(Gail Meyers) The children are often assigned rigid roles in toxic, dysfunctional families where alcoholism, childhood sexual abuse or mental illness is an everyday reality. The assignment of these roles often happens early in childhood, long before the child could possibly have any idea what is truly happening or why. However, even young children quickly understand the unwritten toxic family rules.
These rigid roles and toxic rules are taken very seriously because they are required in order for the closed toxic system to survive and continue. So when you try to get out of your role, to shed this false image that has been forced upon you, the whole family system will often go to extremes to put your back in your place.
Why a Narcissistic Mother Needs a Scapegoat
The Golden Child
The golden child’s purpose is to reflect all that is good back to the narcissist. He is showing the world she must be a good mother to have such a child as this. Narcissistic Mom will rewrite history or twist reality beyond all recognition to cause everything this child does to be deemed exceedingly wonderful. This is Mom’s mini me, a narcissist in training. This reflection of her grandeur is one of the real reasons this child can do no wrong in her eyes.
Of course, this extreme favoritism causes anger, strife and even severed relationships between siblings. That’s fine with narcissistic mother who wants to be the hub in the middle, dividing and conquering her children in order to maintain control and the flow of information. She will intentionally pit the golden child against the scapegoat by manipulation. She may even use the golden child, as well as the other children, to inflict abuse by proxy on the scapegoat child. Then, she will garner as much pity as possible by proclaiming how she must endure these contrary children.
The Scapegoat Child
Narcissistic mother chronically avoids personal responsibility and accountability, thus a scapegoat child. The scapegoat is the truth teller in the midst of this great pretender’s sticky web of lies, secrets and pretense. The scapegoat child can do no right in the eyes of the narcissist, and often can do no right in the eyes of the entire family. So it is for truth lovers among pretenders and liars.
The other children quickly learn it is okay for them to blame the scapegoat too. As the cunning narcissistic mother skillfully manipulates every member of the family, she will rewrite history or twist reality beyond all recognition to be sure this child takes the blame. This is in order for the narcissistic mother, as well as the entire family, to maintain a facade of normalcy and health while pointing at the scapegoat as the problem. It is smoke and mirrors, a distraction directing attention toward a symptom of the issue rather than the real culprit. The scapegoat provides a distraction, a sleight of hand.
How Do You Know If You Are the Scapegoat?
You may have long ago realized you are the scapegoat or you may be just beginning to realize the reality of the situation. Either way, do not beat yourself up about it. Denial helped us survive abusive childhoods. Some indications of being the scapegoat are:
You are blamed for things you have no control over or were not your fault;
You are the target of false accusations – accused, lied and gossiped about;
You are labeled the troublemaker;
You are left out of or the last to learn of family business or news;
You are always the first to apologize and forgive, even when you are one the who truly deserves the apology;
Your accomplishments are ignored, sabotaged or invalidated;
You are accused of being selfish when you take care of yourself or if you do not meet even ridiculous demands;
You may be accused of being unstable, dishonest or crazy;
You may be shunned or ostracized.
Even with all of the above, you may be the one everyone runs to in crisis.
The History of the Scapegoat
Most of us have heard the term and understand the popular use of the word, but the idea of a scapegoat has a long history. There is some mention of a scapegoat rite in Ancient Greece. However, our current use of the word comes from the English translation of the Hebrew term from the Bible. Our current usage literally means “an individual, group or country singled out for unmerited negative treatment or blame.”
The Bible documents the use of a scapegoat dating back to the accounts of the children of Israel. In Leviticus 16, the scapegoat was an actual goat. The sins of the people were ceremonially placed on the head of the goat, then the goat was cast out of the community and into the desert alone to symbolize the removal of sin and guilt. If you are the scapegoat son or daughter of a narcissistic mother, you may know just exactly how that feels!
In the Bible the forgiveness of sin required these animal sacrifices before Christ died a sacrificial death on the cross, but that requirement ended at the cross. The New Testament (after Christ) view holds that Christ took the sins of humanity on His own head. The law was given, not that any man could keep the whole of the law, but for man to come to the conclusion he is unable to. Thus, the law points to the need for a savior. Christ is the Savior who fulfilled the law, placing us under grace. He is the only One who can wash away sins. There is no longer any need for scapegoats. We are each accountable before God for our own actions.
Why Am I the Scapegoat?
The very first thing the scapegoat needs to understand is it is not your fault. The very existence of a scapegoat in the family signals a problem because a scapegoat is only required in a family when someone chronically refuses to take responsibility for their actions. You did not cause it and you cannot fix it. What you can do is recognize it and protect yourself.
Scapegoating is a reflection on the person refusing to take responsibility or be held accountable, not the person being blamed. The scapegoat also provides a buffer against reality to support the family denial. The scapegoat carries the lion’s share of the blame, shame, anger and rejection so narcissistic mother can maintain her patterns of dysfunction while continuing to appear normal.
However, the scapegoats are the strongest, nicest, most honest and emotionally healthiest ones in the family. The scapegoat suffers more abuse, rejection and shame than the rest of the family put together. So never doubt your strength, but also realize it is okay to ask for help. You were strong enough to survive and you are certainly strong enough to recover!
Since it is very painful to be the scapegoat, the scapegoat is usually the one in the family who will go looking for answers – and find them. Thus, scapegoats are more likely to escape, heal and go on to lead healthier lives.
It Was Never Your Fault, Scapegoat!
A scapegoat allows someone or an entire family to project everything that is negative onto the scapegoat in order for them to continue to appear normal. It is a distraction, a red herring. The whole family can then point at the scapegoat as the problem and focus the attention away from the true core issue. This can be reinforced in many overt and covert ways. It may be verbally being told your family wants the best for you, but their actions do not match their words. For example, telling you they support you getting an education, but then actively sabotaging or undermining your attempts to do so.
There is a heavy investment in keeping you in your assigned role as the bad scapegoat. So you might think you will become an overachiever to prove to your family and the world you are not bad. However, narcissistic mother needs a bad scapegoat in order to support the denial and facade. So when you start to excel it actually makes narcissistic mother uncomfortable because it threatens her assessment of you. She may very well also become jealous of any success you have. So, narcissist mother may actually reward her scapegoats for floundering, failing or getting in a mess. This can be done in very subtle ways so as to remain deniable and undetected, while she also actively undermines any success in every way she is able to.
The Scapegoat’s Accomplishments Ignored
When I graduated from college in spite of all of the undermining and browbeating efforts, the accomplishment was completely ignored. If I brought it up, they changed the subject. No one in the entire extended family even attended my graduation or celebrated the accomplishment. I was getting out of my scapegoat role by being the first to graduate from college in an extended family of high school dropouts. So while everyone else was enjoying cards, presents and celebrations, I was actually being shunned and punished for graduating.
In my experience, the toxic family system will always and forever require scapegoats unless or until the entire family seeks recovery. While this may happen with an alcoholic or drug addict, the psychiatry profession as a whole does not even claim to be able to effectively treat narcissistic personality disorder. Hence, this is just one more reason why I personally support no contact.
You Selfish Scapegoat!
This accusation is so often made when the scapegoat draws a boundary or does anything to interfere with the narcissist’s needs and wants. This is a profound, often deeply ingrained message to the scapegoat.
It is imperative that a scapegoat realize the truth of this brainwashing. It is not selfish to draw healthy boundaries, protect yourself and your children from abuse or to refuse to be the family whipping post or slave.
Narcissists chronically project their own negative behavior, character traits, and deeds onto the scapegoat. My narcissistic mother often accused me of the very thing she was guilty of or doing. You are not selfish, she is.
Also, notice how the terms are defined according to whose behavior is being considered. Invariably, narcissistic mothers redefine terms and have double meanings depending on who they are being applied to. A great way to expose these double meanings or toxic unwritten family rules is to switch the characters of the golden child and the scapegoat.
If the golden child was doing this or that would it be considered selfish? If the narcissist was doing this or that would it be considered selfish? No, selfishness is redefined for the scapegoat in order to reinforce your continued silence and participation.
Narcissistic Mother Teaches Others to Abuse the Scapegoat
What Happens If the Scapegoat Leaves?
If the scapegoat leaves, the discord in the remainder of the family often increases without the scapegoat there to buffer the friction. The other family members may turn on one another as the tension increases or someone else will be assigned the role. However, if you are the scapegoat and you leave the family that does not necessarily mean you will be let out of your assigned role.
A narcissistic mother may let you go, too easily, way too easily. This is to convey a demoralizing message that it does not really matter to her or that is the way she prefers it anyway. Watch your back for the smear campaign in this scenario because she is thinking about the situation completely differently than what you imagine. Her mind is likely on her image and making sure no one believes you and the real reason for the separation.
On the other hand, everyone may be exceptionally nice attempting to lure you back in, but the scapegoat should not fall for this deception. I fell for this one myself. Upon returning to the same state due to my mother’s insistence, my mother pulled one of the worst stunts she ever pulled on me. Her manufactured drama included falsely disparaging me to the entire extended family in a very convincing manner. She then proceeded to twist the facts and use it against me literally for the rest of her days. Her drama was so dramatically convincing no one even questioned the validity of it.
So do not fall for the playing nice to get you back routine. This is no different than any other abusive cycle of being nice for a bit when an abuser fears he or she has lost his or her victim. It is difficult, and you may be tempted to believe things have finally improved, but do not believe it.
What Is a Scapegoat to Do?
These some of the things that helped me as the scapegoat of my narcissistic personality disordered mother:
- Understand it is not your fault and it never was. You are not bad, but have been taught a false image of yourself.
- Begin sorting through the false image and accusations that have been cast upon you and explore who you truly are.
- Realize that in a very real sense by using you as a scapegoat your narcissistic mother has already cast you out even while you were standing right in front of her. It is not because there is something wrong with you, but with her. Even wild animals care for and protect their young.
- Stop trying to win the approval of your narcissistic mother and others who are committed to misinterpreting, accusing or invalidating you while keeping you in the scapegoat role.
- Do not expect to receive an admission, sincere apology, genuine remorse or any other validation from a narcissistic mother or anyone else who used you as a scapegoat.
- Begin setting healthy boundaries with your narcissistic mother. There is often a backlash when you do this, so be prepared.
- Realize that even if you determine to go no contact with your narcissistic mother the boundary work must still be done in recovery. This is because boundaries are important in every relationship. Soft, weak boundaries pave the way for other abusive relationships.
- Begin setting healthy boundaries with your narcissistic mother’s silent partner and flying monkeys. They will not like it either, so be prepared.
- Refuse to be narcissistic mother’s slave or the family slave.
- Accept that you may very well never have a healthy relationship with your narcissistic mother or the flying monkeys.
- Realize you may very well lose other relationships if you go no contact with your narcissistic mother. This is discussed further in a later chapter.
- It has been my experience that not only my narcissistic mother, but also siblings and extended family members are heavily invested in maintaining the extended family pretense.
- Some seem unwilling or unable to face the truth about their mother, sister or daughter. Others do not want extended family skeletons out of the closet for fear some of their own may fall out too. However, most are likely intentional pretenders, abusers or pathologically narcissistic themselves.
- While narcissists in an extended family will turn on one another if it serves their individual selfish purposes, they will also tag team a scapegoat when there is a common goal. This is a reflection on them not on you but be warned.
- If you have already been shunned or ostracized see it as the blessing in disguise that it is.