Are You Your Family’s Scapegoat?
I have a friend who blames the dog when something goes wrong in her family. Who forgot to put the milk back in the fridge? “Buddy!” Who left the garage door open? “Buddy!” The use of humor is a healthy approach in such situations. But when the family chooses a child or a sibling as the scapegoat, there is nothing funny about it. In fact, it’s child abuse. And it often continues into adulthood.
What happens is that a family, frequently unaware of its behavior, targets one member. That child becomes the one who is blamed, criticized and even ostracized for no fault of his own. In that way he serves the purpose of being the repository for every problem the family has. A parent with a personality disorder can deflect the negative attention from himself and unite the family into making one child the guilty one.
No wonder scapegoats feel picked on. They feel like they don’t belong to their own family of origin because they are singled out and excluded. People who are scapegoats often have self-esteem issues and feel depressed. They sometimes have trouble trusting others. They find themselves suffering form disrespect in their social and professional lives. They are drawn to people who repeatedly hurt them because that is behavior that is familiar to them.
If any of the above rings true for you, and if you were the fall guy when things went wrong in your family, you were the scapegoat. Here are some more signs:
1) People in your family are abusive to you—verbally, emotionally or
physically—and other family members look the other way or even join in.
2) You have been designated as the family outcast—the weird one, the nerd, the
birdbrain—even though, deep down, you may be the strongest, most mentally
healthy one of the group.
3) You are attacked and put firmly in your place when you try to bring the
truth to light about your dysfunctional family dynamics.
4) You are held responsible for problems that don’t even involve you. Other
family members blame you for their own issues. You are manipulated into
feeling guilt and shame.
If you have been made the scapegoat of your family, you have been bullied and abused, perhaps without even thinking so. Because everyone in the family is on board with this, it’s sometimes hard to understand that the terrible situation you’re in is not your fault. It’s just that you happened to have been born into a dysfunctional family that uses you to maintain their unhealthy behavior patterns.
Next time we’ll talk about how to break free from being a scapegoat.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Psychotherapist. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.