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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The Boundary Discussion

The first three months of 2014 were a struggle for me.  It was different than how I usually experience depression, I was under-functioning to the point that DH needed to over-function (bless him).  I knew that the origin was from not protecting myself well enough during the FOO holiday visit last year and it didn’t help knowing I was heading back in three months.  I thought about canceling the March visit but something in the back of my head said “it is time.”

I needed to do something drastically and desperately different because I couldn’t have another three months of being ill – emotionally and physically.    I read two boundary books and I began to put together patterns in myself.  Although I have set boundaries in the past, I always withdrew them later.  I would set a boundary once and then allow it to be adjusted the next time.  Rewind, play, repeat.

My pattern with boundaries were at extremes.  I’d shut down and then feel guilty/shame about it.  I wasn’t able to set them in a way where I kept myself healthy and allowed for flexibility.  After reading Katerine’s books and bloggers’ advice I focused on my time boundary with my FOO and my in-laws.

During the March visit, I set and held my time boundary with my FOO and then next up were my in-laws.  The first evening with DH’s father (FiL) I started to feel drained.  I woke up the next morning not feeling 100%.  I told DH that I wasn’t going over to FiL’s apartment that day and that I would meet up with DH that evening for dinner with friends.

This one sentence was met with ‘negotiating’ techniques.  You see, DH negotiates for a living and he is good it.  In the past, I would suggest not participating and I would allow myself to be convinced otherwise or would hold the boundary once and feel guilty after and give in the next time (rewind, play, repeat).  I hadn’t connected the dots with my patterns like that before.  The ‘negotiating’ attempts went like this (paraphrasing):

  1. “Come over today and take the next day off.”
  2. “What am I going to say to my father about why you are not there, I am sick of lying.”
  3. “You sound sarcastic as if this is fun for you.”

All of these tactics worked in the past because these are the three I am most vulnerable to in this order: 1. Reasoning/Rationalization 2. Debasement (I’m the victim) 3. Social coercion (through criticizing) – 3 out of 6 manipulation techniques that Braiker² highlights in her book.

DH and I did not want to go down that path again and luckily in her second book³ (“Where to Draw the Line”, p. 154-155) Anne Katherine talked about speaking with others (who are affected) about boundaries in advance.  I used her guidelines and wrote down questions that DH and I answered separately and then we discussed our answers.  It worked well for our last visit this summer and we plan on using them for our upcoming FOO holiday visit.  The purpose is to have a clear picture of what you and the other person wants/expects.

Boundary Discussion Questions (based on Katherine’s How to Create Successful Holidays Guidelines):

  1. What activities would you like to do? (my answer: see good friends, workout, downtime, shopping) Any specifics? (example: preparation needed, order of events, etc.)
  2. Who would you like to be included/see during this event(s)? (I listed the people I would make time for and DH listed his – where we agreed we went together, where we didn’t we went separately)
  3. What are our time limits/constraints with the people we will be seeing? (this can also be used for food, money, etc.) (my answer: I will participate in two meals with FiL and BiL)
  4. What are each person’s responsibilities (when interacting with our FOO)? (combined: use “I”, not “we” statements, let me answer questions directed towards me the way I want to answer them – if you find it inappropriate give me the feedback later, no triangulation, no lying)
  5. What has not gone well in the past, what did you dislike about the past events/holidays? (my answer: I need planned downtime to recover from my FOO and DH’s FOO and I will help FiL only on tasks that he physically cannot do himself)

The conversation was eye-opening and surprisingly we stuck to most of our answers during the summer visit – there was some negotiation. 😉  Katherine also suggests to review our answers after the event.

What worked well:

  • DH handled triangulation well
  • DH handled his father’s attempt to manipulate him into doing something he didn’t want to do
  • I didn’t fall into my severe under-functioning state after the visit

What didn’t work well:

  • DH tried to control my ‘changed’ response to questions from FiL that were directed to me
  • I over-functioned in anger and shame for DH, I need to give him room to feel his own emotions and process it himself

Footnotes

¹Katherine, Anne, M.A. (1991). “Boundaries – Where You End and I Begin”. New York: Simon & Schuster.

²Braiker, Harriet B., Ph.D. (2004). “Who’s Pulling Your Strings? – How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life”. New York: McGraw-Hill.

³Katherine, Anne, M.A. (2000). “Where to Draw the Line – How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day”. New York: Simon & Schuster.

katherine