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Family Scapegoat – How to Stop Being One?

Family Scapegoat – How to Stop Being One?Updated on September 13, 2020 | Published on December 18, 2019

Who Is a Family Scapegoat? How to Stop Being One?

Everyone has their individual roles to play in a family. They grow up, receive an education, get good jobs, and share a good relationship with each other. However, this is not the case in a few families. In most dysfunctional families, there can be one or more people suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder. This means that one reason or another, the narcissist singles out one person and blame him or her for everything that goes wrong in the family. This person is known as the family scapegoat.

Narcissists manipulate people who are sensitive and open-minded. The reason behind it is that open-minded people aren’t afraid to fight for justice. These people are a threat to a narcissist personality type. Thus, he or she would do anything to manipulate this person, mentally and psychologically.

If this behavior starts during childhood and continues until adolescence, the behavior reaches a point where every member of the family starts criticizing this person.  These people are the black sheep of the family. It is obvious that years of this painful pattern affects the mental health of this person.

This person is usually different from other family members, in terms of thoughts, habits, and actions. In strict psychological terms, he or she is called a family scapegoat.

If you are able to relate with the term ‘black sheep,’ and the above description, you may be the scapegoat of your family. Read on to learn more about it.

Characteristics of Family Scapegoat

A family scapegoat is a person who is blamed for everything wrong that happens in the family. Their family members disrespect, hurt, and humiliate them.

A family scapegoat is a person who is shamed, blamed, and criticized for everything that goes wrong in a family.  It usually starts with one or both parents, who tell the child that he or she can do nothing right in the world. With time, other family members join the pattern, which contributes to developing certain psychological and mental problems in the child.

These individuals face recurring disrespect from their families and friends. They grow into an adult child, with low self-esteem, trust issues, and unusual fear. They are usually drawn to people who hurt them over and over. If your answer is yes to all or some of these, then you might be a scapegoat.

The families of scapegoats belittle, humiliate, betray and hurt them blatantly. It is a clear case of bullying. If your family of origin is constantly shaming you or making you feel bad about yourself, it is natural to question your self-worth. It is completely unfair to the person who deals with such a situation over and over again.

The term ‘scapegoat’ derived from the Bible, where a scapegoat is an animal who is religiously and spiritually known to wash off the sins of others. This concept was first noticed in the book of Leviticus, in which a goat was left into a desert to carry the sins of the members of the community. Similar ideas were also discussed in ancient Greece and the Ebla kingdom of Syria.

Family Scapegoat Syndrome

Scapegoating can result in a lack of self-esteem if it is inflicted at a young age. Scapegoats are generally the smartest and kindest people in the family, and a dysfunctional family dynamic is what results in their lack of self-love.

According to Sarah Swenson, the expert on the topic explains the relationship between a family scapegoat and a dysfunctional family. As mentioned before, the term comes from a biblical tale, where a goat carries the sins of all the community members into the wilderness and isolated from its kind. During its time in the wilderness, it learns to fend for itself, fight for its survival even though it lived in a state of constant fear.

In the same way, all other members of a negative familial feel better (or free from their sins) after dumping their issues on one family member—the scapegoat. Usually, the blacks sheep or family scapegoat is the smartest, kindest, healthiest, strongest, and wisest person of the family. This also means that other family members subconsciously are afraid of this person’s potential and power.

The family psychology behind scapegoating

The family members of such a person want to suppress the scapegoat. This can be done in a myriad of ways. It is usually achieved by making him or her believe that he or she isn’t good enough or lacks goodness. When this is done to a person at a young age, it leaves an impression on their minds. This can lead them to believe that they deserve nothing, which results in low self-esteem and a lack of self-love. This turns them into an adult child, without any fault of their own.

The human scapegoat is innocent and blameless in every sense of the word. It’s the family members who due to their own inability to examine themselves or look into their conscience make the strongest member of the family system feel bad about themselves.

Effects of being the Family Scapegoat

The scapegoat can be recognized if they have the following mental attitudes and feelings:

  • They feel like they are the family outcast.
  • Their achievements are constantly belittled, shamed, looked down upon, or made fun of by their family members.
  • This person is self-critical and feels uncomfortable when someone compliments them.
  • This person suffers from low self-esteem and self-love.
  • He or she lives in fear, guilt and does not know how to process his/her emotions well.
  • They cannot and will not tolerate unfairness and injustice in personal and professional life.

The family scapegoat isn’t someone who gets picked randomly. He or she has certain traits that make them the top pick for blaming and criticizing. Most family scapegoats are sensitive, gifted, massively talented, vulnerable, unhappy (mostly because of all the blaming), outspoken, thinkers, whistleblowers, observant, strong-willed, empathizing, and rebellious. Most of them cannot tolerate injustice and speak up when things around them get uncomfortable.

Family Scapegoat Signs

A family scapegoat is constantly criticized. He is accused of being a trouble-maker. His family members are abusive. Also, they are belittled and humiliated regularly.

Who Is a Family Scapegoat? How to Stop Being One?
Who Is a Family Scapegoat? How to Stop Being One?

Until then, they blame themselves for everything wrong that happens around them. Most scapegoats exhibit certain universal signs that prove that they are in fact the scapegoat of the family.

  • You are accused of being a trouble-maker, even if you haven’t done anything close to it. They attack you or do not believe you for anything that you do or say. They just don’t believe in you. 
  • One or more family members are quite abusive towards you for reasons you don’t understand. When they bully you, other family members enjoy it or worse, become a part of the process. 
  • Even though you are the healthiest member of the family, you are accused of being not good enough. People make you believe that you are mentally sick or that you have certain emotional problems.
  • Even if a problem has nothing to do with you, you are somehow blamed and criticized by one or many family members for it. There is just no reason for the same. It’s just a pattern. It’s how things have always been in your family system.

If you know someone who is a scapegoat or shows symptoms of the same, then, it is advisable to be really kind towards them. You will have to help them meet themselves for who they truly are. No matter how much they try to run into their safe place, you should help them realize their own talents and gifts. Once they see themselves for who they are and they somehow do in their 20s, mostly, they become unstoppable.

Healing the Family Scapegoat

The family scapegoat has to look back on their past to break free from the trauma. They have to learn to recognize their feelings and find their source. They should not expect their family to apologize to them.

These patterns are a part of the subconscious of the person. Thus, it is important to take easy steps to uproot the pattern. The first step towards breaking free is putting a finger on the problem.

Most people spend their lives blaming themselves for things they didn’t do and don’t even know the reasons behind their behavior. Thus, here are a few steps that you must take towards breaking free from the scapegoat problem.

Go back to your past

Realize that the troubling voice in your head, the one that tells you that you aren’t good enough isn’t yours, to begin with. It was put inside your head by other people—ones, who should have cared about you but sadly, did the opposite.

Recognize your feelings

These include shame, guilt, unhappiness, sadness and understand from where they came from originally. Understand that you had become a dumping ground for the emotional energy of other people. Understand this and start looking at yourself from a place of love. 

Recognize the good in you

Once you recognize your feelings and source of them, you will get the clarity in your brain about who you are. Once you get that, you will slowly start pointing the good things about yourself. When you start focusing on the good things about you, you will start having positive thoughts about yourself.

Move on

Do not expect any of your family members to apologize to you for their past behavior. Some of them are not even aware of the fact that they did some irreversible damage to you. Understand that they don’t have to apologize to you for you to forgive them. Just forgive them and move on with your life.

Focus on becoming your greatest version

This is the best way to get over every pain, hurt, disappointment, and related emotions. Leave the victim mentality and start looking at you like a superhero, which you really are.

Since people have dumped their emotions since your childhood, it is advisable to get some professional help, even if it doesn’t deem necessary to you. Understand that you deserve the best life and do not be afraid to give yourself all the help and guidance that you need to heal you. You deserve healing.

Final thoughts

Family scapegoats have trouble dealing with their emotions. These poor souls feel unsafe in relationships and are afraid of everyone. Such people are usually mentally and emotionally abused for a long time by people who should actually love them and be there for them all the time. They also suffer from mental problems, such as anxiety and depression due to their overwhelming insecurities imbued by certain family members.

The best way to get through these problems is to love yourself and accept yourself unconditionally. It is a challenge but once you know what you deserve in life, it comes easy.