I’m not a therapist and I am NOT making excuses for the adverse and defiant behavior that typically manifests in addiction.
What I have noticed is that no matter what kind of dysfunction was present in families before addiction presented itself in one or more members, suddenly the addiction takes center stage of everything that has ever happened or went wrong in the family. By this I mean suddenly all- things- bad are the fault of the person suffering with addiction. All the other family members personality traits or domineering styles of communication are forgotten and no matter what the scenario, they are innocent.
Now, trust me, I adamantly believe that people, especially Mom’s, don’t need or deserve ANY more guilt placed on them. They already question what they did wrong and mull over mistakes made in child rearing or things said wrong during the addiction. But we must realize that everyone has unique personalities that contribute to an argument and to the family dynamic. Of course we can’t drill a mom with questions of “are you a controlling person or do you tend to meddle in others’ business?” That would be rude and besides, usually, people are not self-aware enough to know how they come across or that they have certain faults or behaviors that may be obvious and well-known to others, but how would you ever tell someone those things? And besides, it IS all perception anyway.
It may not even be the Mom who has some trait that is triggering or hard to deal with. It might be a domineering dad, or a judgmental aunt who looks down her nose and can’t ever be pleased.
I could give very personal examples but I won’t here. Just know that many different types of people take the fall for a family dynamic- it’s not just the addict. For instance the youngest child might get blamed for a lot. You can watch any family drama movie and pick out who’s going to be the fall guy whether he deserves it or not.
It’s easy to get on an addiction support site and participate in the addict- bashing and complaining of everything wrong in our lives due to the addiction.
That’s what support is for- to vent & get validation. But for every one of those loved ones with addiction there’s 5, 10, 15 different people in the family that have all different personalities and expectations that contribute in some way to how the addict deals with stress. All these expectations and demands can be daunting in a normal healthy brain, let alone one in addiction or early recovery.
Just keep an open mind when you are presented with opinions and statements of “their addiction ruined the whole family”.
Can you imagine the shame and humiliation that would feel like? To know you are responsible for everyone’s happiness in the family…possibly even extended family!
What a horrible reality to come out of the darkened loneliness that addiction brings only to feel that you can’t be one bit human and screw up what every single person expects from you. Recovery is difficult enough in and of itself.
There is no doubt that addiction is ugly and messy and ends up affecting Everyone. I’m not giving the addict a free pass here at all. I’m just asking for us to remember certain things before addiction. I have kept copious journals over the years or I would not remember a tenth of what I wrote down! It’s very helpful to read how people interacted and treated each other 10, even 20 years previously.
I found this article by Sarah Swenson from Good Therapy interesting and I have received permission to share.
If only they would stop using.
This seems to become the family mantra but I can guarantee that stopping using doesn’t fix all the family dynamics that were there before the addiction even reared its ugly head.
The Blameless Burden: Scapegoating in Dysfunctional Families
- January 30, 2017
- By Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert
- Used with permission
In biblical lore, Aaron selected a goat on behalf of the entire tribe, cast upon it the sins of all members, and then banished it alone to the wild. The members of the tribe were then at great ease, having been freed from their cast-off sins—whatever those sins may have been.
Everyone felt better, though they had neither identified their specific sins nor atoned for them. They had simply agreed to hang them on the goat. If this spurious logic was obvious to anyone, it was not discussed. Why question an agreed-upon means of making everyone feel better?
Now about that goat. It was selected from the herd and sent forth into the wilderness for reasons having to do with the sins of others. The goat had done nothing to merit banishment. But once the ashes were cold on the rituals of dispatching it, the goat found itself alone in the wilderness, isolated from its herd, in unknown territory, suddenly forced to fend for itself. It faced dangers from predators; difficulty finding food, sustenance, and shelter; and it lived the constantly woeful insecurity of a herd animal without a herd.
This is the story of the scapegoat.
In dysfunctional families, for reasons similar to those Aaron devised, there can also be a designated person selected for the role of scapegoat. In a family system, the selection process is less overt than Aaron’s. It is done more by consensual and habitual shunning that becomes an unspoken code of behavior: one person is chosen to bear the brunt of any psychological discomfort experienced by the family as a whole. It is justified by repeating the stories that create and then reinforce the image of the scapegoat as being a person who is worthy of disdain and disparagement.
Like the strong goat Aaron selected, the target of family scapegoating is also often the strongest and healthiest member of the family. At first blush, this may sound counterintuitive. But think about it a little more. In Aaron’s case, there would be no group pleasure derived from banishing a weak animal who might easily die anyway, because that would not gratify the needs of the tribe to send off their sins on a robust vehicle, a strong goat who was up to the task of bearing the burden. So it is in families: the targeted individual is often the most accomplished. She—and for the purposes of narrative cohesion, our scapegoat is a female here—must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the shunning voices which might easily and quickly topple a weaker person. The scapegoating would fail if the weight of the sins killed the goat before it could even get chased out of town. Catharsis is the goal. The goat needs to be strong enough to suffer in order that the tribe members do not.
Just as the goat was blameless despite being sent to its lonely death, so is the human scapegoat innocent of all charges. She may not be a perfect human being, but she is no different from anyone else in her range of faults. It is not her character or her actions that have directly caused her banishment. It is the way her character and her actions, and often her accomplishments, have been experienced by the dysfunctional family members, who for their own unexamined reasons need to dispel this person from the family realm in order to avoid looking into their own consciences. They need to punish the scapegoat for provoking by her very existence the discomfort family members are feeling that is actually a result of their own unresolved issues.
If you are being scapegoated in your family, please seek professional help. You are not likely to be able to intervene in a dysfunctional system that treats one of its own members in this way. You may continue to experience the futile attempts at explaining yourself. You may fail to understand the way you are being treated. You may begin to doubt your own version of your life story. The price is too high.
Can a human scapegoat die like the goat of yore? Maybe. If not physically, certainly emotionally. It is difficult for the scapegoat to believe that her family would treat her in this unconscionable manner if she were not guilty of some grave sin. She wracks her brain and her heart to understand, but she cannot. The reasons she is given for being mistreated seem shallow, petty, and incomplete. It is difficult for her to believe these small transgressions could warrant such heavy condemnation.
She begins to doubt her own version of reality, since consensus in her own family supports a narrative different from her own about who she is and what she does or has done. She learns that if she tries to sort this out, she will be accused of “playing the victim” or being selfish, or being a “drama queen.” She is able to hold to her knowledge that this assessment and treatment are not right, until one day, utterly discouraged, she gives up. The full weight of the banishment settles upon her. She is alone. She doesn’t try to understand or explain anything anymore. She has moved into accepting a fate that makes no sense to her.
Good mental health at this point suggests she make her peace with leaving behind the family that fails her so completely. And if she is strong and well-supported with friends, she may be able to do this. She will pay a lifelong price for sins she did not commit, however, because it is difficult and painful to extract oneself from one’s family. It is counter to the most basic of human needs for home, shelter, affiliation. It is a cruel and inexcusable undertaking for a family to scapegoat a member.
If you look at the research regarding the fate of individuals who have been relentlessly bullied, you can draw conclusions about what happens to scapegoated family members, for scapegoating is bullying with focused and long-term intensity. Some bullied children go on to become bullies themselves. Some develop social skills to divert and challenge bullying, though the scars of having been bullied may insert themselves into their lives in many ways for many years to come. Others, however, do not survive, driven to suicide.
You were not born to bear the sins of others any more than Aaron’s goat was born for such a fate.© Copyright 2007 – 2022 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org.