How to Speak Scapegoat

I’m continuing with the Chinese year of the goat theme with this post.  I went through my notes on the last three visits with family and friends of origin and since I journaled during the visits it was eye-opening to see what I had written down after some time had passed.  One aspect that I have been focusing on is my own behaviors that fuel my false self (scapegoat).  As I re-learn how to speak, I tried to answer questions more in line with my true self than with my scapegoat – a trying habit to break.

I use the phrase “I’ve been Goat’d” as such:

Goat’d!: refers to someone placing you in the role of Scapegoat without your assistance

Facts versus Feelings: What’s the difference?

Friend: “How are your father and mother doing?”

Me: “My father’s illness is slowly getting worse and my mother is taking care of him.”  (non-ACoN friends only know I’m not close to my family and nothing further)

Friend: “Well, ya know, TR, it is really difficult to take care of someone who is ill and it is really a burden to them.  Your mom must be having a rough time.”

I’ve been Goat’d!

As much as I struggle with the relationship I have with my parents, I know that I am very careful in how I speak about them.  I aim to answer honestly without oversharing.  I usually stick to “We are not close” or “We don’t have a healthy relationship”.  People may ask me and I am open to a discussion but that has never been the case so our relationship is open to interpretation.

Opinions are either Right or Wrong?

After a dinner with friends, we were walking to our cars and a freight train moved through the middle of the town.  In my opinion, it was going fast and I blurted out loud: “Oh, that freight train is going really fast through a residential neighborhood”.  My friend’s response: “Oh, come on, it isn’t really, it’s normal on a Sunday evening.”

I’ve been Goat’d!

My opinion could have been based on four years of working with freight transport, having been inside and on top of freight railcars, inside barges, etc. (Btw, that is 100% true).  And my friend’s opinion could have based on his knowledge of the town’s ordinance for freight transport (as he lives near that town).  Nobody is WRONG, yet the goat’s opinion had to be wrong.

Your Answer is NEVER Good Enough

This one is hard to ‘catch’ because it comes across as an innocuous question and all roads lead to a trap door.

Friend: “Where are you planning to go for holiday this year?”

Me: “We are thinking about either area A or B.”

Friend: “Isn’t that a luxury problem to have?  To sit here and contemplate two places to go on holiday while others can’t.”

You guessed it, I’ve been Goat’d!

I love it when you can answer a question and it doesn’t matter what you say!

What Happens in Your Head, Stays in Your Head

I went to a wedding last year where the bride and groom were having three weddings (in three different cities).  We were invited to the first one and I asked the best man (in front of friends after he started to explain the other weddings and how much work he had to do):

Me: How big is the next wedding?

Best Man: Well, we are having a wedding in the area where a lot of our cousins and distant relatives live.  We are actually not that close and haven’t seen them in a while.  We are actually not that close of a family.  So, yeah, to answer your question, we aren’t really a big happy family.  (His monologue was really, really long that it seemed my question was forgotten but when he ended with “to answer your question” that was telling)

I’ve been Goat’d!

Focus on the Pain, Not the Gain

When sharing my story (during these visits), I tried to share both the positives and the negatives in my life.  For example, I shared that I had started a new book club and I had failed my language exam when asked “What I had been up to lately?”.  I am okay with focusing on my struggles if the intent is to truly help however, when an Q&A session starts about why I failed an exam and nothing about the book club, I realized that letting go of my scapegoat role is nasty business.

It’s nasty business because somewhere along the way I learned that the only way to get my story heard (attention) was to tell my worst, most pitiful story.  Being the scapegoat seemed to serve everyone’s purpose – including my own.  I engaged others by engaging in my own pain.  I learned that my successes would never be acknowledged (with my family and friends of origin) and how to interview for pain.

Other examples of being Goat’d?

One Way of Healthy

After dealing with Mari’s e-mails in the last post, I had some time to reflect and I faced doubts about how I had handled it.  Not to say that I am berating myself because it was the one of the first times I tried to assert myself.  Maybe I should have gotten her number and called her (instead of trying to clarify what happened via e-mail) went through my mind.

When Mari brought up subtly my choices in food and took it further by insulting things I like to do (writing, drawing, exercising, etc.) and the food dish I brought, I had wondered if I had provoked these attacks.  Did I build understanding through conflict with my approach or help create a potential battlefield?

I focused on the positive shift: the fact that I wasn’t going into the evening angry because I was going to eat something I didn’t want to eat.  In the past I have giving in to my boundaries in order to be ‘seen’ as less difficult and I have reacted passive aggressively toward others not realizing that I was angry with my decision.

Even with the subtle comments and insults, I didn’t react to them.  Instead, the evening was easy-going and I took her comments in stride and enjoyed the evening.  This was a small factor into why the evening went well, the other factor that helped was the other couple’s behaviors.  They behaved in ways that were healthy and addressed Mari and her husband’s inappropriate behaviors very well.  Besides the lesson I learned from asserting myself, I also learned from interacting with them.  Here is a list of behaviors I noticed, none are new, only it was refreshing to see them in action.

1. They Listen (I mean really listen)

This seems like a no brainer.  The OC (other couple) let others speak and waited their turn.

2. They Empathize

The OC have an adult daughter who is taking university entrance exams.  She failed the first round and is re-taking them shortly.  When telling their daughter’s story the mother clearly empathized with her daughter’s angst when it comes to taking standardized tests and seemed to be in tune with what her daughter felt yet, let her daughter navigate her path.  She wasn’t preaching or speaking about solutions for her daughter.  She was neither critical or unconcerned when telling her daughter’s story.  She was empathetic.

3.  They openly share their opinions and feelings and accept others’

Conversation flowed from topic to topic and on many subjects we differed in opinion.  The OC readily accepted others’ views and voiced their own.  This helped create an atmosphere of sharing.

4.  They speak for themselves

What is interesting is that the husband and wife of the OC spoke for themselves.  It was the manner in which they presented their feelings and opinions that spoke to their individulaity in the relationship.  Of course, they spoke of their common interests as well, yet at the same time I got even a better idea of who each of them were by how they told their own story.  I was able to better discern the differences in the their personalities by how they spoke.  It was clear that they were not enmeshed but still connected!

5.  They speak up for those that don’t have a voice or who haven’t found it yet

There were several times during the evening that Mari made subtle insults about my exercise routine, my enjoyment of writing, etc.  Such comments, I wondered, could have been provoked by my initial assertions and boundaries (as an attack).  I missed some insults however, the OC didn’t.  They addressed them as they came up, sometimes I didn’t realize I was being insulted until the OC said something to show their support.

At one point, Mari makes a forceful comment to her toddler daughter about her food and the OC also addressed Mari’s comment in a way that illustrated that they had the child’s back (welfare).

6.  They fight the ILLOGICAL, not the ASSERTION

Mari talks about how the women in a certain European country (she travels there for work) always are dressed nicely and well manicured and that she felt like a total slob when she works out of that office.  Everyone waits to let her finish her story.  She then adds that she can’t understand how they do it.  She states that she works ungodly hours and that these women leave at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  The OC says “It looks like you found your answer to your question.”

At another point, Mari states that they can’t travel because of the toddler daughter (and tilts her head towards her).  The OC address the illogical reasoning in blaming the child.

7. They know their limits

The OC set limits.  Mari had said in the beginning of the evening, “Men are cooking, women are drinking” and the OC didn’t follow this suggestion.  They also set limits on when the conversation wasn’t inclusive or involved insulting what another person said or did.