How to Introduce a Scapegoat and Other Etiquette Advice

If Emily Post wrote the rule book on etiquette, then it was Bridget Jones who taught us the struggle in executing it.

“Introduce people with thoughtful details. Such as: “Sheila, this is Daniel. Daniel, this is Sheila. Sheila enjoys horse-riding and comes from New Zealand. Daniel enjoys publishing and…” ~Shazzer (friend of Bridget Jones; movie: Bridget Jones’s Diary)

For example, how to maintain good manners in the most awkward of social situations, i.e. when you don’t actually like the people.

Click here: Video Clip of Bridget Jones

Transcript from video clip: (at Bridget’s work event)
Perpetua: Anyone going to introduce me?
Bridget: [to herself] Ah. Introduce people with thoughtful details. Perpetua, this is Mark Darcy. Mark is a prematurely middle-aged prick with a cruel raced ex-wife. Perpetua is a fat-ass old bag who spends her time bossing me around.
Bridget: [to herself] Maybe not.

Maybe not.  Bridget regulates her desires and proceeds to introduce them respectfully.  An etiquette that often fails in dysfunctional family systems.

The Christmas Eve Party 2013

“It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr. Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting “Cathy” and banging your head against a tree.” ~Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding)

Every year we are graciously invited to a Christmas Eve dinner party by the best friends of DH’s parents (Jenna and Charles).  Last year, we were introduced to four ‘new’ guests: the pastor and her three adult daughters.

Jenna (paraphrasing from DH and my notes): “This is DH, the son of FiL.  He lives in Europe working for Company X since he graduated from college and they move him all over the place.  And this is his wife, TR, she goes where he goes and his Company finds her work wherever they end up.”

Silence.  Then DH says “Um, that is not correct”.  Then, dead, awkward silence until one of the pastor’s daughters changes subjects.  (Loved the fact that DH spoke for the truth as opposed to speaking for me.)

After my shock wore off, I decided NOT to DEFEND myself to Jenna or the other guests.  In the past, I would have tried to subtly negate Jenna’s introduction later in the conversation by controlling it.  Instead, I thought of CS’s and Kara’s chalkboard “Think What You Like” and let conversation flow.

The Christmas Eve Party 2014

“Singletons should not have to explain themselves all the time but should have an accepted status — like geisha girls do” ~Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding)

This year we arrived at the party and were greeted by the hosts and familiar faces.  The first part of the evening was spent ‘chatting’ – meaning, covert aggressive comments/questions were flung for a JADE (justify-argue-defend-explain) response.  A harmless Yes/No question, seemingly with interest, is asked with an immediate explanation that didn’t lead to actual conversation only to the next question, followed by the next explanation.  The JADEing came to an end (or so I thought) with Jenna’s game: “You Are Where You Eat”:

Rules: Jenna read aloud a clue from pre-made cards and the rest of the guests guess who it is.  On the back of the card is your seat number.  Before moving on to the next clue, Jenna tells the person (who we just guessed) to share a specific story.   

I believe the game was intended to entertain us before we sat down to dinner.  Some of the clues didn’t quite live up to the expectation, unfortunately.  Maybe it would have been in a different situation – where the guests are functional (as opposed to dysfunctional).  The ‘suggested’ story that each person told felt like a justification of who we are rather than a sharing of who we are, imo.

Our index cards (DH, TR):

card

Our index cards were innocuous compared to others¹ and it was Jenna’s daughter that took the prize:

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can get a college degree”

Her daughter had been to university (same university as DH) and didn’t finish.   She has since gone back to school and is now close to graduating.  For the last 10 years of Xmas Eve parties, either Jenna’s daughter or I have toggled between playing the token scapegoat.  Can you guess where Scapegoat #1 and Scapegoat #2 were assigned seats?  We both sat next to the pastor and to Emily Post’s relief, everyone managed to eat their salad with the appropriate fork while JADEing².

Etiquette in a Dysfunctional Family System

“Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor.” ~Emily Post

The only etiquette that works in a dysfunctional family system is playing your designated role (Scapegoat, Golden Child, Mascot, etc.).  JADEing is the favored pastime, where subtle means that verbal cues are seemingly innocuous and no effort at all is therefore required to illicit a JADE reaction.  And dare you use the wrong fork, will you forever be reminded of not only that shortcoming but also all the other past ones.

Maybe a point Emily Post and Bridget Jones could agree on is: Embrace yourself no matter which fork you use.  🙂

Footnotes

¹Our cards on the surface were harmless but were revealing in the sense of the repetitive manner in which DH and I are spoken to.  Sadly, another card mentioned someone’s illness.

²In the movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget goes to a dinner party with all married friends. The conversation focuses on her single status.  At this Christmas Eve Party as others, we (Scapegoat #1 & #2) got questioned left and right about being vegetarian.  Enjoy the clip.

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22 thoughts on “How to Introduce a Scapegoat and Other Etiquette Advice

  1. Family dinners, held once a month, can be uncomfortable affairs, but I’m grateful ours aren’t quite like that. The healthy members are starting to outnumber the unhealthy, and healthy is becoming the norm.

    Emily Post makes a significant distinction: Honor. In dysfunctional families honor is always one of the first things to be sacrificed on the altar of maintaining the lies.

    I appreciate your reminders about JADEing. I’m becoming more aware and better at not falling into the trap. I still slip up, but not as often and not for as along.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is great that healthiness is becoming the norm. It is possible! It took me a while to see the dynamics at this gathering – that a conversation isn’t really a conversation, it is a bunch of questions with JADE reactions. I took a hiatus for a couple years from this particular party because I felt terrible at the end of it and I didn’t understand what was happening.

      That is a very good point. Honor isn’t something part of the etiquette in a dys. family system, it’s a whole other rule book.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That was horrible. Jenna’s FOO and DH’s FOO operate very similarly, subtle insults that seem ‘supportive’. When they were kids, Jenna’s daughter operated as the female scapegoat for both. And my DH, then, operated as the golden child for their’s. So messed up to see two dysfunctional systems interacting symbiotically.

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  2. Hello, TR. Every now and again, I read posts on that site, Etiquette Hell. There are some lines that I have now learned to use because of that site. One of the lines is “What an interesting assumption” I think that a line like that is perfect for a statement like the one Jenna made.

    “Jenna (paraphrasing from DH and my notes): “This is DH, the son of FiL. He lives in Europe working for Company X since he graduated from college and they move him all over the place. And this is his wife, TR, she goes where he goes and his Company finds her work wherever they end up.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi BC,
      Thank you. I like the one liner back. I checked out the website. Very interesting and relevant stories are posted. I am often taken a back by some of the stuff that is said in DH’s FOO. My natural ‘freeze’ tendencies happen now and then. xx

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      • Hi, TR. Yes, that site is great. I know what you mean about the freeze moments and being taken aback by the underhanded comments that these family members make without hesitation. I have been no contact with most of my paternal relatives for a few years now, but if I were still in contact with them I could definitely see myself using some of those lines in interaction with them since they love to make assumptions and take subtle digs (and sometimes not so subtle) at people. Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to use assertive communication and also practice the “think what you like” detachment from people with toxic attitudes. Being able to do that is very helpful and protects ones emotional well being.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The times I’ve wanted to take the salad fork and plunge it into someone’s eye. 🙂
    “The only etiquette that works in a dysfunctional family system is playing your designated role (Scapegoat, Golden Child, Mascot, etc.).” That’s it, really. So no amount of explaining or trying to regain ground will ever make a difference. Might as well just have another piece of pie and think about how idiotic they are, insulting you like that. And yes, Jenna’s a Bitch.

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    • Hahaha, the proverbial fork. This time is was like you write “sit back and have another piece”. I felt very removed from the situation while maintaining my presence to the situation. I saw this interaction different than in the past years b/c last year, DH has some light bulb moments from the party. How the system is supported to keep operating from many other family members and friends. xx

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        • Hi TR, sorry, I’m just seeing this. That’s ok! It’s not like it’s some trademark or anything! Just an idea, worth sharing! But thank you, I so appreciate your concern about that, given my NM, ET. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hi CS,
            Indeed, it is worth sharing, I can’t tell you the number of social interactions I have been to where I say this to myself. So comforting to hear that instead of other tapes in my head. You are welcome. xx

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  4. hahaha!!! What kind of women are y’all? Calling poor Jenna names…….. (ha!)

    This post was really great, TR…I loved reading it, even laughing out loud several times. I hope that doesn’t bother you but the crazy things families say and do is seriously demented and hilarious at the same time. Hilarious once you can SEE what’s going on—not so funny when you’re confused.

    As you mentioned, if you visit someone and feel like crap the next week, somebody was undermining your self-esteem. A little covert aggression is bad for the soul and it takes awhile before we even realize how we feel. Then it takes time to trust our intuition, to take care of ourselves rather than worrying about proper etiquette. I have always been “a bit slow” in catching personal insults and even when I do, I kinda stammer around not knowing what to say. I think you handled this the best way you could, considering the circumstances. I still value public civility and restraint. What you modeled was civility AND restraint. That takes guts-and-intelligence—I’m sure people were relieved that you handled the awkward silence with grace and dignity.

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    • Hi CZ,
      No, not at all. DH and I couldn’t look at each other during the reading of the cards for fear of bursting out laughing. For the first time, I was able to ‘see’ the humor in how the dysfunction is really evident and after the pattern is identified (and a lot of work), it is really very predictable. So true, it wasn’t fun for so many years.

      Thank you for the kind words. I had realized how much ‘reacting’ I do in these situations and how to other people who aren’t feeding the dysfunction (in this case, pastor and pastor’s daughters) I actually added to the already existing discomfort. I was able to talk to the few people who didn’t behave in this manner and still enjoy myself. After going to this party for years (~10 years) I made progress, this year, in finding my own enjoyment in it.

      Hugs, TR

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  5. It amazes me how once you work through all the past, you can see the humor in it. At what point do you limit going to such events like these? I’m finding the more healthy I get, the less I can go to parties such as these. I’m not saying I’ll quit going entirely but a mental health break every couple of years is good for your healthful soul. Good Job on finding the humor. I use to fall for the JADE trap all the time. Not now! I think in maintaining my composure, let’s them squirm inside knowing that they can’t get to me anymore. Love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I agree that there is a balance to maintaining one’s health vs. such interactions. I wouldn’t be able to handle (and actually I didn’t handle it) going often to such events. Indeed, once you ‘see’ the JADE trap in their speech patterns it becomes easier to handle. xx

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  6. Brilliant post. I love how you connected all the BJ references. You managed the party beautifully, and I take my hat off to you because it sounds utterly fiendish. It made BJ’s parents parties look like children’s teddy bear parties by comparison. 😛
    The sad thing is that these people are supposed to be friends, I really don’t know how people can be so cruel. Just like the scene you mention when BJ goes to the dinner party full of couples. It made me cry when I saw the movie last.
    I love that you didn’t even try to defend yourself to Jenna. That’s great progress. The “Think What You Like” picture was inspired by a post of CS. I put it on the blog so as to have a constant reminder. Because that’s the key to freedom, isn’t it? To not care AT ALL what they think about us. 😉
    Hugs,
    Kara xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! That is it, isn’t it? They are supposed to be friends. I can see how some are not really aware of what they are doing. Words come out and no comprehension follows as to what they just said.

      So true, the things people say to BJ really hit home. It was the point after the dinner where Darcy approaches her as she is leaving and she says how she feels awful most of the time anyway and no body needn’t bother to remind her. That is how I feel too.

      Thank you for letting me know about the chalkboard. I corrected it in my post. Indeed, I have to tell myself that so often when it comes to FOO and some of my friends. Yes! It is the key to freedom! Hugs, TR

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