25 Characteristics of Family Scapegoat: Understanding Your Role & Path to Healing

I’ve always believed that our experiences shape us in unique ways.

For example, in my journey as the family scapegoat, I’ve discovered a lot about resilience, self-discovery, and healing.

This made me think. What if being the family scapegoat isn’t a curse, but a stepping stone to a better, more empowered you?

If you’ve always been told you’re the “problem child,” there is a good chance you are your family’s scapegoat.

But what defines this role? What are the characteristics of family scapegoat?

Below, I’ll share my experiences and the lessons I’ve learned along the way in hopes of inspiring you to break free from the shadows of this challenging role.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Family scapegoats often exhibit traits such as compassion, emotional sensitivity, and strong defense mechanisms.
  • The role of a family scapegoat can lead to low self-confidence, anxiety, and emotional breakdowns.
  • To exit the family scapegoat role, assert boundaries, get professional help, and build a supportive network outside your family.

What Are the Characteristics of Family Scapegoat?

The characteristics of a scapegoat often include being blamed for family issues, feeling like an outsider, and experiencing emotional manipulation.

Scapegoats may also be the ones who challenge dysfunctional family dynamics, even though it can lead to them being unfairly targeted.

If you’ve ever felt like the odd one out in your family, the designated troublemaker, or the constant target of blame, you’re not alone.

I know that feeling all too well because I’ve been there, too. The first thing I did to start my healing journey is to identify the characteristics that make me the family’s scapegoat.

Could this be you or someone you know?

1. They Are Compassionate Caregivers

This caregiving instinct is one of the many signs of a family scapegoat child. While not always apparent on the surface, it stems from a deep understanding of pain and adversity.

Scapegoats become attuned to the emotional struggles within the family unit.

As such, they learn to be empathetic listeners, offering support and solace to others, even in the face of their own challenges.

Growing up as a family scapegoat, I often found myself in the role of a compassionate caregiver.

I could sense the pain and dysfunction within my family, and I became a source of support for my siblings and even my mother.

Despite the narcissistic dynamics at play, I couldn’t help but extend a compassionate hand to those around me, ultimately becoming a source of strength in an otherwise chaotic environment.

2. They Lack Self-Confidence

Another pretty common thing among family scapegoats is this nagging lack of self-confidence. This is often deeply rooted in the dynamics of a narcissistic family’s dysfunction.

It’s like we are stuck in this loop, constantly doubting ourselves. We hear all these negative messages thrown our way, and they tend to stick.

I had low self-esteem growing up. Blamed for family problems left, right, and center, I started questioning my own worth and abilities.

This scapegoat role can really mess with your self-esteem, making it tough to trust your own judgment or have faith in what you can do.

Tip
Remember that your self-worth isn’t defined by others. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist to challenge those negative beliefs that have been ingrained over time.

3. They Are Intuitively Sensitive to Emotional Distress

Family scapegoats often have this superpower, so to speak. It’s like they have developed this radar for picking up on the problems in the family, even if they are not the ones causing them.

In my story, I couldn’t help but sense when something is wrong within my family. While I was blamed for things I didn’t do, I also felt the underlying tension and distress.

Being that intuitive can be a double-edged sword.

It helps you see issues others might ignore, but it can also take a toll on your mental health, especially when you are the designated scapegoat.

Recognizing this sensitivity is important for understanding how it can both empower and affect your mental well-being.

4. They Are Effective Solution-Finders

Growing up as the family scapegoat, I discovered that we often develop a unique skill set: being effective solution-finders.

It’s like we become the unofficial problem-solvers of the family.

Why? Well, we’ve been blamed for so many things, so we figure out how to fix them to avoid future accusations!

This role forced me to step up and find solutions to problems, even those I hadn’t caused. It made me resourceful and driven to correct past mistakes, both mine and others’.

Being an effective solution-finder is a silver lining in the clouds of being a scapegoat.

However, it’s also important to remember that it’s not our sole responsibility to fix everything, and boundaries are crucial in maintaining our own well-being.

5. They Are Strongly Defensive

When you grow up feeling like your family hates you, you become defensive. You’re constantly on guard, ready to protect yourself from their accusations and blame.

Over time, this hyper-awareness becomes a way of life.

In my own journey as the black sheep, this strong defensiveness was my armor. It was my shield against the constant onslaught of my mother’s criticism.

But I realized that it’s a coping mechanism that can be both a strength and a vulnerability.

While it helped me endure the childhood trauma of being the family’s odd one out, it also affected my mental health.

Thanks to therapy, I learned to recognize this characteristic, acknowledge its roots, and work towards healthier ways to navigate the world without constantly being on the defensive.

6. They Are Extremely Perceptive

In the web of a narcissistic family dynamic, the scapegoat often develops an extraordinary level of perceptiveness.

They seem to have this innate ability to read between the lines and decode hidden motivations.

In my own experience, I learned to anticipate mood swings, hidden agendas, and the unspoken rules of our dysfunctional family dynamic. It is a survival tactic, honed by necessity.

Yet, this heightened perceptiveness comes with its own complexities. It allows you to adapt and protect yourself, but it can also be emotionally exhausting.

Tip
Practice self-care and set boundaries to protect your emotional well-being. You don’t have to be on high alert all the time.

7. They Are Candid Truth-Speakers

The way I see it, being straightforward means having the courage to voice uncomfortable truths that others might avoid.

I was given the role of the scapegoat in my family likely because I often found myself at odds with the prevailing narrative.

My mother’s narcissism demanded a certain image, but I refused to play that game. I chose to be authentic and outspoken.

While this honesty is a core part of your true self, it’s not always well-received, and it can lead to accusations that we’re always mean.

Nevertheless, this trait serves as a beacon of authenticity in the often convoluted world of a narcissistic family.

8. They Shoulder the Blame

Among the many signs you are being scapegoated is if you often shoulder the blame for family issues, becoming the proverbial punching bag for everyone else.

This characteristic of being the blame-bearer in a family dynamic is something I’ve experienced personally.

It was routine for my mother to place blame on me, whether it was for problems I had no control over or for issues that were the result of her own narcissistic behavior.

This made me the go-to target for blame, serving as a release valve for her frustrations.

I found myself bearing the weight of everyone’s mistakes and shortcomings, which took a toll on my self-esteem.

Tip
Dealing with constant blame can affect your mental health. Learn to establish healthy boundaries and seek professional advice to cope with the emotional toll.

9. They Are a Strict Perfectionist

A scapegoat feels that the only way to gain approval, especially in comparison to the favored golden child, is to strive for perfection.

Growing up, this perfectionism was my coping mechanism, a way to counterbalance the continuous criticism and blame.

I believed that by being flawless in every aspect of my life, I could finally earn the love and acceptance that my sister seemed to effortlessly receive.

This drive for perfection, while well-intentioned, can lead to immense stress and self-doubt.

It’s a characteristic that many scapegoats grapple with, born from a desire to escape the relentless cycle of blame and disappointment.

10. They Respond With Strong Emotions

This is not surprising at all. Weve been the target of blame, criticism, and negativity for so long that our emotional responses become heightened as a form of self-defense.

In my own story, the constant barrage of blame and accusations led me to react with intense emotions, from anger to frustration to sadness.

Over time, I realized that these strong emotional responses, while understandable, can take a toll on my overall well-being. But healing is possible.

As part of my journey towards better mental health and wellness, my licensed therapist taught me healthy ways to manage and express these emotions.

11. They Challenge Authority

Challenging authority is a scapegoat’s way of asserting himself and refusing to conform to the roles imposed on him by the family, often the abuser.

In my own story, I couldn’t help but challenge my mother’s power and control over the family as a means to cope with being a family scapegoat.

Whether it was pushing back against unfair blame or standing up against her narcissistic traits, this resistance was a way to assert my worth and defend against further manipulation.

Tip
Embrace healthy boundary-setting as a tool to assert yourself without resorting to unnecessary confrontation.

12. They Undergo Emotional Breakdowns

The constant blame, criticism, and pressure can lead to overwhelming emotional stress.

In my own journey, I experienced moments of emotional breakdown, where my negative thoughts and feelings became too much to bear.

There were moments when the emotional strain became unbearable, and I grappled with anxiety and depression as a result.

Fortunately, I learned that seeking support from a mental health professional and leaning on a support network of friends or confidants can help you overcome these emotional breakdowns.

It is a vital step toward healing and reclaiming your mental well-being.

13. They Hide Self-Centeredness

This might seem paradoxical, but their trauma may be the cause behind this coping strategy.

You see, the scapegoat believes that putting others first is the path to acceptance and love, even at the expense of their own needs.

I myself often concealed my self-centeredness behind a façade of selflessness, believing it would earn me the affection I longed for.

But it’s important to recognize that self-love is not the same as being self-centered.

Rather, it is a healthy act of prioritizing your well-being without sacrificing your empathy and care for others.

14. They Are Overly Accommodating to Others

Being a scapegoat in a family of narcissists is like constantly carrying the weight of perceived wrongs and feeling the need to atone for the blame unfairly placed upon you.

It’s akin to striving for approval and attempting to maintain harmony within the family, even when you are the one enduring the most suffering.

Growing up, I constantly put others’ needs before my own, hoping it would alleviate the criticism and accusations.

But I learned that finding a balance between accommodating others and prioritizing self-care is important for my mental and emotional well-being.

15. They Get Anxious Easily

Growing up in an environment where blame and criticism are constant companions can leave you on edge, anticipating the next crisis.

The anxiety that came with the scapegoat syndrome sometimes felt like an unwelcome companion, ready to pounce at any moment.

This can persist into adulthood, affecting how we approach future relationships and interactions and making it challenging to trust and find genuine connections.

When you recognize this sign, you can start working toward addressing and managing the anxiety that can be an enduring legacy of being a family scapegoat.

16. They Face Feelings of Despondency

Being the scapegoat in the family is like having a heavy cloud of hopelessness hanging over you, fueled by the constant blame and criticism you endure.

In my own journey, moments of despondency were all too familiar. But over time, I realized the importance of seeking support, whether from friends, mentors, or a mental health professional.

Understanding that despondency doesn’t define you but is a reaction to a challenging family role can be the first step in finding hope and healing.

17. They Struggle With Handling Stress

When you’re the family’s designated blame-taker, handling stress becomes an ongoing struggle.

The constant pressure of shouldering the family’s problems, coupled with the emotional strain, can make effective stress management seem like an uphill battle.

In my experience, this challenge with stress often felt like a never-ending ordeal, and at times, it even manifested as symptoms akin to post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is why it’s important to seek stress management techniques, therapy, and self-care.

Tip
Develop a daily stress-relief ritual, including positive affirmations, meditation, or journaling, to help you cope with the unique challenges of being the family’s scapegoat.

18. They Feel Out of Place

Scapegoating in families can make one feel out of place. It’s as if you are an outsider within your own family, always struggling to fit into a role that doesn’t truly belong to you.

I often found myself questioning where I fit in, and this sense of displacement was a constant undercurrent in my family dynamics.

But when I recognized its damaging impact on my well-being, I was finally able to take the next step and discover my true self while finding self-acceptance beyond the confines of my assigned role.

19. They Overthink and Struggle to Control Emotions

If you often overthink and find it hard to keep your emotions under control, you might relate to the experiences of family scapegoats.

The relentless scrutiny and blame create a constant inner turmoil, causing scapegoats to second-guess themselves and their reactions.

Personally, overthinking became my default mode growing up, a way to navigate the precarious dynamics of my family.

Controlling emotions felt like an endless battle, as I tried to maintain composure in the face of my mother’s never-ending criticism.

Tip
Practice mindfulness techniques to calm racing thoughts and regain emotional control.

20. They Feel Targeted by People Around Them

Scapegoats often perceive that people around them are intentionally singling them out for criticism or blame, contributing to a distorted view of their worth.

This feeling is all too familiar for me.

As the family scapegoat, I frequently felt like a magnet for judgment, whether it was from my mother’s unrealistic beauty standards or her harsh beliefs.

It was as if I was the bullseye for her critiques, leaving me with the burden of living up to her impossible expectations and constantly feeling targeted by those who echoed her sentiments.

21. They Battle With Deep-Seated Trauma

Scapegoating is a form of abuse, and those thrust into the role often battle with deep-seated trauma as a result.

In the family, it’s common for one member, often a parent, to displace their emotional struggles, insecurities, and need for control onto someone else, typically the scapegoat.

In my experience, I carried the emotional baggage of my mother’s narcissism and her belief in using people to maintain control.

This constant scapegoating subjected me to enduring trauma, and I grappled with the psychological scars left by this prolonged abuse.

22. They Show Twisted Thinking Patterns

Scapegoats often develop twisted thinking patterns due to their personal experiences within a dysfunctional family.

These patterns can include self-doubt, a skewed sense of self-worth, and difficulty in establishing healthy boundaries.

It is a coping mechanism to survive in an environment where reality is skewed by the needs of others.

These twisted thinking patterns can be a lingering challenge to overcome, but recognizing them is the first step toward reclaiming one’s mental clarity and self-esteem.

23. They Seek Righteousness Eagerly

This is often driven by a deep desire for fairness and justice. In fact, this trait was my lifeline.

Being the receiver of unjust blame and criticism fueled my eagerness to stand up for what’s right.

It pushed me to challenge the toxic dynamics within my family, seek self-empowerment, and advocate for fairness not only for myself but for others facing similar struggles.

The pursuit of righteousness became a guiding principle in my life, helping me reclaim my voice and break free from the suffocating role I’d been cast into.

24. They Have Major Trust Issues

This characteristic can manifest as a direct consequence of being blamed, criticized, and used as a scapegoat.

The emotional manipulation and mistreatment can damage your ability to trust easily.

As for me, it took time and healing to learn that not everyone in the world mirrored the dysfunctional dynamics of my family.

But it was a necessary step in rebuilding my life and forming healthier, more genuine connections with people who genuinely cared about my well-being.

25. They Endure Deep-Seated Guilt

The blame and criticism they’ve faced can lead scapegoats to believe that they are inherently at fault, no matter the situation.

In my own experience, this deep-seated guilt was a heavy burden that I carried for years.

I felt responsible for family problems and conflicts, even when they had nothing to do with me. This guilt became a persistent shadow, affecting my self-esteem and relationships.

Tip
Through therapy and self-compassion, challenge and reframe guilt-inducing thoughts to start your healing.

What Are the Major Causes of You Being a Family Scapegoat?

Becoming the family scapegoat is often a consequence of a tangled web of family dynamics. But what singled you out as the chosen one among all the family members?

Here are three major causes that can lead to someone being chosen as the scapegoat:

  • Non-conformity: Scapegoats don’t conform to the family’s expectations. In my case, I didn’t fit the mold of what my mother wanted me to be. So, my non-conformity made me an easy target for blame.
  • Independence and authenticity: Scapegoats display independence and authenticity, which can be perceived as a threat to a controlling family member. If you’re not afraid to be yourself, you’ll clash with the narcissist’s need for control.
  • Emotional strength and resilience: Scapegoats develop emotional strength and resilience as they endure the role. I learned to stand up to my mother’s criticisms and didn’t let them break me. But this inner strength made me a convenient target.

Becoming the family scapegoat usually results from a combination of these factors, and it’s a role that’s assigned, rather than chosen, as family dynamics play out.

3 Ways You Can Exit the Role of Family Scapegoat According to a Psychologist

Being the family scapegoat can be emotionally taxing and challenging, but it’s not a role you are destined to play for life.

Psychologists suggest several ways to exit this role and regain your self-esteem and emotional well-being.

1. Set Boundaries and Assert Yourself

Have open and honest conversations with family members about how you expect to be treated.

Respectfully assert yourself, making it known that you won’t tolerate being the target of blame or criticism.

When you communicate your needs, feelings, and expectations, you can help shift the family dynamic away from scapegoating.

2. Seek Support and Therapy if You Can’t Handle on Your Own

Therapy, particularly with a psychologist or counselor experienced in family dynamics, can be a transformative step.

Professional guidance can help you better understand the dynamics at play within your family and equip you with coping strategies.

It provides a safe space to explore your feelings, rebuild self-esteem, and develop the emotional tools to break free from the scapegoat role.

3. Build a Supportive Network Outside the Family

Connect with friends, mentors, or support groups who can offer understanding and encouragement.

Building these external relationships can help counterbalance the negative influence of dysfunctional family dynamics.

These relationships can provide emotional validation and reinforce your self-worth, helping you break free from the role of the family scapegoat.

Know the Truth About Yourself

Even if you have all the characteristics of family scapegoat, it is possible to shed this label and redefine your narrative.

You are not confined to the role you were assigned within your family’s dynamics. It may have shaped you, but it doesn’t have to define you.

By acknowledging and understanding these family scapegoat signs, you can take the first steps toward healing and rebuilding your sense of self.

It is a journey of self-discovery and self-empowerment, one that leads to a brighter, more authentic future where you can truly be yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of person becomes a scapegoat?

Scapegoats can be anyone within a dysfunctional family, often those who challenge or don’t conform to family norms.

How does it feel to be the family scapegoat?

Being the family scapegoat feels like constantly bearing blame, criticism, and unfair accusations.

What happens when the scapegoat grows up?

When the scapegoat grows up, they may carry emotional scars, struggle with self-esteem, and face challenges in relationships.

How to cope with a dysfunctional family when you are the scapegoat?

Coping with a dysfunctional family as the scapegoat involves setting boundaries, seeking support, and focusing on self-care.

Why do narcissists need a scapegoat?

Narcissists may need a scapegoat to deflect blame, maintain control, and project their flaws onto someone else.

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