Dynamics of Child Abuse - Denial and Scapegoating

by Sara
(New York, USA)

Is denial, cover-up, and scapegoating the victim always present with abuse? Do they go hand in hand? I grew up in a family with a BPD mother and narcissistic father. My mother targeted me to abuse. Only me. The rest of the family she treated like gold, and she was always sweet tempered and indulgent with my siblings (at ALL times...even when they needed discipline--she would put her head in the sand and see only the good in them). So much so that my brother and sister were in and out of the house at all hours of the night with their friends, throwing drinking "parties" with underage kids right under our parents nose pretty much every night for 10 years. Neighbors complained and someone even wrote an anonymous letter to my mother chastising her for failing to reign in her son (he was quite the distruptive force in our neighborhood, especially at night...running around people's lawns like a pack of ferral dogs, as if it was their own personal playground. Quite obviously drunk, for years). The letter went into detail, listing all the concerns, questionable behaviors, and patterns. All of which were long standing issues. My mother read this, found the one thing that she felt was unfairly credited to her son ("MY son didn't break into the church. It was his friend's friend...who looks just like him!")and completely missed the point of the letter, dismissing it entirely because one (of the many) listed complaints was erroneous (in her view).

This is an example of the sort of denial and indulgence my mother exhibited. She was extreme. I was "all bad" and her other children were deemed "all good." That was the script she ran in her head, and she stuck to it irregardless of the situation or reality. I can honestly say my siblings were never disciplined in their entire life. My mother would take their side no matter what and defend it vehemently. They could not be wrong. Ever. She was heavily invested in this. Meanwhile, she treated me the exact opposite. I could only be bad. Always. Although I can honesly say she never disciplined me either. She would rage and abuse, smash dishes at me, slap me...but it was never tied to any behavior on my part. It was always out of the blue. It was tied to her mood. As a child I desparately wanted to understand WHY she was violent with me. I would ask her "Why are you mad at me?" Her answer was always a personal insult along the lines of "Because you're a little b***h! Thats why!" SLAP! or "Because you're a spoiled little b***h! Oh, you think you're so perfect, don't you! You think you're so innocent! Spoiled b***h!" SLAP. Never were her attacks due to behavior on my part. It was made clear it wasn't about behavior, but me. Who I was intrinsically. Which was "Bad" according to her. The contrast between how she treated me versus my siblings was striking. She'd hold me responsable for the housework, the dishes, the state of her marriage. She'd rage at me all day, everyday about this. If I asked why I was the only one she yelled or the only one who had to do the dishes, she'd scream at me "Because you're different! That's why!" and slap me into submission. She'd yell at me to do the dishes, then when I'd do them, she'd yell at me some more, erupt into a rage and tear me down "What? You think you're so special just because you did the dishes? I am the mother here! Not you!! Don't tell me you did the dishes you little b***h! Spoiled brat!" She'd taunt me about being a brat, b***h, spoiled, and would tear me down, accusing me of thinking I'm "special" for doing her job. Everytime I'd make dinner, she'd do the same--tear me down verbally the whole time, then finally she'd work herself up to the point where she'd grab the dish out of my hand and smash it on the floor. I was terrified of my mother. Her anger was so out of control. It was the murderous kind. Consequently, I didn't fight back. Or talk back. I could think only of pacifying her. At most, when I was a young child, I might ask WHY she was so mad at me. That was it. The rest of the time my head was down, I was as withdrawn into myself as I possibly could get, and "took it." It really wasn't that I was egging her on or doing anything to escalate her rage. It was so baffling to me as a child, even into my teens and 20s I was still trying to understand why she was treating me this way. I mistakenly believed it was just a misunderstanding, a conflict that could be solved if we worked on it. But I realise now she wasn't interested in "working it out" or understanding. It wasn't a conflict (which involved two wills battling it out). There wasn't anything I could do or say to appease her. It was a one way exchange of power. She abused me. There was no misunderstanding. She wanted to tear me down. Period. And she didn't want to feel guilty or bad about herself ever. So she invested herself in beleiving I was instrinsically bad (since there was no behavior on my part she could point to to justify her abuse).

The capacity for an abuser's denial is vast. They see only what makes them feel good about themselves. They see only what justifies their feelings. Not reality.

The whole family was in denial about my mother's abusive ways. They pretended they didn't see it. They would angrily deny it if it the topic was delicately broached. I went to my father for help when I was in the 8th grade and he told me it wasn't happening, if it was, I brought it out of her. Then he threatened if I told anyone about it, no one would believe me and they'd think I was crazy. My entire family basically adopted that attitude. My younger siblings bullied me growing up, and now they resent my presence. The whole family kept this big secret, that our mother is a raging child abuser behind closed doors. But she is so good at projecting a sweetness and light act in public. No one would believe me. And that is the crux of the problem. No one believes me. Everyone backs the one at the top of the chain..and scapegoats the powerless victim.

I've noticed this aspect in play recently in the news with the Sandusky abuser and the many people who enabled and looked the other way at a grown man abusing a child. Is this "looking the other way" and thus resenting the victim (to justify looking the other way/doing nothing) a dynamic in play whereever there is abuse? From personal experience I can say that this is the worst aspect of abuse. I'm less damaged by my abuser than I am by ALL OF THE PEOPLE who DENIED the abuse, justified it, covered it up, and blamed and resented me. That is by far much harder for me to heal from. At least I knew my mother was out of control, sick. It seriously messed me up to have sane, normal people (people who weren't rageaholoics) tell me all the same things my abuser did: I'm bad. Its my fault. The abuse isn't happening. It's all in my head....and so on. It hurt that so called normal people would turn the other way and let the abuse go on. But they didn't stop there. They had to pile on, resent me, scapegoat me. All because they wouldn't allow themselves to consider that they were morally wrong by turning a blind eye to abuse. To crush that thought, they have to justify the abusers maltreatment of the victim. So they too blacken the victim in their mind. We deserve it. We're pathetic. We're discredited. Our entire reality is discredited because people have a tendancy to align themselves with the one in power. Be it a parent, a coach, a boss. If someone in authority abuses their power, rest assured everyone will rush to support the abuser. They scapegoat the victim because they need to feed reasons to themselves about why they stand by and enable abusive, disgusting behavior. Denial is the vehicle for that. Most people are cowards. They can't go against their own interests, be it the authority figure, social power, or their own thoughts about themselves as a good, moral person when they obviously are choosing to support things that are anything but moral. People are such cowards, they can't even admit to themselves that they're choosing sides based on self-interest and power rather than reality and morals. So they go into denial mode. It's disgusting. Abuse wouldn't exist if the people around the abuser weren't in denial, doing the easiest thing, sticking their head in the sand and then justifying it. They enable the abuse. They propagate it more than anyone. Give it the green light. But denial shields them from realizing it. If they have feelings at all, it tends to be against the victim. Ugly, resentful feelings to discredit the victim. How sick is that. Is this present in all abuse situations? What does this say about people? That we just align ourselves to whoever has the most power? Its enough to lose faith in humanity.

Darlene Barriere: author. speaker. survivor. coachNote from Darlene: If I have not left a comment on your story, please understand that it is not personal; it's just that my hectic schedule no longer permits me to do so.

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Comments for Dynamics of Child Abuse - Denial and Scapegoating

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Jan 08, 2012
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

There's so much to say, but not enough space or time to say it. Firstly, none of what happened was your fault. You were perfect as you were, and are. Secondly, consider how out of control your siblings were. Obviously, they had serious problems of their own. Your parents not only turned a blind eye to you and your needs, they turned a blind eye to their other two children. They "groomed" your siblings to be disrespectful to you. They did not care enough to discipline their other children; that in and of itself leaves a very powerful message to children and youth, and is an insidious form of neglect. As for your father's denial, he married your mother...turning a blind eye to you, telling you what you knew was the truth was a lie, was a way for him to bypass being the brunt of your mother's rages. As long as he wasn't experiencing anything untoward, you weren't either. Both your parents were sick and twisted. Both came from some type of adversity themselves, and rather than hold themselves to a higher standard, they continued the cycle of abuse. You know the truth, Sara. That's what really matters. If you haven't already, please seek out some form of counselling or therapy in order to help you put things into perspective and help you deal with the repercussions of what you endured. Also, I'll point you to my article titled Why parents target a specific child for abuse, not as an excuse, but rather an explanation. Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts about child abuse enablers with my visitors and me.

From Victim to Victory, a memoir
Darlene Barriere
Webmaster: www.child-abuse-effects.com
author. speaker. survivor. coach
From Victim to Victory, a memoir

Jan 08, 2012
hear hear
by: Anonymous

I get what you are saying. And I really recommend Darlene's article on why parents target a specific child. There is one thing I find interesting about your situation: your Mother, you said had BPD. I am bipolar and chose not to have children, not really by choice, but by circumstance. I have been married 23 years, with my husband for 25 and it has been a real struggle to live with bipolar disorder. I am up and down, all around in my brain. I was the kind of bipolar that scared men, because I could act out sexually. You might want to look up bipolar and educate yourself about what your Mother was going through - maybe you reminded her of herself when she was healthy, if she was ever healthy, and she resented your very essence being different than what she felt about herself. I have a friend who is going through all that with her fifteen year old daughter: they are just different essentially one from another and they resent it.
Does that help?
Keep your health, above all. Don't get sick mentally if you can help it. Read a lot of books about survivors of mental illness: people like Alan Alda, whose mother was schizophrenic and he dealt with it beaurifully. There is a book called "A Boy called It" by Dave Pelzer about a mother who was physically abusine and mentally abusive of her son. It is a real hero's story.
I am fighting for every bit of mental health I have. I can't imagine having to raise children as well. Your Mother had a real life and death struggle on her hands, being bipolar, Sara. I know you are not ready to hear it, but you need to. She was fighting for her life with that condition. It is a mystery, really. There is a lot of discussion about it, but no one really knows what causes it, what cures it. It is a real silent killer.
There is a play called "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds" I think about a mother who is mentally ill and raising a child.
The child succeeds despite the condition of the mother.

I hope this helps.

Jan 08, 2012
I relate
by: Carrie


I am so so sorry for what you went through. I was in the same situation. Still am in some ways. My Dad is an abuser and my Mom an enabler, and has begun in my 30's and now 40's to verbally abuse me. I was molested by a guy on my street for years and also raped by him once. I told my Mom at 11 years old this happened. They even saw some of what he did to me such as split my eyelid open, plant porn in our mailbox to get me in trouble..ect...they deny any of it to this day. Even their own abuse towards me. They say I am a problem child, the relationship is bad because of me...on and on it goes...my sister has been groomed to see it their way...and is in denial that she has been abused by them and the same guy on our street. She is a mess but is unable to connect it to all this. I am in therapy and what a gift it has been! I can't say enough positive about it, if you find the right therapist. I am learning to feel for the first time in my life and how to do it without becoming overwhelmed. I am learning about who I am and learning that who I am is okay. I am beginning to enjoy life, friends, the past as I allow myself to feel it, is letting me go. I feel joy now, I have way less anxiety and panic. I am learning that life isn't all bad..that it can be good. It is hard work but worth it! I have had to let my family go (knowing they are blaming me for the lack of relationship) in order to get well myself. They have not earned a place in my life, they are no longer allowed to abuse me. Learning that I have a choice has been huge. Learning that I can't control how they act or what they think, only how I act and think has been freeing. It is not my fault! I wish you all the best!


Jun 15, 2013
My Life
by: Lisa

This sums up my whole life. I don't know why I was born. What good is it to be the loving giving person I am only to be seen as something I am not. It confuses me to no end why God lets this happen. Why don't I deserve to be loved by my family. I give and give and give and they continue to scapegoat me and torture me. I cannot get them out of my head or enjoy my life because knowing that they think these horrible things and blame me for my mother's abuse is horrific. I agree that it is the total alienation by anyone who knows my family who eventually joins the scapegoating to justify the abuse that kills my hope. My own husband even goes back and forth because it frustrates him to no end. he will say I play a part too. I exist therefore I am abused. That is my part. I wish this was sexual abuse or physical. At least maybe someone would believe me or show some sympathy or acknowledge that my life was taken from me.

Jun 24, 2013
To Darlene B.
by: Sara

I've just returned to this site after a long absence and appreciate all the wonderful responses and insights.

One thing though that used to puzzle me about my parents..Darlene..you brought this up with a comment you made. You said in your response that my parents must have each had dealt with their own adversity to become such twisted abusive personalities. The funny thing is they both had strikingly similar life experiences. Both were raised in a nearly identical manner. They each had parents who were "hands off" when it came to discipline. My mother BRAGS that she was never disciplined. Meaning, she was so good she never needed it. She was the "baby", their "little princess" and very much adored. Also the only girl and for all intense and purposed treated as an only child (her brother was 10 years older)and had the monopoly on attention. She grew up a daddy's girl (he doted and she was his angel and "princess") and my grandmother also believed she could do no wrong and did everything for her (up to her dying day she would still do the cooking, cleaning, watching us kids etc). My mother's parents were the soft spoken, hard working, loving kind. Giving everything to their children. The also famously never raised their voices, never even had a fight.

Jun 24, 2013
by: Sara

My father's parents were wealthy and much older (had him in their late 40s back in the 1940s). They were hands off in parenting style. Let him do whatever he wanted from a young age and he had A LOT of freedom. No discipline. They also, weren't always there for him--they'd ship him off to boarding school. They let maids, nannies, wealthy camps do the raising. However, when they were together, they spoiled him rotten. when he got into trouble at school they always denied he'd done any wrongdoing. He got kicked out of several schools and they always got angry at the school, never at him. In highschool he called his teacher the "C" word and threw a chair at her. He spent a few hourse in jail for that one, but they continued to treat him like he was the wronged party. He was never at fault, never held responsable. He was spoiled and indulged. His nickname was "King" and he was conditioned over and over again by his indulgent parents to expect to be treated that way. Rules don't apply to him; he's always right, that sort of thing. He was spoiled rotten. At least that's what his mother did to him and he admits it. His father was always off working. But my father had a privileged upbringing. Not just in terms of wealth, but in terms of boundaries. Just like my mother, he was spoiled, never had to face consequences for his actions, never experienced a boundary he couldn't cross. Raised to believe he was always right. Both of my parents were raised to expect to always be the center of attention, to always get their way, to always have their needs and their egos gratified. It was not adversity that shaped them into the abusers they are--it was indulgent parenting. They were raised as little kings and queens. I've never known either of them to have not gotten what they wanted. Usually it comes easily to them through their social power. If that doesn't work they use their charm, if that doesn't work they manipulate, if that fails they bully, threaten, abuse. They always win.

Jun 24, 2013
by: Sara

They do not know adversity. They know winning. And power. I've come to believe that old saying that "abusers were once the abused" is a myth. At least in my parents case. And I can see how if you raised any child the way my parents were raised you'd get the same results: an entitled selfish brat who grows up to become an entitled selfish brute. They were raised to expect to the center of attention at all times, so when that doesn't happen they can actually become jealous of their own child and view him or her as a threat. Thus the abuse ensues--it is your punishment for taking away what they see as rightfully theirs. That's all it took for my mother to target me. I was the first girl child in our family and quite outgoing back then. My father loved spending time with me and loved the attention I gave him in the early years (narcissists tend to like the god-like fully present attention little toddlers give them and my father was no exception to this, I was his easy source of narcissistic supply) and that was all it took to set my mother off. She'd tell me I was a spoiled b***h and didn't deserve the attention while she'd shake me, wishing me and my father to Hell with crazed eyes. Interesting too that she'd call ME spoiled, when she was the one who was raised spoiled, and was a grown woman throwing a tantrum because her daughter received some attention. Do all abusers PROJECT like that? Again, it was her exaggerated sense of entitlement (which all abusers possess) that ran like a script in her head. She clearly felt that she and only she deserved to be the center of attention at all times. She resented me because I received attention (as children often do) from my father.

Jun 24, 2013
by: Sara

Abusers have specific traits that make them abusers. Entitlement, selfish, self-centered, and tantrums i.e. abuse when the first 3 traits aren't fulfilled to their satisfaction. In other words abusers are simply spoiled toddlers in an adults body. Many assume someone who behaves so horribly must have low self-esteem but the opposite is true. They have huge egos, lots of self-esteem (my god their self-centeredness and me first attitude is all they really have). Their behaviors speak to entitlement, grand egos, and getting their way NOT the broken selfless humiliated spirit of one who was ever abused themselves. Victims of abuse are broken into submission, into self-abnegation. Spoiled children who've been raised to believe they can do no wrong, to belive they are entitled across the board (to attention, domination, winning, things coming easily with no real effort on their part, to never facing consequences for their actions) THESE are the ones who grow up to be the abusers. The problem with abusers is that they never faced adversity. Instead they were spoiled and conditioned into a personality of entitlement. That's what their tantrums are all about. They bully out of entitlement. That's what the abuse is all about. Most of them can be quite charming and likeable to..as long as they're getting their way. That's what its all about ultimately--getting their way. And their way is the way of a spoiled toddler.

Jun 24, 2013
i agree
by: Anonymous

My father was spanish and an only child til he was six. He was the first born in a large group of siblings who never had children. He was the KING of his parent's world. He barely had any empathy, and he had no self awareness except for his successes. He was totally at the mercy of a bipolar disorder in his relationship to his immediate family. What he communicated was total rage and violence with intermittent sex. He could be disarming in his kindness. It was just odd, my upbringing. I was supposed to turn out like my older sister, a virgin bride and kindness itself. Except she has a temper too.
I agree that abuse does not come from having been abused. Like sexual abuse doens't come from having been sexually abused.

Thanks for your story. I like your analysis. And I hope it makes it easier to work out your situation.

Aug 14, 2013
by: sara

By the way, my mother is Borderline Personality Disordered (not bi-polar). She is a malignant cluster B personality (in the same category as sociopaths, narcissists).

I don't think bi-polar is as hopeless. Its a chemical imbalance and can be treated with medication right? I'm not even sure its a "personality" disorder. It's a chemical disorder, yes? Correct me if I'm wrong, but there is nothing wrong with the character of people with bi-polar...they merely need chemical stabilization.

I mention this because a few people in the comments assumed I meant my mother was bi-polar when I said BPD. She is not. She is Borderline.

All cluster b disordered folks share the more malignant traits--self-centeredness, tantrums, bullying behaviors, projection, no personal responsibility. These are blame-shifting, scapegoating, can-never-be-wrong/less than perfect people with attitudes and behaviors on par with that of a toddler. Unfortunately, at the same time they also possess the size, power, and intelligence of the full grown adults they are. Which makes for one scary human being.

Mar 08, 2014
Ditto !
by: Linda D

Ditto ! I had the same experience with a CLUSTER B mother who isolated me from infancy and all through my life , for henious and horrible abuse .
The woman was a pathological liar who poured her monolithic make belief all over me and reinforced it over a lifetime .The rest of the family are indoctrinated and just swallow her delousional garbage . All of my mothers charachter traits , thoughts , deeds and motivations are projected onto me . All of her self loathing is hissed , spat and spewed onto me with a vengence . I have always been the target of her predatory aggression , because I was vulnerable , defenceless and accessable . I was always the target of her violent fantasies and extreme talionic impulse . She abused me by proxy as well, by inciting perversion and violence against me . Of course she always plays the victim herself to get others to protect her , and to stand over and silence me . I am the trouble maker for telling . DENIAL is a very strange thing . I call my truth from the mountain top!

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