Escape from Being Your Family’s Scapegoat

by | Aug 2, 2017

If your parents and siblings use you to maintain their unhealthy behavior patterns, you are the family’s scapegoat, the repository of all your dysfunctional family’s problems. You’ve been the target of bullying and emotional abuse, maybe even physical abuse. And this unfair, cruel targeting has left you with a number of your own problems, like low self-esteem and depression.

If your family has treated you like this for most of your life, it’s hard to understand that it’s not your fault. That you really don’t deserve this derision. That you have been fed a myth that you’re bad or weird or defective in some way. But in reality, you are the strong one upon whom the family has conspired—often unconsciously—to heap its problems. So how do you break out of this abusive situation? How do you come to a healthy understanding of yourself?

First, dig deep. You know, deep inside, that something is not right. You know you have been mistreated, though you might not know why. The reasons for scapegoating can be complex and difficult for a child to understand when it’s the parent who is misbehaving, not the child. But begin by trusting your innate feeling that you are being abused.

Seek out your truths. You have been assigned a negative stereotype that you must do all in your power to counteract. List all the great things about yourself. Remind yourself about all the good that is in your character. Accentuate the positive aspects of your personality. Repeatedly remind yourself that you are a good person and the bad things your family says about you are not true.
Stop trying to win approval. Some people spend their entire lives trying to get their abusive parent to change, but it seldom works. The parent likely has a personality disorder of his own, and you are the dumping ground for all his bad feelings. If you try to call him on it, he may become even more defensive and abusive. He is too comfortable with the dysfunctional behavior as it is, and will not respond well to being held accountable.

Start standing up for yourself. Even though it may be hard to change your family’s behavior, you can change your own. Insist that family members speak to you respectfully. Whenever they are angry or abusive, tell them you will not tolerate it. Explain that if they continue you cannot have a relationship with them. And then be prepared to follow through, difficult as this may be. Know that you may have to make a break from your family to find your own peace of mind.

Be good to yourself. You’ve spent a lot of your life believing you are bad or wrong or somehow defective. Take the time to learn to love yourself. Recognize that recovery is seldom a straight path; there will be setbacks. But persist in treating yourself with compassion—as a worthy human being who deserves to be loved.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:


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