the winter blog

The Bad Guy: Family Scapegoating

A scapegoat remains effective as long as we believe in its guilt.

Rene Girard

We’ve all heard of scapegoating; a person or group gets blamed for problems or issues that they were never to blame for. The story comes from The Bible; a goat was burdened with the sins of the people and then released to the wilderness to carry the burden away.

In modern day times, you hear of many people or groups being scapegoated for the problems of the world. You may have even been a victim of scapegoating yourself. But what exactly is family scapegoating?

Family scapegoating is when, in a toxic or dysfunctional family, a child is blamed for all of the dysfunction in the entire family. Seems crazy, right? Who could possibly blame a little kid for something so big; what little kid could bear the weight of that on their shoulders.

Unfortunately, family scapegoat abuse is all too common for many children.

I’m going to be honest. Sometimes, when I’m writing a piece for the blog, I’m learning about the topic as I’m researching and writing. Occasionally, I find myself seething with rage. For example, C-PTSD was done to me. Someone decided they had the right to rewrite my entire story and that is exactly what they did.

This is one of those topics. I was the family scapegoat in my family. To some extent, I still am. When I began learning about what it is and how it often affects us in adulthood, I alternated between rage and wanting to weep for my former self.

In a lot of ways, I never stood a chance at a normal life. Mental illness was written in stone for me at an early age. The damage to my growing brain was slow, drawn out, and thorough. Damage that I’m still trying to heal at 39 years old.

I digress. Let’s talk about it.

Family Scapegoating

Not only are family scapegoats blamed and shamed for all of the problems within an already broken family unit, everything good about them is ignored. Their accomplishments and talents are not celebrated. Their inherent worth and goodness are completely ignored and they are made to feel unlovable.

shame, blame, bullying

Scapegoats are often subjected to bullying, insults, neglect, abuse, smear campaigns, and more. I remember listening to my abuser talk about me on the phone, always loud enough so that I could hear all of the derogatory things she would tell her friends. They often work hard to get anyone they can on their “side.”

Parents with mood disorders like Narcissistic Personality Disorder are more likely to scapegoat their children. By doing so, it allows them to pretend that the dysfunctional family is actually healthy and that the only “problem” is the child. No matter how hard they try to stay within the rules of the house, nothing will ever be good enough.

Family scapegoats often only hear criticisms and negativity about themselves, often not getting any type of love or affection from anyone in the family because they are all afraid of the repercussions of showing any amount of kindness to the scapegoat.

The Awful Effects

The effects of family scapegoat abuse can be devastating in adulthood. Most adults don’t even realize that they’ve been scapegoated, so are completely unaware of the damage it has done to their lives.

The pain is often minimized or invalidated completely. “But they’re your family. They love you.” It’s all so well meaning, but it just invalidates the entire experience.

Family scapegoat abuse survivors are often diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder. They are also very likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, OCD, or Agoraphobia. It can lead to BPD or an attachment disorder and often leads to codependency and addiction. Not to mention the presence of Complex PTSD.

To beat all, scapegoats are more likely to go on and be in abusive romantic relationships and even friendships. When you grow up with a skewed idea of that what love looks like, you don’t know any better. You migrate towards what is familiar. It’s okay if love hurts because love has always hurt. I’ve fallen into this trap more than once.

As adults, victims of family scapegoat abuse can see the affects in all areas of their lives; mental and emotional health, relationships, and work. It also seem to prohibit them from realizing even their most coveted and cherished dreams.

They can experience:

  • Self-doubt
  • Imposter Syndrome
  • Self-blame
  • People-pleasing – (fawning behaviors)
  • Avoiding conflict at any cost (fawning behaviors)
  • Struggling to create and experience a life’s mission, passion, and purpose

These issues can lead to:

  • Futility
  • Hopelessness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Despair
  • Sometimes even suicide
mind, mindset, conflict

As an adult survivor of family scapegoating, it’s hard to say what caused what for me. I’m basically five mental disorders disguised in a trench coat. But I can say, I experience or have experienced all of the things listed above.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome plague me. I’m constantly questioning my abilities and talents. I never feel quite good enough and I always wonder when you lot will discover that I’m a total fraud and my successes up to this point were pure luck.

The self-blame that I’ve carried for the majority of my life was a kicker. That said, after getting my diagnosis and learning about my brain, I no longer carry that blame with me. I have let it go. None of it was my fault. I didn’t ask for this; I did nothing to deserve it.

Fawning behaviors such as people-pleasing and avoiding and all all conflict are my go-to safety mechanisms. People hurt you less if you don’t stand up for yourself. This is something that I am still very much working on. Growing up, I was punished for standing up for myself. It was labeled “back talk” and was served as further proof that *I* was the problem.

The last one is the one that hurts the most, I think. I have struggled for my entire adult life in finding a passion and a purpose. I always felt like I was meant for more, but I had no idea what or even how. I’ve just always known that I wanted to leave a positive mark on this world. Until this last year, I wandered aimlessly through life, always holding myself back when opportunities presented themselves.

I’ve always had big dreams, but not the ability to follow through on them. I used to be an actress and I truly believed that I would be a movie star one day. I remember a random stranger walking up to me in the street one day and saying, “Big things are going to happen for you. I see your name in lights.” Truthfully, so did I.

However, with every stride that I made in the hard-to-break-into industry, I’d hold myself back that much more. I’d finally get headshots, but wouldn’t send them to agents. I finally got an agent, but then didn’t really go to any auditions. I’d work a student film and then I wouldn’t do anything for two years. It was all self-doubt.

Self-doubt and fear. See, my dreams have always been my “way out.” Out of what, I’m not sure. Out of pain. Out of a mundane job that I hate. Out of abusive situations. Whatever, my big dreams always kept me going, gave me hope that there was something better out there for me. They were a light in the darkness.

But I could never quite grasp them, no matter how I chased. Which only led to more self-hatred and self-doubt. This blog is the first thing in my life I have ever stuck with. Looks like I’m starting to heal.

In Conclusion

I don’t have a lot of advice about being a victim of scapegoat abuse. I’m really just learning about it myself; how it has affected me and in what ways was my life changed because of it.

bullying, child, finger

They still use me as the scapegoat. Not for anything present; for the transgressions of the past. They still talking about what a lying, lazy, hard-to-be-around child I was. To make sure we’re crystal clear here, I was 7 years old. They have photo evidence of the ways I didn’t measure up in the FAMILY PHOTO ALBUM. They make jokes about how I “liked” being in trouble.

But here’s what I want to say to my younger self and to you, if you were also the family scapegoat. It wasn’t your fault. You weren’t the bad guy. You were a baby. You deserved love and acceptance; nurturing and kindness. We deserved caretakers that saw the innate goodness in us, that acknowledged and encouraged our strengths, and who comforted and loved us.

I hope that we are all able to heal what someone else broke inside of us. I hope that we learn how to form healthy relationships with people who value every part of us. I hope that we are able to let go of the shame, doubt, and blame that we carry for ourselves.

I hope that we heal.

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Love and light. Keep fighting the good fight!

ADHD Beans

Still depressed, anxious, and traumatized. Still an ADHDer. Still kicking ass and taking names when it comes to busting stigma. Changing hearts and minds, one post at a time.

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve definitely heard of a scapegoat before, but never realized it can be done in families.
    Thank you for talking about such a realistic and unfortunate topic that goes on in many families.
    You’re very brave to open up and talk about it.

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