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Family scapegoating: ‘Cutting ties with my mother was a grief, but it set me free’

From my earliest memories I knew my mother didn’t like me. Now, I realise she was a needy person, emotionally immature, unsure of herself

As part of a series about “family scapegoating” – where a family member is continuously blamed for another’s faults or problems, often involving a needy, narcissistic parent – the following is an anonymous account of one person’s experience.


From my earliest memories I knew my mother didn’t like me. She treated me differently to the others. As I got older I became more aware of it. She would say things to me she would never say to anybody else. Then, if I reminded her of what she had said or done, she would deny it. If I called out her lies she would say I was “imagining things”.

Sometimes, if she couldn’t deny things quickly enough she would get upset and say things like, “that’s right, I’m a terrible mother”. If I was hurt by her words or actions she would tell me I was “too sensitive”.


The message was clear. I was the problem.

My siblings only saw goodness in Mother. She never showed to them what she showed to me. So I was the problem. I upset Mother. I realise now that she was a needy person, emotionally immature, unsure of herself. She craved approval, particularly from men.

I think she saw me as competition. My father loved me and I shared a lot of his interests. She wasn’t happy in her marriage. Over decades, I noticed how my relationship with her had a pattern – she would say something hurtful, lie, deny the truth, do or say things behind my back, make sure my siblings were prioritised. At some point I would crack and confront her. She would be upset, or silent, or hang up the phone. We would avoid each other for a while. Then she would call me – bright and chirpy. We would never discuss it again. And all the time my siblings despised me, called me names, ignored me, excluded me.

My mother backed them. And they backed her.

As a single mother in difficult circumstances I asked for help. She said she didn’t believe in helping financially. I knew this wasn’t true. Her family had always helped each other. I knew she would have helped any of my siblings, as I would have. She said my siblings deserved their wealth. They each owned at least two homes, married wealthy families. I worked as hard as anyone. My father had left everything in his will to my mother, even though they were separated. When I asked him for help – with my mother present – he said I should have half his house on his death, as my mother had her own house and his other children were all well-off. He asked her to look after it. He trusted her. When he died she kept it all. I live in social housing. I am grateful that we don’t have to move house every few years, but I know this isn’t what other families would do, or what my father wanted.

Recently, my mother had a big bash for her birthday. She sent me an invite. It was to be held on my birthday. That didn’t bother me. Our birthdays are a couple of days apart. Yet, it felt somehow significant that my birthday was never mentioned. I tried and tried over the years to talk to her, to have a better relationship. But she would constantly deny the truth. I asked her to be truthful with my siblings so they would know it wasn’t my fault and to stop mistreating me, but she couldn’t.

Cutting ties with her was a grief, but it set me free.

I was seeing a therapist who suggested I needed to cut ties with my entire family. The thought horrified me. But I did cut ties. And then I realised that I hadn’t one healthy relationship with any of them. They all participated in misrepresenting me. Recently, I heard they were saying I have bipolar disorder. I have never in all my therapy, including with psychiatrists, been diagnosed with any disorder.

It was important for my siblings to see me as the problem. Even as adults they would tell me, “We’re so lucky, we don’t have any problems. You have all the problems.” My isolation from them is worth it. I have gained freedom and can at last start to believe that I am not a failure, a despicable human being, with “problems”, mentally ill. I am a normal flawed person with ups and down in life, who needs love and support and wanted more than anything to have that from my family.