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OPINION – Ask the Therapist – InterGenerational Family Scapegoating – Bookends of Pain – Glynis Sherwood MEd

Halifax (Glynis Sherwood MEd) – Disclaimer:  The contents of this article are for information purposes only and do not constitute psychotherapy or counseling.  Writer is not liable for use or misuse of this information.

I’ve been scapegoated by my entire birth family, but also and latterly by both of my adult children who have copied the behavior. Their level of cruelty has been extremely difficult and punishing and it’s this level of ostracization I’ve struggled with the most.

I just wanted to let you know that your article on Estrangement Grief was spot on in every way. You couldn’t have worded it or added more to it. My daughter, who has been back 6 times in 11 years and then cut me off again, contacted me out of the blue in an email a few weeks ago. She’s nearly 40 so she’s well and truly an adult. She was checking to see if I’ve survived the virus. 

As you mention, the fantasy thinking of ‘oh she does love me really’, was quickly pushed out by the clarity of reality thinking ‘ah, this is to make her look good if anything happens and to secure an inheritance’.  I didn’t respond this time. Four weeks on I would have thought if she was sincere, there would have been a follow up email. There has been no further word.

But the final realization that I can’t go back and that I am likely to end my life permanently estranged has triggered more grief because finally, there is a door closing in sight although, and despite multiple losses spanning three generations, not what I imagined.

You are right when you point out that no one understands the pain of the scapegoat. It’s a totally alien landscape to most people, so it’s very difficult trying to explain often because unlike death, it never ends. 

It’s a lot easier to come to terms with the fact that there is no way back to our abusive family, if there is anything to cling to. For me, it’s my faith. Believe it or not, out of a family of eight, I was the only one who was sent to Sunday School. One day when I was crying and told the vicar my mum didn’t love me, he very tenderly told me that God loved me. This has been my rock all through my life and it’s kept me sane. 

Your article is the only one I’ve found which addresses the terrible and profound grief of the scapegoat. Just imagine how I feel when they post their happy family Christmas photos publicly on social media for my ‘benefit’.  I don’t look these days, but I imagine some scapegoats do.  The grief is endless, as is the punishment.   But with determination, I’m hoping there is an escape route from the worst of it. 

Currently I am surrounded by friends excited by the lifting of pandemic restrictions for Christmas. They are rushing out to buy presents and they tell me all about their plans for their grandchildren. I have six grandchildren who don’t know I exist so each Christmas brings a hidden, solitary grief. I honestly can’t comprehend the cruelty behind the thinking but it’s there, like someone twisting a knife all the time.  

I do have a question. I wonder what your advice might be on how to deal with sudden triggers of grief, when I suddenly become overwhelmed by hurtful memories, abandonment and loss?  Currently, I am flooded with memories of all the Christmasses I spent scrimping, saving and spending all day in the kitchen to give my children fond memories. In 17 years, I haven’t even received a Christmas card from either of them. They just float back occasionally, cause more hurt and then disappear again. I feel like all those Christmasses with them were a waste of effort. 

At the moment, and having realised that there is no way back, this new understanding of finality has brought a new more intense level of grief to the surface. I can’t stop crying. Tears just flow spontaneously.


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