Are you the family scapegoat? Here are 9 signs

family scapegoat
Image by Masaaki Komori

My mother suffered with an undiagnosed mental illness which made her incapable of experiencing empathy or compassion. My role as the family scapegoat began with me bearing the burden of my mother’s emotional neediness while displaying no needs of my own.

As I grew up and began to act out as a result of the years of emotional abuse and neglect, my family labeled me the problem child. I became a convenient diversion from the family’s real problems which were multi-faceted and generational.

Through studying the dynamics of dysfunctional family systems, I’ve learned my role as the repository for the family’s grievances is archetypal. They used me as the scapegoat for their own shortcomings, making me the problem instead of facing their need to change.

Origins of the family scapegoat

The scapegoat is first mentioned in the Bible as a living sacrifice. Rather than kill the animal, the community releases it into the wild to carry away the sins of the whole group.

Its only purpose is to bear the burden of sins that are not its own. Today, we more often see scapegoats in dysfunctional families.

The family singles out one person to take the blame for all the problems in the family. Rather than look at themselves, the family points a collective finger at the scapegoat.

This allows them to carry on in their dysfunctional patterns without changing. They pretend to themselves they’re all right while the scapegoat is all wrong.

The scapegoat is the one who tells the truth about obvious defects in the family. Rather than support, she experiences gaslighting from the rest of the family.

She may be the mentally healthiest member of the family but by banding together, the clan convinces itself, and the scapegoat, that the opposite is true.

She may not understand why the rest of the family is unwilling to admit the obvious, keeps secrets, and hides the truth. For the scapegoat, the truth will set you free, but she is part of a family system that would rather remain in chains.

Fear of change and exposure motivates the family to sacrifice the scapegoat this way. Rather than face the truth and the possibility of deconstructing the whole family system, they demonize the truth teller.

If any of this resonates with you and you believe you’ve been targeted as the family scapegoat, here are nine signs you’ve been put in this role.

1. You are punished for telling the truth.

It seems like anytime you speak the truth, your family rebukes you. They abandon or punish you when you don’t go along with the status quo.

They can’t acknowledge the obvious truths you point out and instead point the finger at you and say you are the one with the problem.

2. You are the whistleblower.

Perhaps you threatened to expose a family secret but somehow got branded the bad guy. That’s because your desire to bring the truth to light poses a threat to a family dynamic that functions in the dark.

The hardest part of being a scapegoat is that families can be exceptionally good at hiding their dysfunction. This results in further isolation when the victim is not believed.

3. Your family blames you for their shortcomings.

They refuse to examine the poor behavior you’re asking them to acknowledge. Instead, they point to your human reaction to that behavior and pretend that’s the issue instead.

A valid emotional response becomes further evidence you’re “crazy” or always stirring up trouble.

4. You’re held to a different standard.

You may notice thoughts and opinions similar to yours are celebrated when others express them. But when you say or do the same things you get maligned. In psychology, this is known as the black sheep effect.

5. You feel left out as the family scapegoat.

You may find yourself left out of family events or conversations. Because you tell the truth, they’d rather not hear from you.

At the same time, you get criticized for your absence at events you were never invited to. This provokes guilt in you even though you’re the one who has been ostracized.

6. They sully your reputation.

Family members talk about you behind your back and speak poorly of you even to those outside the family circle. Rather than face their dysfunction they’ll tarnish your reputation publicly.

This is so you won’t receive support from outside the family and they can continue in their collective delusion.

7. Your family makes you feel ashamed or guilty.

As a result of years of unjust treatment, you have internalized a false sense of being bad or wrong. This can lead to over responsibility as you try to prove your “goodness”.

You fail to protect yourself from offences against you as a means of “taking the high road”. Or bear the burden of repairing relationships that are either bad for you or not your job to fix.

8. As the family scapegoat, you receive little or no praise.

Your family downplays your accomplishments. You may have never been praised or encouraged for your achievements in life.

Without the motivation provided by a pat on the back for a job well done, you give up and fail to achieve anything close to your potential. On the flip side, you work ever harder trying to prove yourself.

9. You have a difficult relationship with your sibling(s).

You have trouble connecting with your siblings as equals. They treat you with the same disdain as the rest of the family, promoting a false narrative of you as a troublemaker, or even someone with mental health issues.

They disrespect and discredit you at every turn. And do not provide you with the support you see in other sibling relationships.

While there’s no magic number that confirms you are a family scapegoat, it’s safe to say answering yes to five or more of these signs would be a good indication.

It’s important to know it’s not your fault and you had no control over your position within the family. It’s a role that was forced on you from a young age.

Stay tuned for the next post on how to heal from scapegoating and reclaim your life from the lies your family has told you.

The social stigma of going no contact with toxic family

toxic family
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If you’ve had to go no contact with toxic family, you know the strength required to protect yourself this way. Often decades of internal work go into reaching such a drastic conclusion.

If you’ve dealt with toxic family you know it’s tantamount to having your head held underwater while drowning. Instead of throwing you a life preserver, or even ignoring you, they throw you a boulder.

As a result, you can rarely become the person God (or the universe) put you on earth to become. Therefore, detaching from unsafe family becomes a matter of survival and a spiritual battle for your life.

Gaslighting abounds within the toxic family. They call you crazy for displaying normal human emotions. They deny your reality, tell you you’re wrong to feel the way you do, or reinvent the past.

Gaslighting abounds within the toxic family. They call you crazy for displaying normal emotions. They deny your reality or reinvent the past. Click To Tweet

If you haven’t heard of gaslighting, it’s the way your family throws you under the bus to avoid dealing with their problems. They make you the problem to maintain their dysfunctional status quo.

They deny that anything bad has happened to you. Often, they make you believe you’re overreacting or selfish for wanting to be seen and heard or have your needs met.

Social stigma of detaching from toxic family

toxic family

I heard a dating coach tell his students that it’s a big red flag if someone has a troubled relationship with their family. This is an example of the social stigma attached to making the brave move to protect yourself from toxic people.

In addition to the pain and isolation of detaching from your abusers, you endure the social shame of being someone who “can’t get along with their family”.

After all, the common denominator is you, right? Your family seems to get along with each other and as they’ve told you, you’re the only one with a problem.

This is where the spiritual battle comes in. You may be the family scapegoat and that’s a biblical concept. You are the spiritual bearer of your family’s sins and they will keep piling on you until you take a stand for yourself.

You may be the family scapegoat and that's the spiritual bearer of your family's sins. They will keep piling on you until you take a stand for yourself. Click To Tweet

It’s a lie that truth hangs with the majority. Most often, the one who stands alone is the truth teller. Think of the boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes. Jesus. Any whistleblower you can name.

As someone with the courage to stand up to your abusers and choose the truth you count yourself among the esteemed company listed above.

Most likely, you have been persecuted for refusing to go along with a lie. The lie of toxic family rules and roles. The lie that expressing emotions means you’re crazy. And there is no shame in that.

How to take the air out of your revenge fantasies

revenge fantasies
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Have you ever indulged in revenge fantasies? These are the normal outcome of feeling victimized or traumatized by others. Especially if you’ve suffered from PTSD, complex or otherwise.

I’ve lived long enough to see my childhood bully come to a grisly and untimely end at the hands of a family member. Another of my perpetrators contracted a fatal illness.

Interestingly, these developments brought me no pleasure. My desire to see these people suffer lived only in my imagination. In reality, I experienced sorrow when calamity befell them, and pity over their inauthentic lives.

James Baldwin wrote one of my favorite life quotes:

People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.

My revenge fantasies paled in comparison to the punishment these people inflicted on themselves. By holding tight to the need to be right and condemning others, they created loveless lives.

By denying themselves the personal growth to find their true calling in life, they resigned themselves to meagre existences. This led to physical illness and relationships with people who cared nothing for their well-being.

What causes revenge fantasies

revenge fantasies

The desire for revenge comes from a feeling of bitterness against someone who wronged you. As you move away from such people and tend to your own needs, your resentment abates.

Revenge fantasies serve as a coping mechanism to relieve the pain of complex PTSD. But as we heal that pain through self-love and self-compassion, the need for revenge dissipates.

As you grow and create a fulfilling life away from your former persecutors, pity replaces bitterness. And forgiveness has nothing to do with releasing these bad feelings.

It comes with the knowledge that those people no longer hold any power over you. You see how small they become as you expand into your true essence.

In the film The Revenant, the protagonist spends much of the film seeking revenge against his son’s killer. In the end, he realizes revenge belongs to God. When the perpetrator faces justice in the end, it’s by someone else’s hand.

If there’s a moral here it’s that your abusers will pay for what they’ve done. Whether through the small lives they’ve created, or through physical calamity.

You may be surprised at how little this satisfies you, and even pity them. That’s because you’ve grown like a phoenix from the ashes, while they remain scurrying on the ground.

As you soar to new heights in your personal development, they no longer hold power over you. In fact, you can barely see them from your new vantage point.

That’s enough to take the air out of most revenge fantasies. Independent of whether you’ve forgiven your persecutors or not.

Signs and causes of women who love too much

women who love too much
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Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood took the world by storm in 1985. It told countless stories of women who stood by men whose love fell far out of reach.

In an interview, Gary Thomas who wrote When to Walk Away, said there are plenty of women who love too much but he’s never heard of a man who loved too much.

Women who love too much share the trait of self-abandonment. Instead of asking for what they want, they twist themselves to fit into what someone else wants or needs.

Women who love too much share the trait of self-abandonment. Click To Tweet

Here are 5 signs you are a woman who loves too much. But there are more, including using sex to get or keep his attention.

1. Women who love too much are drawn to unavailable men.

These men are either physically or emotionally unavailable for a meaningful relationship. They could be married or have an addiction they prioritize over you.

They might be narcissistic, afraid of intimacy, or uninterested in a deeper relationship with you. And they may have unresolved issues from childhood that make them unable to form attachments.

2. Nice men are boring to you.

You find it impossible to be attracted to men who are nice and treat you well. You find a way to sabotage any chance of relationship with these men because they are not creating the chaos you crave.

Although painful, you need the internal turmoil provoked by an unavailable man. You mistake the insecurity and poor treatment for passion. Love to you has always been hard and hurtful, and a kind man will not feel like “home”.

3. Women who love too much compromise values.

women who love too much

In an effort to win the man’s love, you keep moving your boundaries, if you had any to begin with. You make excuses for poor behavior and take up with an addict, for instance, even though you said you never would.

4. You think if you try hard enough, you’ll win them over.

To you red flags are not a sign of danger but something to overcome. You think with enough love and understanding you’ll coax this man into a relationship. Even when he has a pattern of evading commitment in the past.

You cling to a fantasy that you’re the one who will get through to him. If you need less and give more, he’ll become your knight in shining armor and fulfill the empty space inside.

5. You’re obsessed with thoughts of the person.

When you’re with friends, he’s all you ever talk about. You’re constantly checking your phone to see if he’s texted or called. You suffer the constant pain of insecurity due to the power imbalance of him not caring as much as you do.

What creates women who love too much?

Women who love too much seek the love they never received as children. Your father or mother’s affection felt out of reach. So, you reenact that childhood drama by yearning for, and never receiving, love from a man.

Women who love too much seek the love they never received as children. Click To Tweet

Instead of learning from experience and leaving one-sided relationships, you double down. Either with the same man or another unavailable partner, you keep pursuing people who will never return your love.

As in childhood, you assume the problem lies with you. If only you were more understanding, prettier, more perfect, you’d win his love. It’s a trick now as it was then, and keeps you from ever having your needs met.

Although your mind tells you otherwise, you do not want a real relationship. You pursue these hopeless cases because they protect you from your deep fear of intimacy.

If your parents never gave you the love you needed, you will feel unworthy of love. Even if subconscious, this self-belief plays out in these artificial relationships.

It’s a fear of being seen and known because you might be unclear of who you really are. Or harbor a deep-seated fear that there is something wrong with you. If anyone really knew you, they wouldn’t like you.

So, you get involved with men who have no interest in knowing you and that keeps you safe. At the same time, you tell yourself that making this person fall in love with you will solve all your problems.

Not only will this never happen, another person is not the answer to anyone’s emptiness inside. We need to get to the root of our self-loathing and self-sabotage. This means resolving our past and understanding who we are and what we really need.

Why forgiveness is hard and how to forgive authentically

forgiveness
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If you’ve been wronged, you know how hard forgiveness can be. Even, or especially, when the wrongdoing came from a close friend or family member.

We come up with all kinds of reasons why we can’t forgive, even when we know it’s the right thing to do. Knowing in our heads we need to forgive, doesn’t make it easier for our hearts to do so.

People find forgiveness difficult for many different and personal reasons. Here are 4 common ones:

1. Conflict avoidance

If you’re someone who tends to avoid conflict, you’ll sidestep difficult situations. Rather than acknowledge another person’s transgression, you’ll carry on as if it never happened.

Or, you may cut the person out of your life so you don’t have to deal with them at all. But out of sight does not mean out of mind. Without forgiveness, that person and what they did will continue to eat away at you.

Out of sight does not mean out of mind. Without forgiveness, that person and what they did will continue to eat away at you. Click To Tweet

2. Self preservation

You refuse forgiveness because you believe it gives the offender license to hurt you again. Unless the person is toxic or a narcissist, however, forgiveness is not the same as permission to re-offend.

3. Desire to even the score

Lack of forgiveness breeds resentment and a desire for revenge. You feel you’d be letting this person off the hook if you forgave them.

Our egos have a hard time with such one-sided acts. It’s humbling to feel as though we’re giving much more than we’re getting in return.

4. Lack of remorse

The person has never offered you an apology. Or, they’ve apologized and expect that should be the end of the discussion.

But a truly remorseful person will seek to make amends. They will demonstrate their willingness to change before they expect to regain your trust.

Forgiveness is necessary even in the face of such audacity. Forgiveness and trust are not at all the same thing. Neither are forgiveness and relationship. You can stay away from someone and still forgive them.

How to extend forgiveness when it’s hard

forgiveness

Remember we forgive for ourselves not the other person. We’re letting ourselves off the hook when we forgive. The other person may not know (or care) that they’ve been forgiven.

Knowing forgiveness lowers anxiety, stress, and blood pressure, helps you see its importance. It boosts your immune system and increases self esteem while improving relationships, both present and future.

Forgiveness lowers anxiety, stress, and blood pressure. It boosts your immune system and increases self esteem. Click To Tweet

Remember times you required forgiveness or had to forgive yourself for wrongdoing. Give that same grace to your perpetrator.

Consider what’s happened to the person to make them behave the way they do. As an example, my emotionally abusive mother grew up with abuse and neglect herself.

Forgiveness does not erase what the person did to you or the consequences of their actions on your life. But you still need to process your emotions, especially anger, and grieve over what happened to you.

Grieving does not need to be complete for you to forgive. But it is necessary so you can move forward authentically, without stuffing down unprocessed emotions.