Do you have trouble trusting people? Even trusting yourself? This is a common issue with the scapegoat children of narcissists. Have you ever wondered why that is? Well, for one thing, it is almost impossible to have an NParent and not be the victim of gaslighting…and one of the consequences of being gaslighted throughout your formative years is that “…gaslighting, when effective, will actually damage your trust in yourself and your experience of reality.”
When we acknowledge that we have been gaslighted, triangulated, hoovered, and otherwise manipulated by our Ns, when we look at the aftermath, like our difficulty in choosing emotionally healthy partners and friends, our inability to trust people…including ourselves…our constant state of feeling anxiety and/or guilt, it is difficult to believe we were not deliberately targeted and attacked. And yet, for most of us, this is actually the case: there was nothing truly personal in it.
Hard to accept? How many times have you asked yourself “why does she hate me?” or “Why me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” How often have you searched your memory for something you might have said or done…or assumed something you said or did…that provoked her to dislike you, to not love you, to punish you. Because you assume it is your fault, you take on guilt, you feel like you are a bad person, even if you can’t figure out why. All of this is based on your assumption that her negative actions and/or attitudes against you are somehow justified and for them to be justified, you would have had to do or say something wrong, even if you don’t remember what that was.
Maybe, like many ACoNs, you have holes in your memory, periods of time that you cannot remember. When your N gaslights and accuses you of being mean to her or of having said or done something that upset her and you can’t recall ever having said or done it, it is natural to think you may have done it but can’t remember. “Losing spots in your memory makes it very plausible when someone tells you that they cannot trust your memory. It makes it very plausible when they tell you that you are abusive.” This is a common way be begin to think we are crazy, because our memory of our experiences and reality do not match with what our NParents report.
When they call in the flying monkeys, it can get even worse. Flying monkeys accept the N’s version of things uncritically, so the next thing you know, your N has an army of supporters and you are but a lonely voice crying in the wilderness. “It’s hard to stand firm when one person is trying to replace your experience, but when they have a chorus of supporters, it is nearly impossible. There is a reason why cult abuse can lead to a complete breakdown of someone’s personality…Group manipulation and abuse is devastatingly effective.”
So how can this not be personal?
The first thing you have to realize is that Ns do not see other people the way we see them. We have a habit of ascribing to others our own feelings, beliefs, motivations and, in general, we will be roughly accurate as long as we are dealing with people of the same general culture and background. If we come from a culture in which mothers are expected to love their children and put them first, to take an interest in each of them individually and treat them as individuals, with love and respect, we will expect that of all mothers in our culture, including our own. We have expectations.
But narcissists are outliers. We base our expectations on our societal norms and our narcissistic parents do not meet those norms, even though some of them may attempt to appear to meet them. We expect our parents to care for us and put our needs ahead of their wants because that is what our society expects as well. And if they don’t, because the society assumes that they are fulfilling their ordained roles as parents, it is we who are suspected of causing the problem. We even suspect ourselves, wondering what we did, what we didn’t do, what is wrong with us, that our mothers and/or fathers do not love us in the way we expect. It is we who think it is personal.
For narcissists, I don’t think it is that complex. We are not people to narcissists in the way that we are people to others. We are objects. That can be difficult to wrap your head around. Think of it this way: if you have three empty trash receptacles in your kitchen, a pink one, a yellow one, and a silver one, which one do you throw the empty soup can into? It doesn’t matter, does it? What if they are different shapes? Say round, square, and rectangular openings. Still doesn’t matter, does it? Suppose they are different sizes: medium, large, and huge. You only have one can to throw away and all of the receptacles are empty…
So, what DOES matter? What criteria do you consider when you choose which one to throw the can into? The specific characteristics of each bin…its personality, if you will…is immaterial. All that matters is your need, and you are going to choose the nearest one to where you are standing with that empty can in your hand. It is all about you and your needs, and the looks, size, and shape of the bins are immaterial.
Over time, things may evolve. You may find yourself unconsciously sorting your refuse: tins into the pink one, plastic into the yellow one, paper into the silver one. You habituate this such that even if the position of the bins is swapped, you now will take three extra steps to put the tin in the pink bin because that is where the tins belong. Over time, the pink bin becomes the one for tins, not because of anything inherent in the bin or its position that makes it more suitable or deserving of the tins but because, in the beginning, it was the closest to you when you were throwing tins away and you habituated it. If the pink bin has a rubber liner, so that the goo from inside the tins doesn’t ooze out into the metal of the tin, or out through the mesh of the silver tin that you use for paper, and it has a lid that closes to keep the flies out, then you have even more reason to use it for the tins, don’t you?
I suspect the scapegoat child is chosen in much the same way. It is nothing personal against you, it is simply that 1) you are there at the time your N feels a need to lay blame on someone other than herself and 2) you are vulnerable to accepting this blame. If there was another child present at the same time who was more vulnerable than you, it is possible that child would be chosen. If you were not there at all, definitely another child would be chosen. It wasn’t you…the essential personhood of yourself, s/he who resides inside the body…who was chosen, it was the person nearest and most vulnerable to being responsive to the narcissist’s manipulations.
Over time I have noticed that first children, especially first girls, seem to be disproportionately singled out for scapegoat status. We are someone upon whom our NMs can dump their responsibilities. Culturally, girls are still the caretakers and the people who do the bulk of the domestic chores, so it is natural that narcissistic parents will task the first available person (the oldest child), and in particular the oldest girl, to take over responsibility. You are there…and you were there first. Sometimes, however, that first child is not malleable enough but a subsequent child is more easily manipulated or frightened into the role. The narcissist does not choose you based on who you are and what you might have said or done, the narcissist simply chooses the most available and most vulnerable, regardless of other factors like personality or actions.
Once you are identified as the scapegoat person, the choice needs to be rationalize or justified. In a normal environment, your actions are the justification for how you are treated: break curfew, get grounded, for example. With the narcissistic parent, the choice is made first, then the justifications for the choice are found. These can range from actual events (you did run out into the street after the ball and nearly get hit by a car), to real events twisted to have new meanings (you were trying to give the cat a bath, not drown him), to outright lies (you didn’t call your mother a bitch, even though you might have been thinking it). The reasons you are the one who gets dumped on can sound rational, like you didn’t finish your chores so you can’t go skating with your friends (even though your chores consist of doing her housework) and they can absolutely absurd (you ruined her life by being born, so now she is blaming you for her ruined figure and poor job prospects). But what they all have in common is this: it has nothing to do with you, personally. It has to do with her agenda, her perceptions, her refusal to take responsibility for herself and her life.
If you had not been born, if you had born at a different point in her life, if you had been born to another mother, this person would still have a scapegoat. It had nothing to do with YOU.
10 Things I’ve Learned About Gaslighting As An Abuse Tactic http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/things-wish-known-gaslighting/