A look at how dysfunctional behavior within Black families is often normalized, contributing towards the isolation of a particular family member, the black sheep, who may be scapegoated. If you believe you’re a black sheep, there is hope, there is a way to get free.

I come from a family of killers. Years ago, we killed an aunt slowly. Years later, a cousin. Now, my family is after me. Unlike the other victims in my family, I have every intention of escaping and taking you with me. If you’ve been shunned by your family, if you’re the black sheep, it’s time to get free.

Back in the days or red and black lumberjacks, I had a chocolate faced aunt named Rhonda. I never met her. Photos made her look like an inflated Aunt Jemima. She didn’t attend family events. Cousins and aunts would tell me how crazy she was. I’d ask my father, what the ‘deally yo’ was with his sister. He never really said.

Whenever Rhonda’s name came up, he’d mention that his father beat her badly when she was young. That story never sounded quite right, and even then, I knew it was the answer you tell a child when you don’t want to provide them with the truth. My aunt eventually got married to some dude I never met. My father didn’t discuss her death or the fact that only a few family members went to the funeral.

Years went by, I came up in the world, and as I embraced adulthood, I started to see my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents as people. I realized that my family members had no business judging anyone. Rhonda was all of us, our dysfunction, mental illness, selfishness, jealousy, failures and insecurities.

Shortly afterward, I started hearing stuff about a cousin named Karim. There was something in the air about him also being crazy, something about him being rebellious. A few years after the towers dropped, I stayed with his family after my parents lost their house. I got to know him. He revelled in his so-called insanity. He wore it as some kind of medallion in order to make himself seem more interesting and adventurous.

I got to know him. I realized that he was a brilliant guy, who suffered from low self-esteem and was misunderstood. Someone who was suffering because of the abuse he’d taken and was afraid of what the family would think about the way he wanted to live.

There was that evening, sitting in a car with him, watching him break down, while he told me that he was never good enough for the family, that’s he’d never be accepted, no matter what he did. Reflecting on him now, the abuse he endured, and understanding the dysfunction in his family, I understood why he felt the way he did. Without knowing it, he had become the family scapegoat and years later, even though he moved to the other side of the planet, he never got a chance to break free.

Becoming The Scapegoat

Fast forward, till the now. If you profess to be a writer, you know that you have to study the work of other scribes. You read their bars and sweat their lines while forging your own style. For the longest time, David Sedaris was my favorite non-fiction writer. His work came to me, years ago, while I was figuring out shit in Cambodia.

Sedaris specializes in creative non-fiction and he doesn’t mind making fun of his sexuality and family in the process. Despite the circumstances, life was always a big grin to him. There is a questionable article, where he used the same wit, and trivialized the suicide of his sister. While searching for more of his work, I stumbled upon a video where someone asked if his sister was the family scapegoat.

I wasn’t familiar with the term, but when I asked Google about scapegoats, the internets connected me with the video Why Your Family Hates You (8 Steps to Coping with ScapeGoating/Mobbing/Narcissism/Projection) by Life Coach Richard Grannon.

Richard Grannon

In the video, Grannon describes “scapegoating” as a behavior where families project their failures onto one family member, in order to cope, and deviate from addressing their own shortcomings.

This sounded eerily similar to people considered as black sheep, the isolated family member who may have deviated from the dominant thinking or traditional way of doing things in the family. The black sheep of the family is scapegoated.

Grannon also mentioned that the person scapegoated, if they are unaware of what’s happening, it can manifest in depression and low self-esteem. This made me think of my aunt Rhonda, my cousin and me.

I kind of fell into the scapegoat role, right around the time, my name was in the air when I started getting I.T. money, during the dotcom bubble. Uncles and aunts professed love. Someone said I was the family’s Bill Gates. Cousins, male and female tried to follow the leader. They failed. Aunts and uncles needed to feel good. In order to do so, they focused on my family’s dysfunction and somehow or another, they blamed me.

Grannon also points out that the scapegoat is usually more creative, or may have had some level of celebrity. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but I definitely experienced this this when I moved into the arts, as a photographer and then later published a book. Shit got really bad when I started my own company and moved to Brazil. Shit got worse when I later moved to Asia. My name was in the air again, and instead of focusing on my accomplishments as a traveler, author or entrepreneur, while abroad, my family created other narratives, about things I didn’t do and how I was crazy for things that I did when I was a teenager.

I was 38 years of age when Grannon’s video came to me. After years of frustration and confusion, I realized the position I had been placed in. I knew I wasn’t alone. The internets provided me with videos, and articles on scapegoating, but there was nothing specific towards the Black experience, where so much of our hereditary dysfunction is normalized.

While working on this article, I wondered, how many Black people were scapegoated and didn’t even realize it due to the dysfunctional behaviors normalized in our families.

The Good Book Lied (Beating Your Kids Ain’t Righteous)

The religious experience I had during childhood, taught that physical discipline was not only normal but something that parents should use to keep their children in line. How does that scripture go? Something about not sparing “the rod.”

I got older, got woke, hotepped and dared to be conscious. I looked back on my physical beatings and realized that this form of discipline was connected to whippings from a slave master. My assumptions were confirmed years later when I stumbled onto the New York Times article Stop Beating Black Children, which points out that spankings, are a behavioral pattern inherited through the European mindset that children are born in sin and it was necessary to beat it out of them. Prior to colonization spankings did not exist in Africa.

Years later, while writing for a publication that focused on parenting, I realized that there were damaging effects of physical discipline, which contributed towards bullying, low self-esteem, and violence towards others. Overall, my father was a good guy, however, there were some excessive beatings and this definitely contributed towards my low self-esteem and violent outbursts against family members. Reflecting on my upbringing, I realized that my father was using a form of discipline that he had inherited, one that was gifted from those who kept us in bondage.

“The reason why people call, what we’ve seen in our culture as abusive is the reaction or response and manifestations of what it does on a child’s psyche and physical manifestations on what it does to a child when someone has been beaten to cuts, welts bruises. They’re intimidated by their parents power, when they see and hear a certain tone in their voice that they know is followed up by a beating” explained licensed psychotherapist and Life Coach Dr. Asha Tarry “Black and Brown families tend to beat their kids, which we know in professional terms as spanking or disciplining and beating sometimes is considered the most accurate term. Not in all cases, because of the form of discipling that occurs. That could look like someone using a wooden spoon to smack a child in the bottom, or the hand. Based on age, it could be considered abuse. At any stage, it can be considered abuse. When we think about the form of discipline relative to the age and development of the child, yes it can be abusive. People using belts, or if you go down South, telling the child to go get a switch, having a parent or grandparent bring that switch in the house, beat you or spank you with it so you’re welting, those can be in the context of Black trauma coming through the diaspora into America, is contextual. That is the way in which Black families have interpreted, disciplining someone in to correct his action based off of the past intergenerational experiences of slavery and post-slavery where the slave master used harsh brutal tactics to keep their enslaved people in line and Black families in America have indoctrinated those same forms of systems of abuse into correcting behaviors into their children.”

The physical discipline, the spankings, the beatings, they can contribute towards low self-esteem and fear, which play a role in creating a family scapegoat, an individual who does not believe themselves and will not speak up and stop the abuse.

Verbal Abuse — Yes,Women Can Harm Men

I’m not trying to get all Terry Crews on you, but I know that verbal abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse. I’ve seen it. Growing up, I watched my mother verbally abuse my father for most of my childhood. She slowly destroyed his self-esteem and worth, to the point where he gave up on life. He accepted the abuse because it was his normalized family experience, what he had been conditioned to as a child.

Patricia Evans is an author who’s written several successful books on verbal abuse, including The Verbally Abusive Relationship. She provided a definition of verbal abuse, saying “Verbal abuse is one person, defining the inner world or defining another person in a negative way. Very often it includes telling someone what they are but also telling them what they feel, what they know, what they don’t know. That’s all verbal abuse… Defining someone or some group. Defining you or defining you to others, that’s all verbal abuse, if its a negative definition.”

Verbal abuse is not only an issue in Black families, but in America. There is also the misconception that men can’t be hurt or emotionally damaged by women. “More men come out now to me, more than the beginning. This is a huge, huge problem for men. They may be more reluctant to talk about what’s going on if the way they were raised to not express their feelings” explained Evans.

It was frightening, but at different times in my life, I saw my father, uncle and older cousin emotionally destroyed due to the verbal abuse they received from women in their lives. The abuse my cousin endured, it contributed towards low self-esteem, depression and substance abuse. The family slowly killed him by continually judging him, scapegoating him and making him feel that his way of living wasn’t right or that somehow he didn’t have value.

Verbal abuse should not be trivialized, it’s just as serious as physical abuse and possibly even worse. “Most people have told me that verbal abuse is worse than getting hit. It’s more harmful, it last longer and it’s more destructive. A woman actually called me coming out of a hospital. She’s in a car being driven home. She said that she had been in the hospital for a broken jaw, and she said ‘Im calling you to tell you the verbal abuse was worse.’ Yeah, because its an attack against consciousness, its an assault on your mind, its an assault on your awareness” explained Evans.

The attack against consciousness, this is the assault on the family’s scapegoat. They are powerless within the family unit, recipients of verbal abuse, constantly being defined and judged. This is what I was dealing with for years, and because I didn’t know or understand the role I had been assigned, I was confused. I didn’t understand why family members could do things to me, but if I retaliated in any way, my reaction became the narrative to focus on.

I didn’t realize that in order to keep the family together, in order to protect the ego of others, like every other scapegoat, I had to be wrong. I didn’t understand that within the family, their are roles, usually assigned by family heads and in order to keep the family together, in order to avoid being assigned this role, other family members will play along. A family member becomes the black sheep and is scapegoated because they have to be.

The Scapegoat is Necessary

Dr. Colman

“Within the family, there’s the weak one, there’s the strong one, there’s the smart one, there’s the tyrannical one. It allows the family to function… Groups don’t function without roles. Everybody kind of accepts who they say they are. That’s what a family needs to function. When it gets to scapegoating, it means that part of the way a family needs to function is to make one person, take on the sins of the entire family” explained scapegoating expert Dr. Arthur Colman.

Family members will often project their failures at the scapegoat, in order to avoid dealing with the family’s dysfunction, which allows the family to ostensibly stay together and continue functioning.

“In Black families, there is usually an identified, person in the family, that tends to be more sensitive than the other kids. That might be a little more creative or different from how the other kids display their autonomy. The parents have chosen some kind of way not consciously, to displace the issues between the couple, or the family they don’t want to deal with and that is an identified scapegoat” explained Dr. Tarry.

It is extremely important to recognize if you’re the scapegoat of a dysfunctional family. Not to identify as a victim, but to get help and ensure that you don’t carry this role into personal and professional relationships as I did. When I finally realized I had been scapegoated, I reflected on my failed relationships in other social circles. The blame, isolation, resentment, it contributed towards accepting similar roles as an adult.

Fortunately, there are signs to help you understand if you’ve been given the role as the family scapegoat. “If in your home, your often isolating, because being around others makes you feel worse, or when something goes awry, whether someone lost an item or someone broke something, and you’re the first person to be blamed, you can almost predict that over time, that is another example of seeing yourself as victimized by a family system. When you then leave the family system and you go into school or work, and you’re building relationships outside of your family, you’ll have those same experiences… In your relationships, if you’re experiencing shame, and its constant, that’s one indicator. Two, if you see yourself being voiceless… When we feel overthrown by someone, or powerless, in the relationship, or we feel that our behavior is dictated by how other people will feel about us, then you’re aware of it… It’s a secretive experience, I think if you come from a narcissistic family and you’re scapegoated, you’re given all the blame, the shame, that the family doesn’t want to deal with. In essence, you’re holding the burden of whatever the family refuses to expose or deal with themselves” explained Dr. Tarry.

Dealing with an entire family’s dysfunction and your own set of problems isn’t easy. Why don’t dysfunctional Black families get help?

Why Don’t Black Families Get Counseling?

Growing up, when my mother suggested that the family get help, my father would not consider it. His religion, and pride prevented him, but in truth, he was still holding onto the concept that therapy was something that Black families didn’t do. Much of this thinking, is derived from our history in this country.

“The stigma first and foremost, that we attach with addressing, before we even get to this idea of talking about things that have affected your family, outside of your home, with a professional, we have to first address the fact that there is a lot of cultural mistrust, with regard to medical providers, and providers who provide medical help. That comes from a history of our people, and our interactions with those people who’ve had that power, if you look at the testing that was done, done without consent, the harm that was done, I think that is the first line that we have to combat” explained Dr. DéLon Isom. “The second piece is this idea of toxic masculinity where men are not supposed to express their emotions, to talk about problems or issues that are occurring within their families, to even call them out. One of those things were you’re expected to, take it all in and bear the burden and keep on pushing because as a man, you’re supposed to be strong, you’re supposed to be able to overcome, and be resilient. When you look at those things in concert, you do see a decrease, of men of color, specifically Black men, seeking help. It’s just this idea that, that’s not what you do!”

The concept that Black men don’t need or should not seek professional psychological help contributes towards a damaged emotional person, who may be silently suffering. “My definition of toxic masculinity is this idea that, men are not able to develop their own identities, in terms of interest, in terms of emotional expression, because those things have already been prescribed to them by their family units, by the way they’re socialized. There is this idea in many communities of color that it’s not acceptable for us to be involved in certain arts, not acceptable for us to play certain instruments, not acceptable for us to like certain colors, not acceptable for us to cry or express emotions or empathy. It creates this individual who can be pretty cold, and emotionally unavailable in some ways because that’s what they’ve been taught. That’s the way you’re supposed to live your life” explained Dr. Isom.

Fortunately, more Black families are turning towards therapy, with positive results. This is encouraging for anyone who believes that they’re being scapegoated by their family.

Black Sheep — Let’s Get Free!

If you believe that you’re the family scapegoat, you know the pain associated with this reality. Fortunately, there are resources to help you break free and create your own role within or without your family.

Ralph Smart / Infinite Waters

“One of the things we try to work on from our side in a therapeutic setting is how to regulate those emotions, thoughts, and feelings, and communicate them in more adaptive and healthy ways and just empowering people and give them an agency to recognize what they’re worth, and give them the power to advocate for themselves and identify what healthy relationships are, what unhealthy relationships are and tools to get out of there and whatever that means for you. For some people, it may mean to take a break or some people call it quits… That’s pretty hard for some people. It’s not as easy to walk away. So it’s not placing the blame or responsibility on that person, but more so providing them with tools and education to make better decisions” said Dr. Isom.

Ralph Smart / Infinite Waters

Do you take a break or completely cut off contact with your family? This is a question that you and your therapist can answer, and in the process create a new life for yourself. A life that includes self-love, realizing your value and deviates from the dysfunctional relationships that you’ve cultivated in the past.

“The therapist is the model of one of the healthiest forms of relating to people that you can have. Whether you’re getting that from a school counselor or you’re seeing a private therapist. That person can help you to develop a more integrated and less fractured ego so that you can build upon self-esteem… Building work through cognitive behavior therapy, or even some psychology where you can recreate the narrative for who you are in the world. Dealing with all of those issues around depression, anxiety, the trauma that goes on from having grown up in a family like that, you will be able to work with someone on a level of dealing with all of those subsequent emotions and tying it back into the dynamic of when it all began and how it played out. And then trying to recreate for them, a sense of self-power around not being in those relationships or not depending upon them as much, when they’re an adult, to then create a new dynamic about how they’re relating to other people, the kind of friendships they can attract, for themselves and build. Also clearing out those toxic friendships or lovers that they probably have, not knowing for years they had, and just ended up with because that was the way they related to people” explained Dr. Tarry.

It took me a while to put this article together because it conjured up so many negative feelings, but I know it is extremely necessary. It was written for people who are isolated and possibly suffering in dysfunctional family units, people who don’t realize that their are options and healthy alternatives.

I write this article because I don’t want you, the reader, to be anyone’s scapegoat. I don’t want you to slowly get killed like my aunt Rhonda. I don’t want you to slowly die, like my cousin Karim. I want you to come with me. I want you to reclaim your life. I want you to get free.

Source link