The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye

Originally published at The ManifestStation

My father died today. Or at least he was my father once. I hadn’t seen him in almost 25 years.

People told me I’d regret it if I didn’t go and see him when he got sick. But I don’t regret it. They said I’d suffer if I left things undone, but it feels done. Our time together ended decades ago.

My father was not the primary abuser of my childhood, he was the enabler. I’m grateful to him for buying me a bicycle and teaching me to ride it, for encouraging my swimming and walking beside me as I swam my first 50 metre lap, for indulging my love of animals and the outdoors.

If he’d been married to someone else, he probably still would not have been a great father, but he would’ve been a father.

He didn’t want children, and when they found out they were both infertile, he was content to remain childless. My mother pushed for adoption, and he decided after my arrival that parenting wasn’t so bad after all.

My mother shifted the opposite way. If I’d been a puppy she would’ve returned me.

I felt loved by my father for the first ten years. He wanted another child but she was adamant there would be no more. When I reached puberty and her personality disorder went into overdrive, I saw the poison begin to impact him.

My teen years were the worst. My father could no longer afford to love or protect me. I understand that now – having children hadn’t been a priority and, faced with a choice between his wife and child, he chose her.

He once said to me ‘I don’t know what I’VE done’ with the emphasis on ‘I’ve’. It told me he was aware of the damage she’d done. And he was right, he had done nothing. That was the problem.

In order to justify the terrible choice he had to make, he became the more abusive one. Mocking and criticising, tearing me down, but unlike her he was never physically abusive.

When my biological father showed up and turned out to be a multimillionaire, they really sold me out. He and my mother enthusiastically told my biological father’s bewildered wife what a horrible person I was. Why? I asked.

My father was quite open about the fact that he felt they deserved financial compensation for raising me. Again I asked why. When my biological father doesn’t owe me anything, why would he owe you?

Because it wasn’t easy raising you, he said. Me, the one who didn’t smoke, drink, swear, have boyfriends, the nerd who got good grades, who was repeatedly told I was too quiet in class. Yes it was tough having me in the family, but for reasons that had little to do with me personally.

When I was 21, my partner at the time challenged them on their appalling behaviour towards me, and my father held up his fist. We left and my partner said the words I’d been waiting to hear my whole life – those people are crazy. All I’d ever heard prior to that were invalidating platitudes, leaving me to doubt my own reality. For a moment my feet touched solid ground.

We repeatedly did a dance that involved my mother shutting me out of the family for imagined crimes I never understood and my father would reconnect us months later. After the last time, when I finally had the courage to tell him she was lying, he called me names and hung up on me.

He never called again. I never called either. The truth was something he couldn’t afford. It would have cost him too much. But not knowing cost him too. And I couldn’t live with the lie.

The story became that I had told them to get out of my life. I can’t even end a phone call, much less a relationship with the people who raised me, but that’s how stories go. People believe what they want to believe. I made my peace with it.

There was almost contact once, when he was having heart surgery. I sent a card and then he asked my cousin for my number. I told her he could have it as long as he understood I would only talk to him, not my mother. He never called.

Many years later I sent him photos after I visited an old house overseas where we’d lived when I was very young. During my childhood we moved many times and, having a somewhat eidetic memory, I remember every address and phone number. I found the house and it was empty so I went inside and took photos.

I read that with dementia long-term memories are the last to go, so I thought he would get a kick out of knowing the old house was still there. No-one ever got back to me to tell me whether he saw the photos. I hope he did. I hope he remembered.

My biological father has long since disappeared from my life, and my adoptive parents had left me with the belief that I wasn’t enough to generate love and care in others. My life has reflected this.

Orphan Annie, no roots or place to belong, no surname that meant anything, no family and all that goes with it. No faith in relationships, especially with men.

There has been an underlying well of emotion that I sometimes visit, labelling it resentment, or self-pity, or bitterness. But its true name is grief.

Through my own determination and the support of some incredible friends and cousins, I learned that I’m worth much more than I’d been led to believe. I have a good life, a successful life, but with something fundamental missing.

I’ve skimmed across the surface of many social milestones. Marriage, having children, graduation, birthdays and other celebrations – they either never happened, or they happened without depth, meaning or connection. This is just another example.

Typically when a father dies, there is pain, acknowledgement, comfort, a funeral, recovery. My days will go on as though nothing happened. Someone told me they were sorry for my loss, and I wondered what they meant.

I felt more when David Bowie died two weeks earlier. I have felt tearful about Robin Williams. But I have no tears for my father. The Starman and the Captain were in my life longer. My father has been absent half a lifetime now. I can’t find the tears.

There is great loss in my life, but it is not the death of my father. I do wonder if his spirit visited me on his way to wherever he is now. Did he see the beautiful old house I bought and started renovating? Does he know that I’ve done ok? Still some desire remains for him to be proud of me.

I wish him a peaceful afterlife. Peace is a feeling I don’t think he’s had in a very long time. I wish it for both of us.

Step Out Of The Scapegoat Role

Step Out Of The Scapegoat Role

Did you know the word ‘scapegoat’ came originally from a ceremonial practice where a goat was sacrificed for the sins of the people, and another goat was then loaded up symbolically with these sins and sent out into the wilderness alone to perish? The goats themselves were considered pure, and the shame and sin of the people were transferred on to these innocent creatures to carry.

There are many innocents who carry the blame for others. It allows groups of people, families or whole nations to project their own prejudices and aggression away from themselves. It’s a very painful role to play, however, family therapists believe the scapegoat is often the healthiest family member because they aren’t complicit in denying the dysfunction.

If you find yourself as the ‘black sheep’, the ‘outcast’, or the ‘bad guy’, your self-esteem is likely to be so damaged that you find yourself actually exhibiting the negative descriptions you hear about yourself. This might take the form of not living up to your potential, not reaching your true earning capacity, having unhealthy relationships with people who don’t treat you well, and not reaching for your dreams.

Some signs that you are, or have been, in this role include:

  • You are made responsible for family issues, disagreements and conflicts, even when these occur as a result of other people’s actions.
  • Other family members have been verbally, emotionally or physically abusive towards you
  • You are disbelieved and called a liar if you try to defend yourself and explain what really happened
  • People outside the family system go along with the bullying or look the other way when you ask for help
  • You are expected to help other family members out but cannot expect the same help in return
  • You find yourself asking ‘what did I do now?’ on a regular basis
  • You notice that the person accusing you of bad behaviour is the one actually engaging in this behaviour, eg. accuses you of being rude while they are repeatedly rude to you
  • Your achievements are minimised or turned into something negative, eg. you mention you got a good grade on your last assignment and you’re told ‘you think you’re better than us’.

How did you end up in this role?

The scapegoat is carefully chosen, although probably not consciously. He or she is the one who rocks the boat in some way, either through being different (artistic when the rest of the family is intellectual, for example) or through being very sensitive and therefore unable to pretend along with everyone else that the family dysfunction is not happening.

The scapegoat builds their identity on the constant stream of information they receive about their ‘badness’.  They may know inside that they haven’t done anything to warrant this treatment, but it seems that no-one else sees this. As a result they feel insecure and unsafe, making them very vulnerable.

They may find themselves in abusive situations outside the home – at school, in the workplace, in relationships – which seems to further confirm their status as ‘bad’. Consequently they find it very difficult to trust others and may avoid closeness with others altogether as a result.

The scapegoat is often lonely, hurt, confused, and filled with feelings of inadequacy. Without sufficient encouragement, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. They grow up lacking the ability to comfortably interact with others, engage in team activities and sports, etc, and this in turn leads them to avoid opportunities to move forward personally and professionally. Even when they do advance, they will tend to downplay their successes.

Although they are often very bright, not much is expected of the scapegoat and they can become under-achievers, although it’s obvious they would be highly successful if they could believe in themselves.

How to step out of the scapegoat role

The first step to finding your true identity outside this appointed role is to recognise it is not the truth about you. The people who scapegoated you had their own agenda and they needed you in this role to help them avoid dealing with their own problems. In projecting their own defects on to you, they were able to sidestep the pain of their own challenges. The decision to scapegoat you was based on their own needs and had little to do with who you are at all.

You are not who they say you are, you are who you say you are.  
~ Jason Alexander

Deep inside, it’s likely that there’s a part of you that knows the truth, that you are a good kind loving person and you have been cast into a role that does not reflect this or allow others to see it. Tune into this part, it will help you stand your ground and say no to further mistreatment.

Because of the projection involved in scapegoating, it’s likely that the depth of self-loathing and shame you feel are not actually yours. These feelings belong to the people who thought you were a useful dumping ground for their ‘stuff’. When these feelings come up, question their veracity – where does this feeling come from and is it based on any real evidence?

Try not to fall into magical thinking – feeling not good enough doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough. It’s like thinking that because we ‘feel fat’ everyone will look at us and see how ‘fat’ we are. It’s just a feeling, and feelings are not facts. Remind yourself of all the kind things you’ve done, the praise and support you’ve had from others, the achievements you’ve reached.

We all have both good and bad points, the focus on yours has been out of balance towards ‘all bad’ – remind yourself of all the good points too, you do have them and good friends have probably been trying to point them out to you for years!

Let go of explaining and justifying yourself to people who are invested in seeing you as ‘bad’. Trying to gain understanding from abusive family members, co-workers or ‘friends’ keeps you stuck because they are not able to give you this. This is a reflection on them, not you.

However do ask to be treated respectfully from now, keeping in mind that doing this is likely to be viewed as more evidence of your ‘badness’. Remember this is not the the truth, even if some people never apologise for their disrespectful behaviour. You are entitled to make statements along the lines of “The way you just spoke to me is not acceptable, please don’t speak to me like that again” and “If you want speak to me, please do it civilly or I won’t respond.”

Don’t waste your time explaining yourself to people that are committed to misunderstanding you.  
~ Shannon L. Alder

This step is made easier if you’ve already made a commitment to learn how to trust and respect yourself first. You will be less likely to back down in the face of other people’s accusations and insistence that you are out of line if you believe you deserve respect.

Stepping out of the scapegoat role can sometimes mean that unfortunately you are unable to continue a relationship with some of the people in your life. If they are determined to keep you in this role, you may need to limit or even cut contact with them. This may cause pain, but it will be less painful than continuing in this role.

Make a regular practice of treating yourself with loving kindness and self-acceptance.  It will feel unfamiliar and false, even impossible, at first but that’s because it’s a new experience. Keep going until it becomes a habit. This is your best protection against being exploited and victimised in the future.

You are not alone

I know about being loaded up with the shortcomings of others and sent out into the wilderness alone, about underachieving and living down to expectations. My report cards all said ‘Leanne would do well if she tried’. I was sacked from my first job and from two more later on.  I saw myself as a naive, incompetent and unattractive fool with woefully inadequate social skills. I tiptoed around trying to avoid attention and could never ask for help with anything, so I became fearful of taking on anything that I might not be able to work out by myself.

Of course looking back I see I was re-enacting the situation in my family home. The workplace was a completely different environment but I knew my role well and I transferred it to every new environment I came across. It’s a painful process and has lifelong implications, however it doesn’t have to rule your life and you can step out of this role, even while those who put you in the role continue to do so.

As a child, you had no choice, but as an adult there are choices. The best choice you can make is to decide every day that you will live according to the person you truly are inside, rather than who other people say you are or want you to be. I now know I’m capable, smart and competent. I’m important, valuable, and have a lot to offer. I’m worthy and I’m worth it. I have something to say, I make a difference, and I matter. If I meet people who don’t appreciate these things about me, I let them go. Once I would’ve seen it as evidence that I really was lacking, now I just move on.

Recognising that other people are not my family, and that my scapegoat status is obsolete, along with acknowledging the achievements I have made even with my lack of self-confidence, has really started to turn things around for me. You will probably need support with this and it may take a long time to find your true self again, one you can love and value, but it’s worth investing in this process. Remember you are worth it.