A Detailed Guide On Family Scapegoat Syndrome

Family scapegoat syndrome1 was one undiscovered mental health condition that came to the forefront in the last decade and shook the world to the core.

A famous Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, once wrote,

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its way.” 

And the past few years showed why this quote had such great meaning to it. Dysfunctional families, especially in these modern times, have been a common occurrence. However,  the sharp edges of the disorder affect each member differently.

Each of them carries the pain with them throughout their family life. And nowhere is the pain more evident than in the case of the person who has been affected by this syndrome.

Curious to know more about this syndrome? Please read the article then as we present to you all the details of the syndrome.

1. A Detailed Guide On Family Scapegoat Syndrome

family scapegoat syndrome
Image source: freepik

1.1. What do we mean by the family scapegoat syndrome? 

If defined in simple words, a scapegoat refers to a person who is blamed for all the wrongdoings, mistakes, and faults of others. The origin of the word refers to an ancient Jewish tradition2 where a goat symbolically was sent into the wilderness to atone for other people’s sins.

Needless to say, the blaming creates a drastic mental impact upon the person. The damage increases tenfold when scapegoating occurs within a family unit where we usually learn to love and trust others.

1.2. Causes 

  • Presence of a greater, pervasive problem in your own family that becomes difficult to solve. Therefore, scapegoating someone for the problems helps in creating a false distraction. 
  • Scapegoating is a method that is used by a narcissistic family or by covert narcissistic parents. They do not want to acknowledge their problems and blame their adult children so that attention can be deflected from the main issues. 
  • Parents who themselves are traumatized by certain chronic mental health conditions, especially from a narcissistic personality disorder. 
  • Scapegoating is used as a form of defense mechanism stemming from personal insecurities. 

Sometimes, it has also been found that scapegoating has been very unintentional and when parents come to terms with the effects of their abuse, they have been visibly shocked. But this is just an example of an extremely rare case.

1.3. Symptoms

One of the biggest reasons for the syndrome to be unattended for the longest time was because the affected failed to understand the abuse they were suffering from.

However, with increased knowledge, people are becoming more aware of the situation.

For any person reading this article, listed below are some of the symptoms that can help you assess your toxic family situation3:

1.3.1. Always ignored

If you are the said scapegoat child, then you can be the most ignored member of your family. The scapegoat is often the most sensitive member of the family. They become the whistleblower when it comes to obvious dysfunctional family dynamics. 

That is one of the main reasons why toxic families never want you to speak up. If the scapegoat child still speaks up, family members can even go to extreme conditions to discredit the sufferer. 

1.3.2. Never recognized for hard work

In a family with healthy relationships, families feel proud of each other’s achievements. However, the flipside occurs in dysfunctional families.

If you are not the golden child, your achievements will always be belittled or dismissed.

family scapegoat syndrome
Image source: freepik

The scapegoated children might at a point in time give up on trying to succeed in anything. A lifetime of discouragement usually takes a toll on them. This leads to low self-esteem and crippling self-doubt. 

1.3.3. Portrayed in a negative light

The affected are often showcased in a negative light in front of others.

A person who is a scapegoat for their family, they are publicly attacked at any given opportunity. This helps the members to showcase their worthlessness in front of others. 

1.3.4. Isolated from others

Other family members do not want their family scapegoats to receive support or encouragement from any outside source. Therefore, they can do whatever to separate the person from their friends or loved ones.

Separating the sufferer by physical or emotional means is a common occurrence. They often stoop down to attack the characters of the friends and outsiders to help you try to seek help. They can even spread rumours about you among them too. 

1.3.5. The family’s punching bag

A person affected by this syndrome might notice that they always become the family’s punching bag. The person becomes the butt of every joke. You can also always be singled out for collective ridicule from your family members.

The Family Scapegoat - Childhood Trauma

The flaws of others might be reflected upon you. Instead of admitting their faults, your family member lashes at you for a mistake that you never committed. 

1.4. How To Overcome This Syndrome? 

It will be extremely difficult for a person who has grown as a scapegoat for their family to overcome the shortcomings. However, proper counseling and patience can help you to heal from the situation effectively.

  • The first stage of recovery is to learn the truth about yourself. We can understand that years of ridicule create a great impact on your mental health.

However, it is essential to remember that it is only the narrative of your family members. It is what makes your character appear flawed even when it is not your fault. 

  •  Now, coming to another important step, forgiving the flaws of your family members.

We know that forgiving the people who have made your life a living hell is not an easy task. But do you know that forgiveness takes courage, and those who can master it, are courageous of all? Take your time. A little compassion can help you to let go of your destructive anger. 

  •  And finally, show some love to yourself. As you heal from your traumatic experiences, try to love yourself as you are. 

Years of scapegoating lead to low self-esteem. It creates a false negative image in front of yourself. Breakthrough this illusion slowly and steadily. Try to replace the negative thoughts with acceptance, kindness, and compassion. 

family scapegoat syndrome
Image source: freepik

Hopefully, the article was able to shed some light on this syndrome and was able to solve your queries.

For a person reading this article, if you know someone suffering from similar conditions or under the same turmoil yourself, contact a mental health advisor immediately because it is okay to reach out for help.

Read more from us here.

2. FAQs

Q1. Are There Any Children in Specific That End up Taking the Family Scapegoat Role?

An abusive family environment doesn’t hold any exceptions. You might as well be the golden child of the family, and you could still be the scapegoat. Golden children, only children, adopted children, everyone may find themselves in the position of the scapegoat role.

Q2. What Are the Symptoms of Family Scapegoat Syndrome?

Anxiety, panic attacks, sadness and sorrows, anger management issues, etc.

Q3. What Are the Characteristics of a Family Scapegoat?

A family scapegoat is a person who takes on the role of ‘black sheep‘ or ‘problem child’ in their family and gets shamed, blamed, and criticized for things that go wrong within the family unit, even when these things are entirely outside of their control

The Murky Connection Between Childhood Trauma And Mental Disorders
Icy Health
  1. Mandeville, Rebecca C. Rejected, shamed, and blamed: Help and hope for adults in the family scapegoat role. Rebecca C. Mandeville, 2021. ↩︎
  2. Aitken, James K. “Jewish tradition and culture.” The Early Christian World. Routledge, 2002. 106-136. ↩︎
  3. Pratiwi, Hardiyanti, et al. “Assessing the toxic levels in parenting behavior and coping strategies implemented during the covid-19 pandemic.” Jurnal Pendidikan Usia Dini 14.2 (2020): 231-246. ↩︎

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