Watch My Scapegoat/Scapegoating Video – When I was about 12 or 13, I went shopping with my mother, a friend of hers, and my younger brother. As we entered the store, my mother and her friend splintered off and went to do their shopping while my brother and I went in the other direction to look at toys and games.
At one point, I noticed my brother shoving a hand-held video game in his pocket. I asked what he was doing and he informed me that he was taking the game and had done similar things before. He said he never got caught. Well, as misguided as this was, he convinced me that it was safe. And I’m ashamed to admit that I took a couple of cassette tape singles and shoved them into my purse.
Before long, we noticed a man following us through the store. It creeped us out, but in our cluelessness, we didn’t connect the fact that we had just put merchandise out of sight with the intention to avoid paying for it. The guy wasn’t wearing a uniform, after all.
Eventually, we met up with my mother and her friend and went through the checkout lane. My brother and I looked at each other as we passed through, feeling a weird kind of vindication when the checkout lady didn’t seem to notice us.
As we walked out the doors of the store, we both felt kind of excited to think we’d gotten away with it. We were almost to the car when the man who had been following us through the store came up and grabbed us by the shoulders. My mother freaked out and rushed over to us and was horrified to find out that he was taking us in for stealing.
After several hours of hell and a signed promise to never return to this store, they released us to my mother and we rode home in silence. As we arrived home, my mother asked us for the story. Why had we done this?
I tried to explain that my brother had suggested it and I’m pretty sure he even agreed to the truth – but my mother couldn’t stand the idea that it could’ve been his idea.
He was the youngest one, and the golden child at that. I, the scapegoat, must have been the problem, she decided, and after a brief admonishment to never listen to me or my evil ideas again, she sent my brother to his room. I, on the other hand, was severely physically punished and emotionally battered to the point that still to this day, when I’m walking through a store, I feel the need to keep my hands visible at all times.
Today, we’re going to discuss scapegoating and exactly why and how it happens. Plus, what you can do if you’re the scapegoat to start the healing process. So, let’s get started.
What is a “scapegoat?”
Also known as the black sheep, the scapegoat is the person in the toxic family structure who always gets blamed for everything that goes wrong for everyone, a member of a family or group. The black sheep is usually considered the outcast, the “bad kid” or a straight-up disgrace to the family. A scapegoat may have the following traits:
Empathic, strong-willed, internalizing blame easily, emotionally reactive, highly sensitive, protective or overprotective of friends, strangers, etc. They’re often the caregiver of the family and they’re likely to question everything – including authority (which adds to their pain in the family) and of course they seem to be different or to stick out from the rest of the family in some way.
What is the toxic family structure?
Generally, the Toxic Family Structure includes the Narcissist (or the toxic person the family revolves around), Enabler (often the other parent who may willingly or unwillingly support the narcissist), Golden Child (the child who gets all the positive attention and who often lives with extreme pressure from both the parents who want them to succeed or be perfect as well as the siblings who feel jealous or slighted by this attention that is so opposite of the attention they get), Scapegoat (the problem child/the one everyone blames for everything) and Lost Child (the invisible one who doesn’t get in much trouble or who is largely ignored due to attention to the golden child and the direct abuse of the scapegoat). There are other possibilities of course – the peacemaker, the comedian, and so on. But this is the basic structure we’re going to work with for today.
What is scapegoating?
Scapegoating is when someone chooses a person or a group of people and casts blame on them for any and everything. Then, they treat that person or group unfairly or punish them unfairly for all of these perceived slights. This can be done by individual people or groups of people.
The term scapegoating is mentioned in the bible as well as in other ancient texts in which ancient tribal societies would choose an actual goat to represent the tribe’s collective sins. They’d sacrifice it in one way or another, and then the tribe’s collective sins would be forgiven and they’d essentially have a clean slate.
How does the dysfunctional family choose their scapegoat?
There are a couple of things to consider here. In some families, the role of scapegoat seems to sort of rotate between everyone who isn’t the narcissist or toxic, controlling person in the mix.
For example, I know of one toxic mother who has two sons. At any given moment, one of the sons is in her “good graces,” while the other is being scapegoated. The issue is that each son does time in both roles. The family jokes that “she can’t be friends with both of them at the same time,” but in reality, they’re minimizing her toxicity and the level of dysfunction in their midst.
Of course, both of these boys grew up to be men who had a ton of self-doubt and who each married controlling women who could potentially be labeled as narcissists.
But the “rotating scapegoat” role is far less damaging than the role of the permanent scapegoat, in which one single person is the ongoing target for the toxic person in the family. It is this person who is blamed for everything that goes wrong, and it is this person whose accomplishments are ignored and minimized. This person is never good enough (and KNOWS this based on how he or she is treated) and nothing they do is considered “real” or “enough.”
The Scapegoat Gets All the Blame
When the golden child does something wrong, the toxic parent finds a way to blame it on the scapegoat. Why do they do this? Well, on a subconscious level, the “broken” scapegoat allows the rest of the family to feel like they’re well-adjusted and emotionally balanced. The family can tell everyone about this scapegoat and how terrible they are, and people will feel sorry for them – and in some cases, even praise them for putting up with such a problem child.
The toxic parent can tell the world, and herself, how perfect she is in her parental role, and anything that makes her unhappy or makes her feel bad about herself can be blamed on the scapegoated child.
Of course, chances are that the toxic parent doesn’t recognize this consciously. She isn’t actively thinking that she’s trying to use the scapegoat in this way, most of the time – and yet, she still actively bullies and targets the scapegoated child over the course of years and even decades in many cases.
Sadly, this can often lead to the other siblings following suit and victimizing the scapegoated child well into adulthood and even after the toxic parent dies. It becomes their “truth” – and they often unintentionally see the scapegoat as the bad kid or the one who just refused to be happy.
This means that the toxic parent keeps her proverbial nose clean because anything that goes wrong or is perceived as a failure for her is blamed on the scapegoat.
How is the scapegoat affected psychologically?
It depends on a couple of factors. First, the other parent. If the “enabler” parent does not join in on the blame game and putting down of the scapegoat, they may end up actively supporting or even validating the scapegoat at times. Or, if the scapegoat receives external validation from a grandparent, teacher, or other trusted adult, they may manage to recognize what is happening eventually and work on healing.
In my case, a girl scout leader and a bunch of my teachers validated me and I was able to recognize eventually what was happening. In the long run, this made my healing easier. Of course, the other side of the coin is the child who believes everything the toxic people say about him or her and sort of takes it into themselves and almost becomes exactly what the toxic parent claimed they were.
This often means that they never take credit when they succeed or something good happens (they think – it must be a mistake/luck/a fluke!)
And then when something bad happens, they assume it’s because they’re bad/broken/not good enough – or that they caused it in some way.
I personally can also relate to this side of that coin because even though part of me thought it was wrong, the other part of me believed at least the part about not being good enough or capable of being a “real person.”
And in both cases, most people who are scapegoated as children become really good at building walls and keeping people at a distance. They may also develop what they call a “thick skin,” meaning that they don’t take things personally (or at least they don’t end up being rattled by rude comments or disrespectful treatment in the same way as a healthier person might be).
They almost always feel like they don’t belong or like they’re not an important part of the family – and this often follows them into adulthood. They might be focused on achieving big things in order to prove their critical, toxic parent wrong – or they may just totally give up and fall into the role she cast for them. Alternatively, they might set very low standards for themselves in order to reduce the pressure they felt growing up – they may struggle to set and accomplish goals at all. In all cases, there are serious emotional and psychological issues at play for a scapegoat.
Scapegoated? Here’s the Silver Lining.
There is one possible positive to all of this, and that is that the scapegoated one is the child who is the most likely one to recognize that there’s a problem in the family, and is also more likely to get help to overcome it and possibly to break the cycle of abuse in her his or her own family as an adult. In fact, of all of the roles in the toxic family, the scapegoat is most likely to have a chance to eventually develop and maintain healthier relationships overall.
So, that’s something, I guess. But when this healing isn’t realized early enough, it also opens the scapegoat up for toxic relationships with narcissists as they navigate adulthood, because they sort of just take what they can get, if that makes sense. We can talk more about that in a future video.
If you are a scapegoat or a former scapegoat, the first step to healing is to recognize the issue and to recognize that it wasn’t your fault- that you weren’t the total trainwreck your toxic parent claimed you were, and that you are worthy of love and respect just like everyone else. Once you get this logically, you’ll be able to separate the emotional and psychological garbage you’ve been fed and the facts so you can begin to heal.
Ultimately, I want you to know that you ARE good enough, that you ARE a real person, and that you DO deserve good things in life. Look at me. I mean it. Don’t forget.
The question of the day is did you grow up in a toxic family, and if so, what role did you play? Share your thoughts, your ideas, and your experiences in the comments section below this video, and let’s talk about it.
Online help is readily available for survivors of narcissistic abuse.Here are some options to begin healing from narcissistic abuse right away.
- Sign up for ourfree email newsletter service that includes a free guided recovery experience via your inbox.
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- Think you might haveC-PTSD but you’re not sure? Take our free C-PTSD Self-Assessment.
- Join one of our free online narcissistic abuse recovery support groups!
- Join one of our private small coaching groups!
- Get private, one-on-one narcissistic abuse recovery coaching or counseling.
- Get a therapist who will work with you online.Don’t forget your health care professional can also point you in the right direction to get help for PTSD. Check out ourguide to finding a therapist or psychologist who understands narcissism and narcissistic abuse.
Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy.She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.
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