Scapegoating. What the Hell is it? I was aware of its pain as a child, especially as a teenager, except there was no way to describe it. I still trusted Mom and Dad did everything they could for me, but that was not the case. They unconsciously projected their own childhood woes and each of their own subsequent fears, envy, shame, guilt, anger, etc. onto Yours Truly.
How? Well, I am writing my story in book form, but I found this excellent description of intense scapegoating that really articulates its cruel damage. My abuse was not as extreme as the author’s, but I experienced all the negative results: depression, low, and I mean LOW self-esteem, anticipated failures, inability to effectively communicate or deal with emotions such as anger and sadness, PTSD, and a host of other not-so-glorious characteristics you would never wish upon anyone. I am just learning to recognize and process these wounds as an adult. When I see a skinny teen with pimples, wearing all black, hunched back-that was me at one point in time-I just want to give them a hug. And hope.
Education was the bucket that lifted me from the well of doom. With education came travel. With travel came a worldview. With a worldview came perspective. With perspective came opportunity. With opportunity came strength. With strength came marriage. On and on.
The following blog post by Bev Payne is an excellent description. After reading it I hope you never judge that outcast looking teen. You have no idea what they’re going through. They have potential-they just don’t know it. I didn’t.
For the longest time in my life, I never knew what Family Scapegoating was. I had no clue that it existed or that it was a definition that fit my life perfectly to the tee. I would notice things that were happening to me, throughout my life, but not truly understand why. I used to think that I was the bad seed, the lowest person in the family on the totem pole, the loser, the child that did not matter. My life was confusing and painful. I never understood why I was so different from rest of my family. I always wondered what did I do that was so wrong to deserve all this.
As I got into my latter 20’s, so much began to be clear to me about my life and why it turned out the way it did. I began to understand and realize, through the help of counselors, pastors, therapist, books, and college courses that explained what was wrong in my life. Everything began to become more crystal clear why my life was always full of turmoil, trauma, pain, hurt,and how I could never do anything right, in my entire family’s eyes. The harder I tried to succeed, get the approval of my family, meet up to my family’s expectations, be respected, loved, valued, validated, included, and more, these things would never come in my lifetime by my family of origin. By the time I was in my late 30’s, everything came to a head and I began having horrible memories, flashbacks, nightmares, day visions, remembering the things said to me that were mean, and remembering the physical torment I suffered at the hands of my mother, and other symptoms of PTSD. I had been living with severe depression my entire life due to the pain and hurt that I continued to endure from my family of origin. To this day, they are in total denial of everything they did to me, on a whole, and refuse to see that they were wrong in anything or how they harmed me as they did. They gang up against me and have had very little to do with me most of my life. Every time I have tried to talk to them, they would not listen. They did not care. They did not believe what I had to say. They even made sure other family (cousins, aunts, uncles and possibly their own friends) would never believe what I claimed. I used to think if I just work harder, become more perfect, succeed at everything I can, be nicer, more pleasing, more this or more that, then the approval, love, validation, respect, and other things would come. They never did. I am now 53 years old and finally had to make the most difficult decision in my life. To continue to try to stay in family relationships where I am not wanted, needed, loved, or included or get out now while the going is good. I had to make a decision based on how I was again rejected from being invited or told of my mother’s 80th birthday party. The excuses they could give would be useless and inexcusable. This, for me, was the last straw. I could try to stay in a relationship with people who continue to cause me intense hurt and pain or cut them off for good. I have tried to cut them off but I would always go back running to them and start trying to have a relationship with them. Its as if I had this energy pulling me back to them, to try harder to receive their validation and be valued by them. This pull was so strong that I always gave in and ran back to all of them and tried to have a relationship with them. Unfortunately, on the most part, they would never reciprocate and give back anything.
Unfortunately, for some reason, there are too many families out there in this society who choose to single out one child in a family to make one person in the family the bad guy. It is often one parent or a sibling that will choose a target, a child in the family, who needs to be singled out to be scapegoated. This may be a totally unconscious decision on their part to do so. They may have no idea, whatsoever, that they are doing this to someone and don’t even know what a Scapegoat is. They may not realize that they have set up the pattern to scapegoat a child and get everyone else to join the bandwagon. The reality, though, is the pattern often starts early in a child’s life, as it did mine. Scapegoating is a serious family dysfunctional problem. The child, who is often targeted, may come from a small or large family and will be the one selected because they are weak, vulnerable, sensitive, hyper, non-compliant, or just cannot defend themselves. Often, the reason a child may be scapegoated is because the parent sees a lot of characteristics in their child that reminds them of themselves. They may hate themselves so much, without realizing it, to the point that they see personality traits in their own offspring who they begin to hate. I believe this was partly what happened to me and why my mother did not like me early in my life. I looked a lot like my mother and I often acted a lot like her. I am not saying this is definitely why I was targeted to be the family scapegoat, but is my theory.
The older I got, the more research I did, I began to learn how my life was taking shape and why the things that happened to me had occurred. Why I nearly failed school growing up, why I could not succeed in college right out of high school, why I was low in self esteem and had no confidence in my earlier years, why I failed on jobs, relationships and everything else. I had no clue most of my life, until these latter years, what this Scapegoating stuff was about and how it played a huge part in everything that went wrong in my life. Unfortunately, when a parent or sibling starts scapegoating a member of the family, rest of the family will join in and begin taunting, teasing, bullying, harassing, hitting, verbally or mentally bashing, and hurting the scapegoated child. In extremely dysfunctional families, the parent has become so mean toward this child that they push other children in the family to join in and pick on the disfavored child. In this case, this was me. You will often see, in these types of families where there is so much dysfunction going on that there are also children who are favored and can do no wrong. They are the ones who are never or rarely disciplined, whereas the scapegoated child is often disciplined harshly or abused physically. The favored child will be called names like “my angel,” or other names that show they are favored and loved more. They are given privileges and shown unconditional love, value, and respect while the scapegoated child is withheld from those needs. When these type of children are favored and given a lifetime of favoritism, over the scapegoated child, there becomes a lifetime of resentment being set up that will continued to follow the scapegoated child for a long time to come. Resentment, bitterness, anger, grudges, and more become set up in this child’s psyche and is something that takes root early on and will eventually become a serious problem later in life, if not right away.
Scapegoating, in most cases, also includes the child being verbally abused, mentally abused, emotionally abused, physically abused, neglected, even sexually abused. When a family is so dysfunctional, there will be abuse of some kind, as it was in my case. The child then grows up with a lack of trust toward most people and will often not let people get close. In this situation, unfortunately, the child learns a victim mentality, learns they are at the bottom of the totem pole in the family, and they end up gravitating to that role at school and work. This is why many scapegoated children grow up with less success unless they pull themselves up from their bootstraps and are determined to make something of themselves, as I did. Having faith in God and having God to help me is the only reason I have achieved the goals I have for myself to this day. Unless that child stops this generational theme/pattern with their new family/children that they have, this pattern will continue to play itself out from generation to generation. This is an ugly vicious situation that families do when there are serious issues going on with people who are insecure and hurt from their own childhoods.
Why would anyone want to do this to a person? Scapegoating is a huge societal problem because so much hate exist in the world. Not just individual children or members of a family are scapegoated. There are huge groups of a certain type of people who endure scapegoating throughout the generations. It is a hostile problem where one person moves the blame to another target in the family. The person who is targeted will often feel wrongly persecuted, as I did my entire life. They will be blamed for everything that goes wrong in the family, even when they did nothing wrong in many cases. These children will be criticized by the whole family, ridiculed, called names, accused of things they did not do, rejected, persecuted in the worst manner, never given any approval or validation, much less respect. The child will grow up with a shame base, and will have feelings of guilt, low self esteem, low confidence, and feel they are losers. Back in the past, before more attention and research was being done on abuse, scapegoating, neglect, etc, many families who knew the victim knew what was going on but would remain silent. As in my situation now, being on social media has its advantages when you become re-acquainted with childhood friends who knew and suspected you were being mistreated and abused. Those people are now coming forward and giving the scapegoated child validation that they are not making all of this up and imagining it all. I have had countless childhood friends who have emailed me over the years and are confessing to what they knew about me back then. This has been very helpful to hear and know as my entire family of origin denies everything I said that was done ot me. As in my case, I have proof now to back up my claims that I was indeed abused and scapegoated. During those times, you did not interfere with other people’s lives or their family dysfunction. There were no laws in place to protect a child who was being treated so bad in this manner. Furthermore, there are often other families who knew the victim and thought the child must be bad and deserved to get the treatment they were enduring. Therefore, the child never got the help they needed or deserved to be taken out of the hostile environment they were living in. And try telling the abusers you grew up with what they did and how it impacted or affected your life and you will be met with unbelievable denial and shamed and called a liar, as I have been. And, the more you press the matter, to try to get them to change and understand how they played a part in nearly ruining your life, the more resistance you meet from them and their friends that they get on their side. They do not see themselves as having done anything wrong or having hurt me to the brink of suicide well too many times throughout my life. A person can only take so much hurt and pain from others to the point it can cause a person to snap. Some people handle things differently when they are pushed over the edge.
When one child is singled out for differential treatment by the family, the treatment becomes dysfunctional. This is where the differential treatment translates into unequal awards and punishment by the parents, when scapegoating is causing severe dysfunction. Scapegoating includes reverse favoritism, bullying, harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. This is where a parent will systematically punish a child severely more than the siblings. In fact, often the siblings receive no punishment or little punishment when their bad deeds go unpunished completely. In my case, this was the exact thing I saw and witnessed my whole life growing up. The child will endure problems of the parent or siblings speaking non-stop negatively of them and when they talk to others about the child. There are issues where the child’s bad deeds will be exaggerated to others to make the situation look worse than it was. The parent will even go as far as allowing other children in the family to call the scapegoated child names or physically assault the child being scapegoated. The victims of scapegoating will try to compensate for what they had to deal with, growing up, that they will become perfectionist, overachievers, and seek the validation of their new family, friends, co-workers, employers, and people outside of their family of origin.
Unfortunately, another aspect to how scapegoating affects a child, growing up in a dysfunctional family, is the problem with that family passing on this scapegoating will continue from one generation to the next as that child ages. The problems with the scapegoating will never end as that child becomes grown, has his/her own family, and even until they reach old age or death. In most cases, the scapegoated child will have to cut off all communication and relationship with the dysfunctional family because they will continue to be targeted as the Scapegoat for life. Nothing will change until the scapegoat grows up and completely breaks away from the dysfunctional family of origin that they grew up in. The problem becomes even more painful and serious when the siblings begin having children and now they, too, grow up and are targeting the same person to scapegoat, as well. The siblings and cousins children will hear and see the taunting, backstabbing, remarks, gossip, badmouthing, etc that is being done by their parents of that scapegoated family member. They will then begin acting, in many cases, the same way toward the victim of that family. The scapegoated family member can be up in the age and still will be a target of the family of origin who continues to be excluded from family events, parties, weddings, award ceremonies, etc. The scapegoat will also be ignored, never called, never emailed, never sent a birthday wish/card, and continue to be treated like pond scum by the family of origin – which is now a huge family consisting of several generations of people. The scapegoat, as an adult, will also be the target of ongoing gossip, being made fun of, talked bad about, etc. In fact, it becomes a fun game for all of the family members to play as it makes them feel good about themselves and feel superior to the target, no matter how old the target is.
The scapegoated child will grow up and will often suffer with explosive anger, pessimism, and resentment for the rest of their life. The person who grows up in this environment will suffer greatly at the hands of their abusive toxic family who are all highly dysfunctional. This person will continue to be the outcast of the family, the black sheep of the family, and will be made to carry the shame and blame of that family for the rest of their lives. These dysfunctional family members who target one or more persons in the family to hurt are steeped in shame themselves and cannot look at their own issues that they have and face them head on and deal with them. They will only hide them and even try to portray themselves to everyone they meet and know as blameless and will try to convince others how wonderful and perfect they are and even how great Christians they are. At the same time, the scapegoated child then grows up and starts standing up to the bullies in the family and are met with outright denial, treated as if they are a liar, and even thought of as having mental issues. One family member even stooped as low as telling me that I needed a psyche eval, as a grown married adult with children, when I was very sick and the doctors could not determine what was wrong with me. I was calling home crying many times as I was frustrated that the doctors could not figure out and diagnose me when I was experiencing 15 symptoms for four months. I was finally diagnosed with unstable diabetes. To tell your family member that they need a psyche eval is as low as it gets. But continuing to portray yourself as such an outstanding Christian to others is wrong when that person has treated one of their own in such a hurtful manner that can be difficult to forget and ever get over.
The dysfunctional family continues to dance around the the issues at hand when they play this toxic game with the scapegoated child. This role this child is assigned is permanent. This role of the scapegoated child needs to be filled so that the rest of the family can throw away their psychological garbage onto that person. This way, they never have to face reality that they are messed up and have issues. In most cases, the parent (s) are often perfectionist and have been raised in families that have had serious trauma to deal with. Often the problems the parents grew up in stems from abuse and dysfunction, too. The problem remains that until someone in the family recognizes what is going on and tries to help others to see it, nothing will ever be fixed. The problems will continue and the others will make themselves look high and mighty, worthy, great, outstanding, successful, wealthy, and important. They will puff themselves up so much that they will have everyone fooled into thinking that they can do no wrong and will even have outsiders believing the wronged scapegoated child is the blame of everything. They will even go to extremes to convince everyone else that the scapegoated child is so bad and was never wronged.
Scapegoated children/adults in the family are attention diverters, garbage pails and punching bags by those who are doing the scapegoating. These children not only get physically disciplined very harshly by the parents, even to the point of abuse, but they do get punched, kicked, slapped, hit, whipped, etc by their siblings as well. The long story being made here is that the scapegoaters family will never stop using them as the one to point a finger at and release their pent up frustration on. When the scapegoated person becomes even an adult, they will notice that their own achievements are always overshadowed and minimized by the achievements of other family members. These family members will be elevated and celebrated whenever they have reached certain goals, won awards, or accomplished something great. The rules are different for the scapegoat – they get nothing – never a party by the family of origin or anything. They are ignored as the family of origin becomes adults. The funny thing about scapegoats if that for the rest of their life, the stories of things they did wrong or did not achieve will be passed around to everyone. But the persons in the family who did far worse things – their stories are hidden and not spoken of. They can even go as far as drinking and smoking in college and have no criticism or punishment but the scapegoat would never live that down. And one of the problems that goes along in scapegoating is how the parent or siblings try to control every move the scapegoated child/adult makes. They can be dominating, as well. Another problem that exist in this type of dysfunctional home environment is that the scapegoated child and even their own now adult children are not allowed to express an opinion, have an opinion or a different viewpoint than the other family members. If they do so, they will be treated with so much scorn and disdain. They will be put down and squashed. This occurred recently when I took my husband and children 1000 miles to visit my family of origin and this occurred. It takes unmitigated gall to treat four adults from that scapegoated person’s family that they are not allowed to have or express an opinion different from the others.
When the scapegoat grows up, they often can spot so much insecurity in the family members who continued to hurt them their whole lives. The Scapegoat can see why others try to be funny to get constant attention from the family, or they try to be outstanding in a talent, or they try to be the perfect Christian by doing everything for others and making sure they are liked by their friends, peers, co-workers, and church. In the meantime, they continue to do things that leaves the Scapegoat in significant emotional pain that is unending and hard to move past. The Scapegoat is never given an apology for all the things that were done to him/her. The Scapegoat never has a chance to be recognized for the successes they have achieved. The scapegoated child grows up and thinks all families are this way – that this is common behavior within all families. Until that person begins to really get to know families on a close personal basis, they often find out that not everyone has these issues going on in their family. They learn that the family they have gotten to know are normal and kind and loving toward each other. They are then shocked at the difference of their own family and how dysfunctional it was to their friends families. To stay in a family where one is being scapegoated is like asking to be murdered. The reason one is asking to be murdered is because the torment one faces in a family like this is like a slow murdering of their soul. When a person is never receiving validation, love, respect, treated with kindness, compassion, etc, but only told bad things and treated in such a horrible manner, they grow up to have a hole in their soul. Their emotional needs are not being met by the persons they are supposed to trust and love the most. They are empty in their love bank and will always have a hard time feeling worthy or loved.