I received a mail the other day from a bright and articulate young lady introducing a topic that had never occurred to me: the children of a narcissist’s scapegoat. We spend a lot of time and energy working out the dynamics between us and our NM’s but something we seldom address is the impact of our dysfunctional FOOs on our children. Many of us do not go NC, or even LC with our narcissistic families and, as a result, our children are exposed to them but in much different ways than we are.
Eve, my young correspondent, sent me a touching inside look of what it feels like to be the daughter of a scapegoat who continues to have contact with her FOO. With Eve’s permission, I share it with you here:
It’s incredibly hard to write about this subject, because coming from a classic dysfunctional family I start everything I do with an unhealthy dose of self doubt. Were they really that bad? And the answer I come to time and time again, relentlessly examining every situation is … yes they were.
My dysfunctional family was set up like any other: The grand narcissist (my maternal grandfather) at the head of the family, his helpers/enablers and my mother was the scapegoat.
Her life was affected badly by being the ‘bad child’. She could never do anything right, nothing she did was pleasing or perfect and her life seemed to be to perpetually help others. The scapegoat is usually chosen because she/he is the most sensitive, the most caring, the most creative/talented the one that is the easiest to affect; the easiest for the narcissist to ‘feed’ on. The scapegoat is the family dumping ground for everything that they cannot face in themselves.
“The people I label as evil are chronic scapegoaters....The evil attack others instead of facing their own failures.” – M. Scott Peck
Even as I write this I can hear my family on my shoulders whispering that ‘This is how she wanted to appear!’ and ‘She always loved to play the victim!’ This is how their insidious words reach their goal. I know my mother - I have witnessed her pain and suffering and they insist that I haven’t seen anything. The mantra they gave me at a very young age seemed to be ‘You either agree with us or you will be ignored’.
They either couldn’t or didn’t want another scapegoat in the family, that role was already filled and I was not going to join them in the systematic abuse of my mother, as my brothers had done. I had no role, I didn’t serve a purpose in the dysfunctional set up and so I was ignored. This gave me so many issues, so many paranoid thoughts and I could not get to the bottom of why I was so completely ignored. They would rear their ugly heads every couple of years when they felt they had an opportunity to ‘take me away from my evil mother’ trying to impress upon me that they had always been there for me - this tactic never worked. However much they tried to show me the ‘proof’ of how horrible my mother was, it paled in comparison to their hated and abuse of my mum and their total disinterest in me or my life. A perfect example was when my mum and I finally decided to leave our dysfunctional family for good after a huge row with the head narcissist. The whole family wanted me on the narcissist’s side, and wanted my mother completely abandoned. My brother was recruited to ‘talk me round’ and rang me almost every day. This all went sour when I pointed out to him that I was 22 years old and he had never once rang me for a ‘chat’. I asked him what had suddenly changed. I knew exactly what had changed, I was suddenly of use and I was being used as a pawn– he got angry that I had pointed this out and insisted that of course he had rang me before, and then stopped talking to me altogether.
Unfortunately my mum attracted men that thrived on her low sense of self and my father and his family adopted the dysfunctional set up of my mum being the scapegoat and I was ‘the nobody’. They divorced when I was young and he and his family have done their best to vilify my mum and ignore me, all the while insisting that it is me that has ignored them.
I would not turn against my mother and side with my father, therefore I was dismissed. My father is a nasty human being who is neglectful of his children and delights in lies and causing misery. Another perfect example of how I was cast as ‘the nobody’ in my father’s family is when my grandfather died (my dad’s father). My mum and I were at my aunt’s (my mum’s sister) house for a wedding the next day. My aunt came in and told everyone that my brother’s granddad had died – it took me some moments to realise that my ‘brother’s granddad’ was obviously also my granddad! No one said anything to me, they all said how sorry they were for my brother. My granddad and I had not said so much as two words to each other in my entire life so his death meant little to me but it amazed me how cruel is was that everyone dismissed it. It also struck me some years later that my aunt had been informed of his death before me! My brother had told my mum’s dad and he had informed my aunt! I was not even in the equation.
I have found in other pieces about dysfunctional families the role known as ‘The Lost Child’ – I seem to fit this role extremely well. In family situations I blended into the background, every achievement was barely even mentioned. I had very low self esteem, a very low opinion of myself, my voice when I defended my mum was to be either ridiculed, muted or used against her as she was ‘influencing my opinion’. Even now at the age of 28 I still don’t have an opinion in their eyes. One Christmas when I was in my teens every time I walked into a room my brother would walk out, it was as if my presence was toxic to him. I was desperate to prove to him that I was worth talking to, that I was interesting, but in his opinion I was ‘just irritating’.
I have trawled the internet over the past few years and I cannot find anything about how scapegoating affects down the family tree. I cannot find anything relating to being the child of a scapegoat. The model seems to be set up as a narcissistic mother or father and how this affects their children - real families are more complex and just because I am further down the generations from the original dysfunctional set up and the narcissist, this does not mean I have not been affected. I have watched these ‘people’ who professed to love my mum and me, rip her to shreds and then turn to me with a bloody smile and an outstretched hand. I am not emotionally dead – they made me feel sick.
I recently found someone online who spoke openly about dysfunctional/narcissistic families and seemed to have some expertise. I emailed him about my situation asking if he had ever come across this set up and if he had any advice. His response (bear in mind I had given him the slimmest of details and I was generally looking for a discussion not a diagnosis) was that my mother had probably taken on some narcissistic behaviours and I was her victim because the children of scapegoats “should not be affected.” This sent me into an absolute rage! I didn’t know how he could make such a sweeping statement based on what I had given him, but he had simply dismissed all my mental health problems that came about because of my family or he had deemed my emotionally bruised mum as a narcissist herself! I do know that children who are the scapegoat can become a narcissist and carry on the abuse to their own children, but this is not the case in my Mum. I think this experience was the final straw in pushing me to writing this piece. I want to say loud and clear; I am the scapegoat’s daughter and I have suffered too.
While I see rather a bit of enmeshment between Eve and her mother, and perhaps even some parentification (Eve defends her mother rather than the other way around), the effect of the narcissistic generation upon the children of the scapegoat is all too clear. Conflicted, narcissistic flying monkeys like Eve’s brother, angry, compassionate, seeking “lost children” like Eve…all the direct result of the children not bring shielded from the narcissistic parents of the scapegoat. Sadly, this is an outcome to which I can personally and painfully relate, my own daughter having become a flying monkey to my NM and ultimately taking on NM’s mantle of narcissism and controlling.
Eve’s tale rings too true…I can remember wishing my children—anybody, actually—would stand up to my mother and champion me. It was an inappropriate wish because it is not the place of children to defend and protect their parents…at not until the parents are aged and frail…but being so beaten down, I was desperate for any kind of emotional sustenance I could secure. My “us against them” fantasy was easily demolished by NM’s bribery: an excess of toys when they were little, money and promises of coveted gifts/bequests when they were older. My mistake…as was Eve’s mother’s…was not stepping into the breach when my children were barely toddling and either tightly controlling my FOO’s access to my kids or, better (with hindsight being what it is), disappearing with them into the night and never, ever, making contact with the FOO again.
What we don’t realize until too late is that we are actually put in the position of making a choice between maintaining contact with our FOOs or doing what is best for our children. Too often we think we can compromise or that the children aren’t affected because we are the targets, the scapegoats, and the kids are not. But a perceptive, empathetic child like Eve sees it, feels it, and is damaged by it just the same. It may not be the same kind of pain, but it is no less painful.
We sometimes agonize about “depriving the kids of their grandparents” or suffer guilt from “depriving my parents of their grandchildren.” Think for a moment: if grandpa was a paedophile and grandma refused to acknowledge it and protected grandpa by making excuses or even lying for him, would you want your kids around them? Why should the fact that the harm they represent to your children is psychological rather than physical/sexual make a difference? Eve stands like a beacon here, telling us exactly what we expose our children to, how it shapes their lives and their psyches, when we allow them to be exposed to narcissistic grandparents.
I think it is something we should all give some serious thinking time to.