Some Of My Story As Family Scapegoat

the following are posts i've transcribed here, from another sc site, in the spirt of common validation.  that is, the main (only?) thing that helps me cope with this wretched fate of unfairly being the family problem is to experience the validation and "yes!" moments whilst reading about others' experiences similar to my own.  to put it simply, it's nice to know i'm not the only one.  and i also get a certain feeling or compassion for the others i read about,  because i know how F-d up it all is--how unfair, hopeless-seeming, and nightmarish it can be,  particularly when one is just coming to terms with or realizing what has been going on all his/her life.

so please excuse the seemingly irrelevent pieces of each post, as the were written in a sort of back-and-forth on another site.  still, i think they each have some content to which someone might relate, and thus make feel--i hope--validated and not crazy.


I am the second-born, male, and have three female siblings. We are all in our 30’s and 40’s now, but when I was a child, I was made the scapegoat in a very deliberate (if subconscious), effective way. My mom, told me that I “wasn’t getting along with” my father, so I needed to be taken to a “counselor.” My father was and is the alcoholic. There was no physical or sexual abuse, but he drank all the time, stayed out late, and cheated on my mother before I was even born. That I had something so wrong with me that I needed to be taken out of school and whisked to a child psychologist’s office *terrified* me; I believe I was in fourth grade, and it continued, on and off, into high school. Believe it or not, I have only in the past four or five years come to terms with being the identified patient; I wondered why it was that I was always at fault, I was the bad one–the jerk, the cad, and then some really blatant examples of dual-standards began taking place. I found that as the extreme rage inside of me for having been changed from a sweet kid who hadn’t done anything wrong into the bitter, sad, and yes–sometimes acid-tongued, but never vicious–was REALLY starting to repel people–friends, family, coworkers. No one likes being around an angry person. However, what has made me the most furious–and despairing–is the utter and almost passionate resistance to even considering “my” scapegoat “theory,” and how it’s still in place that my family has demonstrated. I knew from the literature that I ought to have expected this but, heretofore, i’ve been very close to everyone in my family, except for my father. Ironically, it is my sisters–especially my twin sister–who demonstrates the most unreasonable rejection of the truth. Once, she broke down while recalling her reaction to her therapist asking her to pretend I was correct–and why would that be so hard for her to accept–she sobbed and said “because that would me me a horrible person–to hurt my brother–and I would be so much less psychologically healthy than I feel I have become…” Anyway, my mother is coming around, finally, but I am at an impasse; I don’t know what to say when they inevitably ask “what do you want me to do?” You know, as if again, it’s all my problem–I’m the sick one, the suffering one. Why is it that siblings, who didn’t, in my case, seem to play a particularly significant role in my scapegoating (though I DO feel treated differently by them, especially as my anger grew), be so, so resistant to this? Their common refrain is “I just don’t see it that way…” And, it’s not easy to “prove,” because I, like all scapegoats, earned my title sooner or later–and they always reply “I would have said that/treated anyone that way” when I accuse them of what I see as brazen double-standard treatment.



First, thank you for responding–and so thoroughly (and quickly!). And thank you for creating this blog; I find it, unfortunately, one of very few resources on the Internet for people realizing that the pain they’ve suffered all their life was for naught. That is, it did serve a purpose, but we didn’t deserve it–and aren’t bad people.

I agree with much of what you say–that it is essential for the identified patient to stop scapegoating him or herself. Indeed, that must occur regardless of whatever else may or may not happen, for the SC to find any kind of peace.

And while I don’t think it’s necessary to “achieve” the family’s acknowledgment of what happened to have peace (that would doom the majority of family abuse victims to a tormented life), I am thoroughly undecided and confused about what that kind of acknowledgment *can* mean and bring–for myself *and* the family.

I will consider all of the sort of rhetorical questions you put to me; I’ve thought about them a lot, but more in an emotional way, and I will get back to you on that.

One think that I think would be extremely useful for others–at least for me–is knowing more about the period or rage and bitterness and torment you went through; I believe it is in this stage when a lot of us arrive at sites like yours, and I find myself sometimes craving examples of others who *know* my almost insufferable frustration, and near-suicidal despair about all of this.

To me, your posts sometimes read as if you are ashamed of the time you spent angry and bitter and accusing–and, sort of like you almost have a blaming attitude toward yourself for having been that way–that it got you nowhere, and you were just hurting yourself, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand what you mean, and I, too, *know* the agony of trying so hard to convince a loved one, only to come across as or succumb to a kind of rigid anger that, as you know, puts you right back in your place and puts you back even further, in terms of convincing anyone of anything. Still, like others have written, I am *furious*–I have so, so much anger inside, and while I agree that to be at peace, I need to deal with that anger in a way that diminishes it and ends it. But I suppose the jury is still out, as it were, with me on whether I agree with what seems to me (right now) your no-fault, complete acceptance and responsibility, almost *saintly* and martyr-ish approach to all of this. I intend NO insult there; as I said, I largely agree with what you way–almost all of it. I’m just still struggling with the rage–and it’s not even rage *toward* my family UNTIL they deny and dismiss me out of hand, THEN it becomes very intense anger and sadness–just like a sexually or physically abused child whose family says “that never happened” or “I don’t see it that way.” And I love my mom and sisters so, so much–and have been so close to them for so long–that, to answer your question about why “admission” or whatever we want to call it is so important to me is so that I can have a relationship with them that is not awkward and superficial. I mean, could any of us have a true, meaningful relationship with a sibling or parent who denies the reality of, say, serious sexual abuse? I’ll close here, because I’m so in need of serious introspection about all of this and I’m probably just typing out my introspection at this point! But thanks again for everything–I have indeed found your experience helpful!

Many thanks,


sher–if i might interject my comments (dunno if that’s “allowed” here?): i just wanted to, again, remark about the relief, if that’s the word, i get from reading posts like yours, to the extent that they help me not feel crazy, and like i really am bad, and a have alienated myself from my family and family friends based on some trumped-up, pop-psych lie–and that i have the *evil* to employ this tactic to actually blame my “faultless” family for doing what they did to me. do you know what i mean? it’s also interesting to me that so many who come to this realization are around our age–late thirties, early forties.

i wanted also to say, to ms. forrest in particular that, unlike she, realizing that i scapegoat myself, etc., was never the revelation to me it seems to have been for her; i feel i’ve known for a long, long, time that, although i believed i was intrinsically, almost certainly a bad person, i knew also that i punished myself accordingly–scapegoating myself.

what i wrote in the first paragraph is an example of this; until i found so much *validation* in reading stories like yours, lynn’s, etc., i was sort of on the fence with the rage i felt. having a family member respond to my ginger broaching of the subject of scapegoating in alcoholic families–and how maybe that happened to me–with dismissal (or later, anger, tears, “being hurt by my ‘accusations,’” etc.), would push me to the side of the fence i’ve been on since it all started so long ago, and i’d feel like “jesus, eric, you’ve sunken to the new low of trying to “blame” your own basic badness, that your family has tolerated all these years, to make yourself feel like you’re nothing but bad!” you know, messages like that.

i remember once, during a particularly horrible depression in my20’s whilst in college, i went to a midday AA meeting at a hospital near my house, because i had little money and therapy was days away. there were four other people there–all middle-aged women. that depression was characterized by intense, relentless feelings of guilt–for things real or imagined. it was the time when jeffrey dahmer was in the news, and i’d be sick with anxiety and fear all day thinking “what if i become like *him* some day?” –i mean, anything that i could feel horrible, evil, bad for–including, like this example, something i had no reason to fear in reality, but it was the most-repulsive, most horrible state i could think of a person being in–to be dalmer. so if my mind ran out of “sensible” reasons for feeling so bad about myself, i’d worry about “what if some day, i just change into a charles manson-type…” etc. those fears were excruciating, as ridiculous and insane as it sounds (even to me) now. my point here is that i *also* suffered from a sort of inversion of these fears–sometimes i’d worry and be angst-ridden with fears like “what if i feel so horrible and bad because i was a victim of some ritualistic, cultish, abuse as a young child, and i just don’t remember and have blocked it out, like they say happens?” now, that something like that has zero possibility of having happened–or any other “abuse” outside of being scapegoated (which i don’t try to mitigate here)–the media at that time was rife with stories of people remembering past abuse, etc., and it became my other, *major* fear and obsession during my depressions. o.k., my point is that at it was at this aa meeting, with these middle-aged, white, semi-professional women–all of whom sort of reminded me of my mom, incidentally–that i realized my twin fears amounted to either feeling like the *ultimate* perpetrator, or the *ultimate* victim. ruminating on “reasons” why i could be one or the other was exquisitely painful, but i suppose the “victim” fears were a little easier to bear as, if nothing else, i might have some small chance of “redemption,” if i didn’t go mad (like “sybil”) some day when i remembered all these horrible, unbearably thinkable things that must’ve happened to me for me to feel so bad about myself.

in the meeting, when i realized this and it was my turn to say something, i said “you know, i think that growing up in an alcoholic family (this was actually an al-anon mtg, i now recall) has resulted in my constant, rotating fear of being the worse of the worst aggressors–or the most abused, pitiful, unfixable, and ruined souls.” i proceeded, telling myself as much as i was telling them, “i feel either like i’m the ultimate offender–or i’m the ultimate victim.” and i remember the women laughing–not in a mean way, but in sort of a sympathetic, “isn’t it horrible how alcoholism in the family can affect us?” way. but i knew they had little idea of what i was talking about–or that i *wasn’t* being dramatic–i really did feel this way, or at least worried that it must be right that i ought to feel this way–constantly, and was in constant torment.

neither did they–nor i–pick up on the effects of scapegoating i was demonstrating. it wasn’t until my early thirties that i began to think “wait a minute!” even then, it didn’t seem like a “big deal” to me so much. as i approached 40, however, like so many others, i began to think “wait a minute! seriously, wait a #$%#$@ minute here!” to myself. this occurred in tandem with my increased inquiry into alcoholic family systems, etc. (something i thought i knew everything about, as i’d been in a decade of therapy, and everyone in the family, save for my dad, the drinker, had also been in (or was) in therapy). i had written all of that alcoholic family role stuff–and all the AA /12 steps stuff off long ago, preferring “real” psychology; interpersonal, rogerian, analytical psychotherapy. the shrill, “everyone’s-a-victim/everyone’s been abused” books and popular psychology literature at the time made me even more repelled by all of “that alcoholic family stuff.” i was going through what i was going through because i’d come out (as gay) to my family years earlier, and these were the remnants of guilt i’d sublimated all my life. i can’t go into how much being gay was intertwined with my being the scapegoat–but it’s significant.

so i guess, after all that “me, me, my story” stuff, i just wanted to say thanks (sher–and lynne–and everyone who posts here) for giving me some cold comfort in what can be a miserable experience, questioning oneself, feeling righteous rage and indignance one day and crushing guilt and prostration the next.

*and* lynne, i wanted to ask you again if you might ever share your experiences of rage and indignance–around all of this–however unhealthy and/or unproductive (or destructive) those years and times of your life were. i ask, because as i’ve written, it hasn’t been a secret to me for a long time how involved i’ve been over my lifetime of earning my title over and over; but i always knew, on some level, that “they started it.” i always knew, on some level, that “they made and make me this way–i have no choice and no other way to be.” and i guess i’d like to know more about your futile and destructive attempts at “proving” to the family what they did. you–for good reason–seem to touch on those experiences only to the extent that involved your own scapegoating of yourself, and how damaging it was, and how “[you] did it to [yourself]!” and maybe my wanting to hear about your times is my wanting more validation for what’s been happening to/by me over the last five or six years–or maybe i just want to know that you are really “one of us” lol–you know, ’cause it seems like you’re so wonderfully over the rage and hurt and that peerless frustration of feeling that you will never get justice. i don’t know–maybe it’s an unhealthy request, and i just want to revel a kind of group-sanctioned fury and righteousness. if it is the latter, though, i do think, as one other poster implied, that we are entitled to our rage, indignance, fury, etc. before i ever felt any of this anger so acutely, were the long string of years i was subject to gutwrenching depressions, loaded with guilt and obsessive contrition.

well, i’ve gone on far too long, and have jumped around as usual, but i can’t explain how helpful it is to read posts on here and think, for a second, that i actually wrote what i’m reading, and somehow forgot having posted it. the validation of this reality, when the people closest to you and who shaped you, deny it at every turn, is PRICELESS to me right now.



thanks for indulging me--and anyone else who might've wanted a glimpse at the anger, sadness, and frustration that characterized your experience as a scapegoat.  while i really do agree with--and know--the general methods you cite as being essential in escaping from the otherwise terminal condition of being a family scapegoat, i suspect that i am still in some stage or cycle of the phenomenon where i cannot accept my family's denial of what they did--and do--to me.  i do not want their apology, grief, or...anything but their acknowledgment of how i am mistreated; if for no other reason than this would presuppose their own journeys toward true mental health.

you see, i feel that i *need* my family; we've always been close to each other (except for my dad), and have supported each other.  that may sound incongruous with my rants about being mistreated, etc., but remember it is only when i began to throw off the mantle of scapegoat that all of that closeness and support began to disintegrate.  when i was busy fighting depressions characterized by the agony of believing i was the most wretched soul on earth--either due to some horrific curse or because i truly deserved feeling like a monster--my family was always there for me, and i for they.

as i didn't see this coming, and as i have naturally been estranged from many family friends now, too, i have little support that i consider "genuine," to the extent that it derives from someone who truly knows me--like my family, for example.

what i mean is that i don't think i can get through this without them--and yet the only way they can help me through is by owning up to what happened in our family, and not just what happened to me--the whole thing.  i've never felt surer that none of them will do this.  this leaves me with an abiding fury--seemingly the only thing between me and despair.

i have been noted--and sometimes accused--of sounding litigious when arguing; building up a solid case and being very precise and accurate.  i've always been this way, because somewhere in my mind all those years, i think i knew that were i ever to "clear my name"--to myself AND the family--i needed to notice and store everything.  when i exhibited scapegoat-worthy behavior, on some level, though i knew it was expected as it was punished by my family, i also knew whatever it was i'd done to be commensurate with something they'd done first.

but all of this being so utterly subconscious and subject to the whims of everyone involved, in terms of temporary suspension of "the rules" (for example, when i do something particularly non-scapegoat-ish, like singing at my sister's wedding), it all escaped me very easily.  a not-to-be-underestimated factor in confusing ALL of this--and in a way that has tended to render the whole issue moot--was my coming out (as gay) to the family about 20 years ago.  that year-long event was characterized by my begging my family to love and accept me, "in spite" of what i was about to tell them.  it also saw me to the psych. ward of the hospital.  nevertheless, it tended to, over the ensuing years, "wrap it all up," in terms of my family now "understanding" why "john was so contrary, anti-social, different, and bitter" all those years.  but i continued to wrestle with severe depressions, as described above, and continue to receive their support and sympathy, too.

when i began to actually "be" gay, in terms of being sexual and having relationships, and gay friends, it became ever clearer to me that simply being gay--though inviting its share of unique abuses to my person and psyche whilst growing up--didn't explain the significant self-loathing (or fear i deserve to be self-loathing), and wrenching feelings of pure badness i continued to deal with--long after my family "accepted" me and were even attending gay pride parades, etc.  indeed, i have yet to meet a gay person whose family/ coming-out experience resulted in the long-term effects that i've attributed to my growing up gay--even those whose families were ultra-conservative, religious, and/or who have "disowned" them to this day.

it was a very subtle, delicate, and non-deliberate process when i began to discern the difference between, perhaps the *reason* i was selected as scapegoat (being gay--or appearing gay to my parents/siblings) and the consequences that ensued from fulfilling that necessary role in the family.  or separating the reasons for my anger, self-hatred, and unhappiness with feeling i was "bad for being gay" or just "bad" due to being the scapegoat in my family.

interestingly, just weeks after i came out to my father--the last family member i did so to--during a family dinner (he acted like it was "no big deal," ostensibly because he was relieved that we weren't all acting so strangely because we were about to confront *him* about his drinking), we *did* do an "intervention" on him.  for the first time, ever, the family confronted my dad about his drinking.  that is, now that my "badness" was understood, explained, sympathized with, and "forgiven" by the family, the person who actually "deserved" to be recognized as the family problem--the bad one--was actually, finally, being recognized as such.

my father basically said in a very businessman-like tone, "i'm sorry you feel that way" to us--that's really all i remember.  i went off to college, struggled with psych. problems (as did two of my siblings), and the family was broken apart, at least physically.  not much later, my parents divorced--my mother being the initiator.

then, as my thirties accelerated, my "gayness" became so utterly and obviously not the reason for my continued feelings of badness and being "deserving" of tacit family contempt (which was always mixed with a sighing, "we'll always forgive and love you" condescension), i began to understand the truth about things.  at this point, it was all rather subconscious to me; i was angry--vaguely toward my family and family friends; my siblings began to avoid me, leaving me out of parties, get togethers, etc. (and then blaming me for my remoteness or saying "you never called *me* either).  as my awareness of what had been happening all my life became "conscious awareness," that is, when i began to revisit alco. family roles, scholarly literature on the subject, and various events of the past and present, some very blatant (for my family) examples of my being called out unfairly began taking place.  this included my mother--who everyone loves and adores because of her ultra-sweet, kind, and root-for-the-underdog nature--called me a "*****" in front of everyone while we prepared brunch at my sister's apartment.  i'd made a snarky, obviously-meant-to-be-humorous comment about the turkey bacon my sister was making, saying "it doesn't *taste* quite like bacon..." that was my sin.  "eric, don't be such a *******!" my mom exclaimed.  do defense from anyone--only my twin sister muttering "that's one for the history books..."  later, my mom actually said "you know, i don't even know what that word really means--what does it mean?"  then, in an emailed response to my email about how that act--calling me something she'd never dare say to *anyone* else, within the family or not (including my dad, who deserves to be called much, much worse by my mom for what he did to her)--my mom listed a battery of sins i'd committed that morning--i mean really grasping at straws (that didn't exist).  she wrote things like "it's the way you don't bring a hostess gift when you arrive; the way you insist upon bringing your dog and then get angry when he can't be accommodated; the  way you barged in front of so and so to get to the refrigerator; and i suppose that bacon comment just put me over the edge."

now, as a gay man, i never neglect to bring a hostess gift--wine, flowers, *something.* and i had that day, too.  i had asked whether my small westie would be welcome weeks before, but it was a conversation (i thought) between my sister and me, and i didn't "insist" or become unreasonable.  the barging? no idea.  then she went on to tell my how lucky i was to have such a loving twin sister "who always looked out for you..."

so the ***** comment did go down in history, and really was and is the event i point to as the most obvious "proof" of my continuing mistreatment--however much i've tried to change and not "deserve"  my scapegoat title anymore.  it was a particularly blatant example, as i'm from a family where everyone is always "appropriate," charming, and where confrontation is avoided with rigor.  hence, demonstrating the subtle ways in which i've been mistreated over and over, are easily dismissed with self-righteous claims of "i'd have treated *anyone* who did/said that the *exact* same way."  a defense quite impossible to deny them, however patently false we all know it to be.

i've gone on too much--i apologize.  i can't remember where i was going; it just felt so nice to give this account (for the umpteenth time) to, perhaps, people who'll nod in sympathy (ever notice how when you complain of scapegoat stuff to friends who are completely unrelated to your family, how they seem to glaze over and kind of "not get it," and you feel as if they think you're a neurotic malcontent who is just *looking* for a reason to be relevant or dramatic in a family that has long since parted ways, and in which you never enjoyed a central place?).
may god have mercy on us all,


evanrude evanrude
36-40, M
1 Response Feb 15, 2010

It's always in the back of your head, I started reading this and to the point "(thanks for indulging me--and) <~~~~ saving to go back to because I understand this so well, and had to stop, because I want to respond to what I am reading. I have to chim in my own upbringing too, and yes I do come from all *3 alcoholic "parents" that I endured growing up. I lived the "red headed step child scenario"! (WHILE being the oldest of 5 kids, everything that went wrong in everyone else's life was my fault) I am also in the same age range, so I find it refreshing that a few I see are not like so many I've come across that went thru similar situation about "lets just look to the future, pretend it didn't happen"! Well F-that I am mad, and have been for way to long of a time about it, and to bad so sad, I am Not An Actress, I don't pretend, I never fake it if I do not like you at any given point I will tell you and I am also not sorry that it pissed you off, sometimes we are not all as great as we think we are, humbling moments fall upon us all. <br />
<br />
Please explain "the truth hurts to me"!!? Good God, how did you remember it happening differently? Then you probably got a well it's in the past and just move on. You know I think the possibilities of any kind of pieced good relationship with you went out the window with the many, many, times you crapped on my trust, and you call yourself a mother, a father, HUH!<br />
<br />
At this point if your reading the ramblings of a (well not crazy, I got tested ;)<br />
frustrated, I wish I could get past it to move on with these people in some way, aggravated woman, I thank you!