or the highway. I have no relationship to either of my siblings to speak of.”

A combative mother, too, often relies on the revolving scapegoat not just to maintain control over the children, but also to reassure herself that she’s doing a great job. She doesn’t see herself as a bully, but as someone with authority and agency, who’s determined that her kids toe the line she’s drawn.

The pattern is much more scarring to individual development when being the scapegoat is permanent. That is often the hallmark of the mother high in narcissistic traits who loves playing games and favorites to keep herself at the center of attention.

The designated scapegoat

In an interesting article, Gary Gemmill points out that assigning a child the role of the scapegoat allows all the other members of the family to think of themselves as emotionally healthier and more stable than they actually are, since they’re not required to take responsibility for their behaviors or actions. The one thorn in the family’s side (so the mother maintains) is the presence of the scapegoat, and if he or she could be “fixed” or “made to act better,” then life would be perfect.

The permanent scapegoat permits the narcissistic mother to make sense of family dynamics and the things that displease her without ever blemishing her own role as a “perfect” mother, or feeling the need for any introspection or action. She has a ready-made explanation for fractiousness or any other deviation from what she expects her family to look like. Similarly, the attention of the other children in the family is directed away from how the mother acts and, instead, is focused on the one person who’s “messing it all up.”

While the underlying motivation for scapegoating may not be consciously perceived by the mother who’s instigating it — she doesn’t recognize it as a tactic for maintaining the image of a perfect façade and keeping dysfunction masked — bullying and targeting the scapegoat is consciously maintained. With a narcissistic mother, it often becomes a team sport with the other children following her lead. In this way, the scapegoat becomes a part of the family’s mythology — the stories the members tell about how the family works, both in childhood and in adulthood — which is firmly established as “truth.” Like a Hollywood Western, there are white hats and black hats, good kids and a bad one or two, and the family scripts are utterly predictable.

The presence of a designated scapegoat effectively prevents any kind of open dialogue about the mother’s behavior or how the family interacts. The scapegoat facilitates the mother’s vision and, so, keeps her above reproach.

While it seems counter-intuitive, it’s not just the scapegoat who’s affected by the dynamic.

How the scapegoat is affected

How detrimental the scapegoat role is to a daughter’s development depends, in part, on her personality and how aware she is of the dynamic, either at a young age or as she matures. One daughter confided that she understood what was going on by the age of seven or eight: “My mother made no effort at being at all even-handed; she favored my older sister who could do no wrong, and she blamed me constantly for not being good enough. The unfairness of it all rankled me, and I actively looked for outside positive feedback to offset what was going on at home. My father also didn’t join in on the bullying, so that helped.” But another daughter, now 46, describes how she went down for the count: “I honestly believed every word my mother and siblings said about me until I went into therapy at a friend’s suggestion when I was 30. I blamed myself for everything and couldn’t take credit or feel pride in anything. When something good happened, I thought it was a fluke. When someone liked me, I doubted it. When something went wrong, I knew I’d made it happen because I was flawed and deficient.”

Almost all scapegoated children develop a thick hide emotionally and are prone to self-armoring, even when they’re conscious of how they’re being bullied and mistreated and how unfair it is. Being robbed of a sense of belonging in their family of origin leaves a real mark, and may dog them into adulthood. They can become high achievers, on the one hand, actively working to disprove their mothers’ vision of them, or they may have so internalized the negative messages about themselves that they set their sights low, avoid failure at all costs, and have problems both setting and accomplishing their own goals. There’s no question that significant emotional and psychological wounds are sustained.

Yet, in all of this, there is indeed a silver lining. Of all the children growing up with a narcissistic mother, it is the scapegoated child who’s more likely to come to terms with and recognize the toxic patterns of this relationship — those displayed by her mother and other family members. She’s more likely to seek help healing from these patterns and their effects than her siblings, who have bought into the family story, lock, stock, and barrel. She is often the only child in the family who has a shot at being able to have healthy and sustaining relationships once she’s sought help for herself.

The effect of scapegoating on the other child or children

Children of mothers high in narcissistic traits remain planets in orbit, circling the mother sun; even with one child scapegoated, the mother still plays favorites among the others, doling out what passes for love depending on how well the individual child reflects on her. Because the narcissistic mother sees her children as extensions of herself (except for the rejected scapegoat), the status of each child may change at various points in time. There’s usually a “trophy” child, also referred to as “golden,” who fulfills the mother’s expectations perfectly, and is often just like her and is high in narcissistic traits. It’s a world governed by external achievements, how good you look to other people (including your mother), and not at all about your character, empathy, or inner self.

The trophy child knows nothing about introspection and less about his true self. He sees love as transactional (“You do well for me, and you have earned my love”) and is well aware that it’s conditional. He’s likely to carry that mental model into all of his adult relationships, since he’s disinclined to look past what the family mythologies tell him. He’s utterly clueless about how he’s been affected by his narcissistic mother and has deficits in empathy and emotional regulation because he’s learned to go along to get along. It’s not a formula for happiness.

The ongoing division and dysfunction

Not to mix up our barnyard metaphors, but once they’ve achieved adulthood and left home, scapegoats grow up to be the black sheep of the family. What efforts they make to try to dislodge the family mythologies will be met with vehement denial and reprisal; they move from justifying the family dynamic as scapegoated children to unifying the other family members by challenging their truth as black sheep. What happens usually is a hardening and solidification of the party line (“She was always crazy, even as a child”; “No one could ever deal with her. She was a liar given to fantasy“; “The most ungrateful human being you’ve ever met”; “She never wanted to be part of the family to begin with”). Additionally, the family isn’t likely to go quietly and ignore the threat; they will often mount a smear campaign and use other tactics to discredit the adult black sheep. Often, she’s left with no choice but to go no-contact with all of them.

But, as I’ve learned from my readers, with support and help, these neglected and set-upon children will ultimately bloom, firmly rooted in a life of their own making.

Seth Romeo Singleton

To Envy Those Who Grieve

I went to a funeral a short time ago.  While nearly all funerals are sad, this one was particularly heartbreaking, as the deceased had passed away suddenly, unexpectedly, and at a relatively young age.  A mother, still in the prime of middle age, was taken without warning.   A large and loving family had gathered from all over the United States to grieve the passing of a woman that they all had fond memories of.  Although I didn’t know the woman at all, it was obvious that she would be missed by a great many people.

While I sat and watched the family pour out their grief during the funeral, and then later the burial, a strange emotion came over me.  It was an emotion I would have never expected to feel at a funeral, and it took me some time to identify it.  It was envy.  I felt envious of the family that had gathered to mourn the loss of someone they loved so much.  I felt ashamed of this emotion at first, and I tried to bury it.  I was there to support someone who had lost a close family member, this was not the time to be focused on myself.  But later on, once I was alone, I began to reflect on what I had felt, and more importantly, why.

I obviously didn’t envy the family for losing a loved one.  I have many people in my life whom I love dearly, and I would not want to lose any of them.  I have had loved ones die, and I certainly did not want that to happen to again.  What I envied was not their grief, but rather that they were able to express it.  My sons are gone.  Not dead, but just… gone.   They are gone from my life, and the lives of my family.  When my wife filed false allegations against me, and took my children from me, it was emotionally devastating.  It was a horrible feeling, a great loss, and it was very painful, but it didn’t feel like death, with its shock and finality and hopelessness – at least, not at first.

Unlike with death, there were moments of brief hope.  For five long years, every event was a chance at getting my sons back into my life.  Every time I went to court, I believed the judge would hear my story, and award me time with my children.  When I was finally awarded visitation, I believed I would see them again.  When my wife hit me with her car, I thought for sure she would be charged, and I would be able to hug my kids.  When my wife burned down her house, and the arson report concluded that she had done it, I thought surely something would change.  When my daughter was taken from my wife by Child Protective Services, and I spent nearly a year EARNING her back from foster care, I believed that the authorities would force my wife to reunite both of us with the boys.  But each and every time I was disappointed.  And slowly, creeping up more and more each day, the feeling that they were dead formed like a malignant tumor, growing inside my heart.

Now, it feels like my sons are dead.  I know that they are not, but they have been removed from my life as surely as if they were placed in wooden boxes and lowered into the ground.  No voices, no pictures, no word of what they doing has come my way.  I don’t even know what they look like today.  I know from letters that were sent to the judge, and from what my daughter has told me, that they hate me.  They believe I am a terrible person, and that they want nothing to do with me.  This is all so different from the relationship we had before.  I was once their hero, their confidant, their champion – I was their father.  The last time I saw Aiden he was sick, but he insisted on spending time with me, even though he felt awful.  The last time I saw Seth, I held him while he cried in my arms, as I tried to console his fears about his parents splitting up.  Now, in their minds, I am dangerous, a cancer – someone to avoid at all costs.  Such has my wife poisoned their minds and hearts against me.

Everything I knew about my sons is gone.  Our relationship no longer exists.  The children they once were no longer exist.  It has been five years now – they are both approaching 15 years of age, well into their teens.  To me, they are still nine years old, frozen in my mind at the age I last saw them.  But the children I knew have grown up, and every connection I had with them has been severed.  Even if we were reunited tomorrow, nothing that we once had has been preserved – we would have to start our relationship from scratch.  I have lost my sons.

Throughout history, our society has developed ways of dealing with grief.  We have a funeral for the deceased.  We tell stories of fond memories with them. We look at photographs of the ones we’ve lost, and we remember the joy they brought to our lives.  We pour out our grief, and those around us acknowledge the loss, and they comfort us.  Then, as the final gesture, we lower a casket into the ground, or present an urn of ashes to the family.  The survivors go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.  And often there is a stone at the final resting place, a marker of the one who has been removed from our lives.  I will see none of that.

I will not get to hear others laugh telling stories of my sons, or cry over how much they will be missed.  I will not be able to gather my family together in mourning, and watch a collage of photographs showing their lives.  I will not see a casket lowered into the ground, or hold an urn, as a tangible reminder that my sons are gone.  I will never allow myself to fully reach acceptance, because no matter how distant and dim hope becomes, it is always there, taunting me, just out of my reach.  Instead of bringing comfort, that hope has become a hand in the graveyard, reaching up from the ground and grasping my ankle, holding me there.  There is no plaque in the ground, no marble headstone, nothing to indicate the day my sons were taken from me.  My great loss is invisible and unacknowledged.

  My sons are gone, and I must envy those who grieve.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is an uncomfortable reality, a social taboo. As such, it is the least talked about yet most common form of abuse. It is insidious and subjective in nature….Read more here: Emotional Abuse

Here is a list of some of the behaviors that constitute emotional abuse of children.  I hope my boys take a good hard look at this list, and maybe pinpoint some of the treatment that they have experienced, or that they’ve seen their sister subjected to:

– harsh criticism, belittling, labeling
– name-calling
– yelling, screaming or swearing at children
– humiliation or demeaning jokes
– shunning the child from the family (or parts of the family)
– locking kids out of the home to discipline or punish
– denying medical or health care, and safe, clean environments
– unpredictable, unreasonable or extreme reactions
– hostility among family members
– inconsistent or unreasonable demands placed on a child
– ridiculing or humiliating a child in front of others
– threatening to reveal personal or embarrassing information
– leaving a child alone or unattended for long periods of time
– not permitting a child to interact with other children or maintain friendships
– keeping a child from appropriate social and emotional stimulation
– requiring a child stay indoors/in their room or away from peers
– keeping a child from playing with friends and activities s/he enjoys
– not permitting a child to participate in social activities, parties or group/family events
– excessive or extreme punishment for typical childhood behaviors
– encouraging a child to reject friends or social contact/invitations
– encouraging or rewarding unethical or illegal behavior (stealing, cheating, lying, bullying)
– allowing or encouraging children to engage in behavior that is harmful to them or others.
– having expectations beyond the developmental stage of the child
– using blame, shame, judgment or guilt to condemn child for behavior of others
– unreasonable expectations to perform chores or household duties

Characteristics of Emotionally Abusive Mothers

http://www.wikihow.com/Deal-With-Emotional-Abuse-from-Your-Parents-(for-Adolescents)