The Family Scapegoat: When The Scapegoat Fights Back

Last Updated on July 22, 2021 by Alexander Burgemeester

In families with one or more narcissistic members, the dynamics are inherently dysfunctional. Children often grow up feeling confused, insecure, and afraid. They may not know who to trust, and they usually blame themselves for the problems occurring at home.

Many times, a narcissist will use scapegoats to project their anger. Family Scapegoats allow them to displace all the blame onto something else. Rather than own personal accountability over their actions, the narcissist can continue to live how they normally live without any real consequences. Let’s get into what you should know. 

What Are Family Scapegoat Children?

Family scapegoating refers to the group dynamic where everyone blames one person for the dysfunctional family. Instead of looking at all the potential factors in a particular situation, the family can quickly assume one person has caused the distress.

Sometimes, these family scapegoats are fixed and permanent. That means the scapegoat may remain in that role indefinitely. 

The parent may choose any child to fulfill this role, but common family scapegoats include:

  • Children with chronic sicknesses or handicaps
  • Children with emotional sensitivities. 
  • Children born as a result of an unplanned pregnancy.
  • Children who struggle in school or in sports.
  • Children who naturally rebel against the family’s structure.
  • Stepchildren, fostered children, or adopted children. 

Any of these traits can provide the narcissistic mother or father with leverage to scapegoat their child. The narcissist can point to their behavior and blame them for the family’s problems. 

Family scapegoating can start as early as infancy. For example, a Narcissistic parent may blame a newborn for keeping them up all night. Or, they may lament to a friend about how difficult the baby is. This pattern may continue for many, many years. 

Sometimes, scapegoated children start out as golden children. They may receive all the praise and affection- until they don’t. It may take just one event for the narcissistic father or mother to dethrone their golden child into a scapegoat. 

Some common offenders include:

  • The child suddenly starting to struggle in school.
  • The child dating someone that the parent doesn’t like.
  • The child getting into trouble with the law.
  • The child becoming “too successful” (which results in the narcissist’s jealousy).
  • The parent having another baby who becomes the golden child.

In some cases, the narcissist will rotate the scapegoated child based on their mood and daily events. This rotation often happens when there are multiple children living in the same home.

The rotation can make things especially confusing for children- they never know if it’s going to be a good day or a bad day. Additionally, they never know if what they get away with today could land them in serious trouble tomorrow.

The rotation can also cause massive rifts between siblings. They become highly competitive with one another to gain the narcissist’s approval. Rather than bond and connect, they aim to tear each other down. The prize- winning the narcissist’s attention- becomes their top prioritiy.

Family scapegoat child: The Narcissistic Family

What Happens to The Scapegoat Child?

During childhood and adolescence, many scapegoat children may struggle with the following issues:

  • Poor self-esteem.
  • Increased anxiety symptoms.
  • Depression.
  • Reckless behavior (substance use, self-harm, unprotected sex, shoplifting).
  • Poor academic performance.
  • Issues with other authoritative figures like teachers, neighbors, or the police.
  • Aggression and bullying other people.
  • Disordered eating.
  • Limited or no motivation in outside hobbies or interests.

With family scapegoating, the behavior often reinforces itself. For instance, a child may receive a poor grade in school. The narcissistic parent explodes and tells them how dumb they are. The child internalizes that they are dumb and that it’s not worth even trying. As a result, they continue to receive poor grades and “proving” the narcissist’s claim to be true. 

When they grow up, scapegoated children may experience the following:

Difficulty expressing their needs: From a young age, the scapegoat child learned to hold things inside. Anything they said could and would often be used against them.

As a result, many scapegoat children have difficulty expressing their needs and feelings with others. On one end of the extreme, they may come across as cold and insensitive. On the other end, they might be seen as overly dramatic or irrational.

Excess people-pleasing: Many scapegoats grow up assuming that love is conditional. Therefore, they spend a great deal of time trying to keep other people happy. They assume that if they keep the peace, they will be liked.

Difficulty forming secure relationships: Many scapegoats struggle with emotional and physical intimacy. They may find themselves attracted to other narcissists or abusers because it’s familiar to them. If they end up in a healthy relationship, they may unconsciously sabotoge the dynamics.

Substance use and other addictive behaviors: Scapegoats often try to escape their pain in various ways. They may turn to certain vices like drugs or alcohol in an effort to numb their feelings. Likewise, because they’ve often been told they’re “bad” or “useless,” they may assume they’re doomed to addictive behavior.

Problems with real-world launching: Scapegoats may struggle in many settings, including the workplace, school, and in social interactions. They might try to defy authority or argue when they disagree with something. Or, they may be so used to being perceived as a failure that they don’t even try to succeed. 

Impaired self-esteem: More than anything, almost all scapegoats struggle with a damaged sense of self. They may feel entirely worthless or burdensome to others. This low self-esteem can act as a launchpad for poor decision-making and impulsive behavior. 

Can a Scapegoat Become a Narcissist?

Family Scapegoats can certainly become narcissistic as they get older. Many family scapegoats experience immense rage due to their status in the family. They know their role is unfair, but they are powerless to this dynamic when they’re young.

That said, abuse is highly generational. Many parents who abuse their children were abused when they were young. Additionally, abused children are at a greater risk of inflicting harm on their children.

Although one would think someone would never want to repeat abuse, this pattern is far more insidious. Sometimes, the child often grows up idolizing the narcissistic parent (even if they can’t stand them), and they naturally start to orient their thinking in a way that matches theirs.

Family Scapegoats often desperately want a sense of power and control over their lives. After all, they have spent so much time being belittled. On a subconscious level, they understand that narcissists gain attention and validation. They may believe those narcissistic methods are the only effective ones. 

What Happens When The Scapegoat Leaves the Narcissistic Family?

What happens when the scapegoat fights back? Most of the time, tension increases after the family scapegoat leaves. With nobody to automatically blame, the narcissist scrambles to find an outlet.

Many times, narcissists quickly find something or someone else to blame. If there is a golden child, they may start there. Suddenly, the golden child may take over the scapegoat’s role.

But usually the narcissist continues to blame, complain, and insult the scapegoat. They often talk about the scapegoat incessantly, even if they have been out of the home for years. Any present issue can be traced back to the scapegoat. 

For example, if they lose their job, they may blame it on helping their family scapegoat child with their homework, which resulted in lost productivity. If they have marital problems, they’ll turn to the scapegoat for causing so much stress. Even getting a flat tire may trigger the narcissist to blame the scapegoat for not taking the car to the mechanic five years ago.

Keep in mind this blame isn’t rational. To an outsider, it often sounds erratic, and that’s because it can be. Narcissism isn’t based in logic. It’s based on the narcissist’s logic, which is skewed by their own worldviews and ego. Their narcissism allows them to justify and rationalize their decisions, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. 

What Happens When The Family Scapegoat Child Goes No Contact?

At first, the reaction may seem paradoxical. The child often feels like the parent wants nothing to do with them. But once they go no contact, the parent suddenly becomes extremely interested in their whereabouts. Many times, the parent begins hoovering excessively to gain entry back into their life. 

The hoovering often involves some form of gaslighting. The narcissist may deny ever harming their child. They might insist on how much they love and care about them. At times, they may even beg for forgiveness and make lofty promises to change. 

Scapegoats give the narcissist a sense of control and power. Since they can focus all their attention on their child’s problems, they never have to look inward. They never have to consider the part they play in the dysfunctional dynamic. For a true narcissist, this deflection is paramount. They can continue behaving in their usual ways. 

How Other Family Members React

Without the scapegoat, things may feel “too quiet.” At this point, the narcissist has usually smeared the scapegoat child mercilessly. They will take great lengths to spin the story in a way that makes them appear to be the victim.

Family members often understand that the narcissist is “off,” but they rarely want to confront the behavior directly. After all, they don’t want to step into the path of destruction. Most of the time, they would much rather keep their peace and stay quiet.

The golden child may start acting up once the scapegoat goes no-contact. They may feel resentful that their sibling  has “broken free” from the cycle of abuse. Golden children are under immense pressure to remain perfect- the scapegoat’s absence only reinforces this pressure.

Finally, it’s not uncommon for parents to split up and divorce once the scapegoat child leaves the house. Without the common chaos of “dealing with the scapegoat,” the narcissist’s partner may decide that enough is enough. 

In other words, a scapegoat going no-contact tends induce chaos. The family has become so used to pinpointing issues onto one person that they now feel completely off-guard. 

How Do You Survive Being The Scapegoat Child?

It may take you a long time to realize that you were scapegoated as a child. This is normal. Narcissists are experts in manipulating people to believe their truth.

Scapegoat sons and daughter of narcissistic mothers and fathers must learn how to reparent themselves. At first, this can sound like a tall order. It’s painful to realize that you didn’t receive the essential needs all children require for emotional support. 

Reparenting yourself means recognizing your worth and honoring it as best you can. You aren’t a bad person. Even if you’ve made poor decisions in the past, that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve love and forgiveness. It also doesn’t mean you can’t change.

Reading Suggestions:

Many scapegoats benefit reaching out for professional support. Therapy can help you understand your family dynamics and improve your confidence. It also offers you a safe place where you can explore your feelings without judgment or recourse. If you struggle with mental health issues or addiction, it’s important to gain the appropriate coping skills to manage these issues. 

In addition to therapy, it’s important to recognize your patterns of self-sabotoge. Do you still internalize the narcissist’s criticism towards you? Do you continue to live in a way that tries to defy and rebel against them?

Finally, boundaries are imperative. You deserve to respect your integrity.  If you continue to allow the narcissist to define your identity, you’ll continue to be scapegoated. At the same time, you’ll continue to feel resentful and frustrated. This is a miserable cycle, but you have the power to make the first change. 

Surviving Scapegoat Abuse and Moving Through Scapegoat Recovery

There’s no doubt that healing from narcissistic abuse can be heartbreaking and complicated. It’s challenging to truly recognize the perils of your childhood. It’s also challenging to decide how you want to proceed moving forward.

Regardless of your upbringing, things can get better. You can have ownership over what happens next. 

Remember that you are now an adult, and this is your life. You can choose which people you want to have around you. You can embrace boundaries and respect your personal autonomy. If you have a narcissistic parent, this freedom is invaluable.

 

Written by Alexander Burgemeester on

Alexander Burgemeester has a Master in Neuropsychology. He studied at the University of Amsterdam and has a bachelor's in Clinical Psychology. Want to know more? Read my author bio page.

20 thoughts on “The Family Scapegoat: When The Scapegoat Fights Back”

  1. Discovered I have been the Scapegoat in my family, my sister the golden child.
    In all of my 49 years, I never had a name or been able to explain the insanity of my childhood and family. I can never explain your family to people without them thinking you are crazy. So I don’t.

    Took care of my elderly father for over five years, since my sister had called APS on my step mother. This a day after I got out of the hospital from my fourth and final surgery in two years.

    Golden Child has stolen from elderly aunts and sold their belongings on ebay. Both aunts were sold out by my narcissistic parents who apparently served as accomplices to their siblings/ inlaws belongings being stolen by my sister. Even given access by my parents.

    She has never worked and at 52 is on her sixth or so “education” that my parents pay for (she leaves the student loans to my father to pay), paid for her dual citizenship (along with golden child sleeping with lawyers for assistance) and her jetsetting lifestyle because “she’s special and intelligent”. haha

    All the while, Im the asshole taking care of both parents cross country with an ostomy bag and fresh off a hysterectomy.

    And NOW after five years of putting up with the physical, mental and sheer gaslighting fuckery….
    golden child and narc father sicking a lawyer after me for a 14 year old car he KNOWS he signed over to me and KNEW my sister wanted.
    Now he’s claiming he can’t walk.
    Yet, when they barged in to recover his things, they only took paperwork. left his walker, shower seat and canes. Sounds legit. FACEPALM

    I had enough. My father’s 40 years of promising a home, money for savings (it took him 3 years to actually pay me for keeping me home and unemployed fully).

    When I was fully employed, it was ALWAYS something keeping me from going to work, coming home early, and NOT WORKING AT ALL.

    Every time I get sick, he would have to do something to get attention.

    He told my Aunt last summer that he was going to get revenge on my if. I got out of line. My aunt laughed at him and asked why would you do that to her? 

I KNOW I did the right thing by cutting ties with them,
    Their lawyer can go fuck himself, nice job calling the police, I told their lawyer lets go to court, ill defend myself with my family as witnesses,

    Let the world see my father, sister, mother for who they all are, let all the years of scapegoating, neglect and abandonment come out. 

    And let it be known for my troubles of being my fathers caregiver all these years, I get thrown out on the street during a pandemic.

    With the outlined help of a therapist, I have done my own self reflection, research and realized patterns over my entire life time.
    Especially the pattern of ruing my birthdays and special events (graduation/ wedding etc)

    Let them choke on whatever money they have, never needed them or their money. 

I consider myself an orphan. Raised myself despite my own family seeking to bring me down. 

Thank you for this article, it has helped me realize truly that it wasn’t me all along.

    I wish anyone who is going through this horrific dynamic,
    love, encouragement and strength.

    Reply
    • You were living the same life to the T. Everything you wrote was just like reading my life I can’t believe it. I find they are cruel , horrible, and their puke on the ground is in them. I wish I could all my life wave my hand with victims permission to heal victims of abuse physically and spiritually take away their pain. I can only use what God has given me. I do have the gift to feel people’s pain in their body ,were it is , and energy fields from from 4 cars behind me, so I pull over and they race past me. My experience with toxic people, has heightened my sense.And many other gifts.The problem with NARS they are dead inside and shallow. I work to stay in the moment in the the center of the Universe still ,listen, and watch. Thankyou be in love with love ????

      Reply
    • I have gone through the same way ,little different but same way. I don’t have to explain to what I have been through, you have All ready done that. The only way to describe the emotional pain. If anybody could plug into my brain like a computer and plug the connection into their brain; they would run down the street with their brain on fire.

      Reply
    • Much thanks love and support to fellow survivors/ thrivers♥️🙏🏼♥️

      You really do feel like you’re living in a shitty tv drama.

      My intuitive senses definitely heightened and will back up from people or go another way, because I can feel energy I know is not good.

      Finally, today they have no way to contact me. Which is liberating for me, not so much for them.

      ♥️⭐️♥️

      Reply
  2. I’ve been no contact for 3 years and want to encourage other scapegoats to make this decision. It’s not easy, it hurts a LOT, but the peace you will encounter on the other side is better than anything you can possibly imagine.

    Thanks for this article Alexander.

    Reply
  3. In my case it started very early on. At the age of six I well remember her yelling at me she wished I never was born and had the devil in my eyes. She just hated me I know now. Why?
    I think I know.
    I also remember when I was about 5 she used to call me if there were visistors. Then she would make a nice show about how ‘special’ I was and how much she ‘loved’ me.
    While I knew (by intuition at that age ofcourse) she never payed affectionate attention to me when no visitors were around. She always insisted in those occasions I’ll come to her and show me my affection to her. I just refused parcipitating in her fake-show. That’s what set her off to hate me. I shamed her superficial image she liked to show off. I rebelled her.

    The abuse afterwards never stopt. She just tried with all her might to destroy me in overt- but mostly covert ways.
    She set-up my brothers and sisters against me from the get-go. And they soon learned who was the scapegoat to deflect their wrongs and issues on. For mother would always support them.
    She used to put us all up in a line when one of us had misbehaved in a way (stolen some cookies i.e.) and would ask who did it. They all pointed at me while it wasn’t me.
    But I got punished ofcourse for she had enough ‘proof’.
    It was all a set-up ofcourse.

    This has continued eversince into adulthood.
    Whatever good you do as the scapegoated child for them it will never be a sign they might be wrong about you.
    They have been conditioned so long that you are no good and wicked and it’s so usefull to them to not look further into the dynamics that they rather dump you when you start to talk and asking questions.

    In fact, she failed to destroy me as did my family. I realised much later I did a hell of a job to get education in my early (and later) twenties against all odds and with no support at all from my mother or family, only put-downs.
    I persevered although it was very hard at times.
    I traveled the world. Bought my own appartment. Had financial security all the way on my own merits.
    Emotially I struggled an awfull lot with my family and others but always submerged at the end and kept my ground.

    Since 12 years they’ve just abonded me all together when I just stopped giving them any attention anymore after a wicked car-accident that crippeled me for 5 months.
    There was no support at all not even a well-wishing card.
    That got me thinking (and feeling what really was going on).

    I didn’t start arguing or complaining. Just stopping my regular attention. This was all what was needed to cut them off. My not contacting was making them very angry while I was so desperatly in need of contact and help at that time. I got the most vicious reactions from them when was I was down and out so bad. I had to leave them all behind.

    These are the consequenses of a designated scapegoat by a sociopathic/narcissistic parent very early on.
    In fact my brothers and sisters can’t help their atitude towards me. They also were conditioned to see me as the cause of all evil at a very early age.
    I could not do any good and when I did it was mistrusted.
    There’s no way to change their mindset I learned.
    The reality and shame that comes with it would be just too painfull to allow entering.
    It’s much easier to have a scapegoat to asign all your problems to and not look further. Especially not your mother.

    I’m free now since years. It’s sad now and then but at least I’m free of the turmoil, put-downs and accusations.
    I’ll never allow them in my live again and they know.

    Strange thing just before my mother died. She told me she looked the most like me as a person.
    This really startled me. All my live she had compared me to all people she dispised. I was just like him or her.
    Now suddenly at the end of her live I was just like her.. She even reached out to kiss me. I refused to kiss her back.
    May the bitch rot in hell forever.

    Reply
    • It sounds like she wanted to go to her grave in peace instead of taking the poison to her grave to end ,the hell. She wanted to still project her envy on you by blame shifting what she caused and never take responsibility for. At a very young age of 5 years old, l wanted to be the opposite of my father cause at a very young age I knew something was wrong with his personality. To do this I fought very hard using his persistence to survive. So you know ,I became the The Mountain Scapegoat. The emotional pain I went through because of his behavior, became understood when the puzzle came together with learning psychology. I had to learn to parent myself and get all his flying monkeys out of my life. And when he died physically all of his kind died with him;no contact because they were his creation. I surround myself with better people , never take their sh!t personally because all it is, is Their Puke Story. Part of my healing I say I am glad he is died everyday. Now his abuse can’t over step his boundaries anymore and turn people against me. I don’t say it as much as I uses to .Time And living a good life and knowledge and wisdom heals.

      Reply
  4. It took me decades to realize why my family was so fucked up. When I realized I had been the scapegoat, the youngest of 2 kids, and female, it tore me up inside. Not to the point of breaking down but it was a real head shaker. Talk about an aah ha moment! It all made sense then. I’ve been in an out of contact with my brother for years. Finally left him in the ditch but it’s only been a few months. I have no fear I’ll connect with him again. The thing that surprised me the most about these narcs is that until ‘you find out the truth’, you’ve never really understood that you were ALONE all the while. Now, alone and happy!!

    Reply
    • How do keep my anonymity in this group. My story of suffering and, then again, continuously attempting to find my balance in a truly warped family dynamic has shattered me at times and brought me to the point of suicide.

      My birth and my parents attempt to sell me at the docks in B. C. has haunted my every footsteps. Their pathological dislike for me turned all my siblings into sycophants to their cruelty and mockery at my every attempt at self realization throughout my life’s journey. Attitudes were set against my every success and achievement and terrible “inside” jokes made behind my back where gleefully shared after their demise. I eventually objected to my sisters’ joy at the disgraceful comments and actions of dismemberment of me in this family “unit?”. Of course this resulted in their all joining ranks and supporting each others’ views.

      I was the physically enfeebled child, always sick, underachieving student, nervous and full of self loathing. So anxious to be accepted that I performed any task requested to soften their views of me. IT DIDN’T achieve anything.

      GOD help us all in the disentanglement of of early judgements and the need to be accepted. Find the way clear to love yourself. Life is not easy.

      Reply
  5. I will never treat my children the way my parents (and all of my grandparents) treated me.
    I have three siblings, the youngest being the Golden Child who moved out and my mother took up nightly wine drinking to excess.
    I’ve been physically and verbally abused for about four decades, had police called on me when I didn’t come home by midnight (my siblings would stay overnight when they wanted or out until 2-3 AM), medicated, gaslighted, bullied into submission when a mandate went against my well-being, had my bedroom door removed dozens of times especially while sexually active, and more.
    I am making a declaration that it ends here with me, I will be the last generation after many, many generations of abuse.

    Reply
    • It’s a long, tough road to recovery from this kind of abuse and not easy to break the cycle – but it can be done. Cutting off contact for a couple of years helped me with my healing. I hope you find peace and break the cycle too. ❤️

      Reply
  6. I broke free almost 20 years ago. Now my golden child sibling gets to deal with my elderly mom and her manipulation. My sibling would love for me to step back in to “care” for mom, but now it is my siblings turn to be a failure. My mom asks about me and wants me to be her caretaker. Poor old woman doesn’t realize that I am not the same person that she abused so many years ago. If she wanted care, she should have cared for me. Now she is stuck with her useless golden child who is not able to give her the ego supply she craves. Sibling is unhappy, mom is unhappy. I am happy in the life I built. How times have changed.

    Reply

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