As a ten years old, I realized I was not feeling innocent as children were supposed to feel. I was feeling bad and guilty all the time.
I could not understand why, but I promised myself I would carry this memory into adulthood. And I did.
Now, I know why I sent this message to my future self: I left a trail that allowed me to unpack my terrible self esteem as an adult. What a clever child I was, despite feeling so stupid…
I was in so much shame because I had grown up as the scapegoat to my narcissistic family. That’s a huge part of the trauma I went through, and the origin of many of my problems.
And of course abuse, neglect, narcissism and scapegoating were all linked, as it often is.
When is it useful to read Growing Up as the Scapegoat to Narcissistic Parents ?
If like me you remember feeling bad and guilty as a child, let me assure you it is not because you were: no child is. The cause is elsewhere, and it could well be parental narcissism.
Some parents are so distressed and immature they need their child to feel bad for them: they form narcissistic families and single out one child to be the scapegoat.
It can be the origin of how we feel about ourselves, and it took me years to understand. So in doubt, please do yourself a favor and read this book: it is absolutely brilliant at describing the dynamics of these families, and the consequences for us.
It may well trigger a life changing aha moment for you. I’m very informed on this topic now, but I still had sudden flashes of understanding reading Jay Reid. It’s a very good book.
What the hell happens in these families ?
One or two parents in these families are narcissists. They display a combination of grandiosity (being convinced they are more intelligent, special, beautiful than the rest of humankind), entitlement (rules don’t apply to them, but they have many in store for others), and complete inability to feel love and empathy.
They demand that all attention, praise, admiration is focused on them and never stops – the so called narcissistic gratifications. The whole family is only about them: they take all the emotional space and command all resources. There is nothing left for the children.
Not so surprisingly, these guys are deep down full of shame and self loathing. It’s a bit as if they were on a sinking boat, and they need to frantically bail the shame out to stay afloat. In order to achieve this, they need to:
- demand constant narcissistic gratifications from people around them.
- project all their bad feelings onto someone too loving and dependent to fight or walk away. They typically use one of their children to take this role.
- often chose a golden child onto whom they project all the good stuff: this child is tasked with providing the family with narcissistic gratification with his or her achievements.
You can spot this dynamic in you own family of origin: you consider one of your siblings as good at everything and yourself as a bad and stupid child. If you also can see grandiosity and entitlement in at least one of your parents, you can be reasonably sure this book is for you.
What to do if you realize you were a scapegoat in your family ?
First of all, please know I am feeling so sorry for what you went through. I may not know the specifics, but I do know very well how painful and despairing your childhood has been. And I know how deep the wounds are now. Allow plenty of time for grieving.
But all is not lost, and your future is still promising. According to Jay Reid (and I agree with him), there are 3 pillars to healing from this crazy making childhood.
Pillar #1: Make sense of what happened
Understanding what happened makes a huge difference. You thought you were a pathetic loser, someone who never gets it right and never fits in. And you realize there is in fact nothing wrong with you and the real issue is massive parental failure.
Yeah, it definitely feels very different and this difference allows you to live a fulfilling life – although temporarily unpleasant because there is a lot of grief involved.
Somewhere deed down, we already know we were used by our family. But we need enough validation to allow ourselves to believe it. And it’s not easy to find because of the general social inability to speak about abuse in general, and narcissism in particular.
We all believe our story and our family is unique, that nobody can understand us. We believe this until we read or hear someone else telling his story and finding it weirdly similar to your own. Then another one. And another.
Up until the point we realize it has nothing unique: it is about a well known and documented particular mental disease. Why is this information not widely available? Why do we bump into it years, sometimes decades later ?
Probably because we all collectively don’t want to admit narcissism and abuse are frequent, and that we let it run its course without protecting the children. In other words, denial.
Pillar #2: Gain distance from the narcissistic abuser
I cannot state this enough. Apparently, so does Jay Reid.
The pull of narcissism is so strong, it will suck your self esteem and life force out of you, like a big emotional black hole.
Don’t make the mistake of believing we are stronger than this mental disease. We are not. Even trained, experienced psychiatrists struggle with these patients. And we are untrained, with fragile boundaries, a shaky self esteem, and no idea what a healthy relationship feels like.
Run for your life.
Pillar #3: defy the narcissists rules
That’s one of the difficult truths we have to face: wherever we go, here we are. And here with us are the narcissist’s rules, that we took with us and internalized : our constant self criticism, our self-deprivation, lack of boundaries, shame, and our inability to be in touch with our bodies and our inner life.
Yes, there is a lot of work to be done still after pillar #1 and #2. But it can be done, with guidance, information and support. It is not possible to have a satisfying relationship with a narcissist, but it is possible to end up feeling good about ourselves and our lives. Hope is entirely appropriate and realistic.