The Narcissistic Family Scapegoat

If you follow my blog you will know that I was the scapegoat in my narcissistic family. My father was a pathological narcissist, while my mother was an enabler who hid behind me when things got ugly and was only too happy to let me take the heat. My brother, on the other hand, was the revered golden child.

As you may imagine, this was not an easy post to write, because it cut very close to home. However I am writing it because I still remember the relief I felt the day I read an article about narcissistic families and I realized that I was not crazy.

It was so validating to find out that the insanity of my childhood had not been a figment of my imagination. That what had happened to me actually had a name.

I was the narcissistic family scapegoat.

I am writing this post to reach others who shared my experience. You are not alone. It was not your fault. You deserved better.

The tragedy of the narcissistic family scapegoat

In a family where one of the parents is a narcissist, there is always a child who gets used as a trash can for all their negative emotions and frustrations.

This child is the scapegoat, who is unfairly blamed for all the problems within a family.

The parent with narcissistic personality disorder blames the scapegoat for everything they are unhappy about. The other members of the family soon learn that blaming the scapegoat maintains equilibrium and keeps the narcissist happy. Soon the entire family is unloading on this unfortunate child in a barrage of abuse by proxy coordinated by the narcissist.

The life of a scapegoated child is one of confusion and isolation. The child learns at an early age that it is better not to express their feelings or needs because it will lead to conflict with those who should love them most dearly – namely, their parents.

As adults, these individuals struggle with issues such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. They may find it difficult to trust other people. They may also come to believe that they don’t deserve better treatment than what they received from their family.

In this blog post, I will explore what makes a narcissistic family so prone to scapegoating children, and I will take a look at the life of the typical scapegoat. I will also discuss the long-term impact that being scapegoated can have on an individual.

Why does a narcissistic family need a scapegoat?

Narcissistic parents might present themselves as supremely confident individuals, but in truth they are bottomless pits of insecurity. In order to feel powerful they pick on someone who is totally vulnerable and cannot fight back. So they turn on their own child, turning them into their emotional punching bags, taking out their frustration on them.

In some cases the narcissist feels threatened by their child’s accomplishments and independence. Normal parents are overjoyed when their children do well, but a narcissist sees anyone else’s success as a threat to their own self-esteem. The narcissist may see the scapegoat as a rival, so they become a target for abuse.

The narcissist will often choose a child who is different from them to scapegoat. This could be a child who is shy and withdrawn, or it could be a child who is outspoken and independent. The narcissist may view these qualities as threats to their own power and control within the family.

He targeted me because I stood up to him

I was very outspoken, and I think that is what made me a target.

My father was very fond of telling everyone that I was a problem child. His recurring refrain was that he was sure I would end up in prison one day. I remember agonizing over his comments every night. Why was I such a bad child? After all, I was trying so hard to be good!

Of course, now I realize that I was not a bad child at all. He was simply projecting his own evil and maliciousness onto me.

What I could never understand when I was a kid was why my mother never stuck up for me. After all, I stuck up for her time and time again.

The answer, though I did not know it at the time, was that she enabled my father. Her job was to support her husband in all things. If that meant making her own daughter’s life hell, then so be it.

What’s it like to be the narcissistic family scapegoat?

The life of the scapegoat is one of constant turmoil. They are subjected to verbal and emotional abuse, and they may also be physically abused or neglected.

The scapegoat always feels like they are walking on eggshells around their parents. They learn to make themselves as small as possible and to suppress their own needs in order to avoid conflict.

Inevitably, the child is severely damaged by his or her experience. The following are some of the common repercussions of being scapegoated.

Mistrust

A child who has been scapegoated learns that they should never trust anyone. The child’s emotional development is stunted and they grow up feeling unworthy and unloved. After all they were cast aside and abused by their parents and siblings, who seemed to be more concerned with maintaining the status quo than looking out for their welfare.

Anxiety

As children, scapegoats have to be hypervigilant, constantly scanning their environment for danger. This makes them very anxious. As they get older they are likely to struggle with anxiety disorders, which may include panic attacks, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders and depression.

The scapegoat also internalizes the toxic shame and guilt heaped upon them by their NPD parent. They may feel like they are to blame for their abuse, even if it was obvious that the narcissist had no good reason to be angry at them.

Unfortunately they are also more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours such as drug or alcohol abuse, cutting, and suicide attempts.

Difficulty forming relationships

Scapegoats usually find it difficult to form healthy relationships in adulthood due to lack of trust in others and low self esteem problems caused by the abuse they suffered as children. The may think they don’t deserve better treatment than what they received from their family. This leads them to accept less than what is fair in other relationships.

In adulthood, some scapegoats become narcissists themselves as a defence against being victimized again. Others learn ways of compensating for their low self esteem and lack of trust in others by becoming highly successful in order to gain recognition from others outside the family.

How to heal after being the narcissistic family scapegoat

The scars that are inflicted by a narcissistic parent are difficult to heal and the pain lasts a lifetime. However this does not mean that all is lost. If you were the victim of scapegoating in a narcissistic family, it is possible to heal and recover from the abuse.

First, it is important to get professional help. A therapist who specializes in working with victims of narcissistic abuse can help you understand what happened to you and how to deal with the trauma.

You also need to build a support system outside of your family. This could be friends, a support group for survivors of narcissist abuse, or even an online forum where you can find others who understand what you’re going through.

Finally, it is essential that you work on rebuilding your self esteem. This may involve journaling, art therapy, or any activity that allows you to express yourself creatively. Remember to practice self care and focus on your own needs, rather than trying to please those who are still enabling the narcissist.

This is a message of hope

I realize that this is a bleak post. There is not much positive about it. However the truth is that the scapegoat is ultimately the lucky one in the family. They are the one who has the greatest chance of moving on to live a normal life.

Children who are not chosen as scapegoats in a narcissistic family often have many advantages. However they are more susceptible to becoming narcissists themselves, and this can cause problems later on in life when they form families of their own.

This is in fact what happened in my case. My father destroyed my brother but he did not destroy me. I was bloodied and wounded, but I made it out of that hellhole that he created for us. And so can you.

For Further Reading

You might also want to check out the following posts about narcissistic families and the impact of childhood trauma:

And finally, this is my story. I was the scapegoat daughter of a narcissistic father.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. When you use one of my affiliate links, the company compensates me. At no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission, which helps me run this blog and keep my in-depth content free of charge for all my readers.

8 thoughts on “The Narcissistic Family Scapegoat”

  1. Thank you Carla for sharing your story. I was also a scapegoat in the family with narc. mother, enabling father and a golden child sister. Although I am healing for many years (8) already, it still hurts. I am 40 and still have problems with relationships and still am getting bumped into narcissists. Prefer to live isolated, trying to compensate with high achievements, indeed have so much guilt, anxiety, depression. Healing constantly, slowly, facing emotions, dealing with addictions.
    It recently came up to me, that from my early age the center of my fight was always the “true self” and the true honest connections with the Universe and Earth and the Surrounding, against of this artificially created parallel world of ego and masks. And we, scapegoats, are so very well aware of this fight, like nobody else, we are very well trained, experienced warriors, – maybe that is the reason why we can finally find the way out, unlike other kids. We “see”. We need to find a way to bring this “true self” out in a healthy conscious way and then show this way to the others.

    I’ve never learned to set up healthy boundaries in my life, any step in this direction or towards my true self was leading to huge scandals from my mother. No support, no hugs, no kind feelings, ever, only when outsiders were looking, rarely… Now I don’t talk to her anymore and live in another country. And I noticed that I am ready to pay a lot for any course where someone says me at least once “You are loved”… This is so wrong.. My sister is indeed on the border of becoming a narcissist, unhappy, but is aware of the situation now, she is in therapy, so I have hopes for her. We both left home to different countries.

    Now, in the process of healing, I started to wonder how to forgive our parents. It seems like without this step, I attract same patterns again and again. By the way, in the process of healing I found out myself becoming a narcissists-breaker. Since I immediately refuse to play their games, acting honestly, with integrity, going slow (not doing mostly), observing, there is always a moment where a narcissist is showing his/her deeper nature and makes it all wrong with expectations from me. And with time shows to society his/her true nature.. because they lie constantly, gaslight, and are super scared by nature. But I am so tired to focus my attention on how to spot and defend from a narcissist. Mistrust? I see that setting up my boundaries and speaking up about my feelings early on helps. But I want a peaceful life full of love, support and trust. It becomes easier and easier to set up boundaries every day.
    But in order to completely heal, I need to forgive my parents deep within me somehow, restoring connection with the help of compassion and still keeping strong boundaries on the outside…Or do you create new imaginary parents in your mind? I had Mother Earth and Father Cosmos for a while… I wonder, how do you solve this problem? I am aware, that this step can only happen when we heal ourselves first.

    Actually, this is the first time when I am able to share this story in words with the world, and without tears. I need that, to not loose my way and my true self in the battle. Thank you for you site.

    Reply
    • Hi Yum, I am so very sorry that you had to live through this ordeal. Believe me, I know how much growing up with a narcissistic parent hurts. It takes a lot of strength and courage to move forward and make a better life for yourself. You are not alone in this process and your journey is already filled with accomplishments that you can celebrate.

      You ask about forgiveness, but I think that what you need to focus on is forgiving YOURSELF and not your parents. I am not saying that it is easy – I am 48 and I am still in therapy and there are still moments when my inner monologue is totally negative and I blame myself for things that rationally, were not my fault. After all, we were just children and they were adults – it was their job to love us, protect us and nurture us.

      But that doesn’t change the fact that I still sometimes feel guilty for things that happened in the past. In those moments, I try to be gentle with myself and remind myself of my successes – no matter how small they may seem – and of the people who care about me and love me.

      Sometimes, just taking a few deep breaths can help to reset my frame of mind. Writing things out in a journal or talking to friends or even writing a blog post – all of these activities can be incredibly helpful for allowing yourself to forgive yourself for past mistakes. It’s about understanding that no one is perfect and learning how to nurture yourself in a healthy way.

      Ultimately, it is important to remember that life happens – and mistakes are part of being human. It’s how we choose to move forward and take care of ourselves that will determine our future successes. That’s why it’s always okay to forgive yourself, no matter what. We all deserve grace, understanding and kindness. When we practice self-compassion, it helps us to stay centred, grounded, and connected to the people who care about us and love us.

      We often look to our parents for a sense of security and validation, and when we don’t get it from them, it can be hard to carry on with confidence. But it’s important that you focus on loving yourself and set boundaries with your narcissistic parent. Setting boundaries with your parents does not turn you into a bad daughter – it makes you a wise one.

      I hope you find the resources here on carlacorelli.com helpful as you continue on your path towards recovery and healing. Wishing you all the best and sending healing energy your way. xo – Carla

      Reply
  2. My stepmom was a narcissist. My Dad the enabler. My stepbrother the golden child, and my sisters became her flying monkeys. We came to her after being sexually abused and tormented by a stepdad. Having been the scapegoat in more than one family setting, I’m surprised I’m still alive. I was an overachiever and suicidal. We ran through the tall stinging nettles of the PacificNorthWest PNW, and played beehive baseball … rather than do cutting. It was therapeutic. (Let the skin sting instead of our hearts)…. Anyway, I’m so sorry for what you suffered. I understand you. blessings, L

    Reply
    • Hi Lori, I am so sorry. To this day I cannot understand WHY adults would behave that way – but I suppose there is no reason, other than insanity. Sending you lots of love, from one scapegoat to another.

      Reply
  3. Thank you. I’m 45 and am only now finding the strength to acknowledge the abuse from my narc mother and her malignant narc, golden boy, first child idol without feeling overwhelmed by guilt. I developed severe OCD as a teen and struggled for years without even knowing what it was. Unfortunately, at a very young age, my mom chose me to be her life partner, making me feel remorseful for ever having the dream to actually leave home like a healthy person and making a life for myself. I really struggled with thoughts of the future as a child, overpowered by those dread and guilt feelings that told me that I had to forever be there for her or I was a selfish person. And meanwhile I bought into the persona of her being the strong, fearless woman that she portrayed to herself and everyone else, even as my subconscious would hint at me to address why she was so dependent on me without feeling like I was betraying her all the more. With all the emotional trauma I was juggling when the age came for me to escape, I was unable to put up a fight and stayed alone in my room during the majority of my teens and twenties, thanks largely to being bullied by the OCD. So things worked out well for her. She’s now disabled and I am her caregiver. I’ve been dealing with anger attacks these past few years as it feels as if many doors are closed for me now but the OCD has eased just enough to give me the curiosity to want to understand the whys of my reactions to the abuse and to address who I am in my own right rather than who these people have told me that I was. The goal is to not conflate the situation with feelings of guilt, blame-shifting, and ingratitude and to channel my anger into more positive avenues. Your articles have been a great help, Carla, and thank you for your courage and honesty. Erica Smith

    Reply
    • Hi Erica, I am so glad that my articles have helped. I write them because I myself remember the moment when I first read about narcissistic personality disorder and suddenly my life came into focus and I understood what had happened to me and why.
      I want you to know that you are entitled to feel all the feelings that you are currently experiencing – even anger. In a way you are grieving, for the childhood you should have had and the life choices you would have been free to make had you not been held back by your mother.
      However, what is important is that you do not let your feelings hold you back now that you understand your family dynamics. 45 is not old. The time has come for you to prioritise yourself, and if that means putting your mother in a care home or dropping her off at your brother’s house, then so be it. Do not let people around you guilt you into doing things that you do not want to do. They have not lived your life and they are not the ones taking care of her. The time has come for you to become your own number one Erica. Sending you my love. You are always welcome on my blog!

      Reply

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