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?

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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.