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are you the scapegoat in your family dynamic? Here’s how to cope...
Andy Garland Therapies - Counselling Cardiff - Mental Health Services Cardiff - Cardiff Therapists - Are you the scapegoat in your family dynamic? Here’s how to cope

Being made the scapegoat is a truly painful experience. How do you heal from it? 'Scapegoat' is a real buzzword in the final drop of Netflix's Harry & Meghan episodes. Meghan's friend describes her as such, while the Duchess of Sussex herself details the way the royal family swarmed around her as a "foreign organism".

Accusations of the royals leaking stories on Meghan and the sheer volume of negative press around her (especially when compared to the coverage of Kate) bolsters the sense that she was indeed scapegoated by both the media and the royal family, used as a target to chuck whatever negative things could be found to see what would stick.

None of us will find ourselves in the same position as Meghan, with the same level of attention paid to our every step. But a similarity many of us will share is being made the scapegoat within our family dynamic, serving as the one to blame for any issue that arises.

You might see this pattern play out in the form of one sibling always being 'the bad one', a particular family member being portrayed as someone who causes problems or blaming a wider family issue on just one person. "Scapegoating is a sign of bigger dysfunction within the family," says Counselling Directory member Tricia St Clair. "They can't face the real issues so go for the weakest: those who can't or won't stand up for themselves.

"You are blamed for things that may not have been responsible for. It may be that some gaslighting is going on. Whatever it is, you will know by the lack of compassion within the family." Being made the scapegoat by your family is deeply painful. Left unacknowledged, it can start to dramatically affect the way you view yourself - you start to think that you really are the problem.

"Scapegoating and making one child the butt of negative comparisons while praising their siblings is divisive and deeply undermining to a child's development of self-worth," notes senior therapist Sally Baker. "Family dysfunction is on a spectrum and it is only in the worst cases of family favouritism, the kind that makes the national news, when parents care for some of their offspring while leaving a sibling or other children severely neglected or uncared for.

"It is OK to keep family at arm's length if there are toxic issues or simply to protect yourself"

"What is more common is a child being labelled by their parents or carers as being the 'clumsy one', or the 'slow-learner', or the 'troublesome child', or even 'the black sheep' of the family. "I've seen many clients who struggled as adults with the confusion and hurt they felt about the unfairness of how they were raised in comparison to how their siblings were treated more favourably. Rifts in childhood originating in either conspicuous or covert differences in treatment and expectations run deep and can often endure for decades."

What can hurt all the more is that there's no reason behind the treatment. You've been cast as the scapegoat simply because you're vulnerable, rather than because you've done anything wrong. "Time and time again within family dynamics it's not the event or decision itself that can cause emotional harm but the lack of explanation or discussion that can leave a child to believe that they are at fault for the decision their elders made on their behalf," Baker adds.

How do you start to heal the pain of being a scapegoat? The first step is often removing yourself from the dynamic. "It is vital to move away from the negative internal voices and put your attention to something that works in your life," says St Clair. "It is OK to keep family at arm's length if there are toxic issues or simply to protect yourself." Instead, surround yourself with "empathic", affirming people who "know their own minds" and don't buy into your family's narrative, advises St Clair.

Unlearning the messages that have been sent to you as a scapegoat is essential, and something that is best done with the help of a mental health professional. If you've been told, time and time again, that you're the problem, that you're a bad person or that there's something wrong with you, especially by members of your family, you can start to believe it's true. It will take time and work to untangle the deep roots of those beliefs.

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