This article was inspired by your comments on the article Five Steps to Stop Being the Family Scapegoat.
“What is your advice for someone who is a scapegoat living with their parents? I recently finished uni and until I get a job, I can’t move out and support myself.”
“…But in the meantime, are there any tips or tricks with dealing with this on a day to day basis????”
It can be downright spirit killing to live with people who are psychologically abusing you. That’s what scapegoating is, psychological abuse. Depression, anxiety, and an overall feeling of hopelessness dangerously become the norm. You begin to think the best thing to do is to accept the victim role others have assigned to you.
It doesn’t necessarily get easier when you realize there is nothing “normal” about being scapegoated. Once you are aware of just how badly you are being treated on a regular basis, it can get even harder to tolerate it. But here is an important difference: You are now aware that there is nothing wrong with you. You are a good person in a bad situation. That realization can be empowering and offers energizing hope.
So here are ten tips to help you manage living with the people who want to keep you small. These tips are not meant to be a permanent solution of any kind. They are offered to you as a way to tolerate today’s reality in order to get to tomorrow’s goal of independence with strength and self-respect. Here we go:
- Protect yourself by imagining a forcefield around you that no one else can see but you know is there. Their abusive behavior bounces off the forcefield so you don’t get hurt. What you are doing is creating a space between you and the scapegoater. In that space you can build healthy boundaries that help you determine what your thoughts and feelings really are and what are theirs. That’s your defensive protection. Offensively… are you familiar with Harry Potter? Then you know about the Boggart Banishing spell. All you need to do is say “Riddikulus” and the thing you fear the most becomes harmless, even silly, something to laugh at. Visualize the person scapegoating you as a boggart (scapegoaters can be scary) and then secretly, when they get nasty, think to yourself “Riddikulus!” and imagine them in diapers or covered in butterflies or with a banana cream pie in their face.
- Create a space. Literally. First do an assessment. Do you have privacy at home? Privacy, which is a human right, can be challenging when you have little power. If you don’t have much privacy at home, there are subtle things you can do to take space which shifts your sense of empowerment. For example, you can use earbuds to create a private headspace, get out of the house, take a walk, run. Also be aware of how you own the space you already have, even if it’s not much. Your car, if you have one, may be your only private space. Stock it with non-perishable snacks and loads of music! Put some travel-sized hand cream and other toiletries in there. Spritz it with some soothing essential oil mix! And, keep your car and your bedroom locked if you can! Speaking of which, are you living in your childhood bedroom? Does it still look like a childhood bedroom? Do yourself an enormous service and gather all the stuffed animals, dolls, and trucks and put them in a box destined for the Goodwill. You might want to save a few, like the monkey or blankie that still makes you feel safe and comfy.
The point is to reclaim the space for the awesome person you ARE, not the child you were. This is a feng shui exercise. Paint the room with a fresh, new color, buy a new bedspread. Pillows! You can find good, inexpensive, cute stuff at Target or BBB. Amazing lamps, floor rugs, posters or wall decorations can be found for cheap online or at vintage stores. Get some plants! Look on Instagram or Pinterest for ideas. You do not need to do this all in one day. It can be an ongoing project done under the radar. It’s your call.
- Radical Self-Care. Elizabeth Gilbert, (author of Eat, Prey, Love and so many other books and novels, like Big Magic, my fave) said that her depression can be so relentless she starts with an intense program of Self-Care to pump herself up every day. Self-Care is how we nurture the mind, spirit and body to withstand the loud outer and inner voices that put us down. Gilbert’s routine includes meditation, exercise, and journaling. Yours might be a walk outside listening to your favorite tunes or podcast, reading an escape book or getting out of the house to drive to your favorite café to pick up some good coffee. There’s no right or wrong self-care routine. It’s custom fitted to what works for you, what helps boost your spirit’s immune system to help it fight the scapegoating virus that you are surrounded by at home. Like all things we do for our immune system, we don’t stop self-care because we’re doing better. Do something to care for yourself in some way, shape or form, more days than not. If you get bored with one self-care routine, change it up. Just don’t quit. Also take care of yourself physically. Do everything you need to do to keep yourself strong and safe from COVID-19. Eat healthy, hydrate, exercise, wash your hands and wear a mask.
- Do not compare yourself to others or let others compare you to anyone! Your situation is as unique as you are. No matter where you are in life there are always other people who we imagine have it all together, know everything and are gorgeous on top of it! It sucks when we’re surrounded by family who make a habit of throwing this in our face. So what if your ex now has a fancy job with a new fiancée and is living large in Florida. He was an asshole! And so are they for implying that you weren’t good enough to hold onto him.
- Radical Self-Love. This is different from self-care and can be harder. Let me explain. Self-Love is when we sit with ourselves with mindful intimacy, compassion and vulnerability, even when, maybe especially when, we hurt the most. Isn’t that selfish, even narcissistic? No, but I can see why you might go there. Being selfish is not the same as True Self-Love. Being selfish is putting yourself on a gilded pedestal above others, with the caption “I’m better than you.” That is not true of anyone, anywhere, anytime. Someone might be better at, I don’t know, photography, say, than other people, and to own that is fine, good even, but that doesn’t make them a better person. You can love yourself authentically as you do your children, and be humble at the same time.
When I hear the scapegoater’s critical voice telling me that I’m not that special, “Who do you think you are, anyway?” It hurts because it’s a gas lighting question. There’s no way to answer it without sounding defensive. But there’s good defense and bad defense. If you take a little time to let the truth bubble up, Self-Love will whisper, “I think I am a good person, because I am. I think I am smart, because I am. I think I am lovable, because I am.” Self-Love doesn’t say “I think I’m a better person than you,” or “I think I’m smarter than you,” or “I think I’m more lovable than you.” That would be selfish.
Loving ourselves when we haven’t had a lot of experience with it can be terribly difficult. It starts with admitting that deep down we know ourselves to be good and worthy of love, because, you guessed it, you fucking are! Build Self-Love into a habit, by saying to yourself often and loud, whether you feel it in the moment or not, “I love me.” Look in the mirror and say, out loud, or using American Sign Language, “I love you!” Do this and I promise there will be a day when you won’t squirm so much saying it, when you will feel the love and laugh and cry with the wonder of it.
- Avoidance, a good thing. Give yourself permission to create distance from them, physical and mental, as much as possible while you live with them. When you avoid people who want to hurt you, you are doing a good thing by building healthy boundaries. They won’t think so, though. The trick with this tip is to recognize the fake guilt that comes with creating distance from scapegoaters. I call it fake guilt because dysfunctional families weaponize guilt to keep members “in their place”. They are skilled at manipulating you to feel fake guilt for taking care of yourself by declining an invitation to spend more time with them or doing their bidding in any way. Be aware that the discomfort is what they want you to feel so that you stop pulling away, emotionally maturing and creating healthy boundaries. Try to counter the fake guilt with the thought that it isn’t real, it isn’t you. Fake guilt is a foreign object implanted in you by the scapegoaters. Being aware of it doesn’t necessarily make it easier all of a sudden. It does make it much more manageable. With time and continued awareness you are strengthened.
- Let friends be there for you. Be in touch with whatever friends you have that get it, and who are confidently in your corner. Let them have your back. You may not be used to this because you’ve felt isolated all your life or told you are weak if you can’t do whatever by yourself. That’s bullshit. Ask the best ones in your friend group to be on-call for when the scapegoating gets rough. You can do the same for them if they ask. Your friend can either come get you or stay on the phone with you until you regain your healthy detachment. If you don’t have friends, get them!
- Find a therapist. Mic dropped. Boom! A therapist doesn’t replace good friends. A good therapist can help you explore what might be getting in the way of your finding friends if you don’t have them. A good therapist can provide you with an emotionally safe place to express yourself, the anger, pain and even the sometimes unbearable excitement of getting your life back, while you recover from being scapegoated. If you don’t know how to find a good therapist contact us at Explore What’s Next. We can guide you.
- Start work on your exit strategy now! Don’t wait until you have a new job or any job or your degree or a car or whatever measure you are using as the milestone for freedom. One way the scapegoater keeps you in your place is by fooling you into thinking there is no way out. Planning is good for your mental health and spirit even if you can’t act on the plan yet. It’s like creating a back door out of a prison cell while the guards stand at the front. Shawshank Redemption, anyone? So start work on your own private This Is My Life plan. Do you have a dream to have your own amazingly cute apartment? Start a business? Do something wild and bold with your life or lifestyle? If you don’t have a plan, talk about planning to make a plan with your friends, trusted allies and your good therapist. If you have a plan, there might be some action steps in there you can take now!
- For more reinforcement, read or listen to audiobooks and good podcasts. There are many but here are a few of my favorites:
Ten Percent Happier. An app, podcast and book to learn and maintain a meditation practice with the refreshing point of view of a skeptic.
Healing From Hidden Abuse, A Journey Through the Stages of Recovery From Psychological Abuse, by Shannon Thomas.
Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, by Karyl McBride
Unlocking Us, a podcast by Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong and more.
We Can Do Hard Things, another podcast, this one by Glennon Doyle, author of Love Warrior.
Life Candy. Being sweet, silly and kind to yourself matters! Life Candy brings you ideas to treat yourself that won’t bust your financial or time budget.
Please leave a comment and let me know if any of these tips help you out in your scapegoat situation. Share your own tip on how to cope with scapegoating while living at home if you don’t see it here. If you’re just beginning to understand how scapegoated you are, take it easy. Once your eyes are opened you might begin to see it everywhere. Take a deep breath, choose a tip or two that speaks to you and begin to exercise your Self-Love muscles. You can do this!