Category Archives: Dysfunctional Families

8 Dysfunctional Roles Within The Dysfunctional Family

 

 

According to Wegscheider-Cruse, Sarir and Kellogg, within dysfunctional families, each family member develops a dysfunctional role. These roles are as follows :

  • THE ENABLER
  • THE DO-ER
  • THE HERO
  • THE MASCOT
  • THE LOST CHILD / LONER
  • THE SCAPTGOAT
  • THE SAINT
  • DAD’S LITTLE PRINCESS / MOM’S LITTLE MAN

Let’s look at each of these in turn :

THE ENABLER : The enabler maintains the family status quo, irrespective of the costs, and tries to keep family conflict to a mininmum. The enabler may be motivated by fears of abandonment and / or a conviction that other members of the family cannot cope independently. S/he also tends to be in denial of the family’s problems and makes excuses for family members’ destructive behavior rather than confronting them. The enabler may be a child in the family but, more usually, is a spouse.

THE DO-ER : The do-er takes care of the family’s practical needs and is driven by unhealthy guilt and a heavy burden of responsibility. However, s/he has little energy or time to meet other requirements of family members such as their emotional needs. S/he gains self-esteem from being the one to fulfil the family’s practical needs but also feels exploited and lonely. Other family members spur him / her on to maintain his / her role via either direct or indirect means.

THE HERO : The ‘hero’ is the person who is good for the family’s public image and detracts from the dysfunction that lies at the heart of the family. S/he may have been very successful at school and may also have gone on to have an impressive career. However, his / her own mental well-being is poor as s/he carries around the knowledge that the image of the family s/he represents to wider society is deeply misleading. S/he is a driven, Type A personality, a workaholic and a perfectionist which can put him / her, eventually, at risk of developing stress-related illnesses due to the inner anxiety s/he carries around. Normally, the ‘hero’ is the oldest child.

THE MASCOT : The mascot, desperate for approval, is usually the youngest member of the family who is a kind of ‘court jester’ who provides ‘comic relief’ for the family with jokiness and light-heartedness ; however, beneath this thin veneer s/he conceals his / her own emotional pain and vulnerability  ; despite this superficial joviality when interacting with other family members, the family’s fundamental dysfunction remains unresolved.

THE LOST CHILD / LONER : The lost child / loner isolates him/herself from the family (e.g. the child who spends all his / her time in his / her bedroom) and is motivted to do so by his / her family’s need to be apart and separate from him / her. Therefore, the child’s isolation is not, at the fundamental level, his / her own personal choice and, as such, s/he feels deeply lonely. S/he is withdrawn, lacks social confidence and tends to experience relationship difficulties in later life or lives a solitary existence

THE SCAPEGOAT : The ‘scapegoat’ or ‘black sheep (usually the second oldest child) of the family’ is the one who later ‘acts out’ (usually the male acts out through violence and the female by promiscuous sex) the family’s dysfunction. S/he is the one the other family members (wrongly) blame for their dysfunction.

To learn more about this you may wish to read my prevoiusly published articles ‘The Dysfunctional Family’s Scapegoat‘ or ‘Family Systems Theory And The Family Scapegoat’ or ‘Did Your Dysfunctional Family Make You The Identified Patient?’ You may also wish to read my article : ‘Acting Out And Childhood Trauma.’

THE SAINT : The ‘saint’ is (tacitly) expected to personify the family’s religious / spiritual dimension and to refrain from sexual activity although this is not explicitly stated and the other family members’ encouragement that s/he will fulfil this role operates on an unconscious level.

DAD’S ‘LITTLE PRINCESS’ / MOM’S LITTLE MAN : When a parent puts a child into this role it is often referred to by psychologists as emotional incest or covert incest and constitutes a serious form of emotional abuse.  It involves the adult exploiting the child for his / her own emotional needs which, in turn, robs the young person of their childhood. This often leads to severe interpersonal difficulties when the child becomes an adult and makes him / her extremely vulnerable to revictimization as s/he is likely to have developed a lack of understanding about personal boundaries. A closely related concept to emotional / covert incest is that of ‘parentification’ of the child.

Not all dysfunctional families, of course, will incorporate individuals who fit each of these roles and, within any particular family, the same individual may fulfil different roles at different stages of development ; for example, the ‘lost child’ may later become the ‘scapegoat.’

FAMILY THERAPY :

A family who experiences these sort of problems can find family therapy extremely helpful. Family therapists may offer various approaches to treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy. Techniques family therapists use include ‘reframing’, setting families ‘homework’ (e.g. changing their responses to other family members), role-play and family situation re-enactments (and subsequent analysis).

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Dysfunctional Ways Parents May Seek To Over-Control Children

over controlling parents

I outline some of the most common ways in which parents may attempt to exert excessive control over their children below :

Emotional Enmeshment :

This occurs when a parent is intensely and overwhelmingly emotionally involved with his/her child so that, rather than seeing the child as an individual with his/her own thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes, views him/her as an extension of him/herself.

The parent who emotionally enmeshes the child may be over-dependent on him/her :

  • in relation to seeking advice that the child is not mature enough to give (e.g. a parent asking a ten year old for advice on romantic relationships),

  • for companionship,

  • for psychological counselling.

Such parents may also interfere inappropriately in the child’s life and fail to respect his/her boundaries.

Divorced / single parents may even expect their child to serve as a kind of ‘spouse substitute’ (most frequently in emotional terms).

You can read mt article on EMOTIONAL INCEST, which is closely related to the above, by clicking here.

Parentification :

Emotionally immature parents may expect their child to act as a kind of substitute parent – you can read my article about how parents may ‘parentify’ their child by clicking here.

Perfectionism :

Perfectionist parents may constantly insist upon laying down myriad petty, unnecessary and, perhaps, seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations (for example, my father used to be obsessed with making sure I held my cutlery in precisely the right way – apparently I would ‘mistakenly’ hold my knife ‘like a pen’ which would cause my father an absurdly disproportionate level of unnecessary angst more appropriate to me holding a live grenade in a way that would allow it imminently to detonate.

Living in such a household can put the child into a constant state of tension, or, even, hypervigilance, leading him/her constantly to anticipate the next shaming and disheartening criticism.

Perfectionist parents may also psychologically damage their children by expecting them to achieve in sports, academia, music etc in ways that are unreasonable and unrealistic. In relation to this, they may only offer their children love and approval when they excel, withholding such love and approval the rest of the time.

These types of parents may, too, strongly disapprove of their children expressing particular emotions such as anger or sadness, perhaps to the extent that they even ridicule their children for doing so.

Micromanagement :

The parent who micromanages their child may be unnecessarily and inappropriately involved in what a child eats or how a child dresses. Such parents may also interfere in superfluous and counter-productive ways with the child’s school life (e.g. visiting the school to complain to teachers about the child’s grades or about the child not making a particular school sport’s team). Or they may not respect their child’s privacy (e.g. constantly checking their child’s room for no good reason, looking through their diary or unnecessarily texting their child whilst s/he is at school to ‘check up’ on him/her in a way the child finds oppressive).

Such parenting is also sometimes referred to as ‘helicopter parenting’, a term originally coined by Dr. Haim Ginott in the late 1960s.

Coercive Control :

The term ‘coercive control’ was first coined by the Duluth Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) but the concept can also be applicable to the parent-child relationship. The DAIP propose that coercive control can take many forms which include :

  • intimidation (including threatening body language and facial expressions)

  • humiliation

  • isolation

  • minimizing the level of abuse

  • denying any abuse has taken place

  • blaming the victim for the perpetrator’s abuse

  • homophobia

  • coercion and threats

Parents Who Use Their Child For ‘Narcissistic Supply’ :

The concept of narcissistic supply stems from psychoanalytic theory. A parent in need of narcissistic supply may emotionally exploit his/her children by overly depending upon them to express their admiration of the him/her (the parent), to emotionally support him/her and to bolster his/her self-esteem. To read my article about narcissistic parents, click here.

 

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Dysfunctional Families: Types And Effects

ABOVE – SHORT VIDEO SUMMARY OF ARTICLE (Dysfunctional Families: Types And Effects).

 

What Is A Dysfunctional Family?

A dysfunctional family is one that has at its core destructive and harmful parenting and a lack of concern for the child. The harmful effects on the child may go completely unacknowledged or be minimized. Often, little or nothing is done to rectify the situation nor to alleviate its adverse effects upon the child.

If the distress caused to the child is severe and long-lasting s/he may develop a psychiatric condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which, if not properly treated, may seriously adversely affect the rest of his/her life

Types Of Dysfunctional Family :

1) A family in which the mother and/or father are addicted to drugs or alcohol (or who have another psychological addiction).

This may lead to the parent passing out, going missing for extended periods of time, behaving unpredictably, getting out of control or causing the family severe financial hardship.

Children who grow up in such families tend to grow up into distrustful adults who see others as being essentially unreliable.

2) A family in which violence and volatility predominate. Children from such families are at risk of becoming violent and volatile themselves, not least as a result of learned behaviour.

3) A family in which the child is forcibly removed from the parents’ care (e.g. due to being taken into care or being sentenced to a period of juvenile detention).

4) A family in which the child is used as a ‘pawn’ (e.g. divorcing parents each trying to turn the child against the other parent). This may include speaking ill of the other parent, limiting the child’s contact with the other parent, preventing the child from seeing the other parent at all or coercing them into rejecting a parent when this is not in the child’s interest.

5) A family in which a parent has a mental illness that adversely impinges upon the child’s own emotional development

6) A family in which the child is overly controlled and a parent makes excessive use of their power.

Adverse Effects Upon The Child :

Apart from the adverse effects upon the child already mentioned, children brought up in such dysfunctional families are also at risk of developing many other problems and difficulties, including depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, irrational self-blame and self-hatred, alcohol and/or drug dependency, an impaired, or even ruined, ability to both give and receive love.

Furthermore, the child may become rebellious and start to behave in anti-social ways eg. getting into fights, vandalizing property, indulging in petty theft,  committing arson, bullying others, dropping out of school.

They may also start behaving self-destructively, self-harm, develop life-long problems with interpersonal relationships, have an elevated risk of attempting suicide as well as lower life expectancy. Also, if they become parents themselves, they may develop their own parenting problems, thus perpetuating the dysfunctional family cycle.

Dysfunctional families which lead to the child having to take on the role of carer (e.g. before I was a teenager I cared for my mentally unstable mother after the divorce of my parents) can put the child under extreme stress as s/he does not have the emotional maturity to cope. Such children, in effect, have their childhoods ‘stolen’ from them. For more on this, see my article about ‘parentification‘.

Children may also attempt to cope with the enormous stress of growing up in a dysfunctional family by becoming withdrawn.

Compounding this problem, very sadly, they may become the victims of bullies at school due to their vulnerability.

As a result of this, they may grow up to be ‘loners.’

Some children who grow up in abusive households may be at higher risk than average of becoming abusive themselves as adults without the intervention of effective therapy.

RELATED ARTICLE :

Did Your Dysfunctional Family Make You The Identified Patient?

eBook :

Childhood Trauma : Emotional Abuse Kindle Edition

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Did Your Dysfunctional Family Make You The ‘Identified Patient’?

 

‘The person [in the family] who gets diagnosed is part of a wider network of extremely disturbed and disturbing patterns of communication’

R.D. Laing

BATESON PROJECT :

It has been theorized (originally in the 1950s as part of the Bateson Project, led by Gregory Bateson), that in many dysfunctional families an individual within the family is, largely unconsciously, assigned the role of the ‘identified patient’.

Essentially, this process comes about as a result of the dysfunctional family  projecting onto a family scapegoat.

What Is ‘Projection?

Projection is a psychological defence mechanism by which people avoid facing up to their own unwanted feelings, such as aggressive impulses, by displacing and seeing them in others) 

An example of projection would be a very selfish person who constantly accuses others of being selfish and, indeed, sees selfishness in others everywhere she or he looks.

In this way it is a type of blame-shifting – the family displaces their own psychological difficulties onto one specific family member, who, as a result, becomes the family scapegoat, diverting attention from the rest of the family’s mental and emotional problems.

Often, the identified patient is unconsciously selected as she or he is the youngest, most vulnerable, weakest and sensitive member of the family .

If we were made to be the identified patient in our family, our family may have:

As our family will have a vested interest in continuing to keep us in our role of identified patient (namely to prevent them from having to face up to their own failings and contributions to the family’s dysfunction), they will go to great lengths in order to do so. In fact, if we, the identified patient start to recover,  they may be unconsciously driven to prevent this recovery, and thus, by such means, maintain the family’s status quo.

Externalization:

It is likely that, in such families, the identified patient has been psychologically abused by some, or all, other members of the dysfunctional family and that any problematic behaviors she or he does display are, in fact, externalizing behaviors brought on by the family’s mistreatment of him/her.

Indeed, one school of thought has been of the view that in families in which an identified patient has been unconsciously designated, it is not the identified patient who is ‘mad’; on the contrary – it is the other family members. In relation to this view, R.D. Laing put forward the notion that such families suffered from ‘a distorted and disturbing pattern of communications.’

And, indeed, the anti-psychiatry movement of which R.D. Laing (see above) was a leading part, suggested that, frequently, it was the family of the identified patient who were ‘mad’, and the identified patient the ‘most sane’, having insight that is lacking in the other family members.

THERAPY :

It follows from this that therapy, in cases where an identified patient seems to have been selected, should involve ALL family members.

Indeed, one such therapy, based on the views of Virginia Satir, is called FAMILY SYSTEMS THERAPY and it emphasizes the idea that the identified patient, although having been consciously or unconsciously selected by the family to distract attention from the dysfunction of the family as a whole, may also hold the key to gaining insight into the family’s so-called ‘secret agenda).

 

SEE ALSO MY ARTICLES BELOW :

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Dysfunctional Parenting Leading to Pathological Sibling Rivalry

 

sibling rivalry

OVERCOME SIBLING RIVALRY - CLICK ABOVE

OVERCOME SIBLING RIVALRY – CLICK ABOVE

 

‘Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. Interestingly, in my case, I share that honor with the Prospect Park Zoo.’

-Woody Allen, My Speech To The Graduates.

Reseach suggests that certain types of dysfunctional family (click here to read my article on ‘scapegoating’ in dysfunctional families) can give rise to pathological sibling rivalry and sibling abuse (the term ‘sibling abuse’ refers to a situation in which one sibling bullies another in an extreme way).

 

HOW CAN DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILIES LEAD TO PATHOLOGICAL SIBLING RIVALRY/SIBLING ABUSE?

There are various reasons; these include:

1) Children in dysfunctional families may often have very little, or a complete absence of, emotional support from their parent/parents/carers; this, in turn, means the children themselves have not acquired the emotional resources to care for each other.

2) It has also been suggested that, in dysfunctional families, the parent/parents/carers may, either on a conscious or unconscious level, employ the use of a ‘divide and rule’ strategy leading to the children being in perpetual conflict with one another; this leads, from the parents’ perspective, to their offspring being more vulnerable, more exploitable and more easily manipulated.

Certainly, in my own case, my mother would join in with my older brother’s verbal abuse of me – they would both call me ‘poof’ (I was highly sensitive) and ‘scabby’ (I self-harmed so always had wounds on my arms and legs) deriving great pleasure from doing so.

3) Thirdly, the effect on the children of living in a highly stressful environment can lead to them DISPLACING (i.e. ‘taking out’) their anger (e.g with their parent/s) dissatisfaction and frustrations on one another.

4) Fourthly, because there is generally a high level of conflict within dysfunctional families, the children are likely to have LEARNED aggressive and bullying behaviour from the very people who should have been acting as their role models.

5) Rosenthal and Doherty (1984), psychologists who have carried out important research in this area, found that abusive siblings are very likely to have been significantly abused themselves by their parent/s.

6) Another finding which has derived from the research of the above two psychologists is that, in some families, the abusive sibling is, on an unconscious level, given covert/tacit permission to behave aggressively towards the sibling who is the victim. In other words, the parent can be COMPLICIT IN THE ABUSE.

7) Seventh : it has been suggested that by bullying a sibling in an extreme way the sibling who is doing the bullying gains A SENSE OF CONTROL AND POWER IN AN ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH S/HE IS OTHERWISE LARGELY IMPOTENT.

 

SERIOUS INJURY OCCURRING AS A RESULT OF SIBLING ABUSE – FURTHER FINDINGS (Green, 1984)

Further to the above, the psychologist Green (1984) has found that those who inflict serious injuries upon their siblings frequently :

– have frequently been subject to physical abuse themselves

and/or

– are part of families which are in extreme crisis

and/or

– have suffered maternal rejection/deprivation

and/or

– have recently lost their father (eg. through death, divorce or parental separation)

and/or

– perceives the abused sibling as a ‘favourite’

THE EFFECTS OF BEING AN ABUSED SIBLING :

Experts now believe that significant sibling abuse can lead to adverse effects upon brain development in the same way as parental abuse can (click here to read my article about this). This, in turn, can again cause cognitive, psychological and physical (psychosomatic) symptoms similar to those caused by parental abuse. Such symptoms include poor concentration, loss of pleasure in life (anhedonia), loss of social interest (withdrawal and isolation), depression, anxiety, anger/hostility and psychosomatic symptoms (symptoms caused by the effects of stress on the body) such as upset stomach, headache etc.

Sadly, this is far from an exhaustive list.

RESOURCES :

OVERCOME SIBLING RIVALRY MP3 – CLICK HERE

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Signs of Dysfunctional Families

 

 

Is Your Family Dysfunctional?

 

 

It has already been established in other articles that those who grow up in highly dysfunctional families are more likely than others to develop mental illness later in life (for example. borderline personality disorder. But what are the signs and characteristics of a dysfunctional family?

I list some key examples below :

  1. PARENTAL ALCOHOLISM OR DRUG ADDICTION : this puts the child at risk of various forms of abuse and increases the likelihood that he will be neglected (emotionally, physically, or both). It also increases the likelihood of conflict within the family.
  2. AN UNPREDICTABLE AND FEAR INDUCING ATMOSPHERE : for example, the parent may be inconsistent  with their child, meaning the child can never be sure as to how his parents will respond to his various behaviours. Or the parent might be violent towards the child, or prone to outbursts of extreme rage. 
  3. A HIGH LEVEL OF CONFLICT WITHIN THE FAMILY :  this may be verbal or physical (although, of course, a certain amount of conflict within families is inevitable, particularly when children within the family reach adolescence). If a child is living in an atmosphere of chronic conflict it can have myriad negative effects. For example, six month old babies exposed to such an environment show physiological signs of distress (raised heart rate). Also, young children up to about the age of five years display various signs of distress including crying, withdrawal, acting out and freezing. Further, children aged from six to seventeen years of age  display signs of emotional and behavioral distress (e.g. aggression, anxiety, depression, criminality and impaired school performance. (Harold et al., 2001).
  4. PERFECTIONISM :  for example, if one or both parents place excessive demands upon the child to constantly achieve excellence in a particular activity or activities, causing the child to experience damaging levels of stress and anxiety.
  5. ABUSE :  physical, sexual or emotional
  6. POOR COMMUNICATION : for example. the child being largely ignored by one or both parents.
  7. EXCESSIVE CONTROL :  for example, not allowing an adolescent child to ever leave the house to see friends or invite friends around to his own house.
  8. REPRESSION :  for example. a family in which it is unacceptable to show or talk about personal feelings and emotions (everyone must keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ at all times).
  9. A LACK OF EMPATHY :  for example, in a family in which the parents are never able to understand or relate to the child’s feelings about issues that are of importance to him, and are, therefore, dismissive of him.
  10.  ROLE-REVERSAL : for example, in a single parent family in which the child cares for a clinically depressed mother whilst his own needs (emotional, physical or both) go unmet.
  11. DENIAL :  for example, in a family in which the father is an alcoholic but this fact can never be acknowledged or spoken about, meaning the problem goes unresolved and the child is burdened with having to keep a ‘family secret’)
  12. SCAPEGOATING : for example, when the personality problems of family members are projected onto one individual.
  13. EMOTIONAL NEGLECT : Being starved of warmth and affection by cold and distant parents can lead to a number of problems in adult life including insecure attachment,  clinginess and a dependent personality.
  14. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

    15. EXPOITATION : This occurs when the parents primary interest is to take advantage of the child and only treat him or her well when s/he fulfils their needs. These needs may be emotional in nature (see my previously published article :’Were You Your Parent’s Emotional Caretaker?’)or financial  (such as may occur if, for example, the child is very talented and earning money as an actor etc. – for more on this, see my article entitled : Childhood Fame ; The Downside.

    16. INFANTALIZATION : This occurs when a parent treats the child as much younger than s/he really is, thus encouraging depenedency and restricting the child’s ability to learn how ro take care of, and be responsible, for him / herself. Often , the parent who infantalizes the child is narcissistic, views the child as an extension of him/herself and creates an enmeshed relationship with their offspring ; therefore s/he (i.e. the parent) feels threatened if the child shows signs of becoming a self-reliant, self-sufficient and autonomous individual. Children treated in this way can grow up to have a weakened sense of personal boundaries and to find it very difficult to function independently in life.

 

You may also wish to read :

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

The Dysfunctional Family’s Scapegoat.

scapegoat

childhood-trauma-fact-sheet

In this article I will examine the phenomenon of becoming the dysfunctional family’s scapegoat.

Personal Experience :

I went to live with my father and obsessively religious step-mother when I was thirteen, having been thrown out of the house by my disturbed and highly unstable mother.

She and my father already had her own biological son living with them. She treated her own son, essentially, as a demi-god, whist viewing me as the devil incarnate ; even at that age, (given I had the capacity to carry out elementary mental reasoning and was not intellectually retarded) I did not believe in god, and, consistent with this, refused to attend church with the other members of the household who regarded twice weekly attendance as their pious duty.

Indeed, and I write these words in all seriousness, it is even possible that my step-mother believed I was possessed by some kind of diabolical spirit ; after all, soon after I went to live with her and my father, during a trivial argument in the kitchen, she began to shout at me in what she believed to be ‘tongues’. And, when I was a bit older, if one particular friend had been round to see me and she returned to the house later, she would say she knew he’d been round as she could ‘sense evil’ (actually, he was a very nice person). You couldn’t make it up.

In dysfunctional families, viewing one child as being able to do no wrong, and the other as being able to do nothing OTHER THAN wrong, is not an uncommon scenario. The latter, of course, becomes the family ‘scapegoat’ or ‘family black sheep.’

family scapegoat

Whilst I have grown up with a profound inferiority complex, my step-brother has grown up, I think it is fair to say, puffed up with an impregnable sense of self-love, self-belief and self-pride; expecting others to admire him is his default position. Expecting others to despise me is mine. (And, in this regard, I’m seldom disappointed). This outcome, of course, would not be entirely unpredictable to anybody with an IQ above about 70.

Sadly, it invariably tends to be the most vulnerable and sensitive child who becomes the dysfunctional family’s scapegoat. It is also not uncommon that the child fulfilling the role of scapegoat has a characteristic, or characteristics, which a parent shares but represses, projecting their self-disapproval onto the scapegoat.

Denigration And Demonization :

The family’s scapegoat will be blamed for the family’s deep rooted problems. Anger, disapproval and criticism will be directed at him, leading him to develop feelings of great shame, to lose all confidence and self-belief, and, in all probability, to experience self-loathing, depression and anxiety. And to expect everyone else to hate him, too.

The motivation of the rest of the dysfunctional family, both consciously and unconsciously, for denigrating and demonizing the scapegoat is that it enables them to convince themselves that they are good and right. By telling relatives and friends that all the family’s woes derive from him they are also able to maintain a public image of blamelessness.

In this way, the family’s scapegoat finds himself not only rejected by his own immediate family, but, possibly, by those outside it too. He becomes utterly isolated and unsupported.

Also, by blaming the family’s scapegoat for the family’s difficulties, they not only evade their own responsibility but are also relieved, in their own minds, of any responsibility to support or help the scapegoat, who, because of the position in the family he has been allocated, and its myriad ramifications, will inevitably be suffering severe psychological distress.

Family Denial :

Because the scapegoat is blamed for the family’s problems, the rest of its members are able to stay in DENIAL in relation to their own contributions to this sorry state of affairs; they will tend to reinforce one another’s false beliefs that whenever something goes wrong it is the fault of the family’s scapegoat ; in this way, a symbiotic relationship develops between them : they all protect each other from feeling guilty and from shouldering their rightful portion of responsibility, drawing the strength of their fallacious convictions from being in a mutually reinforcing majority.

If the scapegoat is brazen enough to protest that not everything is his fault, these views are dismissed with scorn and derision – in this way, he is denied the opportunity to express them, allowing the other family members to conveniently side-step any searching questions being put to them which might otherwise produce deep discomfort.

If the scapegoat becomes too insistent about expressing his point of view, the rest of the family may cut him off from it entirely, thus totally isolating him.

Projection :

Often, the rest of the family’s own guilt may be so profound that facing up to it would be psychologically overwhelming; in such a case there will be a powerful unconscious drive to maintain the illusion that everything is really the fault of the scapegoat ; maintaining the illusion allows them to deflect blame which, more accurately, should be directed towards themselves.

It is likely, then, that they will not be fully aware that their projection of their own feelings of guilt onto the scapegoat is, in essence, a psychological defense mechanism necessary to allow them to maintain a positive image of themselves. Their views that they are in the right and the scapegoat is in the wrong become a necessary delusion.

Internalization :

Eventually, the scapegoat will come to INTERNALIZE (i.e. develop a core belief  without conscious awareness of from whence this belief originates) that his family’s scathing view of him, and, therefore, his view of himself as a bad and unworthy person is in distinct danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.  He is likely to develop feelings of intense psychological distress, perform well below his best academically and, later, vocationally, encounter serious problems with social interaction, and become hostile, aggressive and resentful towards both his family and those outside of it. This plays into the hands of the other family members, of course, as it facilitates their desire to continue projecting their own guilt onto the scapegoat.

As the scapegoat goes through life, he is likely, due to the powerful conditioning he has been subjected to as a child, to see him as not merely unlovable, but, even, as unlikable – unfit to be part of ‘decent’ society. Believing himself to be a terrible person, he may not even make any attempt to develop close, let alone intimate, relationships. After all, in his own mind, rejection would be ‘inevitable’, serving only to confirm and reinforce his/her wretched self-view.

RESOURCES :

ASSERT YOURSELF PACK – SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

You may also be interested in reading my closely related, previously published article : DID YOUR DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY MAKE YOU THE ‘IDENTIFIED PATIENT’?

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma Recovery