I realize this article is long, however I would encourage you to read through the entire article. Please do so at your own rate and pace, a little at a time, if that is what you decide. That is good enough.
I want to share what I learned through my study of family systems theory. Family systems theory speaks to how family members relate to one another. The information has helped me to understand.
Understand why I lived much of my life with debilitating shame and guilt. Debilitating shame and guilt as an individual who was living with the impact of a brain injury and an invisible disability.
But thankfully I gained insight that helped me to become aware of why I was feeling shame and guilt. Shame and guilt for which I was powerless to change or control, but found that I was responsible to heal from each day going forward.
Everyone is Doing
I believe everyone is doing the best they know how to do given the information. Given the information they have and the grace that has been given to them. Given to them as they relate to both themselves and to other people. I am grateful for the information and grace given to me that I would like to share with you.
Making Sense of What Made Little Sense
What I am going to share with you has helped me to make sense of what made little sense to me before. My increasing awareness helped me to have more peace in my life. More peace in my life, well-being and relationships, as I grew in my awareness and understanding. Awareness and understanding of “roles”.
In families where there is/are conflict (s), secrets, or unknown and unresolved emotional pain family members assign or assume roles. More info: different roles. These roles are a way to contain what is hidden, buried and unresolved. What I call, displaced sadness, is explained here: Displaced Sadness.
The roles given act as buffers so that people do not have to feel feelings and make changes.
One of these roles is the scapegoat or the identified patient. The identified patient absorbs the dis ease (unrest) within the family. The identified patient becomes the focus and the distraction. The identified patient or scapegoat is made to to carry the shame of family members: Whose Shame are You Carrying?.
As a Basis
As a basis of today’s article I want to share a distinction. Feeling guilt or shame for something we have done is different than feeling guilty and shameful for being who we are as individuals. Feeling guilt and experiencing shame is different than experiencing debilitating guilt and debilitating shame.
Experiencing guilt or shame can be resolved through and by making an amends.
Debilitating guilt and debilitating shame instead runs much deeper. Deeper in that the individual constantly feels guilt and shame for just being. Debilitating guilt and debilitating shame is a “being” wound. A wound that leads the individual to believe that they don’t just make mistakes, but that they are a mistake.
Individuals who are led to believe that they don’t just make mistakes, but are mistakes are led to believe that they are at fault for any unrest. Any unrest, pain or conflict (s) that family members may experience. The individual in the role of the identified patient is led to believe that they are responsible.
That they must be able to fix the unrest to prove or attempt to prove that they are not a mistake.
In the process of maintaining this belief and feeling responsible for the pain and conflict (s) the individual is unknowingly shackled to a sense of shame and guilt. Shame and guilt because they are unable to “fix”. Fix whatever each of the family members may be experiencing. Experiencing due to the unspoken…
Impact of the conflict, secret and or unresolved emotional and spiritual pain. The identified patient is conditioned to believe that they are the reason for the conflict with in the family. Consequently, the identified patient or scapegoat develops a hyper vigilance and an overdeveloped sense of responsibility.
A hyper vigilance and an overdeveloped sense of responsibility in my attempt to know peace.
In the process, the identified patient is led to believe that there is something inherently wrong with them. Something wrong with them for not being able to manage and “fix” the ongoing unrest in the family. Like the game of “Whack a Mole” at a State Fair, another family crisis or drama needs to be “fixed” or absorbed.
In response, the identified patient may act out being unable to fix or absorb the conflict (s) through anti-social behavior. The identified patient may also attempt to do more, to be more, to be enough in an attempt to resolve the conflict. The identified patient may in; response, become either grandiose or depressed in life.
The identified patient may become grandiose in an attempt avoid feeling shame and guilt. The identified patient may instead become depressed because of their feeling shame and guilt.
Feeling shame and guilt because they are led to believe that they are responsible for the families unrest, conflict and pain. Feeling “guilt” or “shame” then keeps the individual trapped in the role of the identified patient or scapegoat. In the role of an identified patient, attempting to fix, manage and control “the” crisis.
In My Experience
In my experience, I found myself in the role of an identified patient at a very early age. I embraced an overdeveloped sense of responsibility in my attempts to do more, to be more, to be enough. In response, I believed that if I could “fix” everyone then I could avoid feeling shame and guilt for not doing enough…
In response I Strove to Be Perfect
For not doing enough, not being enough and for not “measuring up” to expectations. I was led to believe that because I did not measure up to “everyone’s” expectations that I was responsible for their irritability, restlessness and discontentment. As a result, I had to somehow make them “OK”. so that we could…
So that I could be “OK” with myself. In my attempt to anticipate what was expected of me I spent considerable time and effort engaging in no-win behaviors. Behaviors such as people pleasing, approval seeking and mind-reading. In my experience I found that none of these strategies worked to resolve my…
My sense of being “OK” with myself. Instead, I found that these behaviors and their results only reinforced my sense of shame and guilt. Nevertheless, I still strove all the more to be “perfect” in my attempt(s) to resolve the unrest in family members. Nevertheless, I often came up short in my efforts, which reinforced…
My overdeveloped sense of responsibility to do more, to be more, in my attempt to be enough. My attempt (s) to be enough to stop feeling shame and guilt for “just” not being “OK” and enough.
Background Information for People who Don’t Know
I was in a motor vehicle accident in 1967 at the age of 10. I sustained an open skull fracture with right frontal lobe, a severe brain bruise with bruise with brain stem involvement. Denial of the impact of my traumatic brain injury occurred after my external wounds healed. After my external wounds healed and…
I was able to learn how to walk, talk, read, write and speak in complete sentences the impact of my traumatic brain injury became invisible. Because the impact of the injury to my brain was invisible, I was left to believe that “it” was my fault. My fault for not being able to overcome having difficulties in my life.
Nevertheless, the impact of my traumatic brain injury presented me with cognitive and psycho social deficits and limitations. My previously assigned role as an identified took on a new meaning. As an individual living with an invisible disability, I became susceptible to being blamed, shamed and made to…
Made to feel that I was the reason for conflicts, unrest, irritability, discontent that people experienced inside my family. Led to believe that I was also responsible for other people’s, attitudes, conflicts, unrest, irritability and discontentment outside of my family. As a result, I strove to “fix” what other people thought of me.
What I needed to Do to Stop Feeling Shame and Guilt
I needed to confront the denial of the impact of my traumatic brain injury. I needed to break free from the role that kept me believing that I was at fault. At fault for the way family and friends react to what they don’t understand. I needed to stop assuming the role of the identified patient to stop feeling shame and guilt.
Shame and guilt for individuals in my life who seek to blame me to their unresolved pain and internal conflict. Pain and internal conflicts that they may not know how to or want to resolve. Resolve with in themselves, instead of blaming and projecting their inner struggles. I needed learn how channel my time…
My time and energy in ways that would help me to learn how to use my creative uniqueness. Learn how to use my creative genius through my gifts, talents and abilities. Learn how to use them in ways that will work for me, instead of defending. Defending what I have no power to control or fix in other people.
I needed to become aware and recognize when people inside and outside my family want me to carry their shame and guilt. Shame and guilt for what they are unable or unwilling to resolve in themselves. As a result, I needed to stop “catching the ball” when the ball of shame and guilt was being thrown my way.
I needed to learn how to detach people who want me to feel shame and guilt when feeling shame and guilt has nothing to do with me. I needed to and need to use the principles of live and let live, be brief, be calm and be gone. I needed and need to keep my side of the street clean, while letting other streets alone.
I needed to and need to not buy into the belief, that people may want me to believe, that I am responsible for how they feel. That I am the reason why they are having a “bad day”. That I need to get “professional help” so that they do not get angry with me and fly into rage(s). That I am the problem for their unrest.
I need to remember that I am responsible to other people, but not for other people. When I am in the “wrong” I can make an amends and keep my side of the street “clean”, but how or if my amends are received are out of my control. I can then do my best to not repeat, then I need to take the process a day at a time.
I need to remember that learning is about a process and a journey. I need to remember that and I no longer need to buy into the demand or message given to me. The message conveyed to my through shame and guilt. Should Have Already Mastered Everything. I need to allow myself to learn at my own rate and pace.
In my experience
I had to begin to accept myself as a person with an invisible disability, before I could begin to break free from the role. Free from the role of an identified patient that absorbed conflict (s) that were/are out of my control to fix. I had to learn how to accept myself as a person who has an invisible disability.
Accept myself as an individual who is impacted by a brain injury and an invisible disability. I needed to stop seeing and treating myself as an individual who is not impacted by a brain injury and an invisible disability. I needed to learn how to accept myself, that although I have deficits and limitations, I am not those…
I am not those deficits or limitations, for which other people wanted to may want to blame me. I had to stop buying into unrealistic expectations. The unrealistic expectation that lead me to believe that I am responsible for “fixing” other people’s moods and attitudes. That I am responsible for whether people…
Whether people choose to be irritable, restless and discontent. I needed to stop allowing myself to be held responsible. Being held responsible for everyone’s and anyone’s feelings, reactions and attitudes. I needed to stop taking on other people’s responsibility to work through and face their own shame and guilt.
Finding Freedom from Shame and Guilt
I needed to start respecting my deficits and limitations, instead of allowing myself to be blamed for what is out of my control. I needed to begin using my time and energy to learn from my experiences, instead of feeling shame and guilt. Feeling shame and guilt for not being able to “fix” what was not my responsibility.
As a result
By respecting my deficits and limitations, I have been able to use my time and creative energy. Use my creative energy to learn from my circumstances, experiences and opportunities. By learning to use my time and energy, to develop beyond my deficits and limitations, in ways that would work for me. Work for me to…
Focus, instead of being distracted by what I should have already mastered. Focus on what works for me, through trial and error experiments. Trial and error experiments, instead of listening to the voices of shame and guilt. Voices that keep me focused on what does not work for me and I have no power to control.
In the Case of the Individual living with the Impact of a Brain injury
In the process of complying, the individual’s creative energy is redirected to comply with the unspoken code of the role. The individual’s creative energy is used to validate the identity of the role and to maintain denial. The denial of the impact of their brain injury and the reason for the unrest in the family.
The unrest in the family that needs to be denied. Denied to validate the reason for why the individual is being scapegoated and made the identified patient. The individual living with the impact of a brain injury thus complies. Complies so as to not experience isolation, a fear or abandonment and a sense of dread.
How the Family System Roles affect Other Relationships
Blamed, shamed and made to be the problem within the family. The individual living with the brain injury, if not already in that “role” in the family system, becomes the identified patient. From that point the individual living with the impact of the brain injury is led to believe. Led to believe that they are the reason.
The reason for the family’s unrest and discontent. In these circumstances the individual then takes on the responsibility for what is out of their control. The unrest among family members is then directed at the individual living with an invisible disability. The impact of a brain injury and an invisible disability, for which…
The individual living with the brain injury and invisible disability may not even be aware. Be aware of what they are powerless to change and control. The impact of their brain injury, invisible disability and why family members react as they do. As a result, they may live their lives feeling shame and guilt for…
For which they may be unaware of themselves, but are still blamed, shamed and scapegoated for the irritability, restlessness and discontent of family members. When the individual leaves the nuclear family system, they take their role with them. The role once again becomes the vehicle that drives them as they…
Vehicle that Drives
Interact with people, places and things beyond the family system. Consequently, life for them becomes a gauntlet as they attempt to “fix” and compensate for the restlessness, irritability and discontentment around them. Their overdeveloped sense of responsibility is mirrored through and in interpersonal relationships.
The identified patient or scapegoat subsequently becomes hyper vigilant in their relationships as they attempt to repair. Repair or fix the restless, irritability and discontent in the relationship (s) to avoid being criticized, blamed, shamed or abandoned. In the process, these individuals become human doings, as they…
As they react to what is out of their control. In the process of “putting out fires” their creative energy is exploited to manage the unmanageable. As with other roles with in the family system, the identified patient trades their creative energy for a crusade that cannot be won. In the process, their time and energy will be…
Slowly be drained and depleted. In the event that the identified patient continues in that crusade they will live their lives distracted as a human doing, instead learning to be a human being. A human being, for which they were designed to create with their lives, not to resolve other people’s unresolved conflict (s).
Other Family System Roles and their Impact
Through my recovery process I discovered that assigned or assumed family roles, such as the scapegoat, hero, mascot or lost child, seek to control and constrain. Control and constrain parts of the individual that displease or disrupt the family system. In the process, the individual is covertly or overtly expected to…
Discard parts of themselves to maintain the denial of what remains hidden that contains the conflict, secret or unresolved loss. The roles become substitutes for learning to how to individuate and be autonomous individuals. In the process individuals become reactors, rather than actors in their lives. Become reactors…
Reactors to the what remains hidden, instead of as actors, seeking to resolve, heal and address the conflict. In the process, roles within the system become the identity of the individual. Rather than knowing and being who they are as individuals, each individuals unknowingly takes on a false self of the role assumed.
The false self becomes their identity of how they relate and interact in relationships. The roles evolve out of the individuals drive to comply in order to avoid being. Avoid being criticized, shamed, blamed and/or threatened with emotional or physical abandonment. When the individual seeks to maintain the identity of…
The identity of the role to avoid losing love and approval or or to prevent being shamed, blamed and criticized the individual become hyper vigilant. Like a cat on a hot tin roof, they seek to avoid being the “target” of shame and guilt. The role becomes the focus as the individual strives to maintain that identity.
I sincerely believe that I became an identified patient because of a lack of information. No one is to blame and pointing the finger in anyone’s direction is of little value. My motivation in sharing the above is not to complain, but to use my experience to illustrate a reality. People with invisible disabilities many times…
Many times are criticized, belittled, ostracized and shamed for matters that are out of their control. The reality is that as an individual living with an invisible or visible disability, you may have people in your life. People in your life who want or need to make you the problem so that they do not have to feel or change.
The Good News
I have good news for you. You are not the problem. The problem exists because of a lack of willingness to take responsibility, understand and empower. In the event that you have people in your life, who for whatever reasons want to make you responsible for their irritability, restlessness I want you to know…
I want you to know, that you have a choice. You have more power than you realize. You no longer need to buy into the belief that you are responsible for all their irritability, restlessness and discontentment. Like you, they need to take responsibility for their irritability, restlessness or discontentment.
The good news is that we can be part of the solution. Instead of continuing to feel guilty, shamed, blamed and scapegoated we can keep the focus on ourselves. We can keep our side of the street clean by making amends. We can make living amends by changing our behavior and how we react. We can allow other…
We can allow of other people the dignity to do the same, if they choose to do things differently. Although other people may want to blame you and I for our deficits and limitations, we can be aware. We can be aware and decide to not to buy into the notion that we are at fault. At fault for our deficits and limitations.
We are not our disability (visible or invisible) deficits and limitations. We no longer have to feel shame or guilt for what other people may not be able to or want to understand or accept. Their attitudes and reactions do not have to be ours. We no longer need believe that we deserve to be bullied by other people.
Because of what other people choose to or not to take responsibility. We no longer need to live in the shadows of shame and guilt. We are beautiful people, who are living with the impact of a brain injury and an invisible disability. A brain injury and invisible disability with deficits and limitations. We are remarkable…
We are remarkable and resilient. Through accepting ourselves as an individual living with a brain injury and an invisible disability, we will find new vitality. We will learn to embrace ourselves apart from the role of an identified patient. The role that anyone may want to define who we are as individuals. We can learn to fly…
We will learn to fly like a bird that is set free from the cage that once limited the bird’s ability to fly. We will discover how to use our creative energy through our gifts, talents and abilities. We will move in the direction of our dreams and fulfill our destinies. In the process of purpose, we will be of service one day at a time.
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life. Define yourself.” Robert Frost.