Sunday, June 21, 2015

Liberating the Scapegoat

My Story

In my family, I have had the difficult role of scapegoat. After my mom died, that fact was more prevalent than ever. I would like to share with you what I have learned both as my family’s scapegoat and a former counselor.

My family was troubled. My father was an alcoholic. My mom had been terribly abused as a child. Those were the people who produced me – who raised me. My family had the classic distribution of hero, lost child and scapegoat roles which you find in many challenging family dynamics, but the lines blurred between the scapegoat and lost child roles with me and my middle brother. When my mom died, however, I was 100% thrust into the role of scapegoat. It wasn’t much fun growing up in this dynamic, but became awful once she was gone. At that time, the voice I had spoken strongly and confidently with had been taken from me as was the value my mom bestowed upon me.

Quite simply, being a scapegoat meant that no matter what I did, how well I did it, or how kind, successful, intelligent, athletic and decent a person I was, my family could bring me to me knees with their cold and cruel words. If you are a scapegoat, it is likely this has also been your experience.

My mom was my salvation. She knew she had to work on some issues and bravely sought help to confront her childhood demons in order to be a better mother and a happier person. My mom transcended the need to find someone to project her disowned pieces of character upon. She never fully escaped the grip of her childhood or the challenges of her marriage, but she blazed a trail for me. For that, I am grateful.

Blazing Trails

I am going to tell all the scapegoats out there something you probably don’t want to hear: They (meaning your family) need you to remain in your role as scapegoat. They need a dumping ground for all they cannot, are not and will not face inside themselves. It will feel like you are hated without grounds.

The chances of them suddenly changing and seeing you for who you really are, are slim to none. Let me tell you why. They are unable to address their own inner pain, darkness, cruelty, and perhaps abusive behaviors due to their own fears and insecurities that run deep – too deep for you to penetrate especially as a scapegoat. Because I want you to learn this faster and easier than I did, let me be perfectly clear. YOU cannot change THEM or THEIR negative perceptions of YOU. The good news is I know a way for you to surpass the pain they inevitably will cause you. So, bear with me as I explain.

My experience suggests the scapegoat can be the strongest member in the dysfunctional family system. Because of that, I suggest you get quality counseling because, as a reflective and independent thinker, you can make some tangible headway. 

As you start to separate the lies of who they think you are from the truth of who you really are, you will begin the process of liberation. Second, do whatever you need to do to preserve your peace of mind. In my situation, I had to cease contact with the people who were causing me the greatest pain. You may or may not need to do something as drastic. If you do, please know how brave you are because they will tell many stories including lies of what a horrible person you are for simply having the courage to do what was necessary to take care of yourself. My father went as far as to cut me from the inheritance he and my mom originally set up in order to punish me for valuing myself enough to walk away from a painful situation.

The hurtful family members NEED a scapegoat as they are unable to look at themselves. Therefore, as you begin to separate yourself from your family and their false perceptions of you, they will not let you go gracefully. If you choose to leave a harmful situation, they will still speak poorly of you in your absence. Sometimes, in these disturbed situations, when the original scapegoat flies the coop, they will find another to replace you. Unfortunately, if you return, you will most likely be recast into your role. So, tread carefully. I returned briefly at a painfully low point in my life only to discover several lies had been told including things I know I didn't do, but they believed them. The same situation I left remained. This is what scapegoats generally face if they return. I’m not saying don’t. I’m just advising care be taken and clear boundaries be set as you walk in so they can’t harm you further.

The people who are denigrating you are often insecure, enslaved by their distortions and easily threatened. They often won’t have the courage you do to address feelings. Therefore, there’s no reasoning with them as they cannot understand what you have been brave enough to discover. 

What you must do is remember who you are and the many wonderful qualities you possess. Write them down on stickies and place them all over your home if need be. Surround yourself with quality people and remember the goodness that has touched you in life. Personally, I draw strength from a couple of good friends and a volunteer who has stuck by me since my mom’s death. I lean on them, and they reflect back what is kind and decent in me. Fortunately, I get kudos at work as well. Last, I recall my mom’s unfailing love for me which has permanently been imprinted on my heart and in my soul. Focus on the love, and refocus on that as many times as it takes.


Scapegoats will be disliked and denigrated by their family no matter what. As a result, we are free to do anything we want, and think anything we want because we know that it doesn’t matter as we will be judged regardless. If we can get beyond our pain, we tend to be strong, independent thinkers. We also tend to have depth as we have learned to understand the people who have hurt us, how to transform the pain into meaning, and, with luck, thrive. We have also searched our own souls to discover who we really are. The downside is we must be ever vigilant to not inflict the same negative perceptions on ourselves that our families have. Remember that what they have projected onto us is truly how they feel about themselves. Although, additionally remember they cannot cope with that truth, so unless they initiate a desire to get the help they need and take the necessary steps toward healing the wounds, they will not be interested in your hard-earned knowledge of the dynamic existing in the family.

In my lower moments, I have hurt terribly over some of the cruel things my family has said and done. I am at times disappointed they have not seen me for who I truly am. My previous response to their unkind view of me was to earn degrees, be an athlete and continually put feathers in my cap in hopes they might feel the respect for me I once yearned for. Constant achievement is exhausting, however, and doesn’t leave much time to smell the roses. I personally don't recommended this strategy as a means to earn love. In fact, anytime we do things to earn the acceptance of others, we sacrifice pieces of ourselves. It's just not worth it in the end. My response now is to just be who I am whether or not anyone approves, and do what matters to me. I have come to realize my family is incapable of seeing let alone loving me for who I am. I, though, AM capable of loving myself, AND all you other scapegoats are as well. That will be your greatest strength.

It is not you or anything you have done. You were born into a troubled environment and unconsciously assigned a role you didn't earn or deserve. Your task is to get yourselves out, learn how amazing you are and remind yourselves of that frequently. Accept that YOU are the only one you can change and because you are strong, you can. Then, despite the extent of the pain you have endured, go live your life and be happy.

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