“Shadow work is, at heart, about developing self-awareness and ultimately, self-acceptance and compassion. Shadow work is often both therapy and more spiritual, helping you see the different parts of yourself.” ~Maggie Wooll
Advanced Self-Help Healing: Shadow Work in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
If you’ve found yourself dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship, chances are you’ve found yourself feeling lost, unseen, unheard, and even completely invisible. You might not be sure who you are anymore.
While nearly everyone could benefit from shadow work, for narcissistic abuse survivors, not only is it something that could temporarily soothe some of the pain you’re dealing with, but the long-term application could change everything for you.
For survivors, going this deep can be far more difficult and painful than most people realize. I can relate because I’ve been there myself.
Narcissists are so good at manipulating us and keeping us under their thumbs that we are often left feeling like a hopeless mess, with no sense of who we are or what we want. Shadow work may offer exactly the help you’ve been looking for if you’ve found yourself in this situation.
This is just one reason why shadow work is so important for narcissistic abuse survivors.
How can you do shadow work on your own?
Good news – shadow work is one way you can “self-help” your way through recovery. In fact, I recently launched a new series to teach you about shadow work in bite-sized pieces.
Carl Jung, a psychologist from Switzerland, is reportedly the first person who conceived of the idea of the shadow self. In Jungian psychology, the word ‘shadow’ refers to hidden parts of our being.
Jung described it as the “unknown dark side of the personality” that was “instinctive and irrational.”
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain,” Jung said. “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
He also noted that the shadow is prone to psychological projection. This, he said, would lead to perceived personal inferiority within yourself, just as you might notice that someone else has some sort of perceived moral deficiency.
What is Shadow Work?
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.” ~Carl Jung, Aion (1951)
Shadow work is a term used to describe the process of facing your own darkness. It’s meant to help you find and fix the “broken” parts of yourself. In other words, shadow work will help you to identify the parts of yourself that you are afraid to look at, either because they are taboo or because they might not be so nice (or because you might feel embarrassed or shy to share them with anyone else – sometimes, you’re even hiding from yourself).
Shadow work reconnects us with our spiritual selves, helps us find the parts of ourselves that have been broken and damaged (and even little habits we just don’t love about ourselves), then guides us on the path to personal growth and empowerment.
How do you know you need to do shadow work?
When I first learned about shadow work, I thought I’d already healed from all of my damage and had nothing left to fix – at least nothing much. But sure enough, I still had plenty of deep-rooted issues – and it really helped me to clear my head, my heart, and my mind so I could evolve into the next best self I could be.
Often we don’t realize that these things exist within us until someone else points them out to us through their behavior toward us (or sometimes even just by using language like “you’re not good enough”).
When we hear something like this from another person (in whatever form), it feels like confirmation of all the things we may already know about ourselves but that we haven’t been able to face before now – so instead we project those thoughts onto other people instead.
Now, there’s another thing to think about: if you’re anything like me, your first instinct when you started noticing these things was to just shove it down and stop the behavior rather than going to the trouble to work through it and move forward in a healthier way.
What’s the difference between inner child work and shadow work?
If you’re wondering what’s different between inner child work and shadow work (or even the difference between inner child and shadow self, know that you’re not alone. When I began to research shadow work, I suspected they were either connected or were one and the same.
And, according to my research, they are indeed connected. The way I understand it, shadow work encompasses more than the inner child, but does include the inner child.
So, in layman’s terms, the inner child will be healed as one part of the shadow work, but the shadow encompasses your whole life up to this point, along with all of the latest traumas.
When you grew out of being a child, your inner child stayed stuck – but your shadow continued along the way with you and saw the rest of the stress and mess you experienced.
How is Shadow Work Used by Narcissistic Abuse Survivors?
Many narcissistic abuse survivors report that doing shadow work has helped them to reclaim their identity and find their true self-worth again after being manipulated and controlled throughout their relationship with a narcissist.
Shadow work involves looking at aspects of your personality that aren’t healthy or positive, so they can be brought to the light and resolved through positive action steps like journaling or meditating on them until they resolve themselves internally.
Shadow work can also help survivors deal with painful memories related to the abuse cycle itself (i.e., flashbacks).
This process is often difficult for people who’ve experienced narcissistic abuse because they’re triggered regularly by things like social media posts or news articles about similar situations happening around us today.
At what point in narcissistic abuse recovery is shadow work most effective?
When you’re ready to do your shadow work, you’ll need to be beyond the first stage of recovery if you’re going to be effective and not retraumatize yourself too much. Why?
At the beginning of recovery, you might find yourself sort of spinning and feeling very raw. In this state, you’re not going to be very effective with shadow work, due to both your own fragile state and the fact that you’re going to be trying to figure out the narcissist and their own psychology at this point.
That’s exactly why I believe that shadow work will work best for survivors who are in the last stages of healing and evolving after abuse.
As we muddle through the early steps of recovery when we’re often feeling like it’s painful to even be awake, much less digging into ourselves to find the hidden broken parts.
We’re just not there yet; we’re not really ready or even equipped to do our shadow work as we suffer through the early stages of recovery.
But by the time you’ve gotten past the first few hurdles in recovery, you might be looking for a deeper or more advanced way to work through your traumas and finally, release them – once and for all. Shadow work might be just what you need.
You’ve just taken the first step in this process by reading the information above. Now, it can help to understand why you need to do this work and how it will help you heal from narcissistic abuse in ways that other healing modalities can’t.
5 Steps For Doing Shadow Work
You might feel like you’re beating your head against a wall, but you will get there. We will be using a modified version of my DUO Method to do our shadow work together.
Here are the steps we’ll follow doing our shadow work.
Step 1: Identify the problem. What do you want to work through or fix in yourself? (Discover)
Step 2: Acknowledge the problem and accept it. Accept without condition both the problem and yourself in the process – you’re not bad or evil because you’ve struggled with this or any other issue. (Unconditional self-acceptance)
Step 3: Look at the problem (this is where you have to dig deep) and do your research to understand it. (Understand)
.Step 4: Be honest with yourself about what’s been going on, who’s been involved, and how this has impacted your life in a negative way for years now, even when it was just one or two small things happening every once in a while that added up over time until all of a sudden everything changed overnight…because it usually does! (Overcome)
Step 5: Unconditionally accept and learn to love you for YOU. This is where evolution happens for a survivor.
Shadow Work Prompts for Narcissistic Abuse Survivors
One of the simplest and most effective ways to start your shadow work is through journal prompts. You’ll want to get a dedicated notebook or to even use YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok to record yourself and your efforts in mind and to keep your thoughts in place and organized.
I’ve recently launched a new series for narcissistic abuse survivors on my video platforms. Here’s the first video for your convenience.(I’m using the hashtag #shadowworkforsurviors on all platforms – so feel free to follow wherever you prefer. I’m on YouTube, TikTok, IG and Facebook Reels)
If you want to get a jump start on this process, you can start by taking some time to answer each of the following questions in your journal or video diary.
How can I feel safe in this world?
What is my worth, and how am I going to get it back?
How do I trust people again, or do I even have the capacity to trust people again?
What are some of the ways that I have been damaged by being in a relationship with someone who was toxic like this one was?
How do I express my emotions now that they’re no longer being oppressed by my abuser’s behavior?
There are simple ways to begin doing shadow work, but it takes a long time and can be painful. In any case, it’s totally worth the effort. You can do it!
Healthy relationships are a challenge for anyone, especially those of us who have been through narcissistic abuse. However, by doing shadow work, you can heal your past trauma and find the confidence to move forward with your life.
Shadow work can be used as part of the process of healing after narcissistic abuse. The idea behind it is that when you have been in an abusive relationship, you have become confused about who you are and what is real. Shadow work offers the opportunity to rediscover yourself and redesign your life.
Your abuser has controlled your reality by gradually changing how you think, how you feel, and what makes sense to you. As part of this process, they may also have convinced you that there are parts of yourself that are negative or bad.
It can be helpful to think about shadow work as a process of facing the parts of ourselves that we have been avoiding (the shadow). This might include our pain, our feelings about being controlled or manipulated by others, or even just our own feelings about ourselves.
Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today
Have you ever been friends with someone who made you feel terrible after spending time with them? Have you found yourself wondering if they were toxic, or whether they might be a narcissist? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about today: narcissistic and toxic friends – how to identify them and what to do if you have one. (See video on YouTube)
A few months after I left my ex-husband and became a single mom, I got a job working in healthcare billing. The hours were good for a single mom, I got health insurance for my son and me, and the pay was better than I could do elsewhere at that time. After a couple of weeks on the job, I met a fellow single mom working in my department. Let’s call her Brenda.
I was so happy to meet Brenda because I really didn’t know anyone in the area (because my narcissist ex had isolated me quite thoroughly, and because I’d moved to be closer to my family when I left him). Plus, our kids were similar ages and we could hang out and have playdates outside of work. It seemed perfect.
At work, we started having lunch together every day. I was thrilled to have someone to hang out with and fully embraced the friendship. But after a few months, I noticed that every time I spent time with Brenda, I felt super-stressed and like I needed to calm down. I couldn’t figure out why at first, which I know sounds odd, but I wasn’t as self-aware back then as I am now.
I wrote about it in my journal a few times, and I realized that I must be missing something. There didn’t seem to be a logical reason that I’d feel the way I did – Brenda was a good friend, right?
Well, after that, I started to watch our conversations a little closer, and pretty soon, I realized that Brenda was a very negative person. If I had an idea or talked about trying something new, she’d instantly go into all the reasons I shouldn’t bother doing it, or why it wouldn’t work. If I bought my lunch, she’d make subtle jabs at me for not being more frugal – and if I brought my lunch, she’d pick it apart for any given reason. If I talked about a guy I was interested in, she’d do everything in her power to tear him down and divert my attention. And she NEVER liked it if I tried to bring another friend along to hang out – she’d tear that person apart verbally and refuse to participate in whatever we were doing.
She was SO negative! In fact, I struggled to find a time where she said anything positive. But when we’d first met, I had taken her negativity as sort of commiseration between two single moms – you know how it is.
Once I realized what was going on, I wondered if I should end the friendship. I mean, it wasn’t like I had a million friends at that point in my life, but should I really maintain a relationship with someone who was bringing me down so much?
After a few days, I realized that I wanted to still be her friend, and so I started trying to subtly turn our conversations toward the positive. I’d counter all of her negativity with phrases like “but on the plus side” and “now here’s the silver lining…”
But Brenda didn’t respond much to those things – except to occasionally roll her eyes and continue with her negativity.
Then, one day, I got moved to a new team within the department, and they all invited me to lunch. Brenda was annoyed when I invited her to go along. She refused and told me she’d rather eat lunch in her car than to put up with those people, and that we’d just resume our lunches the following day.
After spending my lunch break with this group, I felt a bit of an uplift in my spirits. And the next day, they invited me to join them again. Once again, I invited Brenda, and this time, she begrudgingly accepted. With all of these more positive people around, I felt better. Brenda’s negativity couldn’t quite infect me the way it usually did, and it was harder for her to dominate the conversation with so many of us at the table, But after a few days, she told me she was done with them. It was too much for her. And she gave me an ultimatum: her or the group.
Whether it was right or wrong, I chose the group. And while I told Brenda that it didn’t need to be this way, that we could all be friends – or at least that I could be friends with them and her as well, she disagreed and she gave me the silent treatment for the remainder of the time we worked together. I felt really bad about it, but I knew I’d made the right choice. Negativity is so difficult to deal with – and Brenda’s especially toxic version of it was infecting me like a disease. I knew that if I wanted to feel better, I had to move on.
Now, I can’t say for sure if Brenda was a narcissist or just a very broken woman. But either way, she had become toxic for me. So let me ask you – does any of this sound familiar to you?
Have you ever had an experience like that?
Have you had a toxic friend?
Before we dig into our discussion on narcissists and toxic people as friends, let’s talk about true friends. What is a true friend, in your opinion?
Everyone has a slightly different definition–but bottom line, a true friend is someone who is there for you when you need him or her, someone you trust, someone who makes you feel good.
Probably you have great conversations, share interests, and support one another in your every day lives. You help each other out. You have each other’s backs. You know.
But what happens when a friend turns out to be “not so good” for you – if the friendship becomes toxic? Worse, what if your friend is a toxic narcissist?
What is a toxic narcissist?
In case you’re new around here, let me quickly define the term “toxic narcissist.” Officially, this refers to a toxic, verbally abusive person who may have narcissistic personality disorder.
To avoid the whole “pop psychology” thing, let’s just put it this way. If we’re talking about a toxic narcissist, on the most basic level, we’re talking about someone who lacks empathy and who acts from that perspective. It’s someone who demonstrates toxic narcissism – as opposed to healthy narcissism, this is excessive self-focus that involves a marked lack of empathy for others.
So what does a toxic or narcissist friend look like?
In layman’s terms, that means someone who, after spending time with them, makes you feel bad about yourself instead of good. This person might have a tendency to be critical of you — sometimes subtly, and other times, not so subtly. They may also make you feel drained – emotionally, financially, and/or mentally. Ultimately, this is someone who you might recognize as not very good for you.
How do you truly identify a toxic friendship?
It can be difficult, especially if you have been close to a friend for a long time. If you suspect that a friend is (or has become) toxic, ask yourself the following questions:
How do you feel after spending time with or speaking to this person? Do you feel good and positive (for the most part) or do you find yourself worrying, stressing or obsessing about some aspect of the visit or call?
Are you afraid to tell your friend about some aspect of your life for fear of how they’ll react or fear of being judged harshly?
Do you sometimes find yourself avoiding contact with the person or ignoring their calls?
Does your friend consistently “forget” about your plans or cancel at the last minute?
Does your friend actively insult or offend you on a consistent basis?
Do you find yourself feeling uncomfortable or bothered by your friend’s life choices, behavior or moral conduct?
Do you feel comfortable bringing up concerns about your friendship with this friend?
Does this friendship benefit you?
Do you trust this friend, really trust him or her?
These are just a few questions to get you started. In general, your friends should be an asset to your life, not a detriment.
How do you deal with a toxic friendship?
Does someone in your life seem to be more of a hindrance than a help in your life? If so, it may be time to reevaluate your choices. So, once we’ve figured out that a friend IS toxic, what can we do about it? How do we deal with a toxic friendship?
1. Recognize the Problem
When we start feeling bad about spending time with or talking to our friends, it’s time to take a look at the relationship. Identifying the friendship as a toxic one is the first step to dealing with the problem.
2. Own Up to It, People Pleaser
Friends of toxic types often have something in common. According to Charles Figley, a spokesman for the American Psychological Association, “It’s a pleaser personality — you want people to like you, you want to get along, and it’s hard to say no. But you can pay the price in one way by having toxic friends.”
The fact is that, whether you can see it or not, you’ve got some responsibility in this relationship too. Maybe you’ve allowed your friend to treat you negatively or to make you feel bad about yourself because you want them to like you, or because you don’t like confrontation.
3. Develop Strong Boundaries
Often, people pleasers aren’t good at setting boundaries. When your friendships become toxic, it’s time to stand up for yourself and let friends know what isn’t acceptable.
For example, I used to have a close friend in college who always did the “one-up” thing when I’d tell her about my problems or my accomplishments.
For example, when I told her about a promotion I had received at work, and she was like ‘oh yeah, I heard I might be getting a promotion at my job, too.’ Then she went on to tell me how much better her promotion would be than mine, and how much more money she’d be making than me. Another time, I told her about a problem I was having with a guy I was dating, and wouldn’t you know it? She launched into a big monologue about her problem with her boyfriend, which was, of course, far more serious and difficult than mine.
So, in that case, I could’ve set boundaries by explaining my concerns to my friend and asking her to avoid the “one-up-manship.” I never did, unfortunately. But hindsight is always 2020, right? Anyhoo…
4. Talk It Out
Talk to a trusted (non-toxic) friend or family member about your concerns if you can. Many times, it’s easier to figure out the problem when you’re “outside looking in”–that is, when you’re not the one with the problem, the solution to it can seem crystal clear.
If you can’t find an “objective” third party, it’s a good idea to seek outside counseling. By employing the skills of a trained coach or therapist, not only do you get the objectivity you need, but you may also get answers or learn coping techniques you wouldn’t on your own. If not, talk to a support group like my SPANily group on Facebook.
You could also journal or blog about the problem. Personally, I have worked through almost literally every problem in my life this way – including toxic friendships. Sometimes, just putting our thoughts into words and getting them out of our heads can be enough to help us figure out our issues.
5. If All Else Fails, Walk Away and Go No Contact
If you’ve tried setting boundaries and discussing the problem with your toxic friend and have not been able to resolve the issues, it may be time to consider limiting contact or ending the friendship. It’s not an easy choice and certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly, but when it comes down to it, your sanity and mental health are more important than any toxic friendship. Take care of yourself first, and then you can take care of others. People pleasers often forget this little piece of wisdom.
There are many ways you can do this: email, phone call – you can just stop talking to the person. But in an ideal world, you’d do it in person. Maybe you’d invite the person to coffee or lunch. Before meeting them think about why it is you don’t want them in your life anymore and figure out how to phrase it in non-judgmental ways.
Try using “I Statements” – meaning, make an assertive statement without putting your friend on the defensive.
Explain clearly (but kindly) how their behavior makes you feel. Say something like ‘Brenda, I feel upset when you ask me for advice and then tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.’ Or “Brenda, I feel stressed out after having lunch with you each day because it feels like you rarely have anything positive to say.”
Be clear and assertive. Let your friend know that you do care about them; but that you don’t feel like you can be involved in a friendship with them any longer. Give the person a chance to respond, they may not even be aware of their behavior and the idea of losing a friend might give them a good reason to think about their own behavior. If the conversation turns towards the negative, you can just end it there and walk away.
Of course, this is always much easier said than done. But I promise you, when you have the weight of a toxic friend lifted off your shoulders, you’ll feel so much better and be able to heal that much faster.
They want to be admired and need to monitor the amount of respect you give them. They exaggerate their achievements and seem to only care about themselves.
And we all know they manipulate people to get what they want.
But as I’m sure you are well aware, narcissists are boastful and exaggerate their self-importance. They also don’t acknowledge that anyone else has needs, wants, and feelings, thanks to their extreme lack of empathy. They seem to literally believe they are the center of the universe. Sound familiar?
And the other thing that narcissists refuse to do is to be reflective and dig within to become self-reflective. In fact, they are threatened by that idea and will avoid it at all costs. God forbid they should catch a glimpse of their true selves! It would destroy them.
(To be fair, covert narcissists often seem a little – or a lot – insecure. But most narcissists seem to carry around some level of insecurity with them.)
Let’s break it down further as to how they are insecure.
They need to boast about everything.
Someone secure will not need to brag about their accomplishments.
Those who are sure of themselves are modest and don’t like showing off.
However, as you see, the narcissist must make it known that they have the best car on the block, or the biggest house on the block, the fanciest clothing, and so on.
While it might seem that it’s all about showing off, the sad truth is that they do this to validate their struggling self-worth.
They put people down on purpose, with purpose.
Anyone secure will always treat others with respect, and if they don’t like someone, they will just not associate with them in any way at all – or keep it at a polite minimum at the very least.
And along with that, the narcissist is known to brag and boast.
They want to make you feel inferior so that you will “know” that they’re “above you or better than you.”
In fact, they need to make you feel that way because it helps them feel better about themselves.
This is another blatant indication of the narcissist’s insecurity – after all, people with a relatively healthy self-image don’t need to stand on the pain of others in order to feel good about who they are.
Narcissists don’t care about your needs or wants.
Narcissists don’t care if you are missing out on something or not getting what you need. This is due to their extreme lack of empathy.
However, they care VERY MUCH about their own wants and needs. In fact, they seem to ONLY care about getting what they need.
And at times, the fact that they get what they need might make them seem almost nice to be around. For a short time, anyway.
They will react angrily, often clapping back at the person giving them criticism with a passive-aggressive response or even mocking them. This humiliates the one giving the criticism, and they feel rejected.
The biggest difference is that when you have actual self-esteem, you are more likely to focus on things like healthy relationships and happiness, while narcissists fail to do this because they genuinely do not care how others feel.
Rather, they want to know what people can do for them. Plus, they’re always trying to validate their self-worth – and when you have actual self-esteem, you don’t need to do that all the time.
Watch My Scapegoat/Scapegoating Video – When I was about 12 or 13, I went shopping with my mother, a friend of hers, and my younger brother. As we entered the store, my mother and her friend splintered off and went to do their shopping while my brother and I went in the other direction to look at toys and games.
At one point, I noticed my brother shoving a hand-held video game in his pocket. I asked what he was doing and he informed me that he was taking the game and had done similar things before. He said he never got caught. Well, as misguided as this was, he convinced me that it was safe. And I’m ashamed to admit that I took a couple of cassette tape singles and shoved them into my purse.
Before long, we noticed a man following us through the store. It creeped us out, but in our cluelessness, we didn’t connect the fact that we had just put merchandise out of sight with the intention to avoid paying for it. The guy wasn’t wearing a uniform, after all.
Eventually, we met up with my mother and her friend and went through the checkout lane. My brother and I looked at each other as we passed through, feeling a weird kind of vindication when the checkout lady didn’t seem to notice us.
As we walked out the doors of the store, we both felt kind of excited to think we’d gotten away with it. We were almost to the car when the man who had been following us through the store came up and grabbed us by the shoulders. My mother freaked out and rushed over to us and was horrified to find out that he was taking us in for stealing.
After several hours of hell and a signed promise to never return to this store, they released us to my mother and we rode home in silence. As we arrived home, my mother asked us for the story. Why had we done this?
I tried to explain that my brother had suggested it and I’m pretty sure he even agreed to the truth – but my mother couldn’t stand the idea that it could’ve been his idea.
He was the youngest one, and the golden child at that. I, the scapegoat, must have been the problem, she decided, and after a brief admonishment to never listen to me or my evil ideas again, she sent my brother to his room. I, on the other hand, was severely physically punished and emotionally battered to the point that still to this day, when I’m walking through a store, I feel the need to keep my hands visible at all times.
The Scapegoat: Why and How the Narcissist Scapegoats You
Today, we’re going to discuss scapegoating and exactly why and how it happens. Plus, what you can do if you’re the scapegoat to start the healing process. So, let’s get started.
What is a “scapegoat?”
Also known as the black sheep, the scapegoat is the person in the toxic family structure who always gets blamed for everything that goes wrong for everyone, a member of a family or group. The black sheep is usually considered the outcast, the “bad kid” or a straight-up disgrace to the family. A scapegoat may have the following traits:
Empathic, strong-willed, internalizing blame easily, emotionally reactive, highly sensitive, protective or overprotective of friends, strangers, etc. They’re often the caregiver of the family and they’re likely to question everything – including authority (which adds to their pain in the family) and of course they seem to be different or to stick out from the rest of the family in some way.
What is the toxic family structure?
Generally, the Toxic Family Structure includes the Narcissist (or the toxic person the family revolves around), Enabler (often the other parent who may willingly or unwillingly support the narcissist), Golden Child (the child who gets all the positive attention and who often lives with extreme pressure from both the parents who want them to succeed or be perfect as well as the siblings who feel jealous or slighted by this attention that is so opposite of the attention they get), Scapegoat (the problem child/the one everyone blames for everything) and Lost Child (the invisible one who doesn’t get in much trouble or who is largely ignored due to attention to the golden child and the direct abuse of the scapegoat). There are other possibilities of course – the peacemaker, the comedian, and so on. But this is the basic structure we’re going to work with for today.
What is scapegoating?
Scapegoating is when someone chooses a person or a group of people and casts blame on them for any and everything. Then, they treat that person or group unfairly or punish them unfairly for all of these perceived slights. This can be done by individual people or groups of people.
The term scapegoating is mentioned in the bible as well as in other ancient texts in which ancient tribal societies would choose an actual goat to represent the tribe’s collective sins. They’d sacrifice it in one way or another, and then the tribe’s collective sins would be forgiven and they’d essentially have a clean slate.
There are a couple of things to consider here. In some families, the role of scapegoat seems to sort of rotate between everyone who isn’t the narcissist or toxic, controlling person in the mix.
For example, I know of one toxic mother who has two sons. At any given moment, one of the sons is in her “good graces,” while the other is being scapegoated. The issue is that each son does time in both roles. The family jokes that “she can’t be friends with both of them at the same time,” but in reality, they’re minimizing her toxicity and the level of dysfunction in their midst.
Of course, both of these boys grew up to be men who had a ton of self-doubt and who each married controlling women who could potentially be labeled as narcissists.
But the “rotating scapegoat” role is far less damaging than the role of the permanent scapegoat, in which one single person is the ongoing target for the toxic person in the family. It is this person who is blamed for everything that goes wrong, and it is this person whose accomplishments are ignored and minimized. This person is never good enough (and KNOWS this based on how he or she is treated) and nothing they do is considered “real” or “enough.”
The Scapegoat Gets All the Blame
When the golden child does something wrong, the toxic parent finds a way to blame it on the scapegoat. Why do they do this? Well, on a subconscious level, the “broken” scapegoat allows the rest of the family to feel like they’re well-adjusted and emotionally balanced. The family can tell everyone about this scapegoat and how terrible they are, and people will feel sorry for them – and in some cases, even praise them for putting up with such a problem child.
The toxic parent can tell the world, and herself, how perfect she is in her parental role, and anything that makes her unhappy or makes her feel bad about herself can be blamed on the scapegoated child.
Of course, chances are that the toxic parent doesn’t recognize this consciously. She isn’t actively thinking that she’s trying to use the scapegoat in this way, most of the time – and yet, she still actively bullies and targets the scapegoated child over the course of years and even decades in many cases.
Sadly, this can often lead to the other siblings following suit and victimizing the scapegoated child well into adulthood and even after the toxic parent dies. It becomes their “truth” – and they often unintentionally see the scapegoat as the bad kid or the one who just refused to be happy.
This means that the toxic parent keeps her proverbial nose clean because anything that goes wrong or is perceived as a failure for her is blamed on the scapegoat.
How is the scapegoat affected psychologically?
It depends on a couple of factors. First, the other parent. If the “enabler” parent does not join in on the blame game and putting down of the scapegoat, they may end up actively supporting or even validating the scapegoat at times. Or, if the scapegoat receives external validation from a grandparent, teacher, or other trusted adult, they may manage to recognize what is happening eventually and work on healing.
In my case, a girl scout leader and a bunch of my teachers validated me and I was able to recognize eventually what was happening. In the long run, this made my healing easier. Of course, the other side of the coin is the child who believes everything the toxic people say about him or her and sort of takes it into themselves and almost becomes exactly what the toxic parent claimed they were.
This often means that they never take credit when they succeed or something good happens (they think – it must be a mistake/luck/a fluke!)
And then when something bad happens, they assume it’s because they’re bad/broken/not good enough – or that they caused it in some way.
I personally can also relate to this side of that coin because even though part of me thought it was wrong, the other part of me believed at least the part about not being good enough or capable of being a “real person.”
And in both cases, most people who are scapegoated as children become really good at building walls and keeping people at a distance. They may also develop what they call a “thick skin,” meaning that they don’t take things personally (or at least they don’t end up being rattled by rude comments or disrespectful treatment in the same way as a healthier person might be).
They almost always feel like they don’t belong or like they’re not an important part of the family – and this often follows them into adulthood. They might be focused on achieving big things in order to prove their critical, toxic parent wrong – or they may just totally give up and fall into the role she cast for them. Alternatively, they might set very low standards for themselves in order to reduce the pressure they felt growing up – they may struggle to set and accomplish goals at all. In all cases, there are serious emotional and psychological issues at play for a scapegoat.
Scapegoated? Here’s the Silver Lining.
There is one possible positive to all of this, and that is that the scapegoated one is the child who is the most likely one to recognize that there’s a problem in the family, and is also more likely to get help to overcome it and possibly to break the cycle of abuse in her his or her own family as an adult. In fact, of all of the roles in the toxic family, the scapegoat is most likely to have a chance to eventually develop and maintain healthier relationships overall.
So, that’s something, I guess. But when this healing isn’t realized early enough, it also opens the scapegoat up for toxic relationships with narcissists as they navigate adulthood, because they sort of just take what they can get, if that makes sense. We can talk more about that in a future video.
If you are a scapegoat or a former scapegoat, the first step to healing is to recognize the issue and to recognize that it wasn’t your fault- that you weren’t the total trainwreck your toxic parent claimed you were, and that you are worthy of love and respect just like everyone else. Once you get this logically, you’ll be able to separate the emotional and psychological garbage you’ve been fed and the facts so you can begin to heal.
Ultimately, I want you to know that you ARE good enough, that you ARE a real person, and that you DO deserve good things in life. Look at me. I mean it. Don’t forget.
“We all come from dysfunctional families. The issue is not whether our family was dysfunctional but whether we can put meaning to the experience of our lives.” ~ Stephen Porges, author of the Polyvagal Theory
I had a narcissistic abuse recovery counseling client who was really struggling with deep childhood trauma combined with a psychopathic ex who had horribly abused her since she was a teen. Now that she was free, she was feeling anything BUT. In fact, she felt frozen in fear, nearly all the time.
Are you living in a constant state of fear?
Can you relate to living in a constant state of fight or flight, or worse, freeze? That was this woman’s reality. She had tried traditional therapy and spent thousands of dollars on various doctors, practitioners, and even alternative medicine. Yet, she was still at a complete standstill in her recovery and she still felt fearful and miserable every day. I deeply felt for her, and I really wanted to help. So, I started digging to help her find a solution to overcome her C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms so she could heal.
That is what led me to Dr. Stephen Porges and his Polyvagal Theory. My client found significant relief, and I learned new ways to help people in narcissistic abuse recovery.
What is Polyvagal Theory?
According to Porges, “The polyvagal theory describes an autonomic nervous system that is influenced by the central nervous system, sensitive to afferent influences, characterized by an adaptive reactivity dependent on the phylogeny of the neural circuits, and interactive with source nuclei in the brainstem regulating the striated muscles of the face and head.” Read more about Polyvagal Theory in Porges’ 2009 paper, here.
In this brief video, Dr. Stephen Porges explains offers an explanation of his Polyvagal Theory and how it works.
How can we use Polyvagal Theory and vagus nerve stimulation to help us heal from narcissistic abuse and trauma?
Going through a toxic relationship often leaves victims feeling fearful to a debilitating level. For most of us, it affects our nervous system in profound ways. In some cases, survivors find themselves living in a constant state of anxiety based on the feeling that they need to be constantly on guard – hypervigilance. This makes it almost impossible for them to relax or even to feel “normal.” They feel FROZEN or STUCK.
Through the use of vagus nerve stimulation as described by Dr. Porges in Polyvagal Theory, many survivors find relief of their C-PTSD symptoms. Even better, these exercises can be done by almost anyone from the comfort of their own home – or anywhere they happen to be.
Self-Help Exercises for CPTSD Symptoms Based on Polyvagal Theory
In THIS VIDEO, I talk about a theory developed by Dr. Stephen Porges that could change the way we heal trauma, and once I’ve given you a brief overview of the theory, I’m going to share some self-help exercises that you can do at home to help you get through the hard times.
As I mentioned, one of my clients found herself stuck, afraid and feeling frozen, and she had tried everything but struggled to find relief. After discovering what I’m going to show you today, she began to find some relief. As I learned more about the theory, I shared some of its ideas with other clients in similar situations.
In the majority of these cases, they were able to find some relief all on their own by doing surprisingly simple at-home exercises. Several reported that they felt these simple exercises made a significant difference in their ability to feel safe enough to recover.
The Role of the Vagus Nerve in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
Porges proposes in his polyvagal theory that the vagus nerve has more function than previously thought and that the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous systems are only part of the equation in how people react to the environment and trauma. Because the theory is very complicated, I’m only providing a very high-level overview and focus on the parts that will specifically help us as survivors. The Polyvagal Theory says that the parasympathetic nervous system is not only associated with relaxation but also symptoms of PTSD.
Porges developed the theory to help us understand this dual function of the parasympathetic nervous system. It points to a human survival mechanism in which the parasympathetic nervous system leads us to FREEZE or “faint” in the face of a life-threatening event. Most importantly, the polyvagal theory teaches you to engage your social nervous system to consciously slow down your defensive system.
This allows you to finally find freedom from CPTSD symptoms and to feel safe. In other words, Porges’s theory makes us look beyond the effects of fight or flight and put social relationships in the forefront so we can understand our symptoms better.
Additional Resources for Learning About Polyvagal Theory
The QueenBeeing SPANily, Official – We consider this to be the best narcissistic abuse recovery support group on the web. Offers several subgroups and features a vigilant, compassionate admin team full of trained coaches and survivors, supporting more than 12k members. SPAN is an acronym created by Angie Atkinson that stands for Support for People Affected by Narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships.
Other Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups– We also have separate groups for each stage in your narcissistic abuse recovery, as well as some for those who have moved past recovery and are evolving into the next stage of their own life. Survivors have unique and individual needs, even when they’ve moved on – so we’re still here for you.
One-on-One Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Coaching – If you prefer to get more personalized support in your recovery, you might like to schedule a session with one of our coaches to plan and execute your own narcissistic abuse recovery plan.
Find a Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Therapist – If you’re looking for a therapist for narcissistic abuse recovery, either because you cannot afford coaching and want to use your health insurance or because you have additional issues you need to address that do not fall within the realm of coaching, you will want to find the right therapist for you – and as far as we’re concerned, that therapist must understand what you’ve been through. This page offers assistance to help you do exactly that.