How Scapegoats Experience Traumatic Invalidation


From Rebecca C. Mandeville, LMFT – Scapegoat Recovery: “What is traumatic invalidation, and why is it important that adult survivors of family scapegoating know about this form of trauma?

. . . Traumatic invalidation is when you are constantly having your feelings, your thoughts, your beliefs, your accomplishments invalidated and this (for the family scapegoat) will happen often early in childhood during those critical years when the brain is developing and those neural pathways are connecting . . . This type of chronic and constant invalidation can actually lead to trauma: Post-traumatic stress disorder or complex trauma symptoms are associated with traumatic invalidation, and there has been research done on this. We know from such research that traumatic invalidation is usually found in systems where people are marginalized; so this would be the family scapegoat, who is the marginalized person in the family system.

Questions to ask yourself

As a scapegoat child, you may have had a lifetime of being invalidated, and you can’t help but carry that in to other systems . . .

Do you hesitate sharing your thoughts?  Do you have Impostor Syndrome — one of the symptoms I mentioned in my book that’s associated strongly via my research with FSA / family scapegoating abuse? Do you doubt your capabilities? Do you doubt your intelligence? Do you fear going after things in life because you’re not sure that you have what it takes to to perform, to see it through, to meet your goals? This may be traced directly back to invalidation that has had a traumatizing effect on you, that may have contributed to toxic shame . . .

Receiving validation today

One thing that’s very healing to people who are survivors of family scapegoating abuse is finding out they’re not alone . . . that’s a form of validation and that is what we call in Therapy Land, as I call it . . . a ‘repair experience’, being able to talk to others and hear from others that they also were scapegoated, that they were invalidated by their family at very severe levels such as being told you’re lying or faking illnesses and such, being told you’re crazy when you’re not — and in fact the parents may be acting very crazy with addiction, domestic abuse, assaulting each other, children being allowed to be physically aggressive with each other — but you’re the ‘crazy one.’ Actually, you may be the healthiest one in your family system; you may be an empath in the family system, which can make you a target for those scapegoating behaviors . . .

We’ve been talking about this in the field of family systems for over 50 years. It started with research on what’s called ‘the Identified Patient,’ or ‘the family IP,’ so this is nothing new to people who are working in the field of family systems. And we know that scapegoating happens in all types of dysfunctional family systems, not just narcissistic family systems.

Having contact with other survivors of family scapegoating abuse is therefore critical because that is a way to validate your feelings, your thoughts, your experiences. Same thing happens when you find a therapist or trauma-informed coach or someone in the mental health field who gets it, who can hear you, who can validate your experiences and who is not diminishing them, denying them, dismissing them because of their own issues with having to face the reality that there are parents and family members that do scapegoat, that do abuse [their children], and that we need to be talking about it and we need to be validating the experience of scapegoated adult survivors.”


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  1. I was subjected to such abuse, as was my brother. I’d say I have cptsd from it, and I’d say I also have ‘moral injury’ because I let my brother bear the brunt of it and endorsed it as the ‘golden child’ role became accessible to me: I bottled everything up whereas he acted it out, so he was naturally a more available target—until he left the house, then it fell to me to be scapegoated full time. Brandon, if you’re ever on this website and read this, I’m sorry: Mom was just as unhinged as you said she was.

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    • Scapegoat = “identified patient”

      The only “disorder” I identify with is “post-traumatic stress” from having received (surprise! surprise!) “mental health treatment”.

      Please note that I purposely excluded the word “disorder”, that nasty little term “mental health professionals” conveniently use (to their heart’s content!) in order to validate THEMSELVES —

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    • Or, like me-as I wrote in my MIA personal story, whereby psychiatry was used to (both) leverage and justify the scapegoat role, thereby insulating both abuse and familial dysfunction, each of which psychiatry is all to happy to “obtusely” promulgate, and thus, make exponentially more difficult to address the interpersonal and environmental issues at the heart of the problem(s).

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      • Sadly, these are the dynamics that underly most “mental health treatment”. And in my experience, most “clinicians” unfortunately like being looked up to as a parent, though most will never admit it. In any case, it’s the reason why infantilizing “patients” works wonders therapists but not so much for ‘clients’.

        Scapegoat = “identified patient”.

        The only “disorder” I identify with is post-traumatic stress from having received (surprise! surprise!) “mental health treatment”. And please note that I deliberately excluded the word “disorder”.

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        • I suspect a rather high percentage of people experience one form of betrayal trauma from their mental health care, even if they don’t know it or otherwise only realize it much later-as was the case for me. And, as per usual, I find your observations and views incisively spot on, this time surrounding clinicians infantilizing their charge. I mention this because most emotional and psychological issues (wounds) arise from power relationships (parental dependency onward), and thus, pretty much “deeply” situates the very type of therapist-patient relationship you so well framed. My point, then, is that the therapeutic relationship is a double edged sword conducive to either progress (healing) or further (compounding) wounding, and sufficiently avoidable only if the therapist/clinician has done their own work (i.e., personal, familial, and social individuation). I know I’m preaching to the choir here! But I just wanted to put a constructive angle on this not uncommon negative-feature in mental health care…

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      • Scapegoat = “identified patient”.

        Unfortunately, these are the dynamics that underlie most “mental health treatment”.

        Psychiatry continues the legacy of intergenerational trauma. They’re like extended family members who never die.

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