Being the scapegoat of the family was a role I never asked for but one that seemed to fit me perfectly. At least, that’s what my narcissistic mom made me believe.
When you’re constantly the fall guy, the family’s blame magnet, it’s hard not to internalize the idea that something is wrong with you.
And no matter how much I tried to break free from that mold, it clung to me like a stubborn sticker.
It’s a burden I’ve carried for far too long, a weight that shaped me into the person I am today. And I’m done hiding and carrying the guilt of others.
Below, I’ll take you on a rollercoaster ride of my life as the family scapegoat. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find yourself in my stories and learn how to rise above it, too.
- Despite the challenges, being the scapegoat in your family can help you build resilience, empathy, and independence.
- It’s very important to choose who you surround yourself with, your environment will dictate your life’s trajectory.
- Don’t ever let the negative labels others have placed upon you define you. You are resilient and deserving of happiness.
Table of Contents
What Does It Mean To Be the Family Scapegoat?
To be the family scapegoat is to assume the role of the designated black sheep within the family unit. A scapegoat is a person chosen to bear the brunt of blame, criticism, and negativity within the family, often orchestrated by a narcissistic parent.
This individual becomes the emotional punching bag for all familial issues, shouldering the weight of the entire family’s problems.
Scapegoats are often unfairly targeted, consistently blamed for problems, not of their making, and ostracized or marginalized by family members.
It’s also common for them to experience their worth being undermined and their actions misinterpreted.
If you find yourself asking, ‘why am I always the scapegoat?‘, it’s important to understand that this role often involves being unfairly burdened with the family’s problems, serving as an emotional outlet for others’ frustrations.
Why Do Families Scapegoat?
Families may engage in the scapegoating dynamic as a coping mechanism within the dysfunctional family unit.
According to the scapegoat theory, which suggests that groups tend to single out and blame one person for their problems as a means to alleviate tension and avoid addressing deeper issues, can offer a profound insight into why some families persistently target one member to bear the brunt of their collective frustrations and failures.
The root cause often lies in issues such as parental narcissism, where a parent may struggle with acknowledging their own faults or taking responsibility for their actions.
To preserve a facade of perfection, they may, consciously or unconsciously, place blame for the family’s challenges and past mistakes onto someone else, the scapegoat.
Other family members may play a role in this toxic family dynamic, even if they are not directly responsible for initiating it.
Some may comply with the narcissist parent’s scapegoating behavior to avoid conflict or to maintain a sense of peace within the family.
Others may simply become bystanders, passively allowing the scapegoat to be blamed without intervening.
How Does a Family Pick Their Scapegoat?
While there’s no single factor that determines who becomes the scapegoat, certain traits and characteristics can make one more susceptible to taking on this role.
Being one myself, here are some common characteristics of family scapegoat that I think make a person more likely to be chosen:
- Sensitivity: Scapegoats are often more sensitive to the emotions and dynamics within the family. Their sensitivity can be misinterpreted as weakness or vulnerability, making them an easier target for scapegoating.
- Independence: Those who challenge family expectations may be perceived as a threat to the established order within the family. Their autonomy can be perceived as a defiance of the family’s norms, labeling them as the black sheep or the problem child.
- Empathy: Highly empathetic individuals may find themselves in the scapegoat role due to their ability to understand others’ perspectives. This empathy can be exploited, with the family projecting their shortcomings onto the empathetic individual.
- Non-conformity: Those who resist adhering to the family’s prescribed roles and expectations may become targets. Non-conformity challenges the family’s status quo, making the person an easy scapegoat.
- Assertiveness: Individuals who express their opinions or challenge dysfunctional patterns can be labeled as troublemakers. Their assertiveness threatens the narcissistic family’s desire to maintain control and can result in them being singled out.
These characteristics, when combined with a dysfunctional family environment, can make an individual more susceptible to becoming the scapegoat.
The Role of the Scapegoat in the Family
When you look up the definition of scapegoat, you’ll find that the term originates from the Old Testament.
In the story, a goat was symbolically burdened with the sins of the community and then released into the wilderness, taking those sins away.
But what is the meaning of scapegoat in family roles?
In the context of family, the scapegoat carries the burden of the family’s perceived shortcomings, often to maintain a facade of perfection.
This role often stands out as a stark contrast to the idealized golden child.
While the golden child basks in praise and admiration, the scapegoat shoulders the weight of blame, criticism, and rejection.
As a result, the scapegoat’s interactions with other family members are often marked by tension, conflict, and a sense of isolation.
They may feel misunderstood, unheard, and constantly criticized, leading to low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
Prevalent in narcissistic family systems, this dynamic can have profound and lasting effects on the individual’s self-esteem, emotional well-being, and interpersonal relationships.
What Is an Example of a Scapegoat Family Role?
If you’ve ever found yourself shouldering the blame for things you didn’t do, you might just be part of the not-so-exclusive club of being the narcissist family scapegoat.
As a scapegoat daughter of a narcissistic mother, I often found myself unfairly bearing the blame for family conflicts, a role that was both confusing and painful, yet illuminating in understanding the dynamics of scapegoating within a family.
The following signs may hit a little too close to home, but they’ll help you determine if you’re the scapegoat in your family:
You Always Shoulder the Blame for Family Issues
Among the most common examples of scapegoating in families is when one person gets blamed whenever something goes wrong.
This can be incredibly frustrating and unfair, especially when you know that you are not actually at fault.
My narcissistic mother always blamed me for her mistakes.
If she forgot to pick up my brother from school, she would blame me for not reminding her. If she got into an argument with my father, she would blame me for causing stress in the household.
It’s a familiar tale for scapegoats, but recognizing this pattern in your family’s dysfunction is the first step to shedding the burden and reclaiming your narrative.
Hurtful Criticisms Keep Coming Your Way
Growing up as a family scapegoat often means facing a relentless storm of verbal abuse. In my own experience with my mom’s narcissism, this dynamic was a constant companion.
A simple family dinner turns into a verbal battleground. And harmless remarks can quickly transform into targeted missiles of criticism, each one finding its mark on me.
From my appearance to my life choices, nothing was off-limits.
“You’ll never amount to anything,” she’d say, leaving scars that ran deeper than mere words.
The scapegoat may become an unwitting canvas for a parent’s insecurities, forced to endure a barrage of hurtful criticisms that linger long after the echoes fade.
You’re Always Shamed and Humiliated, Privately and in Front of Others
Another example of scapegoating is when you’re always subjected to a painful cycle of shame and humiliation, both behind closed doors and in front of others.
What the narcissist does is use shame and humiliation as a way to control you and to make you feel small and insignificant.
They may also use shame and humiliation to deflect attention from their own shortcomings or to make themselves feel superior.
This behavior can have a devastating impact on the victim’s self-esteem and can lead to anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
You Can’t Help but Feel Like an Outsider
Do you sometimes feel like you’re not part of the family? I remember growing up feeling like I was the odd one out.
Family gatherings were full of shared jokes I couldn’t relate to, and despite being physically present, I was emotionally on the outskirts.
The scapegoat family role made me an unintentional outsider, an invisible participant in the family narrative.
I was a constant observer, never fully immersed in the family’s dynamic and always feeling like I was there but not really there.
You Feel Excluded From Family Events and Activities
Are you always the last to know about family events and activities? As the scapegoat of the family myself, that was my reality.
In fact, there were many instances when I only caught wind of a family weekend getaway when the preparations were already in full swing.
This exclusion from shared moments wasn’t just about missed invitations. It was a tangible reminder that my place in the family narrative was often on the sidelines.
The Constant Criticisms Have Shattered Your Self-Esteem
Growing up with a narcissistic mom, the constant criticisms became the soundtrack of my life. It was a never-ending loop of negativity that chipped away at my self-esteem.
I remember as a child I would beat myself up over everything. It wasn’t because I was a perfectionist but because my mom’s words had taken a toll on me.
I internalized her negative messages, believing I was truly worthless and undeserving of love.
This childhood trauma may turn into self-doubt that can plague scapegoats for years, impacting their relationships and their overall well-being.
Ripple Effects of Scapegoating Abuse in The Family
The effects of family scapegoating don’t just play out at the family dinner table but echo through every part of life.
The scapegoat may exhibit a heightened sensitivity to criticism, difficulty asserting boundaries, and an inability to maintain healthy communication patterns.
These challenges can hinder their professional success, romantic relationships, and overall well-being.
Emotional Toll: The Silent Scream of the Scapegoat
When you’re constantly the target of criticism and negativity, it’s not just words. It’s like someone handing you a bag full of self-doubt, worthlessness, and feelings of inadequacy.
It’s this constant battle where low self-esteem becomes your sidekick, and you start questioning if there’s any worth or ability left in you.
The worst part? You start carrying around this heavy load of negativity, internalizing messages that aren’t even yours to bear.
Psychological Scars: The Invisible Burden
The psychological scars of family scapegoating abuse are often invisible to the naked eye, yet their impact is deeply felt.
The scapegoat may develop anxiety disorders, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the chronic stress and emotional trauma they endure.
It’s not just about feeling a bit down but a whole rollercoaster of emotions that can make daily life feel like a bit of a struggle.
Family scapegoating doesn’t just leave marks. It can become this invisible burden that really throws a wrench into the works.
Social Alienation: A Solitary Existence
Scapegoats may find it challenging to navigate the social landscape. Why?
Well, the fear of rejection becomes this unwelcome tag-along, and there’s this nagging belief that maybe you’re not quite lovable.
So, what happens? Social withdrawal becomes a go-to move, and trusting others feels like stepping on a tightrope without a safety net.
Family dynamics might have started it, but social alienation? It becomes a whole new chapter in the scapegoat’s story.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Scapegoating?
The long-term effects of scapegoating can be far-reaching, affecting the individual’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being.
The constant criticism and blame can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The scapegoat may also experience difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, and they may struggle with feelings of isolation and alienation.
In addition, the long-term effects of scapegoating can also manifest in physical health problems, such as headaches, stomachaches, and fatigue.
Understanding why family scapegoats become lifelong victims is important, as it sheds light on the persistent challenges they face, from damaged self-esteem to ongoing struggles in forming healthy relationships.
What Are the Benefits of Being the Family Scapegoat?
While being the family scapegoat is challenging, there can be unexpected silver linings and personal growth opportunities hidden within the experience.
Despite the hardships, some individuals find resilience and strength, using the role as a catalyst for personal development.
Below I’m breaking down the potential benefits of being the scapegoat in family dynamics based on my personal experience with my family:
- Resilience and adaptability: Scapegoats often develop resilience and adaptability, honing the ability to deal with challenging situations. This strength becomes a valuable asset in various aspects of life.
- Empathy and understanding: Having experienced isolation and criticism, scapegoats may develop heightened empathy. This deep understanding of pain and adversity allows them to connect with others on a deeper level.
- Independence and self-reliance: The constant need to stand apart within the family unit fosters independence and self-reliance. As such, scapegoats learn to trust their instincts and rely on their own capabilities.
- Strong decision-making skills: Scapegoats, accustomed to facing adversity, often develop strong decision-making skills. This ability to make informed choices becomes an asset in both personal and professional spheres.
- Unconventional thinking: The experience of being the black sheep encourages unconventional thinking. Scapegoats may embrace creativity and innovation, challenging established norms.
- Resistance to peer pressure: The experience of not conforming within the family unit can instill resistance to peer pressure. Scapegoats may be less susceptible to external influences, allowing them to stay true to their authentic selves.
How Being the Family Scapegoat Influenced My Personal Growth and Relationships?
Being the family scapegoat was like navigating through a storm that just wouldn’t let up.
My mom’s unrealistic expectations and constant criticism could’ve easily sunk me, but guess what? It didn’t. Instead, it sculpted me into this resilient, authentic individual.
I found my sanctuary outside the family circle, building a support network that celebrated my true self, a self I fought hard to uncover amidst all the chaos.
Journaling and meditating became my go-to tools for maintaining mental health and wellness. It was like my daily survival kit.
As I waded into adult relationships, those scars from the scapegoat role transformed into a source of empathy.
I started connecting with people on a deeper level, appreciating authenticity in myself and others.
If you come to think of it, it’s quite funny how the very things meant to break us can end up being the building blocks of our strength and meaningful connections.
This journey of personal transformation often reaches a pivotal moment when the scapegoat fights back, reclaiming their narrative and breaking free from the cycle of blame and criticism that once defined their role in the family.
What Happens to the Scapegoat in Adulthood?
What happens when the scapegoat enters adulthood depends on how they navigate their personal growth and healing journey. They may continue to struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, and difficulty forming healthy relationships, as well as experience recurrent conflicts with their family of origin.
In the journey of the scapegoat into adulthood, it’s essential to understand what happens when the scapegoat leaves the narcissistic family, a turning point that often marks the beginning of a profound personal transformation and the quest for healthier relationships and self-identity.
What I often noticed including in my own personal experience, an intriguing turn of events often unfolds when the scapegoat becomes successful, challenging the family’s preconceived notions and altering the dynamics that once defined their role within the family.
It’s also common for family relationships to remain strained. The scapegoat may even choose to distance themselves from the abuser or seek healthier connections outside the family unit.
Often, the journey of a family estrangement scapegoat in adulthood involves navigating complex emotions and relationships, as they may choose to distance themselves from the toxic family environment that labeled them as the scapegoat.
This is why it’s important for scapegoats to seek professional help to process their trauma, learn how to stop being the scapegoat in your family, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. With support and guidance, you can break free from the patterns of their past and create a more fulfilling future for yourselves.
Healing From the Trauma After Being the Scapegoat of the Family
While the scars run deep, healing is possible. Look at your healing as a journey, not a destination. Learning how to heal after being the scapegoat of the family is quintessential for you to move forward with confidence.
There will be ups and downs along the way, but with time, effort, and support, you can overcome the trauma and create a life filled with love, acceptance, and self-worth.
Here are some strategies and tips to take the next step toward healing from the aftermath of being the family scapegoat:
- Educate yourself: Learn about the effects of scapegoating and the dynamics of dysfunctional families. Understanding the root causes can empower you to navigate and heal from the trauma.
- Build a support system: Seek emotional support from friends, family, or a support group. Sharing experiences with those who understand can be a powerful aspect of the healing process.
- Seek professional help: Don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed therapist or mental health professional for specialized guidance. Professional support can provide tailored strategies for coping and healing from the trauma.
- Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with family members to protect your mental well-being. Learning to say no and prioritize your needs is a crucial step in reclaiming control over your life.
- Self-care practices: Prioritize self-care activities that promote mental and emotional well-being. Engage in activities that bring joy and relaxation so you can develop a positive mindset.
- Journaling and reflection: Use journaling as a tool for self-reflection and expression of emotions. Documenting your journey can serve as a tangible reminder of your progress.
- Mindfulness and meditation: Incorporate mindfulness and meditation practices into your routine. These techniques can help manage stress, and anxiety, and promote a sense of inner peace.
Everything Is Temporary as Long as You’re Willing to Fight for It
Being the scapegoat of the family, I know it’s easy to feel trapped in a cycle of pain and despair.
But you have to remind yourself that everything is temporary. You can move forward as long as you’re willing to fight for it.
Yes, the journey to healing is long and arduous, but it is a journey worth taking.
And with each step you take, you reclaim a piece of yourself and shape a brighter future that you deserve.
The pain may linger, but don’t let it define you. Instead, show them that your story is one of resilience, transformation, and unwavering self-belief.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of family are scapegoats?
Scapegoats often belong to dysfunctional families with toxic dynamics. These families often lack healthy communication patterns and struggle with unresolved conflicts.
How do you know you are the scapegoat of the family?
Signs of being the family scapegoat include constant criticism, being blamed for others’ mistakes, feeling excluded, internalizing negative messages, and struggling with self-esteem.
What causes someone to be a scapegoat?
Scapegoats are often chosen for arbitrary reasons, such as age, gender, appearance, or personality traits. Sometimes, they remind the abuser of someone they dislike, making them an easy target for projection.
Does a scapegoat ever recover?
Yes, scapegoats can recover. With time, effort, and support, they can overcome the trauma, break free from negative patterns, and build a fulfilling life.
How do you survive being the scapegoat of the family?
Surviving being the scapegoat of the family requires resilience, self-compassion, and a willingness to seek support. Focus on self-care, establish boundaries, challenge negative self-beliefs, and seek professional help when needed.