Every family has its own dynamics that govern how members relate with one another. Not only do our familial relationships set the tone for how we interact with the world, but they can also have a strong impact on our development and life trajectory. In families where dysfunction is prevalent, it's not uncommon for one member to be selected to carry the guilt, anger and frustration for the entire family.
Scapegoating allows for appearances to be kept up as the family targets one party for unmerited negative treatment, criticism or blame. Those who are cast as the family scapegoat develop their esteem in a toxic environment. Once free, it's vital for them to examine and dismantle the dysfunctional patterns of their upbringing in order to break the cycle and adopt a new, healthy script.
Here are 12 points of examination to determine if you were cast as the family scapegoat:
"You can’t do anything right. Everything is your fault." This kind of early training breeds insecurity and debilitating self-doubt. Know that this simply isn’t true. You were just a convenient receptacle for someone who was incapable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own faults.
2. Verbal Abuse
"You are so lazy, stupid and irresponsible." You wore every negative adjective they could summon. No matter how hard you tried to disprove these labels, your perpetrator never missed an opportunity to belittle you. This is a reflection of them, not you.
When you told the truth and called out the blatant contradictions, family members and loved ones, even those outside of the household, might have denied or minimized the validity of your experience. This can be hurtful and tough to reconcile, but trust your spirit. You don't need a co-signer to validate it. It's possible that the entire family has a skewed concept of what healthy relationships look like.
The scapegoater goes to great lengths to create dissension between you and anyone who supports and encourages you. If they can't keep you physically separated from your loved ones, they will create drama, manufacture dissension and assassinate the character of your loved one to turn you against them and minimize their influence. Their cult-like system hinges on keeping you small and marginalized. They are threatened by anyone who might interfere.
You are portrayed to family members in the most negative light possible. The scapegoater goes out of their way to destroy your credibility by telling anyone who will listen how bad you are. This serves two purposes. It proactively aligns people on their side should you try to seek outside support, and it unifies a choir of people to echo and reinforce their strategy to make you believe you are bad and worthless.
You are often accused of behavior that the scapegoater is actively engaged in. For example, you could be in the act of folding the laundry, ironing clothes and washing dishes while a family member, who is sitting around and watching tv, accuses you of being lazy. Clearly, this is not true. They are describing themselves and literally projecting their own self-hate on you.
The scapegoater has trained the entire family, by example, how to treat you. Once you have been labeled as the bad one, you are fair game for siblings, spouses, relatives, even family friends to pick on. New people who enter the dynamic quickly pick up on the fact that you are the family’s punching bag. Scapegoated children often find themselves in adult relationships and situations that mimic this dynamic.
There is no reward for good behavior. In fact, your proudest achievements and accomplishments are belittled, ignored or all-together dismissed. This is where many scapegoated children give up and resign themselves to the negative characterization assigned to them.
The only deeds that are ever highlighted or broadcasted are the bad ones. Your family is happy to share anything that affirms their negative characterization of you. You might find that the worse you screw up, the kinder you're treated. Your scapegoater won't take proactive steps to help you succeed but they are happy to provide a safety net when you fail. This is because the scapegoater thrives on "I told you so..." They are affirmed when your actions begin to reflect the negativity they've planted.
Scapegoaters can fall anywhere on a wide behavioral spectrum. Although some demonstrate a total lack of interest and engagement in the life of the child, others go hard to actively sabotage any success their target seeks to have. In the later case, normal developmental milestones that your peers enjoyed were met with resistance in your household. If you were presented with an exciting opportunity, they deflated it and present a million reasons why it would fail. The goal is to kill your drive and destroy your ambition. As a result of this indoctrination, many scapegoated children settle to live below their potential and sabotage their own success.
11. The Lure
Oddly, as bad as they claim you were, if you manage to escape their control, they will likely attempt to lure you back in with emotional manipulation. They might start with a guilt-inducing angry rant before evolving into a softer, more supportive approach, playing on your desire for their approval. This might be followed by a fictional recounting of history — when they were loving, supportive and always well-intended. They will try to convince you and everyone else that their unfair treatment of you was a figment of your imagination. But you know better...you were there.
12. Script Flip
If these attempts don't reel you in, prepare for the level 10, code red, frantic fire drill as they embark upon a rage induced campaign of unprecedented petty proportions. Watch as they go hard to convince everyone in their realm of influence that you’re crazy. Stand back as they frantically use every tool in their kit to assassinate your character. Marvel as they cast themselves as victim and magically spin you as the troubled one. Because they are incapable of owning their own guilt, anger and pain, they have to manipulate and project their insecurities outside of themselves. This is precisely why they needed a scapegoat to begin with.
If you were the scapegoat of your family, what you have experienced is emotional and psychological abuse. Victims of scapegoating often suffer from addiction, depression, PTSD and/or obsessive compulsive disorders. They might go to great lengths indulging in superficial highs to numb feelings of low self-esteem and lack of self-worth. Because the scars aren't visible, people tend to dismiss it as no big deal but studies show that the effects of excessive prolonged verbal abuse are the most damaging, because the victimizers voice embeds itself into the psyche as their own negative self-talk. This tape is played on constant repeat in the victim's mind, convincing them of their worthlessness and sabotaging any efforts at success. The key to overcoming is changing that tape.
As hurtful and damaging as it is, know that your perpetrator was only acting out of their own dysfunction. They, too, were tormented by their own internal recording and feelings of inadequacy. Instead of dealing with their issues, they chose to project them on you. This is how the vicious cycle is perpetuated generation after generation, but here is where it stops! This will not be your story.
You can learn to reprogram the dialogue in your head that tells you, "You're going to fail, you can't do it, you're not good enough." Those are lies. The truth is, you will succeed, you can do it and you are good enough. If you're willing to be vigilant and put in the work, you can go on to live a healthy, unlimited and fulfilling life ensuring that your offspring (should you choose to have them) will never have to endure what you've experienced.