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Scapegoat Recovery
with Rebecca Mandeville, MA, MFT

Five Ways the Scapegoated Adult Experiences Disenfranchised Grief

Family scapegoating abuse survivors often experience ‘disenfranchised grief’ – an apt term coined by grief researcher Ken Doka. Per Doka (1989), disenfranchised grief is experienced when someone suffers a loss that is (or cannot) be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned, or publicly mourned.


I have yet to work with a client suffering from what I have named (for research purposes) Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) who was not experiencing a myriad of emotions related to their painful family experiences, including confusion, frustration, anger, sadness, hopelessness, and despair. However, rarely will my client view themselves as someone who may be grieving due to the many losses associated with being in the ‘family scapegoat‘ role.


The FSA Survivor and Disenfranchised Grief

Based on my years of experience working with clients in my psychotherapy and coaching practices, the FSA survivor’s experience of disenfranchised grief is associated with (but not limited to) the following circumstances:

1. Lost family connections: Specifically, the FSA survivor’s grief regarding having limited or no family contact is not recognized by others. This is particularly true in cases where the FSA survivor chose to limit or go ‘no contact’ with abusive family members to protect their own mental and emotional health.
2. Lost community and social connections: Many FSA survivors feel they have no choice but to relocate so as not to be forever stigmatized in their community due to family ‘smear campaigns’ designed to malign the FSA survivor’s reputation and character.
3. Not being recognized as a griever – and even being viewed as the cause of their own grief: The FSA survivor may be blamed and/or judged by others for distancing themselves from abusive family members (e.g., “Did you really have to end contact? I’m sure your family loves you and would want to see you, there’s no reason for you to feel so alone, why don’t you reach out to them?”) and therefore not deserving of support or even the right to grieve.
4. Grief is masked by intense feelings of anger, betrayal, and hurt: FSA survivors have been harmed and maltreated by the very people who were supposed to love and care for them the most: Their own family. The scapegoating parent, sibling, cousin, grandparent (etc) will typically not ever acknowledge their abusive acts, much less apologize for them. It is therefore understandable why many FSA survivors feel a chronic sense of anger, even rage, regarding how they have been treated. The fact that they may also be grieving specific losses related to being scapegoated as well as to their recovery process (e.g., ending contact with abusive family members and no longer being able to see siblings, nieces, nephews, etc) will often go unrecognized, including by the FSA survivor themselves.
5. Feeling isolated in their FSA experiences: As family scapegoating abuse can be subtle and insidious, many FSA survivors have difficulty identifying and discussing what has happened to them in their families (particularly if they are also suffering from complex trauma symptoms / C-PTSD). Sadly, it is common for the FSA adult survivor’s stories of maltreatment and even extreme abuse at the hands of a parent or other family member to not be believed, even by those they may have most counted on for help and validation. And because FSA survivors, like other abuse survivors, often experience unconscious ‘toxic shame‘, they may feel faulty and defective and undeserving of love, respect, comfort, and consideration, which further isolates them and deprives them of meaningful support.


The Importance of Recognizing Our Grief as FSA Survivors

Many people are familiar with Kubler-Ross’s ‘Five Stages of Grief’, which are:

    • Denial
    • Anger
    • Bargaining
    • Depression
    • Acceptance


This model of understanding healing from losses has been challenged over the years for a variety of reasons, including the implication that the grief process is linear. I agree that these stages are not linear – we could move in and out of any of these states at any time. When assessing a new FSA recovery client, however, I can get a feel during the first session where they are in their healing journey in regard to all that has happened to them, which can be a critical aspect of recovering from chronic family abuse. Note: For an insightful commentary on the grieving process, please visit David Kessler’s website – He co-authored books on grief and grieving with Kubler-Ross and addresses misunderstandings commonly associated with her original model (which, as Kessler emphasizes, has evolved over time).

I find many new FSA recovery clients hover between denial and bargaining. They simply can’t believe that the mistreatment they have experienced within their family qualifies as mental and emotional abuse. Some clients are well beyond the denial stage and are able to easily access their justifiable sense of ‘righteous anger’ and will be drawn to self-help books, online forums and social media content that allows them to freely express their outrage and pain over what may have been years of parental / family abuse.

It should also be noted that because many FSA survivors are simultaneously suffering from symptoms of complex trauma (see my article on FSA Survivors and C-PTSD), the process of grieving and accepting what may be years of chronic, repetitive abuse from parents and other family members can become particularly complicated, which I shall be addressing in a future article.

While each person’s recovery journey is unique, I have found both personally and as a clinician that if grief and the idea of grieving is avoided, deep and lasting healing from the trauma of family scapegoating abuse can be difficult to achieve. Doka’s concept of ‘disenfranchised grief’ has therefore been a gift to many of my FSA recovery clients, for within his descriptions of isolation and loss, they often find a critical aspect of their own experiences of isolation and loss.

If you related to anything in this article, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What you share may help others in their own recovery!

Have you been impacted by Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA)? Find out more by visiting my website (link included in my profile, below, along with a link to purchase my introductory eBook on FSA.  -Rebecca).

You are welcome to reprint this post with the following attribution:  

Rebecca C. Mandeville, MFT, specializes in recovering from the negative effects of being raised in dysfunctional / abusive family systems. She served as Core Faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and is a pioneer in defining and describing what she named (for research purposes) Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA). Today she focuses on helping family scapegoating abuse survivors navigate the unique challenges they face.


Doka, K. J. (Ed.). (1989). Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing hidden sorrow.
Lexington, MA: Lexington.

Articles of Interest

What Family Scapegoating Abuse Survivors Need to Know About C-PTSD

16 Experiences Common to Adult Survivors of Family Scapegoating Abuse

The Invisible Wounds of the ‘Family Scapegoat’


Five Ways the Scapegoated Adult Experiences Disenfranchised Grief

Rebecca C. Mandeville, MFT

Rebecca C. Mandeville, MFT, specializes in recovering from the negative effects of being raised in dysfunctional / abusive family systems. She served as Core Faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and is a pioneer in defining and describing what she named (for research purposes) 'Family Scapegoating Abuse' (FSA). Today she focuses on helping family scapegoating abuse survivors navigate the unique challenges they face.

You can email Rebecca at [email protected] to see if her counseling or coaching services are right for you. You may also purchase Rebecca's introductory eBook on FSA recovery to learn more about the signs and symptoms of FSA.

You are invited to visit Rebecca's website to learn more about Family Scapegoating Abuse as well as sign up for her monthly FSA newsletter and access resources, including her introductory eBook on FSA.

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APA Reference
Mandeville, R. (2020). Five Ways the Scapegoated Adult Experiences Disenfranchised Grief. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 May 2020
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