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Old 06-27-2008, 02:55 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Scapegoating-Blame and Shame on One Family Member

Scapegoating - An Insidious Family Pattern of Blame and Shame on One Family Member

by Lynne Namka, Ed.D.


Scapegoating is a serious family dysfunctional problem with one member of the family or a social group being blamed for small things, picked on and constantly put down. In scapegoating, one of the authority figures has made a decision that somebody in the family has to be the bad guy. The mother or father makes one child bad and then looks for things (sometimes real, but most often imagined) that are wrong.

There are different reasons one child is singled out to be scapegoated. Perhaps the child is vulnerable. Or the child is hyperactive, noncompliant or acts out. Sometimes the scapegoated child is viewed as weak who cannot defend himself. At times the parent heaps on the blame because he cannot stand the child who has traits and characteristics that are similar to the his own! Sometimes the child has personality traits that are similar to a disliked relative (She reminds me of my aunt Tillie who I never liked.) Other children in the family can pick up the scapegoating pattern and join in taunting and hurting the scapegoated child. In extremely dysfunctional families, the parent may goad the other children to pick on the disfavored one.

Sometimes one child is favored and given special status by the parent. This child can do no wrong according to the parent when they are growing up, but being the favorite backfires on them. Children who are favored often develop their own form of pathology in that they grow up feeling special and entitled. One woman said, "For years I resented my sister who my moved adored. I wished I had been special to my mother. Now I see how messed up my sister is and I'm glad I was not the chosen one of a very sick mother."

All members of the family are affected. Children who are scapegoated often feel insecure and develop a victim mentality. They learn that they are at the bottom of the pecking order in the family and often automatically gravitate to that role at school or at work. This dynamic of making one child "good" and another child "bad" in the family is a vicious generational theme learned and passed down from parents to children.

Often an insecure parent will be aggressive with one of the children to vent his own sense of frustration at not doing well in life. Aggression in families creates decrease in self-esteem in the children. Aggression, the use of force against another human being, is always present in scapegoating. As Elizabeth A. Kaspar says, "The aggressive person is one who tries to dominate others. Aggressiveness, too, can take several forms. The aggressive person is frequently rude and humiliating, (e.g., "What do you mean, you aren't going to do it?"), or the aggressive person can become self-righteous (e.g., "I am only insisting on this for your own good."), or she/he can resort to being manipulative (e.g., "If you refuse, what will everyone think of you?")."

Bullying is always scapegoating. Abuse is always scapegoating.

It seems as if we humans as a species seem to need someone to vent our anger on and make wrong. Scapegoating is a projection defense. It is the ego saying "If I can put the blame on you, I don't have to recognize and take responsibility for the negative qualities in myself. What I can't stand about myself, I really hate in you and have to attack you for it in order to deny that I have the same quality."

Scapegoating is a huge social problem contributing to the hate that exists in the world. There is scapegoating of whole groups of people happening when there is prejudice or stereotyping. Unfortunately, in a larger sense, some Jewish people or other ethnic groups and minorities have been scapegoated by the less conscious members of their own culture.

Surprisingly there is not much research on scapegoating for all the damage that is does to families and to society. Here are some ideas from The Scapegoat Society, Forest Row, East Sussex, RH18 5JF, England. Scapegoats, Scapegoating Psychology, Undoing Blame

"Scapegoating is a hostile social - psychological discrediting routine by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group. It is also a practice by which angry feelings and feelings of hostility may be projected, via inappropriate accusation, towards others. The target feels wrongly persecuted and receives misplaced vilification, blame and criticism; he is likely to suffer rejection from those who the perpetrator seeks to influence. Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from "approved" enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. Distortion is always a feature.

In scapegoating, feelings of guilt, aggression, blame and suffering are transferred away from a person or group so as to fulfill an unconscious drive to resolve or avoid such bad feelings. This is done by the displacement of responsibility and blame to another who serves as a target for blame both for the scapegoater and his supporters. The scapegoating process can be understood as an example of the Drama Triangle concept [Karpman, 1968].

The perpetrator's drive to displace and transfer responsibility away from himself may not be experienced with full consciousness - self-deception is often a feature. The target's knowledge that he is being scapegoated builds slowly and follows events. The scapegoater's target experiences exclusion, ostracism or even expulsion.

In so far as the process is unconscious it is more likely to be denied by the perpetrator. In such cases, any bad feelings - such as the perpetrator's own shame and guilt - are also likely to be denied. Scapegoating frees the perpetrator from some self-dissatisfaction and provides some narcissistic gratification to him. It enables the self-righteous discharge of aggression. Scapegoaters tend to have extra-punitive characteristics [Kraupl-Taylor, 1953]. On another view, scapegoaters are insecure people driven to raise their own status by lowering the status of their target."

What Should You Do if You Are or Were Mean to One of your Children?

Understand the dynamics and deal with your anger. Examine family patterns of favoritism and placing the blame on one child. Apologize to the mistreated child and stop playing favorites. Get into therapy and learn to live with yourself and family members in more productive ways.

What Should You Do if You Were Mistreated?

If you recognize that certain people in your family or workplace always take the brunt of what is going, it is probably scapegoating. If this is your dynamic, you can learn what you do to perpetuate unconsciously to keep yourself a victim. Do whatever it takes to change this role of being blamed. If you were designated the black sheep of the family, then studying this dynamic is the way to release yourself from its poison. Learn to recognize the negative family patterns of blame and shame and vow to stop doing them in this generation!

Stop trying to win the favor of a parent who did not like you when you were growing up. A parent who rejects their child has some severe personality disturbance and is not likely to change. The best you can do is understand the underlying dynamic of your parent and try to come to peace with this on your own. Don't expect the parent to "own" up to their mistreatment. Most likely, they will only deny and blame you again for being ungrateful. Some children who were scapegoated have as little to do with the abusive parent as they can when they grow up.

Do some reading to explore how scapegoating may have affected not only your own personality, but also others in your family. Do a web search on assertive behavior to learn to challenge others putting you down. Take an assertive class and learn to set boundaries to other's inappropriate behavior.

If you know a child who suffers from scapegoating, show him or her some extra attention and be reassuring that the rest of the world does not see him as "bad." Act as a positive role model so that he can learn to see himself as a valuable person in his own right. Some children from dysfunctional families seek out more positive people to learn from. Do not let him accept the identity of being a bad person simply because a family member was a dysfunctional bully.

Here is a bill or rights from an anonymous source for the meek and mild who have grown up allowing others to be mean to them:

I AM MY OWN AUTHORITY
Anonymous

I must give myself the right to be me * to function as I see fit. It is impossible to have a sound self-concept until I am true to myself and accept full responsibility for my own individual life, my own need fulfillment. At any instant I can start a new life.

I ALLOW MYSELF THE FREEDOM * I DEMAND OF MYSELF THE RIGHT:

To recognize myself as the most important and interesting person in the world * a unique and precious part of life.

To feel warm and happy, kind and living toward myself.

To realize that at my divine center I am no better or worse, or more or less important, than anyone else in the entire world.

To be different, to make mistakes, to be "wrong," to be inadequate.

To take the time and effort to fulfill my own needs.

To be happy and free * to be harmonious and effective * to succeed.

To be open and kind, loving and lovable * compassionate and helpful.

To be keenly sensitive and aware * radiantly healthy and energetic.

To do less than perfect * to be inefficient, to procrastinate, to "goof off," to kill time.

To perceive myself as an absolute "nothing" * unworthy and unneeded.

To have "unacceptable" thoughts, images, desire and experiences.

To allow others to make mistakes, to be "wrong" * to be ignorant, to be "screwed-up."

To act spontaneously, to resist, to change my mind, to be stubborn.

To be emotional * to love, to cry, to be angry, to be selfish and uncaring.

To drop all masks and images * to not fulfill other's expectations and images of me.

To be criticized condemned, disapproved, disliked and unwanted.

To fail and to learn from it.

To be loyal, courageous, and exceptional * in both my person and my work.

To accept my own authority * to follow my own "knowing."

I allow myself complete freedom and I recognize that I am inescapably responsible for all my decisions and actions. For I must inevitably pay the price incurred. I profit or suffer, learn and grow according to the "nature and consequences" of my act. I realize that "good and evil," right and wrong," are but intellectual concepts, for there is only wisdom and unwisdom, only wise and unwise acts.

Therefore, prior to serious decisions I ask myself, "Is this act wise? (i.e., will it injure myself or others * will it contribute to my basic needs * is it in alignment with the laws and forces of life?) What is the total price involved? Can I afford to pay it? And, am I willing to accept the consequences?"

I know that in the final analysis I need answer only to myself and that I have all the time there is for my total unfoldment * that at worst I can only postpone my ultimate reunion with the Infinite. However, wisdom and love, freedom and joy beckon me onward and I choose to proceed as rapidly as my prevailing perception and wisdom allow."

Scapegoating - An Insidious Family Pattern of Blame and Shame on One Family Member
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Old 06-27-2008, 09:57 PM   #2 (permalink)
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oooooh this is _totally_ me. That's why I became the "problem" child in the family. 'course, with my personality, I "rose to the ocassion" and _became_ the role. I'll never know what kind of person I _could_ have been had I not had alkies for parents. But then again, it doesn't really matter. I _like_ who I am today and I'm loving my life, so maybe I have truly survived and overcome all that garbage

Mike
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Old 06-27-2008, 11:35 PM   #3 (permalink)
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It is me too Mike and I haven't survived it yet because it's still happening.

I see now that what I'm carrying doesn't really belong to me. I'm just not quite sure how to give it back or block the attacks. I'm not able to walk away from it right now due to my elderly mother so it's really intense and I can hardly hold it. The emotional pain from the rejection and the heavy shame is a very heavy load to carry. Being assertive doesn't work because then I am shamed for being irrational or too sensitive. It's me against many.
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Old 06-28-2008, 04:13 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Morning Glory View Post
.... I'm not able to walk away from it right now due to my elderly mother so it's really intense and I can hardly hold it. .....
Yeah, that makes it so much harder.

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.... I'm just not quite sure how to give it back or block the attacks......
What works for me is to not do either one of those. Giving it back and blocking requires standing up to the attacker and going toe-to-toe with them. What I learned to do is to _first_ work on building _my_ self-esteem. Doing that allows me to recognize that the attack are _not_ valid.

My problem was that deep inside I believed the attacks were _true_. That's whey the hurt so much. When I helped that "child within" develop self-esteem he started to recocgnize that the attacks were _not_ valid. That's when I stopped accepting the guilt and the shame that wasn't mine to begin with. Once I quit accepting that, there was nothing to give back or block.

It took me awhile. I learned that my parents were not "parents" that spoke the truth. As long as I held myself in their debt for being "parents" I kepy myself enslaved to their insanity. Once I saw them for what they were; sad drunks who took advantage of children, I was able to step back and quit giving them power over me.

There _are_ people in this world who deserve my respect, and my love. My parents were _not_ such people.

Mike (((((( hugs ))))))
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Old 06-28-2008, 04:34 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Thanks Mike.

That makes sense. My HP has helped me with the other "child" parts in different areas of my wounded life. This seems so much harder because the emotion of so much shame acts like a thick fog and it's hard to see through it. It makes me want to curl up in a ball and hide.
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Old 06-28-2008, 09:13 PM   #6 (permalink)
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(((((((MG)))))))))
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that none of this is yours to own. You are an amazing, compassionate, caring and beautiful woman. I hope you can release the shame...the person you are should not carry such a burden, my friend. I am visualizing you letting go of large rocks you carry, and feeling the lightness.
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Old 06-28-2008, 09:26 PM   #7 (permalink)
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... It makes me want to curl up in a ball and hide.
I understand that. When I was a child I would hide under my bed and curl up. To me, that has become a "stop light". I know that if I am having that deep emotional reaction to where I need to go hide somewhere small and dark, that tells me that somebody out there is trying to hurt me the way I was hurt as a child. I have to "stop" the crazy thinking that is going thru my head, and get on the phone and call somebody in my support group.... or come here and get some online hugs

Mike (((( hugs )))))
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Old 06-30-2008, 08:17 PM   #8 (permalink)
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(((MG)))
Thank you for sharing this article and your own struggle. My FIL chose my hubby as his scapegoat. Over the years we as a couple, and my hub in his own right, learned ways & used varied techniques for different situations, times etc. We would act in ways to distract, diffuse, ignore, and sometimes confront his behavior.

There have been periods of time when he acted out that we just stayed away.
He knew why too...although we never actually said 'you did such & such so we aren't going to be around for awhile.'

The saddest thing was when my FIL 'chose' one of OUR kids to act out with...and once we found out about it we did confront him and we used the word "abusive" too. He was shocked and basically speechless....and knew that his bullying was over with.

Thankfully the behavior stopped but then again we never allowed him to be alone with that child ever again. Can you guess which of my kids was my initial qualifier for Al-Anon? Yep...that one.

I understand the dilemma you face with someone who is elderly and ill...but you are worth being treated with love and respect. I hope you will find a way to put yourself in a 'safe' place whether you are in that environment or not.

Thanks again for sharing.
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Old 07-08-2008, 06:07 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Well now. Here we all are!
MG, this still goes on with me too after half a century!
I learned from my SR friends to do what I have to do to keep my sanity. For me, staying away from the alcoholic that uses me as a scapegoat!
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Old 07-19-2008, 11:40 AM   #10 (permalink)
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My brother was the scapegoat in the family. I tried to protect him from my father, but was unable to do so. I was the chosen child, but I never had a sense of entitlement. I worked very hard in school and work. I was emotionally incested by my father. My brother is currently in jail and addicted to crack and heroin. He was a good kid and I hated my father for being so mean to him. He destroyed my brother. I keep hoping and praying my brother will save himself.
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Old 07-19-2008, 09:33 PM   #11 (permalink)
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I don't think there are any winners in a dysfunctional family and the dysfunctional patterns get passed down.

There are a whole lot of us here working to change it for ourselves and our family.

Many recovering on this forum were where your brother is right now. I will also say a prayer for your brother londonvanpelt.
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Old 07-20-2008, 06:08 AM   #12 (permalink)
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I, too, was the chosen one. My sister was the scapegoat. I still struggle with not being able to protect her, and even now I don't tell her the mean things my dad says about her. She is perfectly capable of handling it at this stage of life, but why be exposed to more of the same?

As the Golden Child, I was expected to be perfect, to offset her 'inadequacies'. I still struggle with the fact that I am human, and not perfect. I also still struggle with the completely unrealistic expectations placed upon me and the resentment that this treatment created in my sister towards me.

There are no winners in this scenario.

My husband is now the Golden Child. Since I didn't live up to someone else's idea of perfection, they transferred the status to him. Now I'm simply ignored. My husband laughs at the insanity of it - I might say something when we're all together and my father, without even realizing he's doing it, will say "that's a great idea son-in-law!" Hubby always replies with "Amazing how smart I can be without even moving my lips!" (since he said nothing and it was my idea).

My sister now admits that sometimes she's glad she was the scapegoat - she has nowhere further to fall. I was the Golden Child and was placed on a very high pedestal - the fallout from my refusal to do what I was told I *should* do was a rather long hard and heavy fall from grace. I, too, am glad to be back on the ground where there's no further to fall. Hubby experienced a fall from status not too long ago, and discovered that being the Golden Child is not all rainbows and unicorns also.
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Old 07-20-2008, 08:09 AM   #13 (permalink)
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I received a birthday card from my Mom a couple months ago. The card basically said that it was okay to make mistakes. She finally understood the pressures I was place under for all these years. Now if I can only tell my head the same thing. Another thing I have noticed is that I got so far and then my family would pull the rug out from under me. It was like "You can go this far, but don't go too far away from us". Because of this behavior all my life I do it to myself. It is very difficult to get rid of it. I will make things up in my head and sabotage the progress I have made. It is the strangest thing and I've only recently became aware of it. I wound up working for a boss who did the same thing to me. I have caught myself doing it to my daughter. This is not intentional behavior. It's like I have been programmed to do this and I don't know how to get past it.

I was in New Jersey and was talking to a colleague outside during a break from training and he was talking about having to go to jails as part of his territory. He was talking about the prisoners behavior when he walked through the hallway. I totally lost it. I was sobbing so hard I thought I was going to pass out. He must have thought I was crazy. I'm crying now as I type this. The grief is horrible. I just want my brother to be okay and to live a peaceful and happy life. He has a little girl who is absolutely adorable. My father will have nothing to do with her. It broke my brother's heart. My father rejected him again. I really don't understand why he would do this. She has nothing to do with anything. She is an innocent child caught in the middle.

Thank you for keeping my brother in your prayers MorningGlory.
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Old 07-20-2008, 01:07 PM   #14 (permalink)
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I noticed that about my kids and grandkids too londonvanpelt. The scapegoating follows it's way down through the family for no reason at all. So does the chosen grandchildren.

I think this article fails to recognize that it's all scapegoating. It's just opposite sides of the same coin. The parents project themselves onto their children in a split personality kind of way. The parents really don't even know their own children. They can't see past the reflection of themselves.

I actually saw this played out in a way that I could see it clearly. There were parents who had 2 sons. The second child was the chosen child in the family. When the sons moved out the parents got 2 dogs to take their place. The dogs were treated in the same exact way as the sons were treated. They projected themselves onto the dogs as objects just like their sons were objects. It really helped me understand what happened in my family.

Ginger's post really shows that when the dynamics change the family dysfunction has to change also. I don't think it was because you failed in perfection. I think it's because you became aware and changed the game. I was a chosen child for 7 years playing the role of the son in the family. They wanted a boy and I was the second daughter so they just made me the son. When my brother was born 7 years later I was discarded as if I was trash and never had a place in the family again. I still struggle with terrible abandonment issues over that.

londonvanpelt, my son is an addict and I can understand all the hard things in life that led to his addiction and struggle. I went through a long stage of grief over it. You will grieve for your brother, but in the end recovery will have to come from within him. We are powerless over our loved one's addiction and choices. The 3 C's of al-anon are you didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it. The 3 A's are awareness, acceptance, and action. I think the grief we feel is working through the awareness and working toward acceptance.
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Old 07-21-2008, 05:43 AM   #15 (permalink)
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The parents really don't even know their own children. They can't see past the reflection of themselves.
Isn't that the truth?! Even now, some 30-odd years later and despite the fact that my sister makes more than I do, climbed the ladder higher than I did etc, my folks still make snide comments about her. I'm sure they make snide comments about me as well - that I didn't do what I could have done to be more perfect. Sometimes it comes out (usually when drunk), but it usually shows up in unintentional statements where they can't even see what they're saying.

My father, no matter how many times I've told him that it is not what I want, still pushes me to be him - to be ambitious, to strive for perfection, to be "brag - worthy". I am not ambitious, I like a quiet life, if I can pay my bills and feel like I'm useful to someone or in my job, that's enough for me. That's my comfort zone. I've stopped arguing with him, and instead tell him to brag on my sister if he wants someone to brag about, she's earned it (and she is ambitious).

He still can't see that I'm not him and that she's more than he thinks she is. When sober, he'll deny this, but when drunk? Then all the old meanness and pettiness comes out - funny enough, just like his father did to him. And down the family tree it seeps.
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Old 07-25-2008, 03:15 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Wow MG- thank you!
To introduce myself- I come from the f&f of substance abusers part of the board. My qualifier there- is the ex.. and most of the rest of my family!

Wow- the ex was truly golden child in his family and in mine.. Me- well I don't think there is such a thing as gold in my family.. Copper child?? Both of us the caretakers without a doubt. Hmm hubby- gets "sick"- yes as they say the whole family gets sick. Having a difficult time taking care of myself, 2 kids and wow did I become the scapegoat in a hurry!!
It's funny- I married my highschool sweetheart. He told me once, you have no idea the interference I ran for you.. Well, now I do!!

I can't express the feeling I had when reading the stickies, this post and many others. Thank you!
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Old 03-19-2009, 03:02 AM   #17 (permalink)
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finally what I was looking for

I am wrapped, for 2 yeas I have been looking for what has motivated my husbands behaviour, he is an addict of drugs and is in complete denial, I ahve tried to understand his reasoning and this has answered it for me, I attend Al Anon and I can love the real man, but it helps so much to see that this illness is exposed with understanding...much love and gratitude
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Old 03-19-2009, 10:40 AM   #18 (permalink)
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Wow, did I ever need to read this thread. That wanting to 'curl up in a ball' feeling was what I had for soooo many years, even years into my recovery!

My brother (and only sibling) was the one who could never do any wrong. He's the one who's become the pillar of his community, the work-a-holic ( a mini-me of Dad), and I'm the black sheep, the addict/alcoholic.

My parents can launch into 'toxic mode' in the blink of an eye, usually over some crisis one of my daughters has created for themselves, and suddenly all this venom gets puked up (from my past) out of my parents' mouths and blindsides me (more often from my mom), stuff over 20 years old that they try to apply to why it's my fault to the current situation!
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Old 04-05-2009, 10:56 AM   #19 (permalink)
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I can see how the dynamic of being either the golden child or the black sheep can be awful and how it gets started as children but in our case, as adults, neither child can do anything right. Talking to my brother a couple of years ago it came out that each of us thought the other was the favourite but that was really because we weren't paying enough attention to how the other was being treated. Nothing either of us says or does is valid in his mind. If I say anything (no matter how minor) my dad says the opposite, regardless of what he really thinks. A typical example was at dinner (probably another horrible Christmas moment) when I said something, he disagreed, a couple of minutes later my mum repeated what I'd said and he agreed with her. It's not quite as bad as that for my brother but that's only because he doesn't speak as much so he doesn't leave himself open to the inevitable disagreement. Even then, dad still finds ways to dig at him. I think he wants us to be a disappointment to justify his own behaviour. You know, 'look at all I've done for them and they're worthless. It's no wonder I drink to get through the day.'
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Old 04-05-2009, 03:02 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Interesting read.
The scapegoat and the golden one.
Yep, that's about it, all right!
All put in motion by the "authority" figure.
How it can play out.

This makes two very interesting reads today.
I think my HP wanted me to learn something here.

Shalom!
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