57 thoughts on “Black Sheep, Scapegoats and Family Systems Therapy (Part 2)

  • October 29, 2010 at 12:27 am

    so what happens if you try to have a relationship with one family member at a time but no one person will break away from the group to have a relationship with you for fear of being rejected by the rest of the family??
    I am the very successful black sheep who no one will speak with.. Also what do you do if they all say its because you are not our religion? I mean how can you work around that??

    Reply
    • October 31, 2010 at 12:32 am

      You raise some really good questions, Jackie… and it can be so tough to work around these sorts of things.

      Ultimately (as you’ve no doubt heard before), you can probably only control your end of the relationship, and do what you can.
      It doesn’t sound like much, I know.

      But the good thing is that, even if no-one else comes to the party with you on evolving the family relationships, making those changes yourself can invite amazing relief and insight into your own life.

      Bowen felt that if we stay “cut off” from our family, that it’s actually a kind of “fusion” – and that if we don’t resolve that fusion somehow, then we’re likely to carry it around inside us, and unwittingly inflict it on other relationships in our life.
      So while ever our family relationships are this painful to us, even if we’re cut off from our family geographically, they’re still wandering around in our heads somewhere – along with our way of relating to them, and possibly even influencing our relationships with the rest of the world.

      Often, families reach an equilibrium of sorts, which is relatively ‘safe’ or ‘comfortable’ for many (not necessarily too comfortable for the black sheep, though).
      Some theorists relate this to being in balance together like a mobile. So it’s thought that if you do something different outside of the family norm, that you occupy a different place in that mobile, and all others will subtly shift accordingly to find a new balance together.

      So maybe it’s worth a try. And it may take time. But often even just understanding your family more deeply from a systemic perspective can help to resolve some of that fusion and pain.

      Reply
  • October 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    My husband is to Jackie, he’s the successful black sheep in his family. I believe sometimes families are so stuck in patterns they can‘t or don‘t want to change or even begin to meet half way, my father in law like the power it gave him, he’d never give it up. My husbands parents, his two siblings and him were the players of his family triangle. Now to be fair there was abuse and alcohol involved in the marital relationship between the parents so this clearly played a part. The family as a whole had a gang mentality always reporting to the father who was the major aggressor- ringleader, my husband wouldn‘t partake, making him the scapegoat. As it turned out my husband came to find out this man was not his natural father, that he had been adopted by him that his mother had married him when he was a baby. After thirty years of scapegoat-ing and triangulation and a good amount of abuse he decided to end his relationship with all four of them.

    Reply
    • October 31, 2010 at 1:59 am

      I’m sorry to hear of all that your husband has been through, j…

      And I agree with you, it seems that “sometimes families are so stuck in patterns they can‘t or don‘t want to change or even begin to meet half way”

      Black sheep certainly have a lot to handle sometimes…

      Reply
  • March 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Detriangling sounds like such a good idea. But there is very little info out there on how to do this (I mean, like an instruction manual!), if you are in the outsider position and the others are banded together against you. How to stay in contact with others if they all talk about you behind your back? If they are poisoning your children against you? This is a very hurtful thing. Nothing seems to work. They all hide under the guise of “we are just so concerned about you. We are just trying to help.” So they are all talking about me behind my back, so very concerned about my mismanagement of my life (I’m actually functioning in a normal fashion so their attitude is really BIZARRE; they just don’t agree with my parenting style or my choice of work or the way I wear my hair, or anything; as I try to be myself, and they don’t like my choices! That’s all it is — I am within the range of normal; just kind of artsy; not the scientist they wanted me to be…) and they are constantly meddling. I’m 41 years old, so enough is a enough. I’d love to know what I’m doing to perpetuate this treatment, so that I could be more aware and make whatever changes I need to make, to get it to stop. It’s so unbearable I am tempted to cut off from my family, but that seems wrong… yet continuing to be involved hurts too much. They won’t accept me for who I am.

    Reply
    • December 13, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      I am also 41 years old & have been a victim of this all of my life. My mother and sister have always been best friends & I have always been the black sheep of the family. I have graduated college, have a very successful career and own my own home. I have absolutely no vices (don’t drink or smoke). I work every day and attend church regularly. However, no matter what I do, it is never enough. I am still talked about and harassed constantly (under the guise of concern). They have turned my own daughter (21 years old) against me and she now exhibits the same behavior towards me as they do. The only thing I can think to do at this point is to seprarate myself from them. I feel like I’m leaving myself open to constant unhappiness by staying in touch with them.

      Reply
    • August 20, 2013 at 6:53 pm

      The black sheep is the most PURE and functioning person in the ‘clan’. They are the “oddballs” because they are normal. Most of this abuse comes from the grandparents NPD and/or BPD….somewhere along the line, a parent decided you should be the black sheep while another authority figure in the family reinforced it (most likely an older aunt/uncle or grandparent). I do agree that cutting off your family (i haven’t spoken to my family in over 7 years), it does sort of act as a fusion. BUT, I don’t agree with why it acts as a fusion as it states in this article; I believe it is a fusion because the family does not have their scapegoat to dump all of their negative emotions and dysfunction on.

      Since I have been gone from my dysfunctional family (my role was the hero AND the black sheep/scapegoat), both roles I refused to play. I have cut off family members who go fishing for anything negative on my Facebook account by blocking them. I changed my phone number, will only talk or communicate with certain family members WITH boundaries. If I connect with a family member, more than likely, they are not a part of the ‘gang’ clan and/or live out of state. If you do connect with family members, avoid talking about how the “others have done you wrong” because they can take this info back or the family member will smell your vulnerability and join in on the harrassment or scapegoating. Talk positive about the other family members, even if you hate their guts and they hate yours, because when that family member you are trying to connect with overhears the “gang” talking about you, that will make them know something isn’t right and look at you in a good light while looking at the others as if they have grown three heads.

      God also has blessed us with TWO sides of the family…your mom’s side and your dad’s side. Use that to your advantage.

      Reply
  • April 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Do you have any special comments for the “white sheep” of the family? That was my role. I have been studying Bowen’s Family Systems Theory for a few years now, and it has been immensely helpful in helping me to think more clearly about my family’s patterns. Interestingly, as I have made progress de-triangling, my brother, “the black sheep”, has made tremendous progress reconnecting with the family. From my perspective, breaking out of the white sheep role is a challenge because generally speaking society reinforces the white sheep all the time for being ” so good” even if that goodness is imbalanced or anxiety-driven.

    Reply
    • May 7, 2011 at 6:38 pm

      Hi Mary,

      What a great question! And a beautiful way of putting it – the ‘white sheep’ of the family.

      Yes, what happens to all of that anxiety-driven ‘goodness’ that can be fuelling ‘white sheep’ behaviour? Especially when, as you say, it’s often so strongly reinforced, both by society and maybe also within the family.

      As you know (having studied Bowen’s Family Systems Theory for some time), often when one person’s position within the family changes, everyone’s role shifts a bit. So there can be huge resistance when someone tries to branch out into new territory – lots of “change back!” pressure.

      I think that goes for white sheep as much as black sheep. So when, as a white sheep, you try to explain that you’re tired of the bleach job, and that your natural colour is what you’d like to try to let grow in for a change, there can be pressure to keep stripping the colour out. You may come across sentiments like “That’s just not you!” if you introduce new behaviour, where you back away from the ‘good’ old ways.

      White sheep can sometimes have a kind of ‘family mascot’ role, too – kind of representing the whole family in their ‘goodness’ or their acheivements – so when that stuff is threatened, it can really matter to the whole clan. Again, this can mean more resistance…

      Plus, white sheep might have been taking on some of the ’emotional housework’ that others have been able to shirk up until now…

      So, if you’re trying to change any of that, it can be tough.
      It can be hard enough to overcome all the internal anxieties about giving up parts of your ‘good’ role (as it might be the part that feels most known to you).
      Add external pressure to change back, and it’s an interesting mix of emotions, indeed…

      But I guess it all comes back to that Bowenian idea of balancing the forces of individuality and togetherness.

      As a ‘good’ white sheep, there’s often a lot of togetherness going on: pleasing others, looking to what others might want first, banding everyone together (or trying to), being the peacemaker.

      Yet, you’re still also an individual within the system… so it can really be worth supporting that and thinking about how it might be possible to invite that sense of individuality in a little more. In a way that’s still safe for you.

      (For what might it mean if you spent another year – or another decade – just fulfilling a role that you feel isn’t really expressing all of who you are?)

      And how wonderful that you might discover what colour sheep you actually are right now (under all that bleach).

      I wish you well in your endeavours, Mary. And thanks for sharing part of your journey here with us.

      Reply
  • May 25, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I’m both a white sheep and a black sheep (white growing up, black as an adult, I’m 55). My only sister and my late mother formed a triangle with me, according to this systems theory. My older sister excommunicated me about 4 weeks before my mother passed away. I am not to contact her in any way or she will ask for a restraining order. I’m not an awful person, I spent the last three weeks of my mom’s life caring for her and my father and the rest of my family is grateful for that (none of them helped or showed up, for the most part). But without my mom, who was the glue holding the family together, there are no get-togethers, and my dad quickly remarried and has a new life (he was 81 when she died). I am definitely estranged from my family, who all live in different cities. I think they get together at Christmas and possibly other occasions, but exclude me most times to placate my sister. I also never experienced the grieving process because I took care of my mom & dad, then my dad, helping him dispose of the house contents, etc. and then I just got busy with my own business. In the last two months, I realized that my physiological distress was being caused by grief over the loss of my mother. So how can I start the healing process for these issues?

    Reply
  • May 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    I’m the pure black-blooded black sheep, which is strange to me, because I have the best marriage and the most balanced kids, and stood by my parents when they were falsely accused. My Dad died 2 years ago, and I lost the only family I’d ever had. My brother lost his career due to suicide attempts, medical issues and addictions. My sister recreated our family (minus me) in her own. I’m the youngest, and my mother triangulates with both my siblings. My brother is more attached to our mother than to his own wife, and he calls me only on her behalf. My sister was the bully/manipulator who was never held accountable, and who once used her charm and persuasion to turn my brother and sister-in-law against our parents. Now she does with my mother (to me) what she once did to her. I’ve asked for acknowledgment and accountability, and was given the amnesia game, the old “it’s in the past/doesn’t matter” reply, and the change-the-subject-into-accusations argument game. It’s pointless.

    Reply
  • September 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Never thought I would be sending this in. I am the black sheep. Always have been. And try as I may, it will remain that way. I am alone. But it’s okay. My mother loved me greatly while she was alive, as well as my baby brother. But they are gone and the others have shut me out. I am the oldest and have a different father than the others. My youngest accepted it but the others say I am not “their” blood. Okay no problem. Everyone else is gone, by their choice, and although I have tried to stay in touch via phone, mail, Facebook, etc., I have finally given up and said okay, fine. Have it your way. Your loss. I go to the movies, I knit, I crochet, I read, and if I begin to feel a little lonely, I go to the nursing home around the corner and spend time with people who, many of whom don’t have a family either, who know nothing about my past, and yet smile the moment I come in the door. I have a purpose. Maybe not the one I wanted, but I’m okay. And my faith keeps me strong and faithful and longing for a world other than this one where I will go to when I die and be surrounded by love. I can wait. I am truly sorry for the pain you are all feeling….I do feel it too. But when a cancer develops and starts to grow, sometimes the only way is to cut it out. I love life and I love my family, no matter what. But I am me, and they are who they are, and distance is what we have in common…their choice. Stay strong….love life.

    Reply
    • September 14, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      Wow, Kathie… I’m inspired by how you found your sense of purpose despite all the hardship you faced – how you discovered what you needed to do to get through this, and are now doing it. How you’re sharing your life with others. And how you’ve shared your inspiration with us, too: “Stay strong… love life.”

      Reply
    • April 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      this is just a very cool and awesome post!

      Reply
  • November 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I am the typical black sheep of my family – it’s a heartbreaking time for me. I love my children so deeply and I thought I was a good mother; devoting all my time to them, putting my life on hold if you like. I divorced their father some 8 years ago due to severe and enduring abuse which happened in front of them. I thought when the marriage was over, the absue would end and it did for a time. But another abuse took its place from my sister who is 4 years older than me.

    She wanted nothing to do with my kids. Her own daughter now 24 has a history of stealing and i heard my sister has to lock up rooms when she goes out so her daughter cant steal. She wanted nothing to do with my children, that is until I hit a bad patch with my son who went back to live with the man I tried so hard to get away from. Guess what, my sister started to contact my son. She even contacted my ex husband and started bad mouthing me to him. When my son went it really hurt my daughter and me and my daughter knew how much it hurt me. My daughter just 15 developed anorexia as a way of coping and hadn’t seen her father for 5 years again due to abuse. But since anorexia she has gone to live with her father, completely shutting me out of knowing about any medical information. It is excrutiating.

    So none of the medical team will talk to me, her father will not talk to me, my son and my relationship is very frage and guess what? The minute my daughter left, my sister started contacting her. Now, I have nobody but my mother who is 81. They are all so against me and my kids never see me. My daughter told me I deserved nobody talking to me, that she knows why nobody will but it is not up to her to uncover it for me, that is something I will have to do. I went to my sister to try to make amends and she told me to get my head sorted out and closed the door on me. I have been for therapy not because I need it but to help me to deal with this situation and I have tried to find a way back in but I feel as though I have been kicked out of the pack and only today I spoke to my mum about going to see her christmas day and she went quiet when I asked her what the problem was she said I’m not sure if your sister will be coming and I can’t have both of you here together.

    This is not a situation where I was the one who wasn’t successful. I did really well bringing up my kids single handed knowing my sister wanted nothing to do with me, I was told that daily by my mum and knowing the kids father would never have a good word to say about me. I am not a bad person. In fact I do not do revenge nor do I do trying to make people feel bad, but I am so down. It’s as though every way I turn I am hit by a wall. I don’t fit. Nobody cares.

    I told my son I am so hurt and upset and I started shouting this to try to get him to hear me and he said this is why I don’t want to speak to you – I’ve heard it all before. And this is exactly what their father used to say. People keep telling me they will come round and come back to me, but I am so worried they never will come to their senses and understand the reason I wanted them to do homework was because I cared. Their father has allowed my son who was just 15 to sleep with his 14 year old girlfriend in his house in the same bed and even gone away for weekends and left him alone with her. I would never have allowed that. He allows him to stay out until whatever time he wants to.

    Please someone tell me they will come back. The sad thing is my daughter knew me so well and knows exactly which buttons to press to hurt me. Can someone offer some words of comfort in that dreadful situation. I have honestly thought I cant go on. I don’t fit in anywhere.

    Reply
    • November 30, 2011 at 6:57 pm

      It’s been such a heartbreaking time for you, Linda – I’m so glad you reached out to share your story with us here in this online community.

      What really struck me was your love for your family, the pain and courage you’ve walked through, and your hope that together you’ll all find a way through this.

      I just wanted to check-in with you about something, though: When you say you have sometimes “honestly thought I can’t go on,” does that mean you’ve maybe felt like you’ve lost that sense of hope? Or maybe even wondered how you’ll keep on living?

      If you ever find you’re having thoughts about not living, or dying, or suicide, it’s really important to talk with someone about it. It’s really important you reach out again, to someone who can support you – sometimes that might be a friend or a counsellor in your local area, or to call a crisis line and talk it over with them.

      I don’t know where you live, but if you’re having any of those kind of suicidal thoughts, here’s a great place to start, with some crisis phone lines all over the world: http://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/

      I know it can be exhausting when you’ve already gone through so much. But it sounds like you want to do all you can to not only help heal this pain in you, but also help heal the hurt that’s come between you and your family… And I know you’ve had the courage and strength to reach out here, so I encourage you to use those strengths you have to reach out to someone a little closer to you, too – someone who can really be there with you as you continue to find a way.

      And know that we’re behind you all the way…

      Reply
  • December 1, 2011 at 2:52 am

    Thank you gabriella for responding so quickly. No I don’t really feel suicidal just in a permanent state of shock that I have ended up as the black sheep. I was criticised so much as a child with sentences on a daily basis starting with the trouble with you or you know what your problem is or your too this your too that to the point where I thought if I lived my life by the straight and narrow nobody could criticsise me and if i always did the right thing then nobody could put me down. So I set about educating myself and getting good educations for my kids and i grew as a person while they stayed stuck and s those problems they said i had were just projections of themselves.

    Reply
    • December 1, 2011 at 3:12 am

      Hang in there, Linda – it sounds like you’ve faced so much over so many years. And there’s also so much strength and wisdom that you’ve grown throughout that time.

      As you say, the lure of the “straight and narrow” life can be a powerful one (I know the ‘good girl’ myth only too well…) – where the promise of a life free of criticism seems to be there, if only we do ‘the right thing’.

      It sounds like you’re overcoming all of that, as hard as that process has been at times. And seeing that sometimes, though we may bring our best hopes or love to a situation, perhaps we can’t predict or control the outcomes…

      I can hear that you only want the best for you and your family, despite the pain that’s been there, and that you’re working towards that. May you all find it soon.

      Reply
  • December 1, 2011 at 3:25 am

    I prematurely sent the last response. So they have projected onto me what they are themselves. It has got to the point where I cannot speak to them to resolve anything. I use the I statements then get told it is all about me. They use the you this you that and my brother in law got on the phone to me and just shouted and shouted and didn’t give me a chance to speak at all and i kept calmly saying can you please let me speak and he ignored me but it was a load of abuse and then he just put the phone down. Nobody in the family want to listen to the pain i am going through because they want nothing to do with me. I feel I have been tossed in the garbage that all my efforts to do the right thing for my children have been trashed and because my son got in with a crowd of people who were dragging him down. His friend had attempted suicide on three occasions and it was affecting my son so while I tried to discourage it his father encouraged it. I wanted him to go to grammar school in sixth form and he was on track his father scoffed at it. I phoned on Numerous occasions to tell my ex and my son about the effect his leaving was having on my daughter but nobody listened. Eventually I had to watch my daughter disappear and try to get her help which was refused time and time again until she could recognise there was a problem. I felt so alone. I told her brother and he told me not to mention it to go softly softly. I kept telling everyone I was worried. Eventually i tried to get her to realise there was a problem and so started to tell her she looked skeletal and that if she didn’t eat she would die. After a huge row out of the blue she contacted her father who she had stayed away from for 5 years. She then went to stay with him and she got down to a very low weight and when i rang him to see how she was he just said he was monitoring the situation so again I set about trying to help but behind the scenes. I got social services involved and he told her i had got them involved to get the men in little white coats to come to take her away from him. She will now have nothing to do with me because of this. She was hospitalized and would only allow me to see her when she felt like it. My sister who didn’t want to know our family contacted both my children when they left to further enhance their distance from me. I have always felt as though I have been prevented from doing the right thing. So would this mean I am the black sheep i don’t know. But with Christmas coming it really hurts extra. I want my life to be how it was with my kids prior to Ollie getting involved with the wrong crowd. My son was a straight a student and his mates weren’t and so to fit in he hasn’t bothered much and that coupled with his father telling him over and over he wanted him to be a rock star which sounded a lot of fun to a teenager. Also my ex says frequently that he doesn’t believe in boundaries and just leaves them to get on with it. Such an awful sitution in which I feel totally powerless. Any suggestions anyone?

    Reply
    • March 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      The theorists that say that if you cut family ties you’ll carry the pain around inside you, makes me wonder if they’ve been through the same crap as a scapegoat/black sheep.

      On paper things look mighty different than they do in real life. When you’ve been brought up to be the one they triangulate against and in my case my sister always goes to my mom with a problem she has with me and then my mom calls me to “straighten things out.” But it’s so obvious that she’s already made her decision, sees it my sister’s way and is calling to get me to “bend.”

      And that’s only a small part of our wonderful family dynamic. I have finally found a therapist who is helping me work through my issues and I’m seeing where I have contributed. And that really is key as we cannot change others by remote control. However, their ways of relating to you CAN change, if you change the way you conduct yourself.

      As the scapegoat my anxiety comes from needing to or wanting to say no to something that everyone else in the family views as obligation, but I’m so wrapped up in how they might react to that. And so to avoid anger, wrath or disagreements, I just give in, compromise myself.

      I haven’t created boundaries for myself and as a result they easily see me as someone they can take advantage of…or use ridiculous arguments to get me to do what they need me to do.

      I read above from someone that when using the I feel statements, her family members turn it all around with accusations of you this and you that. I had to shake my head because that’s exactly what my sister does. The last conversation I had with her using those I feel statements, she pointed fingers and even told me I do the very things she actually does, like call to groan about other family members. Not something I do. She also accused me of being negative. Something I hear from her when she talks about certain things. It can be crazy making.

      It also gets confusing because after a lifetime of giving in to keep peace, what I want has gotten lost and when to say Yes and when to say No gets blurred.

      As far as theory goes, I think it’s rubbish. But then I’m not a doctor, PhD or “shrink.” But I have life experience with this crap.

      Everyone reacts to abuse differently. And it really becomes about how it’s received and perceived by the abuseD. So although theory and reading about it might help us understand intellectually what we’re dealing with, it doesn’t deal with the emotion behind it. What about real life and each INDIVIDUAL???

      Some of the stuff I read in the comments here, I think if I was dealing with half of it, I’d distance myself to the point of cutting myself out with possibly No Response but keep an open mind and an open door for future reconciliation.

      All the talk about cutting off winds up being about it being permanent. In some cases that might be healthiest and safest. And in other cases it might just be temporary and just what the scapegoat needs to become stronger, for their own self care. I know for me it was drilled into my head that thinking about myself in any capacity was just selfish and everyone else’s feelings should come first.

      Sometimes staying in touch with the family while working through your own stuff can be more damaging. Yes, you can use certain situations to practice new found consciousness within the family, but that can be scary and anxiety causing and sometimes you’re so beaten down, you need to separate, even for just a time to strengthen yourself, discover who you really are as an individual and learn how to relate outside that dynamic.

      So that if you choose to reunite with those family members, you can be much more sure of yourself, more confident, stronger and much more able to stand your ground and utilize boundaries that can be constructed while away.

      Because sometimes, the “pain you carry inside you” WHILE staying in touch with family can be more damaging than the grieving the loss. And why stay in touch with someone who wants to keep you in their own little box and shackles for their own self serving purposes? That makes no sense. Most of us wouldn’t put up with it from someone who doesn’t have DNA in common with us, so why should we put up with it from family?

      We might think that family “should” be the people that love us and allow us to fly but sometimes that isn’t the case.

      Cutting off even just for a time can be freeing, less stressful and allow you to fly since once you’ve made the decision to do so and have done it, there’s no one to worry about approval from.

      Reply
      • March 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm

        The above comment ended up in the wrong place. It should be a comment on its own, not a reply to Linda. Although it’s a response to article and all posts I’ve read so far. Moderator, if you can move it to the end of the line, that would be great.
        If not, no big deal. Thanks.

        Reply
      • October 7, 2014 at 5:20 am

        Hurrah, Luann! In reading the article and the comments above yours, I was pretty much thinking what you have said above. Theory is nice, but if the author of this piece or the theorists she quotes had to grow up in the intractible dysfunction of a household headed by a personality disordered parent, they would all sing a very different tune.

        You hit the nail on the head with your comment about changing others: you can only change yourself and, by changing yourself, you MAY be able to change the way others interact with you but there is no guarantee that the change you inspire will be better. In my case, drawing and enforcing boundaries (changing the way I behaved) only inspired my abusers to up the ante and move from lying to each other about me to lying to the authorities. The outcome wasn’t pretty…she was, in my Golden Child brother’s words, vindictive and spiteful. And anything she might interpret as “defiance” was brutally punished, even long after I reached adulthood. She even punished me after death by disinheriting me and leaving my portion of the estate to my daughter, disinheriting my sons “for reasons they already know.” Well, they didn’t know (my mother refused to meet my youngest son, who was 28 by the time she died) and my daughter didn’t share and my mother effectively passed the dysfunction down to yet another generation by making my daughter the “Golden Grandchild” and the rest of us black sheep.

        What we must remember is that being designated a black sheep has NOTHING to do with us, with our behaviour, with our worthiness to be loved, it has to do with the person(s) who identified us as black sheep and their needs…at the expense of ours. If the strongest member of the family is personality disordered, no amount of changing how you interact, no amount of trying to break the triangulation, will help you. The only thing you can do is get away, out of the line of fire. Anybody who grew up with these people and has struggled futilely to be heard knows this.

        Reply
  • December 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I am the classic black sheep/scapegoat. Two of my three brothers have said directly to me that I am the common denominator for all the strife and anger in our family. My third brother doesn’t speak to me at all.

    I’ve tried many times over the last several years to engage each brother separately and I thought maybe one brother and I stood a chance but that has quickly dissipated. Even aunts/uncles and cousins do not like me, clearly. I have tried with them but I’m not successful.

    Since I was a young girl I was told I was worthless, a freak and would amount to nothing. This has played in my head for almost 40 years. Instead of trying to work it out, wouldn’t it be more healthy to cut it off?

    Reply
    • December 4, 2011 at 2:02 am

      It’s been a hard road, by the sounds of it, Kelley – one where you probably learned a lot about your own strength, I imagine…

      And, as you say, it’s fair enough to consider getting off the road altogether if it’s costing too much to be there.

      Some people (and theorists) feel that if you do cut off, you might just end up carrying that pain around inside you instead of keeping it between you and the other people.
      But sometimes it’s just too painful to stay…. Sometimes a break can be useful, to get a bit of time to yourself away from the pain, to gather yourself before making or allowing contact again.

      It’s a very personal choice… and I can hear that you’re bringing a lot of thought and heart into your decision around all of this.

      Reply
  • December 20, 2011 at 4:17 am

    Just starting this therapy and already in floods of tears. I was raped at 3 and I think my father made my mother his scapegoat because I was far too young to be outside the safety of the yard. Then as a7yr old when I was carrying a potty full of boiling water and mum was vacuuming, her arm came up full pelt and the boiling water went all over my face and neck. I heard my dad come in fro, work and he said to her “If she’s marked you’re dead”. I know he didn’t mean literally dead, but those 2 times my dad scapegoated my mum and she repaid in in every possible situation she could. No matter what I did for her & Dad I didn’t seem worthy of thanks from her for anything, even up to & including Dads death.& My brother was the daughter my mother never had and I was the son my father always wanted. They still do it to me now. My sister who had breast cancer last year used me as her last minute blow up before her surgery, when in fact it was her boyfriend causing her worry, being in a place that she KNEW he would get back onto drugs. He was on bail & couldn’t afford a slip up so I was trying to get him back from there. She hadn’t cried or really spoken about the cancer until the night before, she was crying as she went to bed. She was quiet that next morning a couple of hours before surgery; so she chose me. I understand in one regard, but like my brother is a protected one with my mother. It’s a longer story than this but can’t put it here..

    Reply
    • December 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      Rhiannon, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through so much… it’s a testament to your strength and courage.

      And I’m glad that you’re starting this therapy, as it can be so helpful to have someone accompany you as you kind of ‘untangle’ your story safely, and see all the complex strands of the family, and also see how you might want to re-weave parts of it for yourself, if that makes sense. It’s good to know that you’ll have the support of a therapist as you explore some of this painful territory.

      So I wish you all that you need and want around you as you embark on this important work. And I wish you healing…

      Reply
  • April 17, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    I actually believe Bowen to be outdated and Monica McGoldrick, too, for that matter. They sacrifice the often most abused member of the system – to protect the system. We scapegoatees walk around with these negative relationships with families in our head whether we remain connected to them or not. Accepting the scapegoating/blacksheep role/problem and your dilemna is a way out of the system.
    I’ve just endured another family gathering that offered them more opportunity to scapegoat me. I attended for diplomacy only. I see no reason to be exposed to more of their shaming and live my life with much more satisfaction when I accept that I don’t have a family of origin that loves me but instead i have created a new one with my spouse, son and friends. Very few therapists understand scapegoating. Alice Miller was pretty good and wrote about it. I say run for your life from a scapegoat system unless all members are willing to fess up to their role and want to change (unlikely).
    Scapegoat Society has good posts, too, on the issue.

    Reply
    • April 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear you had another tough time with your family of origin, Del.
      I agree with you in that it’s important to protect yourself, and if you’ve tried to do what you can, and are still being treated as a scapegoat, then it can be time to think about what you can do next to stay safe.

      For some people, that may mean taking an extended break from the family, or – in very painful situations – perhaps even breaking contact altogether.

      From what I’ve read about some of the theorists like McGoldrick, I think some of them also have that caveat to their ideas: try and work it out, but if that doesn’t work, then get safe. And I guess a big part of the point of trying to work it out in the first place is so you don’t just automatically “cut-off” and end up dragging them around with you mentally and emotionally anyway (as you’ve mentioned). There can be something very powerful about a conscious choice to draw a boundary instead.

      I take on board your critique, though, and I think it’s so important to question any theorist – none of them are going to know your life, and your circumstances like you do. So I believe you’re always the expert on finding the best solution for you.

      How wonderful that you’ve created your own loving family around you

      Reply
    • June 28, 2012 at 10:44 am

      I only trust the opinion of somebody who is/was in a scapegoat situation… it is very painful to a point that one sometimes feel you go off your mind… I have a narcissistic mother and my only sister is a golden girl… which is as bad, as it makes it easier to stay in denial. I went without contact for about 4 years after my father died, and then everything started going well for me, I even lost weight. Then I contacted my family again before my 50th birthday… and all the drama started again… sometimes worse than it was before… but I them made the decision to limit contact again and to become a mountain goat. It was a decision to move up the mountain and leave the lonely desert. I am working on a website scapegoattomountaingoat.co.za to celebrate!

      Reply
    • March 23, 2013 at 1:45 pm

      Amen Del. These are much like my feelings about it. I’ve just discovered Alice Miller and looking forward to reading her books.

      Also, thanks for the referral to Scapegoat Society. I will be checking that out.

      Reply
  • May 27, 2012 at 2:27 am

    I could see that doing an overly simplistic cut-off could somehow block the scapegoat from evolving, but only if they told themselves that that was all they needed to do. This advice to stay in touch with family so that you don’t stop working on your problems seems a tiny bit patronizing, actually. Surely many people are able to both distance themselves from harm and continue to work on their issues? Even if they weren’t dealing with family directly, if they were still broken, problems would come up in other contexts and continue to be worked on.

    Reply
    • September 13, 2012 at 11:43 pm

      Patronizing is how I felt when I first read the statement to stay in touch with family who triangulated the Black Sheep out of the fold. Really the black sheep plays an important role in the family ~the breaking of anxiety and tension. When all else fails for a family ill-equipped to deal with emotional dynamics, the tarnished sheep becomes the scapegoat for tension. The Black Sheep, like The Ugly Duckling whom leaves the abusive family environment, can learn to thrive under the realization they are not what others labeled them. In fact when not at family functions the triangulated family has no other method than to turn on each other finding tiny hairs of gray in each other’s manes. Sometimes we leave by example to find other environments in which to thrive!
      Stick that in your cap Bowen and McGoldrick!!!!!!!

      *A Thriving Swan

      Reply
  • June 22, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Starting the journey of healing from scapegoating today.

    Reply
  • September 3, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Thank you for this unique perspective. I’ve always served as the family’s black sheep on a number of issues. Pointing me in the right direction will help – I had planned on writing a book on my experience but didn’t even know where to begin. That is years off – much self work to accomplish first.
    thanks

    Reply
    • March 23, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      Well you could write posts on a blog instead, and even keep it private. Keep track as you evolve. And after years of this type of journaling you can turn it into a book.

      Since you’re a writer it will relieve much of the stress and tension for you. (But you probably already know this.:))

      I’ve been wanting to do the same thing. And feel like I “should” write after I’ve learned the lessons but in fact as I write about what’s going on “now”, it can have the effect of producing insights and epiphanies AS I write my innermost thoughts and feelings.

      And again, there are blogging sites that allow you to set them so they’re private so no one can read them but you, if that’s how you want to do it.

      Reply
  • October 20, 2012 at 6:17 am

    I grew up being belittled and demeaned by my mother. Whatever I did was wrong in her eyes, and she would storm into my room and find something to criticise, whatever I was doing. Every day she told me I was a nobody, and made it clear that she was the only one who could have feelings, opinions, etc. She demonised me in front of my younger siblings. My sister could do no wrong, and is very good and fearful. Now my mother is dead, my sister talks about her as though she were some kind of a saint. My ‘little’ brother is now very fat and grouchy, has a bad stammer, and is very unpleasant to me. He protests that he is joking, and that I have no sense of humour.

    My father, who I had thought liked me, recently told me that he had favoured me in order to “redress the balance”, presumably referring to my mother’s treatment of me. So that doesn’t feel too good – to hear he was nice to me just to keep things equal. I do remember his trying to stand up for me occasionally, but it would end so horribly, with my mother going loco and screaming at us, or storming out and disappearing for the day, so I can understand why he preferred to keep his head down and his lip buttoned.

    When my mother died, in her 80s, my siblings turned on me in a big way. It was very hurtful, and I had to take the decision to stay out of their way. Together they arranged the funeral without including or consulting me; they are now doing the same thing with the arrangements for my father’s 90th birthday. They seem to need to be nasty to me so that I feel driven off, and then they can have the field to themselves.

    My father told me after the death of my mother that they, my siblings, were “ganging up against me” and talking behind my back. I wondered why he should wish to tell me that. It seemed rather unkind, since there is nothing I can do about it. All this is so bizarre, since we are all in our late 50s or early 60s now: it is so infantile, I am actually slightly embarrassed to be caught up in it.

    My oldest friend, before she died last year, declared on hearing how my family had been behaving, that “They are simply continuing your mother’s work”. I found that so helpful, though wondered how I had failed to piece it together myself. Too close, I suppose. And of course, that is what they have learned: to act out and turn against the usual scapegoat. Strange, though: I have never felt I am a victim; rather an outsider.

    In truth, I prefer to distance myself now. Walk away quietly and undramatically. I just don’t want to waste any more time or energy on what I feel increasingly is a lost cause. These are miserable, negative people, and this is not how I wish to be. Life is precious, and life is short. There are other people in the world: kinder people, more supportive people. Thank you for being there.

    Reply
  • February 13, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    My parents are older and they told my siblings that I had taken some money from them which was entirely untrue (in fact I had spent my money on them on all kinds of things). Instead of calling me to tell me how sorry they were that our parents were accusing me of things, my brothers and sisters decided as a group that I had truly taken the money. I was astonished and, when they made it clear that they didn’t care what I had to say about it, I decided not to continue my relationships with them. Even though the relationships had never been close, I felt I wanted a connection of some kind. No more. Now we have a big occasion coming up with my parents 50th anniversary and I would like to be there, despite the deep feelings of mistrust I have for my parents and my siblings. Not sure how to handle this. It’s hard to pretend that they didn’t do what they did to me.

    Reply
    • May 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Go, but if there are any negative words spoken, say, “I will not put up with this abuse.” and leave. Abusive people want nothing less than to be exposed. While at the party, stay with allies, and let them know your misgivings. If any of the abusers say anything, state that you will not permit abuse, and leave.

      Reply
  • March 6, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    I Have tried EVERYTHING, I mean everything to “get along” with my narcissistic family and set boundaries. I had to cut all contact when I realized that my mother loved to drive drunk with my kid in her car. (only happened once!) I was terrified she would back over my kid “accidentally”. My mother was always having “accidents”. She now has a husband much younger than her that likes to touch a lot. eeeeuuuuwwww!! groosssss! I hate them. Goodbye and good riddance!

    Reply
  • May 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I am posting because I have a question, mostly, which of course must begin with some history. I, myself, was the black sheep in an alcoholic family dynamic growing up. There was a lot of abuse, as I’m sure all of you can imagine. I grew up, gained some confidence and learned how to be happy. Then I got married, and the family I married into is riddled with sociopathy. My mother and sister in law are both diagnosed sociopaths with narcissistic and histrionic BPD. My husband played two roles: scapegoat AND peacekeeper. The horrors he suffered as a child he will not speak about. The things we have endured now have been terrifying. We have two children. I told my husband last night that he needs to break away from his role that his family of origin gave him, because, in a sense, as his wife and children, we are only extensions of his role. And when we do not perform perfectly, the abuse is severe. Can anyone recommend books on SAFE ways to break away? In the past, we have tried, and they threatened my life and the lives of my children.

    Reply
  • June 9, 2013 at 9:59 am

    I think my situation is slightly different. But I’m to the point where I don’t know what to do about it. My fiance is what I would consider “the black sheep” of the family, but can never understand why. He has a twin sister and two younger siblings. He is always there for his family any time they call or need anything. He also was always the most obedient and still is. He would never even think of saying anything disrespectful to his family, while the others seem so unruly. He is also the one that they seemed to always need to “earn his keep” so to speak while the others are just too fragile to do any hard labor. I’ve noticed since I’ve been with him that everything is always about the twin sister. They will do everything for her and her husband and barely anything for us. At events, they even make everything about her. I even noticed this at a loved ones funeral. It seems to be just accepted by all members of the family. They also seem to expect a lot more from my fiance and yet, she is still the golden child despite when she hasn’t been there for them. His aunt has even jokingly said to my fiance that “well you know you’re not the golden child.” I get so angry even thinking about their family dynamic. I don’t know what to do because I am seriously afraid that this could ruin our marriage down the line. I know people say that it’s in the past, but I don’t know if it’s because I just love him so much, I can’t help but think about the past and what a sad childhood he must have had. It makes me so upset to imagine how sad he must have been all the time, especially when I see photos of him as a child. I also see the favortism now as well even though they are older. I’m afraid this will also cascade down to our children and that possibly our children will be treated inferior to hers. I’m honestly just at a loss of what to do at this point and would welcome any advice or just hearing from others that have had the same issue. I personally have never encountered another family that acts like this.

    Reply
    • August 16, 2013 at 8:01 pm

      Help this man stay away from his family. Just keep reminding him he is a scapegoat and that they are not going to change. But you have to keep reminding him — unless he gets a very, very good therapist – yes he will repeat this in your children, possibly.

      Reply
    • October 8, 2014 at 12:28 am

      As a twin, I can relate to this. Right from birth, if the mother cannot cope, the weaker or more traumatic of the two delivered will wind up being resented. And that resentment is subtle enough at first to make it the entire family perspective. Talk about being born into a role. My brother was the golden child and I’m the black sheep. My mother used to tell me every day on the drive to school that she wished I’d been born in India where they kill girl children at birth. She told me after my first suicide attempt that “I never could do anything right the first time.” My brother once hit me so hard in the head I had a seizure. The number of concussions I’ve had from men in my family hitting me in the head is around 8. My brother, despite being a smug conceited selfish dick is the handsome, wonderful one. I’m seen as not. His kids are treated better, etc. But the twin thing. You’ll never be able to change them. Hopefully moving or staying in only limited contact will help. Best of luck…

      Reply
  • August 8, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    I am the blacksheep. I am in recovery after ruining many family occasions due to alcohol. I went to prison and then relapsed. I am gay. I have chronic illnesses and I never produced grandchildren – all disappointing to my parents. Two years ago, I had a fling with a man – friends with benefits – while separated from my partner. He “broke up” a few months later with me and began dating my sister. they all know how much this bothered me and even though it was just a fling, and I went back to my partner, and he is serious with my sister, and it has been two years, all of these reasons it is insignificant to them they still get together without me because they think it bothers me. And it does. We barely speak. This caused a permanent break between my family and myself. True I brought a lot of it on myself. I try to get back into the family fold to no avail. I get curt responses from facebook. I made my AA amends which were not accepted well. I have found that having a surface relationship with my family is less crazy-making than not having one at all. I find this sad. When I have distanced from them, I feel very lost and emotional. So that is my lot and probably will not change. My sister and parents call and see each other daily. They do not call. I have to initiate contact. I can’t confront them and ask why they ignore me, they will feel I am pointing the finger at their parenting skills and playing the victim again. Sad, sad.

    Reply
  • August 10, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    I’m so glad I have finally found a name for what has been happening to me! I’m a 25 year old female, and first noticed the changes when I was 9 years old. around that time, my grandmother on my mom’s side passed away, and my mother took it pretty hard (she was never really the same after that). Since then, my parents, sister, and brother have scapegoated/black sheeped me. Everything was always my fault, I was always doing everything wrong, yada yada. My family was so close with each other and I was the outsider. My brother moved out when I was still young, so we don’t really talk anymore. My sister is 23, and lives at home with me and my parents. She is spoiled, and always gets off the hook for everything. Several times there have been instances where she has gotten off and I have been punished (for the same action). They frequently said negative put-down comments to make me feel worthless. Everyone ganging up on me and screaming at me for my failures was almost a sort of family game. About 6 months ago, my dad left to go to another state for work (he could not find jobs in our area). We will all be moving to where he is at the end of August to our new house. In that 6 months, it has just been me, my mom, and my sister. It has been a living hell. Of course, my mom and my sister are best friends, and are very close with each other. They actually bond over talking about me behind my back. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been upstairs and heard the two of them bad mouthing me from the patio outside my window, agreeing with each other and laughing. It’s very hurtful. I’ve asked them to stop, but they refuse and think they are not doing anything wrong. They’ve even tried to convince me I have some sort of mental problem for being upset over their words and actions. I feel like I don’t connect with my family at all, and don’t know what to do anymore. About the time my dad left, My boyfriend at the time dumped me- I was devastated, because he was all I had (I lived with him, had no friends, and was not connecting with my family. He did not treat me well at all, but I put up with it because I was so lonely and hurt). I am nervous about when my family moves, because I know things will not get better. It will be my mom, dad, my sister, and then me- the black sheep. I’m so tired of being an outsider. I’ve tried multiple times to get them to stop this behavior, but they get extremely angry when approached about the subject. I can’t imagine what they would do if I accused them of being “scapegoaters”. Unfortunately, I am unemployed and have no money (thus, why i live with my family). I know the best thing I can do probably at this point is to move out and stop contact, but I’m scared I won’t be able to get a job that pays enough money to live on my own. I’m dependent on my parents, but at the same time feeling hurt by them. I hate being stuck like this. But again, glad to know there is a name to all this, and that there was never anything wrong with me.

    Reply
  • August 12, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    I don’t know if I am allowed to do this here. I’m hoping I can.

    I would like to recommend a really good website that talks about recovering from pathological abuse.
    It’s called Theabilitytolove@wordpress.com

    It’s helped me to cope a lot and I’m finally on my way to healing. From the comments I’ve read it looks like some people who read this could use her insight and knowledge. Note: It is NOT my website.

    Reply
    • August 12, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      After posting I tested the link I posted above. Don’t click on it to get the the site. I typed it wrong. Sorry.

      That will just take you to compose an email at you email.

      Type the address into your browser or just do a search for the ability to love. Sorry for the mix-up.

      The correct address is: theabilitytolove.wordpress.com

      Reply
  • March 5, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    You know what the common theme is in all these black sheep comments?…..the air of self-sacrifice. Thats why you are the “odd one out” in the family group. You are the one most easily “put upon”. This also describes me as well. I have no contact with my family anymore. I often wonder how they cope with no-one to blame anymore.

    Reply
    • March 10, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      I was the scapegoat for my father’s alcoholism, my mother’s obesity, my parents actually blamed me for my grandmother’s death. My mother, starting when I was five years old, used to tell me on the way to school that she wished I had been born in India or China where it is acceptable to kill girl children because she never wanted a girl. By 8, she was blaming me for her obesity, and forced me onto starvation diets with her. I’m sure you can imagine what that did to me. My twin brother perpetuated this abuse at school, and continues to, at 33, believe I am the cause of everything bad that happened in our family. To answer your question, Ann, when I left for college, my parents turned on each other, and their marriage deteriorated. Unhealthy families MUST have a scapegoat or they will have to face the reality of their sick, sick situation. The path of least resistance is to find a new scapegoat. However, they are hard to breed if you haven’t groomed them and all extended family and friends to believe this person is truly awful enough to cause drinking, etc. etc. When a new scapegoat can’t be found, and the old one leaves, things deteriorate.

      Reply
 

Join the Conversation!

We invite you to share your thoughts and tell us what you think in this public forum. Before posting, please read our blog moderation guidelines. A first name or pseudonym is required and will be displayed with your comment. Your email address is also required, but will be kept private. (Please note that we use gravatars here, which are tied to your email address.) A website/blog/twitter address is optional.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *