by Glynis Sherwood
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? 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?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these statements, you may
have been scapegoated by your family. The term 'scapegoat' refers to a family member who takes the blame for
difficulties in the family. Scapegoating is a form of bullying. Family relationships profoundly impact our identity and how we view ourselves.
How to Tell if You
Have Been Scapegoated:
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
are attacked and disbelieved if you tell the truth and ‘blow the whistle’
on negative and/or inappropriate family dynamics.
has been a history of one or more family members being verbally,
emotionally or physically abusive towards you. Other family members seem to accept or
look the other way when you are bullied or aggressed against like this. You may feel like the ‘black sheep’ of
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 being thoughtful and then told “all you
care about is yourself”.
act out the negative ‘expectations’ of scapegoating such as not living up
to your potential, or getting into relationships with abusive people
because your self esteem is has been damaged.
the mentally healthiest family member, but being accused of being sick,
the role of family outcast, and being treated with disdain or disgust by
family or yourself.
- Your achievements
are belittled, minimized, criticized and rejected.
What’s Going On In
Families That Scapegoat
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 and insecurity. Dysfunctional families either lack insight or find it threatening, and actively repress it through scapegoating those who want to understand and change negative dynamics. Scapegoating is a “projection defense” that allows scapegoaters to keep up appearances. In other words, by making the scapegoat look bad, it takes attention off the real problem.
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. So the purpose of scapegoating is to allow
families to carry on unhealthy behavior patterns, and maintain 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.
Who Gets Picked to Be Scapegoat
The Scapegoat doesn’t get picked randomly or by
accident. Usually they are either
sensitive, unhappy, vulnerable, ill and/or the outspoken child or whistle blower. In other words, the scapegoat is 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 and the truth is that Scapegoats are being abused by being
taught they are ‘bad’. Scapegoats tend
to struggle with chronic insecurity, as they never feel safe or believe they
are 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 betrayal of trust in their family. They can also have challenges managing emotions, and find they either feel overwhelmed by feelings and anxious, or shut down and not know how they are feeling.
How To Break Free From Scapegoating
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 likely 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.
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
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 likely have
to begin with yourself, learning to question and reject seeing yourself as
- Get to
know your true self. Identify exceptions
to the negative stereotype you have been saddled with. In other words, pinpoint what is good,
likeable 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
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
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.
expect abusive family members to apologize or make amends. They will likely blame you more if you
attempt to hold them accountable.
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 like 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 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.
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.
- Get in
the habit of treating yourself with kindness, caring, compassion,
appreciation and acceptance.
Practice viewing yourself as a person of worth and lovability. This will likely feel weird at first as
it is unfamiliar. But even though
it is unfamiliar, treating yourself in a loving manner is never wrong.
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 counselling to help you overcome this painful legacy, and find your true self - the strong, valuable person you are meant to be.
what you preach with others… Break
Need help overcoming scapegoating? Click Here to Book a Counselling Appointment
Counselling is available in person in Vancouver BC, toll free by Phone in Canada and the USA, or by Skype around the world.
Glynis Sherwood - MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor, specializes in recovery from Scapegoating/Bullying, Low Self Esteem, Anxiety, Depression, Grief and Addictive Behaviors. My services are available in person in Vancouver BC, or Toll-Free across Canada by Phone or Email. I look forward to hearing from you and helping you achieve the life you want and deserve!
Visit my Scapegoat Counselling web page
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