In the last post on this topic, I promised to create a third post to help the scapegoated person cope with the situation, to help keep you from being scapegoated.
I have to put a note here, that I am not a psychologist. These are serious issues. If you have read this far and realize you are in a family where you are being scapegoated, it would be best for you to get help from a qualified counselor. If you are in danger, or if a family member is in danger, then that is also a signal of a need for greater help than you can get from a web site. Go get help! On the other hand, if you are an ordinary person facing some family drama or pattern, but where there is no present danger, this post may be for you.
If you are a family scapegoat in a mildly dysfunctional family (and if you are, you probably recognize yourself!), my suggestion to you is this:
“What?” you ask, “Something terrible is happening, and you tell me to do nothing about it?!”
I don’t mean do nothing to change the pattern. I mean, change the family pattern by doing nothing, instead of what you have been doing. What I am suggesting is that you have been doing something that is causing you to be cast in the role of the scapegoat. What is it that you have been doing? Whatever it is, stop that. That is what I mean by “do nothing”.
Most likely, the thing you have been doing is this: you have been the family “truth teller”. The problem is, this is not a role your family has appreciated. So, you are to stop.
Your stopping will disrupt the family pattern, and it will force change, hopefully in a positive direction. But it will not be easy for them, or for you!
Now, let’s back up. To understand this better, let’s back up to the distant past, when you were a small child.
Imagine this picture. Imagine you are a small child. Now, imagine an adult engaging in damaging behavior that affects not only you, but your whole family. It could be alcoholism, it could be child abuse, it could be something else. You know what it is.
Is this an accurate picture of something in your family background?
Imagine this small child confronting the adult. What is it that you say? Are you taking on the role for yourself of telling the truth to the adult?
If so, what to you notice the other children in the family doing, or the other parent? Do you notice that the others in the family receive the benefit of what you are doing? If they are other children, are they hiding behind you or looking you for a protection of some sort? If they are an adult, does this mean that they themselves are relieved from having to do the confronting?
In other words, as long as you are the truth-teller, as long as you are the champion, no one else has to step up to the plate and do it themselves.
This small child, the truth teller in the family, has become the spokesperson for all the other children. The family truth-teller.
So, what happens as a result?
The person in the family who does not want to hear this truth (perhaps the alcoholic, the abuser, or whatever), finds some way to scapegoat the small child. Bear in mind, this is not a conscious decision to create a scapegoat. It is a figment of the adult’s imagination that is designed to keep them from having to hear the truth.
The alcoholic parent says to the child, “I am not an alcoholic. You are an impertinent so-and-so.” The abuser says, “You made that up. You are a liar”
This sets up the scapegoat complex. The adult in the family labels the child as being the one who has the problem: impertinent, liar, irresponsible, stingy, whatever.
What do the other children perceive and hear? They hear, “Our brother or sister (the truth-teller) is a troublemaker (or whatever the label isl).”
Your siblings buy into the scapegoat theory without even realizing that they are doing so! They may actually come to believe that you are a troublemaker. Even at the same time they are standing behind you, receiving the benefit of your standing up to the adult.
Your actions as family truth-teller may have protected them to some degree. Perhaps the truth-teller was successful in stopping the drinking or the abuse to some degree. But your actions as family truth-teller also earned you the label of “troublemaker.”
Now, consider what happens to the other children in this family unit. Do they ever have to tell the truth, themselves? No! Not as long as there is a scapegoat who is willing to do the dirty work for them.
In fact, they get it both ways. They get to participate in the family story which labels you as a a troublemaker, and at the same time they also never have to speak the truth, because you always do it for them (and you take the heat for it, too)!
In scapegoating families, this story has been going on a long time. The family members who have been able to hide behind the shield of the scapegoated child (or parent) are not used to stepping up to the plate to speak the truth themselves. They may also be used to applying the same family labels to the scapegoat. Your siblings (or coworkers, whatever) may actually believe that you are a troublemaker, a liar, or stingy (whatever the scapegoat label is).
So, your siblings have you as a shield, and at the same time they get to label you as a problem. How convenient! And, as long as you are in that role, why would anyone (but you) need for anything to change?
It’s up to you to change it. So how?
I suggest that one way to step out of the scapegoat role is, to step out of the role. Do nothing. Stop creating a shield for other people to hide behind.
(1) Your silence disrupts the dysfunctional family system by taking you out of the middle. It forces other family members to step up to the plate.
(2) Your silence disrupts the dysfunctional family system by taking away the activity that created the “impertinent” label (or whatever your particular label may be).
When I say “do nothing,” I do not mean absolutely nothing. If you are in danger, by all means take steps to get yourself safe. Remove yourself from any dangerous situation.
But think twice before jumping in to someone else’s defense. Think twice about being the family truth-teller.
Before you speak, ask yourself, “Is it absolutely necessary for me to speak truth in this situation?”
Before you speak, ask yourself, “Is there anyone else who is capable of speaking the truth here?”
If no one else is speaking the truth, ask yourself, “Why is no one else speaking the truth in this situation?”
If they are not speaking the truth, ask yourself why it is that you are feeling such a compelling need to speak the truth.
Then, let go.
If you are a Christian, you may have heard the saying, “Let go and let God.” It refers to the idea that we sometimes can stop trying to control things ourselves and have faith in a higher power. In this case, when we let go of trying always ourselves to be the truth-teller, what we do is to give someone else a chance to be the truth teller.
So, the scapegoat’s job in part is to let go of the truth. Give it up a bit. Let someone else be the truth teller. Trust God to supply that need. What you are doing is giving other people a chance to do the right thing. Why hog that opportunity for yourself?!
It might be a bit bumpy at the start. It might take some time for the family “system” to realize that something has changed. Imagine if you had a roommate, but only one of you ever washed the dishes. Suppose one day, you switched roles, and you just quit washing dishes. It might take a while for your roommate to catch on. The whole sink might get full of dishes. There might be nothing left to eat on. But eventually, your roommate would probably catch on and start washing a few. The same here. It might take awhile. You are asking a family system to change the way it functions. But at least you get the immediate benefit that you aren’t washing so many dishes, and in time the family may take on more healthy division of roles.
And remember, you can’t save anyone from themselves. Each of us makes choices. Make your choice to keep yourself safe. Keep your children safe. Remove yourself from dangerous situations. If there is a real threat of violence or bodily harm, report it to the appropriate authorities. But your speaking the truth won’t save an alcoholic parent from themselves. In reality, only they can do that.
So, overall, stop jumping into the fight! Before you leap to the rescue of someone else or try to save someone from themselves, ask yourself, “Is it really necessary for me to get involved here?” Unless your own safety is involved, the answer generally speaking is, “No.”
This is going to be hard. Get support. A counselor, a friend, a coach, a teacher.
You will WANT to step back into the same old pattern. It may drive you crazy to sit by and watch and do nothing! It may drive you crazy to see that sink get full of dishes! But that may be what you have to do. Just remember, you are not the only person capable of telling the truth. Let someone else do it this time.
This is very good advice. I incorporated this simple theory into my life a couple of years ago, and it changed everything for the better.
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But what if the family secret is that a parent is abusing one child (the scapegoated child)? If the scapegoat falls silent and stops questioning the abuse, none of the other siblings will be willing to step up and speak on her behalf. There’s no incentive to! It’s not like the the dysfunctional parent lashes out at anyone else and eventually the others will be so distrubed by the parent’s behaviors that they become compelled to speak up. At no point is it anyone else’s problem but the scapegoat’s. Whether silent or pointing out the abuse: she is still abused and still no one speaks up for her. What then? What to do when her silence produces no positive change to her position within the family?
You are right Ana. The article has some good advice. And being careful how you tell your truth is part of the answer but not all of it. I am a scapegoat and when I decided to be quiet, it doesn’t make a whit of difference. You see the role of the scapegoat is not just truthteller, it’s slave and whipping boy. I believe I told the truth in my later years and became labelled as the troublemaker. But the first role, the role when I was a little child (5 years old) was as a frustration valve for a father and mother who were angry, narcissistic and lazy but would not express their frustration with each other. So it is given to the child. And the princess perfectionist mother doesn’t cook or like housework either, so the scapegoat performs that role too. Any household that is unpleasant like work or hate or shame belongs to this child. Golden child shall sit with Golden mother while scapegoat slave receives all jobs, punishments anger and shame for the mother and the golden children. I doubt saying nothing will change it. It hasn’t in my case. I have left and now am completely silent – but i am still the scapegoat. And I ask you in what other situation has silence changed the situation to improve, would the Southern slaves have been freed with out a vocal and passionate resistance from the North. Would the African Americans have received equality without the great speeches of Martin Luther King, and the graphic pitures of the abuse on television, would the south african situation have improved without international resistance. Would the Nazis have had to look at themselves if the Jews and the Gays were silent. I doubt it. But the situation will not be changed by the scapegoat. The family doesn’t care. Society and the law and psychology is failing children by not stepping up and stopping child abuse. We expect children to accept it silently and hope the situation will change. I think society and psychology are stepping away from their responsibilities. The scapegoats truthtelling is not a flaw it is a purity of heart and mind. The opposite is dissociation which is a poisonous state of mind that creates lies and poisoned families.
One further example is the child bullied in the school yard. Shall we ask them to suffer it silently and wait for it go away. If their friend is bullied should they be quiet and wait for someone else to report it?
Not ok. Scapegoating is bullying and bullying is abuse. Shine a light on it if you know it’s happening to someone. Say it’s not ok. It’s not the easy path it is the right path.
Hmm it appears the first part of my post disappeared. I will try again. Moderating your truth telling is one approach to be tried. But that truth telling doesn’t cause the abuse. And don’t be surprised if you go no contact like many scapegoats and stop telling any truths that you are still the scapegoat. The scapegoat is the family pressure valve and slave and general dumping ground for the family’s unwanted chores feelings problems. How about society must take their responsibility for holding parents accountable for abusive parenting. That scapegoating is abuse. And that throughout society scapegoating of one group, black americans, slaves, jews, South African apartheid has only improved through brave and persistent voices of the international community. Try not telling your truth to the abusers scapegoat it may work, but you can tell a teacher, a friend or an aunt or a grandmother and find outside support groups. It is unfair to ask a child to bear this burden alone. Society and parents and psychologists and legal system need to step up and do their job of telling the truth. Scapegoating is abuse and creates serious damage to the human psyche. Bullying might go away if you say nothing and look the other way. Someone else might step up. But is that we are saying to society, don’t tell the truth, turn a blind eye to abuse and let someone else take the heat.
This website has made me see a situation that is going on in my own family. I was a scapegoat for many years and was ostracised by family, their friends, neighbours etc. Now that I am grown up and stay detached from them all my sister seems to be absolutely driven crazy by my mother,so much so that it seems to be making her psychologically ill. Funny how she was so happy and ‘normal’ when I was around to take the blame for everything. I have wondered why she is going so crazy over my mother for quite some time now I can see it.
Thank you so much for this article. I have been searching high and low for information and resolution to the problems I face in my family relationships and I was almost shocked reading this because it is so close to the dynamics in my own family. I was the oldest of three children in a family where my father worked many late hours and my mother drank heavily. Many times I would try to speak up and tell my father or grandmother what was going on, I was always blamed for the conflict that would follow. I even tried to confide in my diary what I witnessed with my mother and she read it and made me tear out every page and threatened to tell my father? More recently, my mother began having an affair as I was pregnant with my first child. My mother abandoned my family to be with the other man. I confronted her and now I am blamed for breaking up the family, even some members suggesting my parent’s split due to the costs of my wedding three years earlier. It is insane. I do appreciate the suggestion to walk away, but I have chosen that path and have not spoken or contacted my mother in 6 years, but I still hear from other members that I am the reason for all the family turmoil. Its very frustrating to remain the family punching bag even after removing myself from the situation.
Two years ago I discovered my mom & GC sister are narcs. I didn’t talk to my NM for six months and I am still not talking to my GC. I was the scapegoat and still am. The do nothing as suggested is very, very hard. The scape goat title will never go away. I have relinquished my role in my mind and they are not responding well to it. Recently, as stated in many posts I’ve read, I’m now getting blamed for the dynamic of our family being ruined. I very sternly told my mom it is not my fault our family is so broken. I told her I just was not going to be abused and belittled anymore by her or my GC. I have no idea what the future holds. It’s sad that my mom is 84 and clueless that she created this mess and abused two little girls. I can only take care of myself, my marriage and my life. I am not responsible for their dysfunction and I am no longer going to be the “truth teller”. Being the scape goat has affected my entire life in my education, career, friendships and romantic relationships. I no longer am taking this role on. It’s very freeing but yet hard to overcome. I’m sure I’ll be overcoming it the rest of my life.