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The Year of the Scapegoat

They say you should write about what you know. That would apply to we mere mortals without the imaginations of Tolkien or LeGuin. This post is deeply personal but it relates to a current event. And there are epiphanies that are happening online where the scapegoats can compare notes, see patterns and reconcile their fates. Social media has allowed us to break the code of silence we’ve been forced into all our lives.

Courtesy of Harry Windsor, we are about to find out exactly how toxic families work. The fact that he is a prince means he will get more attention to the problem than someone like me. This week, his book, Spare, is going to be released. I’ve written my own book of sorts. It won’t make nearly the amount of money as his but the number of similarities is uncanny.

Let me summarize so that you’ll know what’s happening when Harry goes public and the whole world tells him to shut up and get in line.

Not everyone understands what it is like to be under the control of a toxic individual. That’s what makes Harry’s situation so difficult to understand. I’m going to confine myself to describing a toxic family situation and not an intimate relationship or a work relationship. They share similar characteristics but it’s the family that gives us the defined roles.

In a toxic family relationship, there is usually a person at the center of the drama who has a personality that is bullying. This person also has control over the other members of the family, usually by providing status (you’re in or you’re out) or money (you get your inheritance or you’re screwed). Let’s just call this person “the bully” for simplicity’s sake. There are a number of diagnoses we can apply to these people but the experience is the same to the targets. It’s bullying. And since we lack the degrees to make a proper diagnosis, bully will have to do. They all fit into the same cluster of maladies in the DSM but which ones and in what combination is debatable.

Each member of the family has a role assigned to them. Let’s review:

The golden child: There is a child in the family who is designated as the golden child. This child can do no wrong. No matter what they do, they are protected, rewarded, lavished with attention. They may or may not be aware of their privileged status.

The Truth Teller: This is a child who intuits the truth about their family structure. They can see what’s playing out and they want no part of it. The truth teller is very perceptive. They make other people uneasy. If they’re not careful, they can become…

The Scapegoat: the scapegoat carries the sins of the family. The scapegoat is a convenient person for the bully. The scapegoat is the decoy. In addition, there is something about the scapegoat that the bully despises. It could be that he or she reminds the bully of the other parent. Or the scapegoat is more sensitive. Or maybe the scapegoat was unexpected or unwanted or compulsory. Whatever it is, to the bully, the scapegoat is a problem and not a person. But he or she is a convenient problem as long as the code of silence is maintained. Call it duty or cultural pressure, whatever it might be, the scapegoat can live for decades in a warped reality and doesn’t understand why he or she doesn’t quite fit in. It’s like knowing you’re the smelly fart to everyone when you walk into a room but you don’t know why.

The Bully: The bully can present as one of several types. There are bullies who are grandiose and thrive on attention. Donald Trump comes to mind. Or a bully can be deeply insecure and envious and will construct a persona that will give them status and will cover up the demons they struggle with. Maybe they’ll become that pillar of the community, volunteering and serving. Or maybe they’ll become the most religious people you know, clinging to the Bible and having an uncanny knack for recognizing when a person is having a moment of personal crisis and is vulnerable. The religious bully swoops in to offer Bible verses and tells you how strongly she feels god’s presence. It’s in her head and don’t you feel a longing for god? Surrender to god and your troubles will be over.

But whatever form the bully takes, it’s not always obvious to their children who have not known anything else. They don’t know they’ve been assigned a role. The role has been assigned without their consent and frequently without any relationship to who they really are. The bully isn’t interested in who they really are. Children are objects in the bully’s life that serve useful purposes. The golden child will reflect positive things back on the bully. The scapegoat will be assigned to be the bad child. The scapegoat serves a useful role in making the golden child more golden and also takes on the sins of the rest of the family. The badness of the scapegoat may bear little resemblance to who they really are but by the time they figure this out, it’s too late. The narrative has been set.

So, those are the family players. We have the bully and his children. But to really make this scenario work for the bully, there had to be a third leg to this tripod- the enablers.

There are several types of enablers:

Flying monkeys: The term flying monkey comes from The Wizard of Oz. The wicked witch used them to carry out her dirty work. She has a little job for them. They gather information or they torment her target.

Other bullies: Female enablers can be subservient bullies to the main bully. If we use middle school psychology, the bully is the queen bee and the lesser bully wants to be like her. She is learning the tricks of the trade. How to isolate the target, ridicule and subtle acts of cruelty.

Naive Enablers: The naive enabler doesn’t want to get involved but really wishes everyone could just get along. In actuality, it is the naive enabler who can cause the most harm to the target. The flying monkeys and subservient bullies know what they’re up to. But the naive enabler is just going with the cultural norms: children should always respect their parents, family duty is the most important thing, don’t rock the boat. They lay on the guilt thick. Sometimes this is because they haven’t had experience of feeling like dog poop on the shoe of the parent. Or they just want to live in blissful ignorance because acknowledging what the bully is doing would put them in the uncomfortable position of having to take a side and the bully has more status and resources to give.

Naive enablers may know but they don’t want to know because their consciences would bother them. So they don’t take a stand when they know an injustice has occurred. In this way, they fail the target by trying to stay neutral. Or they’ve been bought off.

So here comes Harry Windsor-Mountbatten who probably didn’t understand completely what his role was before he married Meghan Markle. The bully has found a new source of deflection. He can do whatever he wants, protect whoever he wants, favor whoever he wants and manage his own image by feeding negative stories to his flying monkeys. And he’ll get away with it because 1.) everyone will blame the negative stories on racism, which has a kernel of truth and 2.) because the primary family scapegoat has been conditioned to stay silent in the name of duty.

What has happened to Harry and Meghan is not just a juicy story for royal watchers. It is the revelation of a family scapegoat and what life as a scapegoat is really like.

This isn’t about being a renegade royal. It’s about a family member who decided not to play their assigned role in a toxic family anymore and the consequences as a result of that decision. No one defies a bully of that stature and gets away with it.

Unlike the rest of the world, apparently, I’m not of the opinion that Harry is asking for forgiveness nor is he forgiving. He wants justice. He’s telling his story, deciding that he has to break out of his family to maintain his sanity, and shining a spotlight on one of the most devastating features of being a scapegoat. The scapegoat is forced out of the community. His only job is to carry the sins of the others. It is not a role that anyone would choose and it has lifelong effects on anyone to whom the role is assigned. The scapegoat has to struggle with the righteous indignation of not being able to get justice for their ruined reputations, the dehumanization of their persons, the demonization of their motives and the inevitable loss of any financial security that might have been theirs if it wasn’t in the hands of a person who only wants control of their being and to use them as a tool of deflection.

You might pay attention because the royal family is famous and there’s a lot of money and security involved. But this family drama plays out the exact same way among the middle and working classes as well and the patterns and scripts are exactly the same.

This is not about a person dying to get attention. This is a person trying to remove the sins of others from his person. It’s difficult. He has little to gain from it but his freedom and self-respect. It’s the hardest thing he will ever have to do to give up his family to be who he is and not what they say he is. Not all scapegoats can pull it off. Some scapegoats can escape the sucking power of the bully because someone else gave them love and attention at just the right time in their lives. Their sense of themselves isn’t completely ruined.

Maybe all he can do at this point is say that he will no longer give their consciences cover. They will have to live with their own uneasy feelings, guilt and selfishness. They own their own actions. Harry won’t allow them to throw their sins on him anymore.

And I am here for it because I have been there.