Understanding and healing the Scapegoat within


The family scapegoat receives the shadow projections of the family. They are the one that carries and tries to express qualities, needs, reactions and expressions which may not have had a chance to live in the family.  Often if we review the family history we will be able to see a pattern or something the scapegoat is trying to live for the family that could not be expressed, or struggled to be expressed over generations. They may be the carrier of hidden sadness or pain.

There is also collective element to the scapegoat which means certain qualities in any particular culture are accepted and are seen as valuable to express where as others may be demonised. Religious beliefs create the scapegoat by dictating what is “holy” and what is “demonic” and so create splits. The pervasive spread of the Catholic zeitgeist, for example, reveres qualities of self sacrifice, meekness, chastity and in many ways a repression of essential elements of what it means to be a human animal struggling to express oneself in the world as a self who can feel a sense of balanced empowerment and know it is okay to have legtimate wants and needs and life in an organic feeling body.

The scapegoat in the family is particularly created by the narcissistic parent who, as a child, could not live the wholeness of who they were due to parental neglect, abandonment, hostility, stress or other kinds of splits. John Bradshaw in his book on shame, Healing the Shame that Binds You, and other writers have shown how in families affected by toxic shame, the scapegoat is a role that is taken on often, though not only, by the second child.

In fact the issue of shame is central to narcissistic disorders and the creation of the scapegoat. If we are truly able to develop and live, free to express the totality of who we are without shame, the shadow may not be created, thus no need for scapegoats.

Shame is central to narcissism of the unhealthy variety in that the narcissistic individual never believes him or herself to be just a person amongst persons. An inherent feeling of unconscious shame, instead leads them to identify themselves as more highly evolved and deserving of envy, as inherently superior inside. The unconscious sense of deep inferiority created by episodes of shame, humiliation, abandonment or emotional rejections in childhood gets covered over and defended against with unconscious protections and projections.

What the narcissist cannot make a relationship with inside, he projects out. The need for constant mirroring that exists in the form of needing narcissist supply from outside the self results due to the lack or mirroring or flawed and skewed mirroring in childhood. What has been rejected becomes projected.

The narcissist will attract to him or herself those with the missing qualities.   Those of us set up for this kind of attraction from the other side, due to problems with nurturing, validation, mirroring and acceptance in childhood, are attracted to the narcissist like iron filings to a magnet. We have our own narcissistic issues which during the course of the eventual conflicts that develop in the relationship will come to light, often with us being rejected by the narcissist. The pain generated by this rejection forces us, or at the very least, gives us an opportunity to bring to consciousness our own wounds from childhood and understand the deficiencies that we have lived with as well as the struggles we had with our own parents and their repressed shadow qualities. An opportunity comes to find self healing, since we are no longer children, we can recognise that deep inside our inner child of the past still lives and has wounds that need to be understood and tended from within.

Through this process we can begin to identify healthy behaviours and relationships from unhealthy ones and come to understand some of the false beliefs generated by lack of emotional nurturing and attunement in childhood, as well as the hostility of the parent who could not accept expression of our shadow qualities (which often replays as a powerful theme in all of our relationships).

In the course of our journey to self awareness, particularly for those of us who may have taken on a scapegoat function,  healing comes when we can begin to identify the introjects (internalised projections) of negative voices and beliefs or inner critic/persecutor that may have embedded within us from parental and cultural/collective conditioning. Parental projections or carrying of their trauma may mean we battle with negative voices, depression, addiction or pervasive suicidal feelings. Through hearing and becoming conscious of these we can gain a sense of detachment in time and find new more positive, loving, affirming voices from within which can help us to grow and heal.

For the scapegoat there is an essential task to be learned. The scapegoat will often be the one in the family that ends up in treatment or with an addiction. They may be the one who blows the whistle and begins to deal with the family skeletons.  Addictive tendencies of other members of the family may be well hidden, but on some level the scapegoat fails. This is a necessary failure for the purpose of coming to know and love the entire self that could not live and find wholeness from within the family. Often family scapegoats when seeking to bring attention to deficiencies in the family will be rejected or ostracised: this parallels what happens in cultures where the scapegoat is sent away into the desert or exile with the sins of the collective on its head. Such an exile may be necessary it may be metaphoric rather than literal.

The scapegoat suffers the pain of never finding true acceptance, of feeling on the outside, exiled in some way. Healing can only come for the scapegoat when they realise the role and function they play in the family and the collective culture. The scapegoat has a supreme value and this is why they are rejected.

The Jungian analyst and teller of fairytales, Clarissa Pinkola Estes addresses this issue of wandering and banishment that internalises in her examination of the Ugly Duckling fairytale. The ugly duckling must go through rejection and a profound search to find a place of belonging and recognise the beauty of the self.

On a personal note, as one of the scapegoats in my own family, I became the identified addict. I was blamed by a mother (who valued my new found sobriety supposedly on one hand while dealing out invalidating backhanders on the other) could never own her part in the creation of this. On one level she was only a player in a far bigger drama working out across generations.

When I got into recovery feeling myself to be a scapegoat was not conscious but I was strongly affected.  In healing groups with other scapegoats I was able to begin to dis-identify from the projection of badness, especially when displaying self assertion and anger. At times I played the scapegoat role in groups.  It hurt a lot at the time, but eventually I grew in understanding when the pattern would play out  My critical leaning was, that I must not scapegoat myself, though exile was and is necessary for the scapegoat.  Alone time gives us time to  introspect, detach from unhealthy and invalidating relationships and to heal.  My struggle in the family to gain freedom and awareness has gone on over many years. It is taking a long time and many heartbreaking conflicts to realise what pattern was playing as well as the particular parts various family members were playing.

In her analysis of the scapegoat identified individual,Syliva Perrera (who wrote an excellent book on the subject,) makes the point that split off assertion and desire is a huge part of what creates the scapegoat. Many of us who develop addictions as a mean of coping use the substances to numb and anaesthetise our feelings around not being able to express and assert ourselves fully. Addictive relationships function in similar ways, especially when the longing and hunger we feel has complex and deep roots in earlier invalidating relationships. We enter them hoping the broken hearted child will heal. Instead that child meets her own woundedness and is sent on a journey so that she or he can heal. Healing involves finding ways which allow the wholeness of ourselves to express and find acceptance, mirroring and love in relationships, families, collectives and a culture which often do not allow certain feelings a place.

Women too, can take on the role of the scapegoat. We are scapegoated for being too angry (what a ‘bitch’), needy, dramatic or vulnerable.

The playing out of the mass genocide of the Jews during the Second World War was another example of the scapegoat complex playing out collectively, generated by the toxic shame of an individual (Hitler) who was able to mobilise the rage and hurt of many in a nation that had been humiliated. That humiliation and the identification with roles of power and supremacy saw the split off qualities being projected and “killer” energy emerge.  It is interesting to note that Joseph Stalin’s father was a alcoholic and Stalin too was a victim of toxic shame.

The scapegoat is no stranger to murder and killing, their soul is the victim of a psychic murder. We scapegoatees must learn during the course of our healing and enlightenment to find freedom from the killer that can migrate to live inside of us in order that we can live free of the killer voices that block our self expression and inner feelings of love and self worth. The entirely of ourselves has a value and through embracing and becoming more conscious of the ways in which we participate in and perpetrate our own wounding we can heal and grow and make new choices that lead us down happier paths than we experienced in the past. 

We can begin to understand the scapegoater that lives inside, for we are not immune either, at times, to scapegoating ourselves and others.   The qualities that we may have been rejected for sensitivity, joy, exuberance, fieryness, vulnerability, messiness, passionate conviction, sensuality and sexuality are unique threads of human self expression which woven together have formed the unique and precious tapestry that make us raw and real, messy and ultimately human, a person among people with certain gifts of perception, expression and depth that may have in some way threatened or frightened those who are more defended, less inwardly and holistically attuned.

168 thoughts on “Understanding and healing the Scapegoat within

  1. Complex, but enlightening post about scapegoats. Do scapegoats ever find real happiness, a real sense of belonging? Thank you for sharing

  2. I think that it is a journey to find belonging and ultimately we need know we belong to ourselves, regardless of others opinions, judgements, projections.. First we need to understand what happened to us, because due to process whereby we become scapegoated or exiled we can suffer from deep feelings of being too different, bad, difficult, wrong etc. If we internalise these beliefs we can suffer so much. But if we can come to see that it was the group, people or community who was in fact threatened in some way, we can come to understand that being on the outside may not have to be a curse, or the loneliest place and that we do have gifts to give. If we become identified with that role,we can remain a victim in our own mind and open to further victimisation. We have to come to know that our anger, sensitivity, dramatic self expression or whatever is okay and we can find channels outside the hurtful ones to express. At least that is my understanding and experience.

    1. I have never read anything that so encapsulates my experience and the amount of pain I’ve been in…I don’t know who you are, where you live but your words have had a profound and releasing effect on me and I thank you from the very centre of another scapegoat’s heart and soul.

  3. Reblogged this on THE.STRONG.ONE. and commented:
    Just went through the heartbreaking realization that I am the scapegoat. I finally left my toxic surroundings, but having issues dealing with the fallout. It’s funny that despite these realizations I still desperately love and miss my family so achingly because I know that nothing will ever be the same. I now have to live forever without those relationships.

    1. Wow that is so tough. I love my family so much despite the ways they have treated me in the past I could not let them go entirely but they are not towards the worst end of the spectrum, just emotionally shut down. Thanks so much for the reblog. 🙂

  4. The paradox that I struggle with is letting go of the comfort of familiarity the role of scapegoat provides, because I know how to play that role well. Especially since to give voice to the opposite was punished severely. In my heart I long for connection, but I dread the criticisms of the world as I try to forge a new sense of self, because it is so fragile. Do you have any recommendations for what helps to weather the exposure to world since it is such a raw process to take on a more empowered role than the scapegoat?

    1. Hi Julie I think you would really enjoy the book I shared about in that post by Sylvia Bretton Perrera. Your question deserves a longer answer and I will write a little here. I think it is ESSENTIAL we move out of the scapegoat role as we are carrying a buried energy for the personal family and the collective too. So the sensitive and gifted or intuitive amongst us who absorbed shame and put downs have to get strong enough to know we carried important gifts. I see the need to write about our experience, to form a community in which we have a voice. Scapegoats naturally understand other scapegoats. Your question deserves a longer blog post. I will work on that. Thanks so much for reading and connecting. If you ever want to share more I would love to read about your own experience. Best wishes Deborah

    2. Julie I have to say that Please work on NOT worrying nor caring what criticisms may form in the world as that is THEIR Journey and not yours to own. For Me the most important thing is to Stand (firm) in my Power with Love and NO Shame! Keep on Keepin’ On Dear Soul!! Namaste ❤

  5. Hi my name is Anna. I am 43. I have recently come to realize that I am the scapegoat. My siblings recently joined together to “attack” me so I removed myself from there. My husband watched and a little while later threw divorce in my face. He has always been cruel and seems to have enjoyed watching me be gradually broken. I need to stop this destructive pattern because I don´t want my young children to endure this. I don´t even know where to start, I just want it to stop.

    1. I am so sorry you are going through this and for the way your husband has treated you. Do you have any other support from friends?

      The only comfort to be drawn is the knowledge that you must carry a lot of light to be treated as a scapegoat. Its all a matter of finding others who have gone through the same so you can find some strength. I am here if you ever need to talk. Check out my gravatar for my email address. Love and kind wishes Deborah

  6. Thank you Deborah for your kind words. Finding your page helped me realize that I am not all alone in the world going through this. Many of the pages I have visited about Scapegoating almost condemn scapegoats to a life of depression, susbstance abuse and even suicide. I don´t want that, I think I´ve had enough negativity in my life and want to get rid of it forever.
    I love the name of your page! It feels very much like what I have experienced since realizing my role in the family. I want to do just that , emerge from the darkness and leave it far behind me.
    I have since the last time I visited had a family member try to hack my account. I guess they get desperate when you remove easy access to yourself such as phone, email, Facebook etc… It is interesting to see how much the scapegoaters need the scapegoat in their lives.

    I guess my scapegoat identity attracted another scapegoater, my husband. I have given him the divorce papers and am just waiting for him to sign. He seems not so keen now that I gave him what he wanted.

    THANK YOU so much! Your kind words felt like a warm hug 🙂
    Much love and many hugs to you!

    1. Hey Anna Scapegoats have such power as they hold the rejected shadow for the family and culture. I am so glad you are getting out from under it. I really recommend Sylvia Bretton Perrera’s book as she explains how through conditioning scapegoats are turned against their own instinctive/assertive energy and so get collapsed.
      Keep on believing in you and being strong.
      Love Deborah. and hugs back too ❤

  7. Hey! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with
    hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended
    up losing several weeks of hard work due to no data backup.
    Do you have any methods to prevent hackers?

    1. Hi. No I can honestly say I have never had that problem and I am sorry but I cannot help with this. If you google it there is a WordPress support company that may be able to help you with any problems with your blog if it is on this site. All the best. Deborah

  8. This is a fabulous post!! Very well put! years ago a Therapist helped me realize I was the scapegoat of my family and that they thrust that upon me. A mantle I picked right up and ran with. I have purposely spent a great deal of “alone” time (decades actually) working on Healing. It IS an Inner Journey where finger pointing has No place. I believe we Choose each EarthWalk before it even begins. We knew before we even started we could do this! We could Learn and Grow. Each EarthWalk (imho) brings us ALL closer to ourSelves and each other. To the collective ONE-ness of the Universe. As we Heal ourSelves we discover Compassion and this in turn assists in Healing ALL. Much Love and Gratitude to YOU Deb, and this post!! ❤

    1. Beautifully articulated comment Bea…I am proud of this post. It contains a lot of the insights that emerged for me at the end of my marriage when so much broke open..and its one of my most popular posts. Yes aloneness is a huge part of the scapegoat’s journey. When we find our true soul we are home though and therefore never alone again. We realise its all part of a much larger journey collectively and personally. Much love Sista 💖💖

  9. “Alone time gives us time to introspect, detach from unhealthy and invalidating relationships and to heal.”
    This is a beautifully written and thought provoking essay.

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  13. Hi, I’m 36. Realized I was the scapegoat about four years ago after my Father passed and have come to see things a lot more clearly within the last year.

    Life has been Hell. I have an 11 year old daughter and am currently 13 weeks pregnant. I don’t want to have a depressed baby, but it seems like depression and insanity consume me.

    I hope this blog is still open and there are people I can feel safe with. I just want the negative thoughts to go away. It makes me feel like I truly am crazy. I just need a happy place.

    1. I am here for you. Thise dark thoughts are natural but not really yours but a profound legacy of abuse and rejection of your true self that leaves you with that depression pain. Its hard but you need to find a way to stop them I know its very very difficult but you deserved none of this. If you need support you can email me at deborahallin@hotmail.com. There is a Facebook Support group for empaths called the awakened empath community that I have found supportive. Many empaths are scapegoated in narcissistic families. Good luck. 💞

    2. not sure if you’ll read this. but i just found this thread and wanted to send you a galactic amount of love and ease and hugs on your path. and a huge intention that you find many happy places. xx

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  15. Thank you.
    I was so scapegoated in my family that I finally went “no contact,” I then realized that the scapegoating included my son as a scape-goater.! I tried to establish a healthier relationship with him, but he then went “no contact” with me! I now cannot see my two grandchildren either. The pain has been almost unbearable. I am definitely in the wilderness — annihilated and abandoned. However, I feel that I may now be able to accept what truly IS and begin to heal. I have a little hope — and it is partly because of your blog.
    Thank you again.

    1. God that is truly horrible. I always maintained contact with family despite the hurt but to have a son do that would be deeply painful. I have suffered enough recently from someone cutting me out of their life so I get a sense of how it feels.

      I am so happy if my blog helps you in some way. I am here for you if you ever need a friendly ear. There are good people out there and sometimes we just have to let the toxic ones go. Big hug to you. be kind to yourself. ❤

      1. Thanks for your response and thank you for your blog. I will continue to read what you offer.
        My story is surely more complex than I made it sound. I worked for years trying to change my scapegoat status with no success. I became such a martyr that I also attracted a narcissist who became part of the mix and further alienated me from my family.
        I am so glad for others like you who reach out to try and help.

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