When you’re a scapegoat, like I was as a child, you’re burdened by recovering from manipulation, put-downs, and unequal treatment — but hope and healing is possible.

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If you believe you’re a scapegoat, or were one as a child like I was, you might have been deprived of the experience of growing up in a safe, stable home where the unconditional love of parents and caregivers abounds.

In family units where a parent or caregiver has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), there’s typically a family “scapegoat” — a person the family blames for their problems as a means of deflecting attention from real conflict.

A 2020 research paper explains that the goal of the parent with NPD is not to deal with or resolve the issues, but to cover them up.

I’m a survivor of maternal narcissistic abuse and by understanding the traits of both narcissism and scapegoat childhood trauma, you can survive, overcome, and heal, too.

The term scapegoat was borrowed from the Hebrew tradition of the annual Day of Atonement, where a goat was “cursed” and imbued with the sins of the nation, to wander and die in the wilderness as a sacrifice.

A scapegoat is a person or group you place blame on. When scapegoating children, the child is blamed or shamed for all the issues that arise within dysfunctional households.

Here’s how scapegoating works: The parent with NPD blames their child (or children) for family issues. The family then learns from these actions that all blame will be (mis)placed on the scapegoat, to maintain equilibrium in home life.

Several children can be scapegoated in a dysfunctional home.

A research paper in 2020 wrote that individuals living with narcissism create a “golden child” and one or more scapegoats within a household. This labeling gives people with NPD the freedom to:

  • manipulate or instigate
  • play people against each other, also referred to as triangulation
  • project their anger
  • continue living without regard to the impact of their words
  • displace all the blame onto someone else rather than be personally accountable for their own actions

In healthy family dynamics, the parent’s role is to support the child’s development and well-being. In dysfunctional families, child roles are artificial (for instance, the golden child or scapegoat child) and are meant to serve the needs of the parent.

My parent has narcissistic personality disorder and would spew things at us kids like: “If only I didn’t have you all.”

Verbal abuse was typical, as she continued to berate and blame us for her lack of success in life and why she was stuck dealing with all the consequences of her own actions. We all shared the title of scapegoat in my home.

If you’ve ever felt like the family punching bag, the “problem child,” or the proverbial “whipping boy” when recalling your relationship to your dominant caregiver, you may have been a scapegoat child yourself.

Children tend to trust what their parents are telling them. These internalized messages become ingrained and carried into adulthood and can affect things such as confidence, self-esteem, and relationships.

Without therapy to uncover and recover parts of yourself so you can move forward wholly, there are several ripple effects that might continue into adulthood and affect other relationships, such as:

  • Toxic shame. Toxic shame is internalized shame that lasts long and is usually accompanied by childhood memories. You might continue to blame yourself for parental neglect into adulthood, or take on the blame for things that aren’t always your fault in order to keep the peace.
  • Trust issues. Because of verbal abuse, scapegoated children rarely feel emotional safety and are often unable to trust people or their own instincts — not being able to distinguish what’s true and not.
  • Relationship issues. Since the scapegoat child is only tolerated when they bear the faults of the parent with NPD, they can grow up with a distorted view of relationships and love as only conditional or transactional.
  • Gravitating toward partners with narcissistic behaviors. Childhood scapegoats may end up in relationships with someone NPD because it feels familiar, verbal abuse is normal to them, and they’re used to being treated this way.
  • Low self-esteem. The combination of being shamed, verbally abused, and humiliated can create challenges with self-esteem.

It can be painful to eventually realize that you didn’t receive the essential needs all children deserve for emotional support.

To begin the restorative journey, children who have been subjected to the scapegoat role must learn to stand up to shame and focus on healing their inner world first.

Healing stems from a foundation of having a strong sense of identity and self, and building a supportive relationship with oneself.

Understanding that this role was given to you without your knowledge or choice can empower you as an adult to choose differently.

Key steps you can take to begin the healing process include:

You can begin implementing these strategies within your daily life.

It’s highly recommended that you consider working with a trauma-informed mental health professional who can assist you in dismantling the narrative that was written throughout your life.

This can be done in a variety of ways, such as virtually, in person, or with online platforms that offer this service. You can find your voice and realize how powerful you truly are.

DRK Beauty Healing is a mental health and wellness company for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, South Asian, East Asian, and all women and nonbinary People of Color to discover, experience, and create their unique well-being journey. They offer free therapy through their nonprofit initiative, one of America’s leading free mental health resources. They also provide access to a broad range of affordable resources (e.g., support group sessions) from culturally responsive therapists, faith-based teachers, and practitioners of various spiritual, healing, and occupational modalities. DRK Beauty Healing believes its holistic approach to healing will ultimately empower People of Color across the globe to forge their unique path to wellness.