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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