What Does It Mean to Be the Family Scapegoat?

12 Steps For Family Scapegoat Healing

What Does It Mean to Be the Family Scapegoat?
Family scapegoaters are insecure people driven to try and raise their own status by
attempting to lower the status of their target, who then becomes the family scapegoat.

Did you grow up having doubts about your self esteem or personal worth?  When things went wrong in your family, did you tend to be the fall guy?  Did one or more members of your family, especially a parent, routinely criticize, blame or shame you, you could do nothing right?  Did other family members go along with this treatment or join the blame game?  Do you find yourself encountering recurring disrespect from friends or colleagues?  Do you feel unsure of yourself and/or have difficulty experiencing trust in relationships?  Are you drawn to people who repeatedly hurt you, act irresponsibly or let you down?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these statements, then you may be the family scapegoat.  The term ‘scapegoat’ refers to a family member who takes the blame for difficulties in the family. Scapegoating is a form of bullying.  Scapegoats are repeatedly subjected to belittling, humiliation, abandonment, betrayal and outright hatred by family members, who make them the ‘bad guy’.

  Family relationships profoundly impact our identity and how we view ourselves.  People who have been subjected to scapegoat syndrome since childhood may absorb and believe these disparaging messages from family, causing them to question their worth and loveability.

  Scapegoats tend to feel a lot of anger, either towards themselves and/or the people who have abused them, causing chronic emotional distress

Read on to discover how to break free from family bullying,  stand up to the inner critic – aka the Troll, recover your true identity and heal from family scapegoating.

What Are The Signs You Are The Family Scapegoat?

  1. You are held responsible for family problems, conflicts or challenges, even if they have nothing to do with you. Other people blame you for their actions.  You may end up feeling a lot of shame for being ‘the bad guy’, and/or anger for being blamed for negative family dynamics.
  2. You are attacked and disbelieved if you tell the truth and ‘blow the whistle’ on negative and/or inappropriate family dynamics.  You are accused of being a trouble maker by pointing out reality.
  3. There has been a history of one or more family members being verbally, emotionally or physically abusive towards you.

      Other family members seem to accept this, look the other way or join in when you are bullied or aggressed against this.  You may feel the ‘black sheep’ of the family.

  4. You find yourself repeatedly being accused of behavior the scapegoater is engaged in.  For example, a family member repeatedly yells at you, and then accuses you of being abusive.

     Or you behave thoughtfully and are then told “all you care about is yourself”.

  5. You act out the negative ‘expectations’ of scapegoating such as not living up to your potential, or getting into relationships with abusive people because it ‘feels’ familiar and your self esteem is has been damaged.

  6. You are the mentally healthiest family member, but are repeatedly accused of being sick, bad, difficult, etc.
  7. You have been slotted into the role of family outcast, and are treated with disdain or disgust by family or yourself.

  8. You may be successful and accomplished career-wise and/or academically, especially in comparison to the rest of your family.  However, your achievements are dismissed, belittled, minimized, criticized and rejected by family members.

What Are Some Common Family Scapegoating Patterns?

Families that are shame or fear based are not healthy.  Often in these families, you will find evidence of abuse, neglect, addiction, betrayal, mental illness – specifically Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and insecurity.

  Dysfunctional families either lack insight or find it threatening, and actively repress it through scapegoating those who wish to understand and change negative dynamics.  Scapegoating is a “projection defense” that allows scapegoaters to keep up appearances.

In other words, making the scapegoat look bad takes attention off the real problems and accountability in the family.

Many families who resort to scapegoating are headed by narcissistic parents who lack personal awareness, and empathy for their target, as in their eyes, the target is there to serve their false image and make them look good.

  So the purpose of scapegoating syndrome is to allow families to carry on unhealthy behavior patterns, and maintain the myth of normalcy, without having to look inward or take responsibility for a toxic environment.  To the outside observer – and possibly the Scapegoat – these families seem crazy making and delusional.

  Or they may put on a good front, hiding the dysfunction, and rendering the target even more alone and isolated when no one  else can see the problem.

Who Gets Picked to Be the Family Scapegoat?

The Scapegoat doesn’t get picked randomly or by accident.  Usually they are either sensitive, unhappy, gifted, vulnerable, ill and/or the outspoken child or whistle blower.  Whatever the circumstances, the scapegoat is almost always the child who refuses to look content or stay silent in the unbearable atmosphere created in the family home.

How Scapegoating Impacts the Target

Scapegoats almost universally experience low self esteem or lack of self worth.  The major problem is that they suffer from an Identity Disturbance, as the target confuses the myth that they are bad, with the truth.

  This is usually a lie, with the more insidious truth being that Scapegoats are being abused and brain washed through a repetitive process of being taught they are ‘bad’.  Scapegoats tend to struggle with chronic insecurity, as they never feel safe or believe they are good enough or loved.

  They can also fall into a ‘Victim’ role, and unconsciously repeat their scapegoating by gravitating towards unhealthy behavior or relationships at work, school and their private life.

Scapegoats often have trouble feeling safe in relationships – especially intimate relationships – due to the massive betrayal of trust in their family.  They can also have challenges managing emotions, and find they either feel overwhelmed and anxious, or shut down and not know how they are feeling.

How To Break Free, Heal and Recover From Scapegoating

  1. Understand that what you have come to believe about yourself as family Scapegoat – i.e. that you are bad, weird, inadequate or defective – is not the truth.  In fact it’s ly a lie that was created to prevent family members from acknowledging their own troubles, thereby avoiding taking responsibility for both their behavior and the need to change.

  2. Locate and trust your ‘Inner Owl’ – that wise part of you that knows you have been mistreated and will no longer willingly allow this abuse from others or yourself.
  3. Recognize that feelings of shame, guilt and self blame belong to the perpetrators, not you as target.  You are simply a dumping ground for their bad feelings.

      To change this, you need to start standing up to the notion that you are at fault.  You will ly have to begin with yourself, learning to question and reject seeing yourself as ‘bad’.

  4. Get to know your true self.  Identify exceptions to the negative stereotype you have been saddled with.

      In other words, pinpoint what is good, able or at least adequate about you – your character, values, actions, etc.  Write down your good traits – you will need to be reminded of this alternate universe, which is the truth about you, especially if you start to fall back into the habit of feeling bad about yourself again.

    Understand that getting better – and feeling better – is a learning curve, and you may slip a few times before you gain solid footing

  5. Figure out what you might be doing – consciously or unconsciously – that gives scapegoaters the idea that it’s OK to abuse you.  Determine how to change any behavior that draws you into the Victim role.

  6. Stop trying to win the favor of abusive and uncaring family members, co-workers or ‘friends’.  Anyone who engages in this type of inappropriate behavior has personality problems, especially a parent who did not love their child.
  7. Don’t expect abusive family members to apologize or make amends.

      They will ly blame you more if you attempt to hold them accountable.

  8. Start asserting your right to be treated respectfully with family and other people who try and abuse you.  E.G.

    , “The way you just spoke to me now is not acceptable, and I never want to be talked to that again”, or “If you want to have a relationship with me, you will stop the angry outbursts, name calling, accusations, etc.”  Know that you may not be heard or respected by aggressive or disturbed people.

      The point is that you hear and respect yourself!  Don’t do this until you are ready to follow through with your commitment to yourself.

  9. Accept that you may never have a healthy relationship with your scapegoater(s).  This may involve limited or no contact with those who are determined to continue to abuse you.  You may experience feelings of grief.

      Work through the painful feelings, and get support if needed.  This pain is much less harmful than continuing to allow yourself to be abused by anyone.

  10. Get in the habit of treating yourself with kindness, caring, compassion, appreciation and acceptance.  Practice viewing yourself as a person of worth and loveability.

      This will ly feel weird at first as it is unfamiliar.  But even though it is unfamiliar, treating yourself in a loving manner is never wrong.

  11. Understand that it will take time to learn how to love and appreciate yourself.  You have been trained to be overly self critical and may believe you are defective.  Be patient as this false image gradually crumbles.  Get counseling to help you overcome this painful legacy, and find your true self – the strong, valuable person you are meant to be.
  12. Practice what you preach with others… Break the cycle


Scapegoating in Families: Intergenerational patterns of physical and emotional abuse, Dr Vimala Pillari, Philadelphia, PA, US: Brunner/Mazel, 1991

Child Abuse: Pathological Syndrome of Family Interaction, Arthur Green, Richard Gaines and Alice Sandgrund, The American Journal of Psychiatry, 2015

this Article?  Read more articles on Family Scapegoating here

Need help overcoming scapegoating?   Check out my Family Scapegoat Counseling page

Counseling is available online by Video around the world.

Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counselor, Registered Clinical Counselor, specializes in recovery from Family Scapegoating, Narcissistic Abuse, Low Self Esteem, Anxiety, Depression, Grief and Addictive Behaviors. 

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Источник: https://glynissherwood.com/12-steps-for-family-scapegoat-healing/

Black Sheep and Scapegoats In Dysfunctional Families

What Does It Mean to Be the Family Scapegoat?

Estate litigation is rife with black sheep and scapegoats.

The purpose of this article is to examine that phenomena. It crosses virtually all aspects, boundaries, and strata of society. More ly than not, when each family sits down for a traditional celebration, at least one person is conspicuous by his or her absence—or presence.

Webster’s dictionary defines a black sheep as “a person who causes shame or embarrassment because of a deviation from the accepted standards of his or her group.”

The same dictionary defines a scapegoat as “a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place.”

Neither black sheep nor scapegoat is defined in legal dictionaries. Although there are several references to those types of individuals throughout case law, most do not try to define the concept.

A psychologist might define a black sheep as a member of a rigidly triangulated family who holds the rest of the family tightly together by being identified and assigned the role as the bad/problematic/deviant one who causes all the family’s problems.

The ruler of the family typically initiates the charges and thereafter assigns both label and blame. Siblings often simply buy in, initially as a route of least resistance, and perhaps self-defence so as not to become the target, and then ultimately as believers of the alleged faults.

Psychologists report that many black sheep/scapegoats will attest to the fact that they were singled out for blame or humiliation at an early age, with no explanation or reasoning for the decision offered to them.

Black Sheep v. Scapegoats: What’s the Difference?

Although there are different origins for the strict meanings of black sheep and scapegoats, for the purposes of this article, within the context of dysfunctional families, I shall use them almost interchangeably.

For the sheep, the term originated from the fact that the occasional black sheep would be born into a herd of predominantly white sheep; the black sheep were far less marketable. At times they were even considered religiously sinister.

A black sheep with its recessive gene literally and figuratively stands out in the white flock.

In dysfunctional families, black sheep are often viewed and treated as scapegoats within the family. Scapegoating involves the practice of singling out a party for unmerited negative treatment or blame; it can be ned to bullying.

In the context of dysfunctional families, the similarities between black sheep and scapegoats include the projection of feelings of blame, aggression, hostility, frustration, hurt, and so on upon one person.

That negative behaviour is dramatically proportion to what might conceivably be warranted.

The process of scapegoating provides a psychological boost to the perpetrator who uses that method to channel his or her own anger and frustration through the victim.

Dysfunctional families typically allow the scapegoat to remain in the family until he or she dares to speak up or complain, then the person is ostracized. Wild distortions of the truth are always prevalent.

The Inherent Problem of Dysfunctional Families

Dysfunctional families are almost the norm these days. By definition they have poor insight into their own behaviours and problems and will do almost anything to project “normal.” In reality, such families are frequently crippled by their poorly contained fears, addictions, mental disorders, and insecurities.

In this “Alice in Wonderland” topsy-turvy distorted version of family life, dysfunctional parents often avoid the obvious and very real problems within their families and instead choose a scapegoat child upon which all faults, problems, and family dysfunction are heaped.

This whipping boy (or girl) can seemingly never escape the assigned role, often delegated early in life and enforced by family pressure placed upon the other siblings to go along.

Another troubling aspect of the black sheep/scapegoat syndrome is that scapegoats who remain in this role usually find themselves perpetuating the syndrome in their own families because it is a learned behaviour.

Should the Black Sheep/Scapegoat Leave the Home?

The destiny of the black sheep/scapegoat is invariably to leave the family home, often on the advice of a counsellor or doctor. Counsellors profess that distance is by far a healthier option for those individuals in terms of recovering from the humiliation, shame, and self-loathing that has been their experience within the family.

It is interesting that the black sheep/scapegoat syndrome does not diminish over time; the individual(s) continue in the role as the root of all the family’s difficulties, even in absentia.

The family is compelled to continue to assign blame and project shame onto the person(s) on whom the dysfunctional name tag is hung.

Take for example the black sheep child who returned after a 25-year absence to reunite with her father before he died of lung cancer, only to be told by him to get the room because she had caused his lung cancer. The man had smoked for 50 years.

Estrangement and the Wills Variation Act

As previously stated, one of the overwhelming commonalities between a black sheep and the scapegoat is that they are often advised by medical practitioners or counsellors to learn to distance themselves from their family, for their own mental well-being.

That is the probable reality that the family’s behaviour as a group will never change. The ostracized child will continue to be abused psychologically and be unable to escape or change the role he or she has been assigned.

When testators disinherit a child on the basis of non-contact for many years, alleging estrangement, it may well be that a valid Wills Variation claim should or will override the defence of estrangement if the long-term minimal or total absence of contact was the advice of a medical doctor or a qualified counsellor.

It would particularly assist the disinherited victim if such medical/counselling advice were passed onto the family members who were causing the continuing abuse, on or after family counselling has failed. At least records would be available to show attempts were made at reconciliation.

The common consensus of the general public, and even some judges, is the view that the black sheep or scapegoat should simply never give up at attempting to reconcile with the family, and that the fault must be with the ostracized one, not the family. Thus the scapegoat is victimized not once, but twice.

It is inconceivable for anyone raised in a “normal” environment to comprehend that an estrangement could occur for anything but valid and rational reasons. In my practice, the majority of estrangements are almost always the result of petty issues and irrational reactions to them.

Court Awards for “Scapegoat Abuse”

A.D.Y. vs. M.Y.Y. and D.E.Y. (1994) 5 WWR 623 involves a case of egregious physical and mental abuse. His parents subjected their child to years of physical and mental abuse during his troubled childhood, in which he was, inter alia, hyperactive.

The plaintiff recovered damages of $260,000 in his action against his parents for damages for assault, battery, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of mental suffering.

The term “scapegoat” was used by the expert witness. Dr. Briggs’ opinion is that the plaintiff was the family scapegoat.

No one will disagree with the fact that [A.]’s family experienced periods of considerable stress during [A.]’s 12 years of living within the family.

There will be some dispute as to [A.]’s contribution to that stress because of his Attention Deficit Disorder and hyperactivity, and his induction into the role of family scapegoat. There will be considerably more disagreement as to whether the problems [A.

] presented (both because of his disorder and because of his reactivity to family stress and their management of him) justified measures taken against him that were unusually harsh.

These measures were carried out in persistent and extreme ways to the point of becoming ritualized punishment and degradation in the name of management and behavioural control. A long term pattern of physical and emotional abuse is evident, carried out both by [A.

]’s parents directly and indirectly by their promoting and endorsing physical and/or emotional abuse by certain of [A.]’s siblings.


Black sheep/scapegoats are often, not surprisingly, disinherited by their parents. The view of the black sheep/scapegoats is that they were singled out as very young children to be blamed for things that were neither their fault nor in their control or the accusations simply were not rational.

Those types of dysfunctional situations can arise in almost any type of home, but in particular in homes where there are narcissistic parents and/or alcohol, drug, or mental issues.

If a black sheep/scapegoat learns he or she is to be disinherited, the person should seek legal advice, as well as medical and psychological counselling to ascertain whether it would be in his or her best interest to attempt a reconciliation with the dysfunctional family, given the individual’s own history.

For many black sheep/scapegoats, there are simply two choices

1. No family contact

2. Continued abusive family relations

While every child craves parental love and approval and vice versa, in the world of the dysfunctional family that is an impossible illusion, especially for those assigned black sheep/scapegoat status.

Further reading on blacksheep and scapegoats:

Cutting Ties with the Family and Estrangement

4 Unhealthy Roles Created in Dysfunctional Families

Dysfunctional Families: Scapegoat Child Sues Parents and Wins

Источник: https://disinherited.com/family-estrangement/black-sheep-and-scapegoats-in-dysfunctional-families/

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