I would like to start by stating that I do not believe that parents have an inherent right to be respected by their children no matter what they do. Somehow, in the family of my origin, this seemed to be the dogma that the adults of my childhood lived by. I sometimes hear people say: I am grateful to my parents that they didn’t dump me in a dustbin and let me die. Now, let me tell you something – when you were in the form of a sperm and an oocyte, no one actually asked you whether you wanted to be born (unless you believe in reincarnation, but I don’t want to discuss this topic here). There were two physically adult people who decided to have unprotected sex, you had no say in it, then they decided to keep the embryo and let it turn into a child. They brought you into this world, they dumped the burden of life at you without asking. They had duties to fulfil towards you (as defined by child protection laws). You certainly were meant to be protected from abuse. You were not meant to be used as an emotional or physical punching bag. You were supposed to be given more than just food, clothing and a bed to sleep in. Your emotional and psychological needs were supposed to be met too, not denied. So to be grateful that you weren’t left in the forest is not enough. And if you think like that, I suggest you consult a good therapist. Chances are you have some skeletons in your family closet. And I am quite convinced that these skeletons still affect your life today pretty substantially.
This belief that some members of a family system (parents in this case) have this undisputed right to be respected seems to be at the heart of pervasive family dysfunction. This right to be respected at all times, in their mind, gives the parents the right to behave however they please without ever being held accountable, shown boundaries, required to respect other people’s boundaries and generally behave like adult humans.
The problem is that this thinking extends beyond the basic family unit. It’s a problem that might flow across generations but moreover, it’s a problem that is reinforced by not only the extended family but also the immediate community of the disturbed parents. Like attracts like so it’s no surprise that people with this warped underdeveloped thinking end up forming alliances, akin to little cults that are geared towards sustaining their dysfunctional, selfish and self-indulgent behaviour.
These individuals create family systems where it is ok to use weaker members of the system (children), as a release valve for their unresolved inferiority complexes, frustration, anger and all other types of emotions. They have a right to be selfish and self-indulgent. They have a right to not respect boundaries. This behaviour usually contains physical aggression, devaluation, demeaning, yelling, screaming, gaslighting, denying the child’s emotional needs and neglect (the ‘go play in your room while I get wasted here in the kitchen’ attitude).
If the person, the child, tries to protest against that adult’s behaviour, they get punished (how there you talk to me like this, you brat!) Other adults in the pervasively toxic system might witness such behaviours and consider them normal, which reinforces the abuser’s behaviour and further damages the child. In fact, the child in this family system doesn’t really have the right to be a child with all that entails, make mistakes, have tantrums, cry.
Strangely, from what I can see, these roles continue into adulthood. If an adult child confronts an abusive parent, the entire system will form an alliance to support the abuser against the child. I described my experience with this horrifying phenomenon in a recent article.
I think the scapegoated child, if he or she wishes to stay part of the family system, has two options. They can continue to accept their place in the system or adopt the abusers’ ways and pass the role of the scapegoat onto his or her own child (what a deal).
I would like to say to all scapegoats who did manage to resist this toxic family system indoctrination: well done. You are the light of this world and I know how hard your lives have been.
The toxic family system is like an organism driven by the fear of death, the death of its own toxic ways. It is driven by a powerful self-preservation instinct. The abusive members will never admit to their abusive ways and will rely on the support of their peers to ostracize, scapegoat and silence the whistleblowing member.
It’s incredible to what lengths these people can go and how much their story-telling can defy the reality of the scapegoat’s life. They are hellbent on discrediting whatever the whistleblower is saying. This behaviour is instinctual. It occurs in families that consists of pretty simple unaccomplished people. Their parental instincts and the bonds with their children are so weak, none existent even, that rather than facing themselves, they prefer not to have these children in their lives at all. The child becomes a carrier of the discomfort that the abusive parent is unwilling to face and he or she will rely on his or her support network to reinforce his or her version of reality. And this toxic support network will work without a fail.
For the scapegoat, it is a tough life. Driven by the need to have a reparation, to see the remorse and the desire to fix the relationship on the side of the toxic parent, the scapegoat might remain hooked in the toxic dance for quite a while: Confronting the abusive parent, expecting a genuine ‘I am sorry, I fucked up’, and getting further invalidated instead.
One of the worst hooks is the idea that maybe the toxic parent feels sorry but cannot show it. For this reason, I think no contact doesn’t always lead to a release. What is way more efficient is modified contact that tackles the issues head-on. The toxic parent will show his or her abusive true colours at some point in a way that will leave no doubt.
Then comes the next step: understanding. The scapegoat understands that he or she was born on a planet disorder and that somehow, magically, he or she survived in this jungle of mad behaviour with no support, no nurturing, no validation and a lot of abuse. Thumbs up to all of you!
With this understanding comes acceptance. It’s a tough realisation to know that you are all alone in the world (unless you are willing to give up on yourself and deny the truth). The acceptance, however, brings the understanding that the abusive adults are severely mentally and emotionally impaired and have always been. That a reparation is not possible. That the abusive parent is not the scapegoat’s equal in terms of emotional maturity and ability to deal with life as an adult.
The acceptance should hopefully bring empowerment. The scapegoat should consciously decide that they will do the best they can to create a life for themselves that will be no longer dictated by what had happened to them. After processing his or her own victimhood properly, it is possible to let go of the victim status and step into one’s true power. It is, however, not possible to let go before fully tackling the problem. Bypassing always creates issues further down the line.
In many instances, the abusive parent did experience some form of trauma. In the case of my family, it appears to me that 40 years of communism combined with the six years of nazi occupation during the world war two, which was experienced by the generation of my grandparents, must have somehow contributed to that.
One of the problems I see is that in this severely restricted world where aspiring was impossible, alcohol consumption was elevated from a form of escape to the purpose of life. Getting drunk and ‘partying’ somehow became the ‘cool’ and ‘good’ of life. These patterns can be observed in Czech society even today and they prevent people from developing into fully adult beings capable of living full, connected lives in touch with reality. I might explore this topic more in depths in the future.
Anyway. Happy New Year and I hope all of you who have been on this journey just like I have will be able to build your lives on healthy foundations. We have been through a lot and we should be proud of ourselves.