When social structures appear to be falling down all around us as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the adult survivor of Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) may be uniquely equipped to deal with the psychosocial stressors associated with limited contact with others, as well as social isolation. But does that make them ‘strong’?
The Negative Impact of Social Isolation
Many articles focusing on the psychosocial impact of the coronavirus rightly address the toll that ‘social distancing’ protocols might be taking on our mental health.
Social distancing is undoubtedly the most effective tool available to slow the spread of COVID-19, but there are understandable repercussions for individuals following local and state ‘stay-at-home’ orders, including the experience of stress, anxiety, and depression related to what for many is enforced isolation.
It occurred to me while reading various Mental Health-related articles on the subject of ‘social distancing’ this week that many adults who are in the ‘family scapegoat’ role have experienced stress, anxiety, depression, and even trauma symptoms due to having to limit or even end contact with one or more members of their family-of-origin – Yet their pain, sense of isolation, and their psychosocial losses often go unrecognized, including within the mental health profession.
These mental health symptoms are a direct consequence of their socially isolated state, yet rarely is their suffering acknowledged or validated by others. Instead, support and reassurance from family they may still be in touch with, and even their friends, may be non-existent.
In fact, the scapegoated adult’s suffering is often dismissed and minimized via comments such as, “Your parents did the best they could – Stop playing the victim and just get over your childhood!”
The Systemic Chaos of the Dysfunctional Family System
Our original family system is the first ‘social structure’ we are born into. It is the framework that supports our growing sense of self, and it is within our family-of-origin container that we develop a sense of trust or mistrust regarding the world around us.
Those of us who grew up in dysfunctional family environments are familiar with systemic chaos and disorder, including the fear and anxiety that results from having grown up on fractured and shaken energetic family ‘ground’.
If we happened to also be in the unfortunate role of family scapegoat, we may have experienced distancing and rejecting behaviors from our own family members, as well as covert and overt forms of abuse (read my article on experiences common to scapegoated adults for examples of what I named family scapegoating abuse).
Many scapegoated adult survivors have no choice but to eventually choose their own mental and emotional health and overall well-being over maintaining certain (or even all) family-of-origin ties.
But in choosing to remove themselves from the sphere of abusive family members, new mental health challenges are encountered and little support or information is available to help the scapegoated adult in their recovery from the intrapsychic and emotional wounds sustained via covert and overt systemic / familial abuse.
Scapegoated Adults and Social Distancing
Now, millions around the world are feeling the effects of disintegrating social structures as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic. We have been asked to make radical life changes seemingly overnight as a result of the coronavirus, including adhering to social distancing requirements.
As social distancing is something that adult survivors of family scapegoating are usually quite familiar with (having no choice but to employ such tactics with their own relatives), I decided to ask my social media followers if they felt that being the target of family scapegoating had strangely prepared them mentally and emotionally for social distancing. Below is some of their responses:
“Honestly, it’s been a breeze. I have no social life. Very few friends. I’ve had to make NO adjustments, to be honest.”
“Oh definitely! I’m used to being alone. Rather be alone than be judged or talked about.”
“I have been enjoying this time, and being ignored, neglected, isolated as a kid taught me to develop my own interests, I am used to this.”
“I’m a master at this and have long been prepared.”
“Interesting question. I’ve been wondering the same. In a way, I feel less threatened in a social sense because the only person I have to interact with on a daily basis is my spouse.”
“No adjustments needed.”
“Honestly, that’s me you’re talking about!”
Clearly, a number of theses respondents were already living in a manner that made adjusting to current social distancing requirements relatively easy. Several people also wrote me privately to share it was a “relief” to have a reason to avoid seeing family they were scapegoated by but still in contact with. “I won’t have to make up a reason why I won’t be at that wedding” (or birthday party, memorial, baby shower, etc).
Others wrote to share they didn’t feel so “alone” because they weren’t the only ones existing in a state of social isolation, although some expressed feeling guilty because of their response.
Is It Strength? Or Simply the Will to Survive?
I read many articles and books on recovering from dysfunctional family systems, but only rarely do I feel that the agonizing, double-bind filled existence of the severely scapegoated child or adult child is adequately addressed.
How to make sense of the fact that some mothers, some fathers, some siblings, and even some extended family members (whether consciously or unconsciously) reject, shame, blame, and abuse one of their own?
Yes, one could say that the scapegoated adult’s ability to easily adjust to current social distancing requirements is a ‘strength’. Just as we might say they are strong for adjusting to unimaginable losses that typically go unnoticed and unacknowledged by society.
However, by labeling adult survivors of family dysfunction and abuse as ‘strong’ in uniform fashion, we are in a sense denying them their pain and their right to feel grief and also rage regarding their many losses – including and especially the loss of meaningful family connections.
I therefore suggest that versus assuming all family abuse survivors are ‘strong’ due to their ability to adjust to unpleasant, even incomprehensible circumstances, we instead extend them our genuine compassion, along with a non-judgmental, listening ear in an attempt to provide understanding, validation, and support.
Have you been impacted by Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA)? Find out by reading ’16 Experiences Common to Family Scapegoating Survivors’ (link included in my profile, below, along with information regarding how to access my website, where you can purchase my introductory eBook on FSA. -Rebecca).
You are welcome to reprint this post with the following attribution: Rebecca C. Mandeville, LMFT, is an internationally recognized expert in recovering from the negative effects of being raised in a dysfunctional family system. She is a pioneer in researching, defining, and describing what she named ‘Family Scapegoating Abuse’ (FSA). You can learn more about Rebecca’s online (video) Scapegoat Recovery coaching services and/or purchase her introductory eBook on FSA by visiting scapegoatrecovery.com
Photo by katiaromanova