The Intentionally Emotive Podcast with Shaun Karim
Episode 22 - My Toxic Family Turned Me into a Scapegoat
Being the family’s scapegoat sounds unappealing on the surface, but when you begin to understand what it truly means, you can embrace it.
In this episode, Shaun goes over why a scapegoat exists, the fact that they’ve identified and called out their family on their way of life while also making clear that they are not going to repeat those patterns, and the effects of this afterwards.
Being a scapegoat may sound unappealing, but when it’s all said and done, you may very well identify one as a badge of honor.
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How's it going, everybody? Welcome to the Intentionally Emotive Podcast with Shaun Karim, part of the Mental Health News Radio Network. New episodes are available every Wednesday on all podcast platforms.
I was looking over the past episodes of this show the other day, and I saw that we’ve talked a lot about how people leave a very specific impression on us, and how we have to deal with that and work through it to come out on the other side of it as a survivor. The thing about that is I don’t think we’ve spent nearly enough time about the good that can come out of the abusive and toxic relationships we’ve had.
If you’ve listened to this show long enough, you know I haven’t had the most glorious life. Last year my younger sister and I were talking, and she matter-of-factly said, “You haven’t had an easy life.” She’s right. I haven’t had an easy life; and if the topics of this show resonate with you, then most likely you haven’t had an easy one either.
You and I–we’re different. We’re so different from the rest of the pack. We haven’t had certain life experiences; in many other cases, we’ve had so many experiences in life that most people should and will never have.
Having said all of that, there is an opportunity here to do and be something. You can look at your past and say, “All of those things that I went through made me the person I am today.” But what kind of person is that? The thing is–and honestly most difficult–you get to decide. You get to choose which path to go on.
So make a decision: is your past going to continue hindering you or is it a gift that will allow you to be something special?
This is the title of today’s episode: My Toxic Family Turned Me into a Scapegoat.
Most of us are born into families and are assigned the task of repeating their behaviors and making the same types of decisions they’ve made. There is a subconscious expectation that each child does the same things their parents did, the same things their aunts and uncles did, cousins, siblings. Everyone.
The thing about that is the worse the family is at making and practicing these life choices, the more difficult it is for the child to break that pattern, to rewrite the family script, so-to-speak. So if one of your parents regularly abused the other, that left an impression on you. If one practiced infidelity so often that it became part of their identity, that left an impression on you. Skipping school? Not eating right? Treating others disrespectfully? All of that is part of the family script.
But what happens when this behavior is turned on to you? What if a family member’s lack of integrity seeped so deeply into your unconscious mind that this became a normal part of your behavior? Worse yet, what if you noticed it, but still are unable to catch it in time to do something about it?
If your sibling achieved X accomplishment, were you expected to achieve something similar? Were there expectations put on you that went against what you actually wanted to do?
The family script can be and is most likely to be repeated over and over again throughout the generations. In more general terms, each family member has the same expectations of themselves and each other. That means they want the angst, the drama, the fights, the passive aggressiveness, life goals, partners, relationships. All of the things that we know that can put a glass ceiling over their heads are the toxic things that define who they are as a whole.
But like I said to start things off, you’re different. Maybe you think differently, behave differently; and your family picked up on it as the years went on. Not so much when you were really young, but definitely when you could start thinking for yourself and make decisions that made them think something like, “Why did they do that? That makes no sense.”
Eventually, as you start to grow and mature, did you start questioning your parents’ accuracy in what they were telling you? Not just the small stuff, but the big, important, life-changing things that can direct what path you’ll take. And how did they react to all of that?
What happened when you told them things like you didn’t want to have the type of job they wanted for you? What happened when you wanted to dress differently? What about your political stance? How about your eating habits? Exercise? The friends you have? The people you want to eliminate from your life?
You countering anything that a toxic family member expects of you with sound judgment will never be reciprocated; instead, they will continue to force their ways of thinking on you because the family script defines them. It’s all they have, and you’re trying to detach from it.
Maybe they had some grand plan for you. The type of plan where they could tell people that you did XYZ because they guided you there, and they’re proud of you for doing it. But when you tell them you want–or even need–to create your own path? What happens to that plan, whatever it is?
This doesn’t happen suddenly, and hopefully your instincts are telling you that a storm is coming. The storm that is your family members questioning you at every turn, making you feel like you’re a dumbass for going against the grain, giving you an ultimatum that you must do what they’ve told you or else, and ultimately your parents not supporting you and telling you how disappointed they are in you.
The toxicity behind all of that is built by design; it’s designed to get you to conform–or continue on–with your family’s script. At some point, you have a decision to make about this script: adapt or tear it up.
Now you start developing a reputation within your family that you’re not doing things the right way; you’re not setting up the goals you should be setting; you’re not achieving the things that’ll make you what they believe is successful in life; you’re eating habits aren’t in line with what they know–or don’t know–about nutrition; your activities are strange to them because they all live in the same bubble; your studies aren’t in line with what they think you should be doing; your job is something they don’t understand, and since they don’t understand, they think you’re wrong for pursuing it.
That’s not all of it.
You’re now the reason that the values they’ve established are changing, especially if you plan on having children; being in a relationship with a partner who shares your views, and instilling those teachings into your children. Now you’re making copies of yourself in the world that are not the same as what your family has been doing for possibly generations.
Let me get one thing out of the way here: it’s not bad when your loved ones want the best for you. Having people care for you, guide you on to achieve whatever success looks like, and support you throughout that process is healthy. Right? So on the flipside of that, when these same people in your life start telling you have to do such-and-such because that’s the way things are, and you want to do something different–still something good, but instead of it being what they want, these are the things that truly interest you–and not support you? Not help you understand how things are? Not at least learn from you about why you want to do these things?
That’s a dictatorship from a toxic family that you must escape. At the end of the day, the decision is yours, and it’s not an easy decision to say you’re going to be different and ultimately live a different life than they’re used to, but let me tell you that you owe it to yourself to do those things, whatever they are. Do you want to live in a different place because of the climate, activities, etc.? Do you have a certain professional passion that you want to practice? Do you have or want to obtain certain skill sets so you can eventually get that job?
Do it. I’m telling you, you need to do it. If you’re in the middle of that now, bravo to you. You should be so proud of yourself, and you must keep going. And if you’re on the fence? Ask yourself what your life will look like in five, 10, 20 years from now if you were to stay with this family script or write an entirely new one.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s a big decision to do something like this. It’s also one that will define you to everyone–for better or worse–but most importantly this is for you. If you choose to be different, understand that your family indirectly has turned you into their scapegoat.
That means you’re taking all of those experiences when you were a kid–like your family belittling you, abusing you, not treating you fairly–and flipping the effects of that on you on their head. That also means that the image that your family has is going to change drastically. This is the image on which your family has built its identity, and they will do anything they can to protect that because of their ego. So they’re going to put the blame on you when things don’t go their way. Their behavior will show that you did something different, and so it’s your fault.
You might be thinking that none of that sounds appealing. Who wants to unfairly take the blame for anything? Who wants to go on those journeys without the support of the people who are supposed to be closest to you? Who wants to do all these things for the first time in the family without a blueprint to follow?
This is the path that you’ve chosen, and since you’re the first to do it, of course the toxic people who don’t understand are going to tell you that you’re wrong, that you must not do this, that you’re going to fail, and so on. What do they know? They only know the things that are in that bubble of theirs that you identified aren't for you.
If toxic people are telling you that you’re wrong, then that’s an easy indicator to know that you’re doing something right. Remember that.
Those are the things that don’t get you out of bed. They’re not activities that get you excited. They’re not the types of jobs that use and build on the skills you want. They’re not associating with the types of people you like. They don’t have the relationships that you know are more suited to your ways of thinking. They don’t even have the type of partner you want.
So embrace being different. Own the fact that you want to take this unpaved path and build the life you want. Sometimes you’re going to walk, or crawl, or run, but it’s yours, and you’re going to enjoy the journey. The destination will be worth it.
The trials and tribulations are probably going to be tough. They could be so difficult that you might even question if it’s worth it. Maybe you’re emotionally drained; maybe you feel like you're too tired to keep going. But eventually things will change. They’re going to go in your favor. Then one day you’re going to look around and you’re going to see that you’re doing it. You’re going to look back on your life and see what you’ve escaped. You’re going to look toward your future and know that you have the pen of this book that you’re writing.
So what can you expect as you’re on this path? What happens as you start achieving these things that you’ve set out for yourself? Of course, some of those goals change, but that’s normal and expected.
If you’re like me, you kind of have to isolate yourself from those family members who aren’t good for your mental health. Who cares what your reputation is with them at this point? You’re too busy building your life. You’re occupied with the things that excite you, that are making you money, that are keeping you healthy. You knew you weren’t going to be happy continuing on with whatever they wanted you to do.
Now you can be an example to others. Your colleagues will respect you because you will have the experience and the conviction as you speak about those big ticket items. Your partner will look at you in a way that no one else ever will. You’ll look in the mirror and know exactly who you’re looking at.
Be different. Whatever people want to call you–scapegoat, pain in the ass–just do it. This life belongs to you. Have faith in yourself and know that you can do it. Shut out the white noise, the distractions, and blank out the doubts, the pain, the agony that you might be experiencing as you continue on, because when it’s done, maybe your family respects you; maybe they don’t, but what matters most is you’ll respect yourself.
All right, everyone. Thanks for listening to the Intentionally Emotive Podcast with Shaun Karim. For past episodes and links to my socials, visit www.shaunkarim.com.