Discover the top 10 signs you might be a survivor of family scapegoating. Plus learn empowering steps to heal and reclaim your narrative.
Every family is a unique cocktail of personalities, but for some, it feels like they’ve been handed the drink with the extra shot of dysfunction. You know, the kind that makes your head spin and not in the fun way.
Some people, through the roll of the cosmic dice, get slapped with the label “family scapegoat.”
For those crowned the “official” family “misfit,” the crown weighs heavy. It affects how they see themselves, how they relate to others, and how they manage the world.
Coming up we will be explore some of the side affects of being the family’s scapegoat. Plus we’ll explore how to toss that title in the trash where it belongs.
Plus I founded the Manage and Avoid Drama Llamas Online Course – which is therapist recommended. In that course, I share a lot about how to deal with toxic people – and why some of us might accidentally be attracting them.
My goal? To help people move past old hurts (and traumas) – and step into happier futures.
With this in mind, I put together this guide about family scapegoats, to shed some light on the issue, and offer ways to find healing.
At its core, a family scapegoat is the designated carrier of blame in the family unit. They’re the go-to person to heap guilt, blame, or even shame upon, no matter the true origins of issues.
It’s almost as if they have an invisible target on their back.
On an interesting note – the notion of “scapegoating” has ancient origins in community rituals. During this time actual goats were symbolically burdened with the community’s sins – then driven away.
Unfortunately, in the the modern family the chosen “scapegoat” is a fellow family member – chosen to carry the family’s emotional burdens.
Basically, the “family scapegoat” is there to bear the weight of the family’s dysfunction. They are often seen as the main cause of familial disharmony, even when the roots of the issues are shared or stem from elsewhere.
Several factors can contribute to who becomes the family scapegoat.
If a family member differs significantly from the family’s norms, be it in beliefs, behaviors, or lifestyle choices, they might be singled out.
Scapegoating can be a diversionary tactic. By focusing on one member’s faults, other family members can divert attention away from their own shortcomings.
In some families, control dynamics play a crucial role. By having a scapegoat, certain family members may feel a false sense of control over family narratives and events.
Often, it’s a cycle. The scapegoated parent might unconsciously transfer the pattern, creating a scapegoat among their children.
Sometimes, the family member who shows vulnerability, sensitivity, or even high empathy can become an easy target for blame.
Envy and jealousy can be potent drivers for scapegoating. A family member might be scapegoated because of others’ jealousy towards their successes, attributes, or even the attention they receive. Instead of addressing these feelings, the family tries to diminish the person’s achievements.
When it comes to this issue, everyone, including the scapegoat, should cultivate a habit of introspection. At times, amidst the undue blame, there might be moments where criticism holds water. It’s crucial to sift through the noise and recognize where one might have genuinely erred.
When the family scapegoat dynamic emerges, there are often key players with distinct personalities driving this narrative.
These individuals believe in strict obedience and authority. They have a clear idea of how things “should be” and may scapegoat a family member who doesn’t fit into this ideal mold.
Highly self-centered, the narcissist requires constant attention and validation. If another family member threatens to outshine them or if they perceive any slight, they might target this individual, belittling their accomplishments and assigning blame.
This personality might not instigate the scapegoating, but they passively support it. They often side with the more dominant family member, reinforcing the scapegoat dynamic without necessarily leading the charge.
Fueled by envy or past grudges, these individuals never let go of past transgressions (real or imagined). They see the scapegoat as the embodiment of their resentments.
Similar to the narcissist but driven more by low self-esteem than ego, the insecure family member boosts their own sense of worth by demeaning the scapegoat. They constantly compare themselves to the scapegoat, using them as a yardstick for their own adequacy.
They thrive on family drama and might incite conflicts for their own amusement or advantage. They are adept at turning family members against one another and often enjoy the chaos they cause, with the scapegoat being their primary target.
Always feeling persecuted, they project their own sense of victimhood onto the scapegoat. By making someone else the “bad guy,” they reaffirm their own position as the perpetual victim.
It’s worth noting that these personality types might overlap – and there’s more to it than the above short list. But recognizing these patterns can be a step towards understanding the scapegoat dynamic and working towards healthier family relationships.
When you’re the black sheep, the wool over your eyes is darkened with biases.
Description: You’ve got that perpetual cloud of past mistakes following you around, no matter how many rainbows of achievements you produce. It’s as if your family has a selective memory that’s conveniently foggy during your victories.
Example: Think of Serena, a top Harvard graduate with several groundbreaking research papers. Yet, every family dinner, her mother reminds her of that one time she failed a high school math test. Always feeling like you can’t do anything right? Yep, classic scapegoat vibes.
Healing Step: Recognize your worth outside of your family’s opinions. Dr. Kristin Neff’s research on self-compassion suggests practicing self-kindness, especially when confronting personal failings. Celebrate your small wins and surround yourself with people who recognize your value.
Description: If saying “sorry” was an Olympic sport, you’d have more gold than Michael Phelps. And half the time, you’re apologizing for someone else’s spilled milk.
Research Insight: A study from the European Journal of Social Psychology found that excessive apologizers often have higher levels of anxiety and sensitivity to the expectations of others.
Healing Step: Catch yourself before the automatic “sorry” slips out. Reflect on whether an apology is genuinely needed and work on grounding exercises to manage anxiety.
Description: Think of yourself as a human Swiss Army knife, always trying to be the tool everyone else needs while neglecting your own needs.
Example: Jake, always volunteering, always helping, yet never for himself. This stems from a childhood of trying to earn his place in his family’s affections.
Healing Step: As Dr. Brene Brown suggests, understanding our boundaries can lead to more compassionate interactions. Remember, it’s okay to say no. Set boundaries and prioritize your needs.
Description: Your mental playlist includes hits like “It’s Probably My Fault” and “They Must Hate Me.” Time for some new tunes.
Research Insight: According to Cognitive Therapy and Research, individuals with a history of criticism (like scapegoats) are more prone to negative automatic thinking.
Healing Step: Challenge those negative beliefs using cognitive-behavioral techniques. For every negative thought, counteract it with a positive one.
Description: Confrontation for you is like garlic to a vampire. But instead of fearing sunlight, you’re dodging honest conversations.
Example: Emma, who would rather travel 100 miles than confront a neighbor about a parking spot. Why? Because confrontations in her family always led to blame.
Healing Step: Understand, as research in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows, that confrontations can be constructive. They can be healthy, lead to growth, and don’t always end in blame.
Description: You’re either running marathons to prove a point or not even lacing up because why bother? Middle ground? What’s that?
Research Insight: The Journal of Child and Family Studies found that scapegoated children often feel an intense pressure to prove their family wrong or internalize the negative feedback.
Healing Step: Aim for balance. Your worth isn’t determined by what you achieve (or don’t).
Description: Your trust meter is so broken, you don’t even trust the weather forecast, let alone people.
Example: Liam, who double-checks everything, even a friend’s casual comment on the weather, because the narratives in his family were so distorted.
Healing Step: Dr. John Gottman’s work on trust emphasizes rebuilding brick by brick. Start with small acts of trust and gradually work your way up.
Description: At family gatherings, you feel like you’ve crash-landed an alien convention. The only thing missing? A translator to decode the “love.”
Research Insight: A study from the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry found that individuals who felt excluded in family systems often felt like outsiders in broader social contexts.
Healing Step: Find your tribe. Create a ‘home’ with friends and loved ones who accept and cherish you.
Description: Should you? Shouldn’t you? Maybe? Decisions become marathons because you’ve been trained to second-guess your every move.
Example: Maria, who would second-guess even her choice of ice cream flavor, thanks to years of being undermined at home.
Healing Step: Journaling, as supported by studies in Behavioral Sciences, can offer clarity and validation. Write down facts, feelings, and truths to combat gaslighting.
Description: Showing feelings? Exposing weaknesses? Nah, you’d rather skinny dip in Antarctica.
Research Insight: Dr. Brene Brown’s work has shown that individuals who’ve been hurt for showing vulnerability often develop mechanisms to avoid it in the future.
Healing Step: Take baby steps in sharing. With the right people, vulnerability can be a strength, not a weakness.
Being the family scapegoat is like playing a game you can never win. But remember, understanding the dynamics of scapegoating isn’t a free pass. While many times the blame is undue, introspection is a must. Amid the swirling emotions and experiences, there might be moments where we need to take a step back, recognize our mistakes, and learn from them.
The cards you’re dealt might be challenging. But you have the power to shuffle them, deal a new hand, or even chuck the cards and play something else. Healing begins when you recognize the game, own your narrative, and strive for a balance of understanding and accountability.
I’m rooting for you to find peace, acceptance, and family members – blood-related or chosen – who recognize your worth and your growth.