Scapegoat: How to determine you’re one and take steps to heal

toxic family scapegoat

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

The group casts out the scapegoat and leaves it to its own devices. 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 bear the burden of the group’s sins.

This person is usually the mentally healthiest of the bunch. They may also be the most creative, sensitive, and honest.

The scapegoat is usually the mentally healthiest family member. They may also be the most creative, sensitive, and honest. Click To Tweet

Rather than look at themselves, the family points a collective finger at the scapegoat. This allows them to carry on without changing.

They pretend to themselves they’re all right while the scapegoat is all wrong.

Are you the family scapegoat?

There are several signs you’re the scapegoat in your family. Here are five you might recognize:

1. You are punished for telling the truth.

It seems like anytime you speak the truth, your family casts you out. They abandon or punish you when you don’t follow along with the status quo, even when it’s criminal.

They can’t acknowledge the obvious truths that you bring up. If they did, they would have to change. Instead they point the finger at you and say you are the one with the problem.

2. You are the whistle blower.

The scapegoat is often a whistle blower. Perhaps you threatened to expose a family secret. In bringing the truth to light, you become branded the bad guy.

The scapegoat is often the family whistle blower. Click To Tweet

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

Your desire to bring the truth to light poses a threat to a family dynamic that functions in the dark.

3. You feel left out.

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

The last thing they want is your insight. That would force them to look at themselves and the ways they need to change. They can’t bear to do that.

4. They ruin your reputation.

Family members talk about you behind your back. They may try to brainwash your few supporters against you.

They speak poorly of you even to those outside the family circle. Rather than face their dysfunction they’ll sully your reputation publicly.

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

5. Your family makes you feel ashamed or guilty.

As a result of this unjust treatment, you have internalized a false sense of being bad or wrong. You have trouble standing up for yourself and accept too much blame.

You may accept jobs below your qualifications and abilities. Or experience workplace bullying and general disrespect from others.

When you are successful, your family downplays your achievements. You realize you’ve never been praised or encouraged. This makes it hard to feel good about yourself.

Due to your family’s betrayal, you find it difficult to trust people and form secure relationships.

You have internalized anger from a lifetime of absorbing all this negative attention. That can impact your health through stress-related disease, or make you feel on-edge, depressed or anxious.

How to heal if you are the family scapegoat

If all this sounds familiar to you, take heart. The scapegoat is generally the mentally healthiest member of the family.

These very qualities of honesty and sensitivity will help you heal from the damage of scapegoating.

The scapegoat is generally the mentally healthiest member of the family. Click To Tweet

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

You may be told that family relationships should be kept at all cost. This is not true!

If your family has been abusing you, either physically or emotionally, you do have a choice.

You can stand up for yourself and refuse to tolerate the abuse any longer. You may even make the difficult decision to cut ties.

Here are three ways to reclaim your life from the lies:


1. Let go of the longing for your family to accept you.

Understand that nothing you do is likely to make the abusers acknowledge wrongdoing.

No matter how reasonable and rational your position, they will never understand because they don’t want to.

They may never apologize for what they’ve done to you. More likely, they will double down on making you wrong.

Instead of hoping for something you’ll never receive, move forward and forge a new identity based on the truth of who you are.

It’s up to you to set boundaries with your family to protect yourself. Stop allowing them to treat you with disrespect. That may mean walking away.

2. Change the narrative.

You must challenge the story about yourself that your family has placed in your head. Look honestly at the situation and put some critical distance between yourself and them.

See that you are punished disproportionately to anything you have done. Most often, you are targeted simply for telling the truth!

You are not bad or wrong or have a fatal flaw that makes you unlovable. To remind yourself of this, make a list of your good qualities and read it to yourself often.

You are not bad or wrong or have a fatal flaw that makes you unlovable. Click To Tweet

3. Listen to what God says about you rather than your human family.

As you heal from the damaging effects of scapegoating, let God provide you with the comfort you never received from family members.

You are not who your parents or family say you are.

Remember, if you are suffering as the scapegoat, you are in excellent company. Jesus bore the burden of the world’s sins even though he had done nothing wrong.

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