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.

How controlling people and narcissists seek to define us

One of the lovely things about the blog world is that in reading someone’s comments you get inspiration for a post.

There was a conversation on anupturnedsoul over the past week written by someone whose partner would not accept her as she was.  I could really identify, it can be painful and highly frustrating to be around people who just don’t get us, or actively block or invalidate us.  To these people, parts of us may be valid and acceptable, but other parts they would like to erase.  This can lead to a form of abuse of which it may be hard to become conscious.

Certainly we are all entitled to our opinion, however people also have the right to express themselves and their truth and feelings in the way they need to.  When it comes to controlling people and narcissists, freedom of self expression can be actively discouraged or we can find ourselves subjected to judgements that make little sense.

I was involved in a relationship with a narcissist, who was extremely controlling, for nearly four years. It was a very painful experience but one that has ended up teaching me a lot. I had known something had not been right about the way my mother treated me when growing up. I did not however realise, until the relationship with my narcissistic partner had triggered my wounds how much my reality had been invalidated by my mother.

Its not uncommon for those who attract a narcissist to have unresolved issues, if we didn’t then perhaps we may not have attracted them in the first place. For me, my emotional needs had never been met, there was a history of emotional abandonment and subtle emotional abuse which was hard to pin point at the time. When I met my ex partner I had been going through and extremely lonely and painful time in my life and the pain, frustration and loneliness only increased in the relationship. My ex had absolutely no interest in hearing about, let alone my needs. At all times his own took precedence. I now know this was a lesson for me. Someone with more of a self would not have accepted a situation in which their emotions were mocked or disparaged, nor a relationship where they were only fed crumbs. I had some waking up to do.

The confusion and pain that I was suffering led me to books on narcissism as well as information on the web about emotional abuse and invalidation abuse. I needed help to try to make some kind of sense of the painful and difficult experiences I was going through.

During this time I was lucky to come upon a book entitled Controlling People by a woman called Patricia Evans.  Some of you may be familiar with her as she has written several books on verbal abuse.   

This book is an amazing insight into the mind of the narcissist or controlling person and I would highly recommend it.  My interest in it has been re-sparked due to a recent conflict which involved issues of self definition and expression.

The following quote spoke to me when I read it.

If someone defines you, even in subtle ways, they are pretending to know the unknowable.  There is a quality of fantasy to their words and sometimes to their actions.  Even so, they are usually unaware of the fact that they are playing “let’s pretend.”  They fool themselves and sometimes others into thinking that what they are saying is true or that what they are doing is right.

When people “make up” your reality — as if they were you — they are trying to control you, even when they don’t realize it.

When people attempt to control you they begin by pretending.  When they define you they are acting in a senseless way.  They are pretending.  When people act as if you do not exist or are not a real person with a reality of your own…they are pretending.  In this subtle and often unconscious way, they are attempting to exert control over you — your space, time, resources, or even your life.

We know that they are pretending because in actual fact, no one can tell you what you want, believe, should do, or why you have done what you have done.  No one can know your inner reality, your intentions, your motives, what you think, believe, feel, dislike, what you know, how do what you do or who you are.  If someone does pretend to know your inner reality: “You’re trying to start a fight,” they have it backwards.  People can only know themselves.  It doesn’t work the other way around.

Since only you can define yourself, your self definition is yours.  It isn’t necessarily that you prove or explain it.  It is, after all, your own.

Despite the evidence, it is difficult for many people to realise that the person who defines them is not being rational.  They feel inclined to defend themselves as if the person defining them were rational.  But by trying to defend themselves against someone’s definitions, they are acknowledging those definitions as valid, that they make sense, when they are, in fact, complete nonsense.”

I’m sure anyone reading this who has been a victim of narcissistic abuse will be familiar with this struggle.  For myself I was told by people in the know, not to become embroiled or entangled in the narcissists definitions or accusations of me.  The problem was that due to self doubt and low self esteem and lack of validation in childhood, I did not have a strong enough self to do this.

A relationship with a narcissist can decimate us.  It can and often does lead us to a complete emotional breakdown.  The sad thing is the narcissist is not rational, what they say has no basis in truth and stems from their own deeply unconscious fears, some of which Patricia sheds light on in this book.

A large part of reclaiming ourselves, lies in reclaiming our own reality, as well as our right to be and express ourselves and our truth fully.  In truth we present a threat to the narcissist or controlling person and what most threatens them is our individuality, our expression of separateness.   It is to this which we must hold on, at any price, for once we loose it, or allow the narcissist or controlling person to undermine it we are at risk of soul murder,  Inwardly we will suffer the price of anxiety or depression, until we break free and have the courage to become self defining. 

In my own case it took nearly one year of therapy to try to silence the voices of admonishment which the narcissist had planted in my head.  They would join in with all the other attacking voices at times that existed in me from my childhood.  Over the past year a more loving inner voice has taken their place.

Last year I was able to stand up to my mother and refuse to take on one of her definitions of me.  She had taken an opportunity to point out to me how much better my sister was and the ways in which I fell short as a human being.  It was hurtful but as I examined it and worked it through I saw that what she was doing was an attempt to define me in comparison to an ideal that had no basis in reality and, at the same time, showed no empathy or awareness for what I was going through.  In the end it was just her definition. 

Many of you may not understand what a huge achievement this was for me.  Today I have a choice as to what I listen to and take on board.  I am growing stronger and more self reliant.

I’m not really into advising others as to how they should live, but one thing I will say.  Be an individual, don’t allow other’s to define you.  Listen to your heart and gut when you can.  There is a quiet voice within that is affirming and loving, as you open you ears to it, so you will be able to recognise those in life who speak from this place.  Those who truly see you and love you, leave you feeling lighter and stronger.  Not sucked dry,invalidated and weakened.   Your particular life energy is a precious gift, it is your personal power.  Never allow anyone to steal it from you.