Scapegoating goes on in many families. Were you the scapegoat in your family when you were growing up? Are you still being scapegoated as an adult in your family of origin, by your in-laws, or at work? Discover why you might be scapegoated and what to do about this.
Today, I want to address scapegoating and why you might be the scapegoat in your family.
Scapegoating is, unfortunately, fairly common. Scapegoating is when someone is blaming you for their feelings, their wrongdoings or mistakes, and projecting their woundedness on to you, with no empathy or compassion for how this feels to you.
The term ‘scapegoat’ comes from an ancient Jewish purification ritual that used a goat to symbolize the sins of the Jewish people. The goat was then driven into the wilderness, taking the sins of the people with it.
In Christianity, Jesus is often seen as a scapegoat, whose crucifixion cleansed humans of sins.
The ancient Greeks practiced a similar ritual where a criminal, cripple or beggar was treated the same way as the goat was in the Jewish tradition. Generally, this was in response to a threat to the community, such as famine or the plague.
Apparently, through all of time, people want to blame others for their own self-rejection and resulting self-loathing.
Hitler is the most famous scapegoater in our recent history, where he targeted the Jews and other ‘non-Aryans’ as being the cause of the economic problems and political instability in Germany. We all know the devastation this caused.
In fiction, Voldemort, from the Harry Potter series, is a famous scapegoater. He scapegoated anyone who was not a pure wizard, which meant anyone who had “muggle” blood, as he did. Similar to Hitler, who was concerned that his grandfather might have been Jewish, Voldemort was half-muggle and projected his self-hatred on to other half-muggles, as well as on to anyone who threatened him, such as Harry Potter. Harry was also scapegoated by his mother’s sister and family – his aunt, uncle and cousin, who were muggles and deeply resentful and threatened by wizards. Harry Potter is typical of scapegoats – full of kindness and light, and deeply caring about justice.
Today, the most well-known scapegoater is Trump, who targets immigrants and Black people and anyone who disagrees with him or threatens him. He is a typical pathological narcissist, lacking in any empathy, consistently lying, and consistently blaming others for his transgressions. As a result, people of color are currently being scapegoated for many of the problems in our society. This is crazy making because the problems are actually being caused by the people doing the scapegoating, not by the people being scapegoated.
Scapegoating, along with bullying is, unfortunately, rampant in the workplace, where a bully manager or boss or another person in power consistently attacks and blames a worker and will often enlist others in scapegoating the target.
There is an interesting difference between bullying and scapegoating. Bullying is overtly controlling, such as taunting, threatening, and violence, while scapegoating is often covert and subtle.
One of my clients ended up becoming deathly ill as a result of being scapegoated, and finally left his job after two of his scapegoated co-workers died of cancer, which might have been caused by the stress of being scapegoated. The scapegoating was covert, with the manager acting nice on the outside, but undermining him and others in crazy making ways, such as unwarranted criticism, not answering emails, not being notified of meetings and then getting judged for not being there, and then being demoted.
Bullying is rampant in schools. I have had countless clients who were deeply traumatized by having been bullied in school.
People who scapegoat and bully others are actually projecting on to others their own self-loathing that results from their own self-abandonment.
In families, one member is often the target of judgments, criticism, accusations, blame and ostracism. Scapegoating often begins is childhood and may continue into adulthood with your family of origin or with your in-laws. If you have been or currently are the target of scapegoating, it’s important to realize that you are being abused and why this is occurring.
The people doing the scapegoating are often narcissists, while scapegoats are generally sensitive, caring and empathic, which unfortunately make us vulnerable to being scapegoated by the narcissists in our lives, as I was in my family. It took me many years to understand that what was happening in my family that was consistently causing me so much pain was scapegoating.
Because scapegoating is crazy making, when you are being scapegoated, you may feel like you are the crazy one, wondering what’s wrong with you and often feeling one-down to the people scapegoating you.
When I work with clients, I can feel the beauty of their soul and I can feel their light shining through. I’m fortunate that the vast majority of clients who want to work with me individually or come to an Intensive are very ready to learn and heal and own their beautiful light, and they are often the people who have been scapegoated or violently abused in their family.
I can almost always sense an ‘old soul’ quality about people who have been scapegoated in their family. I can feel their deep goodness, kindness, high sensitivity, and caring. Energetically, they are filled with a sense of innocence, yet invariably, they believe that there is something wrong with them because of how they have been treated.
A participant in one of my webinars asked, “When family members scapegoat a member, what is so confronting to the scapegoaters? If the person scapegoated has a natural spiritual light, why is this seen as a threat to another person? I’m confused!”
I agree that this is confusing, and it took me a long time to understand what the threat is to the scapegoater. The scapegoater, often being a narcissist, doesn’t have the sensitivity, the inner light, or the empathy that the person they are scapegoating has, nor can they access these qualities within themselves because they are operating from their lower brain, their wounded self. Given this understanding, it makes sense that they are threatened by the innocence, sensitivity, and goodness of the person they are scapegoating.
There are a number of characteristics that are common to people being scapegoated:
They are generally on the caretaking end of relationship systems, with some level of narcissism on the other end. Scapegoats tend to give themselves up and take responsibility for others’ feelings and needs while ignoring their own. They hope that by being kind and caring with others, others will be kind and caring with them, but it doesn’t work out this way with people who are narcissistic.
Narcissists are attracted to caretakers, and caretakers, choosing to see the best in others, often get pulled in by the charm of narcissists.
Caretaker are attracted to narcissists for another reason: they feel the pain of the narcissist’s abandoned inner child and they want to give that inner child the love that the narcissist isn’t giving to themselves.
This creates a codependent relationship, with the caretaker on one of the system, and the taker on the other end. The more the caretaker gives, the more the taker takes, often getting angry and scapegoating the caretaker for not doing enough or for not doing it ‘right.’
It took me many years to give up caretaking, and it was very hard. Because of being a highly sensitive and empathic person, I naturally want to help others when I feel their pain. But the more I gave, the less responsibility others took for themselves, and it became an unhealthy circle. I’ve always had a very hard time when I’m feeling someone’s pain not stepping in to care-take when they are not taking care of themselves. Yet stepping in and caretaking them trained them, not only to not take responsibility for themselves, but also to see me as someone to blame, use and abuse.
Along with high sensitivity, scapegoats are generally very intuitive, but due to being ridiculed for their feelings and inner knowing, they often don’t trust what they know.
It took me many years to understand that narcissists don’t feel empathy, and that both of my parents were narcissists. Even becoming trained as a psychotherapist and understanding narcissism didn’t clue me in about my own parents. When we grow up with narcissists, it’s like the air we breathe – it’s hard to see. When we are open to love, it’s hard to understand that so many people are not.
The scapegoats I’ve worked with are always very empathic and compassionate people – for everyone except themselves. Many of us are trained to ignore our feelings and focus only on others’ feelings, trying hard to be the good child so as not to be blamed and criticized.
Unfortunately, we tend to internalize the blame and criticism, which adds to our feeling different, as well as to our being vulnerable to being scapegoated. I noticed as I was growing up that other kids seemed to be able to let their parents’, siblings’ and friends’ blame and criticism roll off their back, but I could never do that.
While narcissists project their un-owned feelings on to others, caretakers take responsibility for others’ feelings, which further makes them vulnerable to narcissistic scapegoaters. They are naturally kind people who don’t want to hurt anyone and are confused when others seem to deliberately behave in hurtful ways toward them.
Scapegoats tend to blame themselves for the problems in relationships and take on the blame from others.
Scapegoats tend to seek justice and are supportive and protective of others. Because scapegoats are sensitive and empathic, they are very affected by a lack of justice. However, often when they take an action to right a wrong, they end up being even more scapegoated.
A good example is what happened to my client Monika, an open, kind-hearted and justice-seeking aunt of her brother’s two young children. Monika was extremely concerned about her young niece and nephew, due to the substance abuse and resulting neglect and rage she witnessed in her brother and sister-in-law’s home.
After seeking advice, and knowing there could be negative ramifications for her, including being scapegoated and excluded from the children’s life, she decided to report the abuse to her local child protection agency.
Due to having been previously scapegoated in her alcoholic family, her brother assumed it was her who reported them, and did exactly what she feared: he scapegoated her to the rest of the family and cut her off from the children. Her family blamed her for betraying the family, and she had no other option but to disengage from her abusive family.
Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t rare. Time and again my clients tell me about being blamed by a narcissistic parent, sibling or one of their children, and either getting kicked out of the family or having to disengage from the family due to the abuse that occurs when they attempted to speak up for themselves. Their experience has consistently been that things got worse when they tried to advocate for themselves.
Because we are naturally empathic and caring, we tend to automatically see the best in others. Because we are open to love, kindness and caring, we tend to project that onto others and believe that, at least underneath, they are also open, kind and caring. And they are in their essence, but not when they are operating from their narcissistic wounded self.
One of the things I’ve found to be a big challenge is to not just see the best in others, but to also see their ego wounded self. Caretakers tends to see people’s ‘potential’ and give people the benefit of the doubt over and over, refusing to see the reality of who the person chooses to be. As I stated earlier, it was confusing to me as a child that my parents and many of my friends didn’t seem to have empathy, but over and over I gave them the benefit of the doubt. The same thing happened in my family as an adult. It’s been so hard for me to accept that someone I love chooses to operate much of the time from their narcissistic wounded self. I always see the best in them – their beautiful soul essence – which works very well with my clients, but hasn’t worked well in my personal relationships when I’ve ignored the narcissism that too often results in scapegoating.
My client, Sarah, consulted with me because she was in much pain over how she was being treated by her in-laws. Sarah is one of the most loving, kind and caring people I’ve ever met, which is amazing because she had been abandoned by her mother and grew up in various foster homes. She was perplexed and deeply hurt by how her mother-in-law was treating her. Her mother-in-law would overtly act ‘nice’ while putting Sarah down with her subtle and covert judgments. When Sarah would get upset about it, she was further blamed for being ‘too sensitive.’ She was judged for how she was parenting her two children, such as for feeding them organic food. Her husband didn’t stand up for her and her children were being influenced by the in-laws to blame Sarah for their feelings.
Of course I could fully identify with Sarah because, as I said, I was scapegoated in my family, and this still goes on at times. As I’ve previously shared, both my parents were narcissistic, often yelling at me and blaming me for their feelings. I was often told that I was being ridiculous in my thinking, that I was too sensitive, and I was taught that my feelings were wrong and bad. I became the good girl trying to please everyone, feeling compassion for both my parents, and always trying fix their pain.
I continued the same pattern in my marriage, with the same result. My husband of 30 years was almost always angry at me, often blaming me for his feelings and rarely taking accountability for his lack of caring. He would frequently ridicule me at the dinner table, implying that my spirituality was weird, and that I was weird regarding my understanding about the importance of clean, non-processed organic food, and that there was something wrong with me for my sensitivity. Much of it was guised in humor, putting me down and making fun of me and then judging me for not being able to ‘take a joke.’
Scapegoating tends to be handed down through the generations.
Now, I’m no longer available for blame. I’m close to those who value and appreciate me and are capable of empathy and compassion, and distant from those who still blame me for their feelings, who project their own self-judgments on to me, and who are not accountable for their unloving actions. I was able to help Sarah make similar decisions for herself regarding her in-laws, and to be compassionate for herself rather than thinking there was something wrong with her.
When you grow up being scapegoated, it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that your family is treating you this way because they might be threatened by your light and the depth of your caring. It’s hard to come to terms with the narcissism, including the lack of empathy and compassion regarding how their unloving actions affect you. I spent way too many years taking on the anger and blame and walking on eggshells with those family members who won’t take accountability for themselves.
As hard as it is to accept the reality of what might be happening in your family, I encourage you to listen to your inner child and your guidance regarding whether or not you are being treated with caring and respect by your family or in-laws or at work, and whether you are still caretaking their narcissism and still being scapegoated by them.
If you are being scapegoated, or were as a child, it’s important to be aware of the characteristics of the narcissists who scapegoat. While empathic caretakers are often attracted to narcissists, since they feel the inner pain of the narcissist and want to be of help, narcissists are often attracted to caretakers to get their ‘supply’ of love and attention. Because the narcissist is abandoning themselves and are the ones causing most of their pain, no matter what the caretaker does, it is never enough or good enough for them, so caretakers become the targets of scapegoating.
Narcissism is on a continuum, with Narcissistic Personality Disorder on one end of the spectrum and what I call garden-variety narcissism on the other end. All of us have some narcissism in our ego wounded self, because this part of us just wants to have control over getting love, avoiding pain, and feeling safe. The caretaker covertly tries to have control with compliance, while the person on the narcissistic end of a relationship system does it with blaming the caretaker, an overt form of control.
While the characteristics of narcissists vary in severity, they are all resistant to loving themselves and others, and they all exhibit some or most of the following symptoms:
- They lack empathy and compassion, which leads to an inability to care about the feelings and needs of others. They may even act compassionate without actually feeling it.
- They believe they are entitled to have what they want, regardless of whether or not they hurt others in the process of getting what they want. They have no problem taking advantage of others.
- They expect others to admire them and see them as superior, even if they haven’t accomplished much.
- They often over-talk, monopolizing conversations.
- They are judgmental and highly critical of others, often belittling others as a form of control.
- They have problems with self-regulation regarding their feelings and behavior.
- They expect compliance to their demands and expectations.
- They come off as arrogant and conceited, which is a cover-up of their underlying insecurity, lack of self-worth, and self-loathing.
- They are needy and empty inside and expect others to fill them up and give them the love and attention they are not giving to themselves.
- They have little patience and become easily angry or enraged when they don’t get what they want. They use anger, bullying, threats and other forms of intimidation to control. The also use covert forms of control such as sarcasm, or inauthentic smiles and hugs while judging. Their hugs feel yucky.
- They feel easily slighted and rejected.
- They are moody and often resort to substance and process addictions to deal with their anxiety, stress and depression.
- They scapegoat others, blaming others and projecting their self-abandonment and resulting self-loathing and lack of caring on to the scapegoat.
- They rarely seek help because they don’t believe they contribute to the problems in a relationship. They believe that they are not the one with the problems. When they do seek help, they are often successful in convincing the therapist that they are fine and that the problems are coming from their partner, their parents, or others.
Pleading your innocence with scapegoaters generally leads to further blame and persecution. Because there is no openness of the part of people scapegoating you, having an open discussion about it isn’t possible. As challenging as this might be, often the only loving and healthy way out of being scapegoated is to disengage from the people scapegoating you – which can be very challenging because you likely love them, but you need to accept that they are not being loving to you and that there is nothing you can do about that.
The more you practice Inner Bonding and learn to see, value and love yourself, the less you will tolerate being scapegoated, so I hope you take the time to learn and practice Inner Bonding.