Scapegoat: The problem child, or the trouble maker in the family. They stand out from their Golden Child and Peace Keeping siblings, because they speak out, or act out – they bring awareness to the dysfunction in the family, intentionally or unintentionally, rather than deny, or avoid, as the others choose to do. They are the only emotionally honest ones in the family and as such, they are the recipient of the Emotionally Abusive Parent’s ire. The family then labels this child as the bad one, or rebellious one and they receive the brunt of the disdain, blame and responsibility for the family’s issues. They serve as the cause of the family strife, a needed distraction for the other family members, keeping them from acknowledging the real problems within the household.
The Emotionally Manipulative Parent forms an Oligarchy within the home, creating a hierarchy of those, who he or she likes best. The chosen ones are those that make the family look good. They don’t rock the boat, they don’t outwardly question the parent’s behavior and they have an easier time adapting to the toxic atmosphere.
The Emotionally Manipulative Parent uses several deflection techniques to escape accountability for behaviors that others would consider abusive. The problem child sticks out because they speak out and do not blindly accept the parent’s word as law. Instead they criticize, question and generally have a negative attitude towards the parent, while still seeking their approval at the same time. While their experience and maturity are ill equipped to identify the problem, they none-the-less know there is one. Scapegoat children often grow up to be champions of justice and fair play.
In the meantime, the parent’s treatment of the child becomes punitive and their goal is to smear the reputation of the child and silence them before anyone notices the validity of their allegations.
The Consequences of No Support
What exacerbates the problem is the complicity of the other parent and siblings. Once they notice that the Scapegoat is being served up as the family sacrifice, they get in on the act, with blaming, accusing and taunting, never supporting or standing behind them and never acknowledging the truth. Thus, you have the “problem child” standing alone, wondering if they are in fact the problem.
The scapegoat sees that the chosen siblings receive love and attention from the Emotionally Manipulative Parent, which deeply wounds the child, because they are seldom, if ever, on the receiving end of praise and affection. What they understand is that the parent is capable of giving those things, but chooses to withhold it from them.
This lack of support by everyone in the Scapegoated Child’s environment makes them question their own perception of reality and creates cognitive dissonance, conditioning them to doubt their senses and perpetually question their ability to read a situation. They then accept the role as the problem child and act out accordingly.
Some become rebellious and anti-social. They may abuse drugs or alcohol, their grades suffer, their circle of friends are often similar outcasts and they tend to be promiscuous early on.
They also become self-destructive. They internalize the Abusive Parent’s perception of them, as broken and flawed. They watch their nearest and dearest treat them poorly, naturally they treat themselves the same way. Because those closest to them don’t treat them as a person of value, they, in turn, don’t treat themselves as persons of value, so rather than learning how to practice self-care, they learn instead to self-harm.
These beliefs become internalized and become a part of their psyche. They have a direct effect on confidence, self-esteem, and one’s ability to trust. They effect their choice of friends, partners, career decisions and their overall demeanor. They will often find themselves becoming the Scapegoat in their romantic relationships and other avenues of their life.
When The Mantle of Problem Child Doesn’t Fit
Once the Scapegoat reaches a certain level of maturity and if they have the cognitive ability and insight, they will start to feel like the mantle of “Problem Child” doesn’t fit – that it never fit. On the road to healing, the problem child is able to acknowledge that this role was chosen for them, rather than something they chose themselves. They begin to see themselves as not bad or flawed, but frustrated and stuck in a toxic environment that they could not escape.
They are able to see the Emotionally Manipulative Parent as lacking the essential skills necessary for healthy parenting. That their parent was incapable of seeing them as separate from themselves and that children have emotional and psychological needs that they were obligated to meet – not vice versa. The Scapegoat realizes that their parent lacked the insight necessary to know that children are on a different level of maturity than adults and should not be treated like adults and that their parent was choosing self-preservation over their child’s well-being.
Many of my clients choose, as adults, to go no contact or have limited contact with their parent. No contact is a necessary option for those who threaten your well-being and continue to victimize you, who accept no responsibility for their actions and who refuse to make any changes to their behavior.
Recovery is all about taking back your power and putting firm boundaries in place. We must understand that we get to decide the type of people and the type of behavior that’s allowed in our circle and that we are allowed to have these choices. We get to decide what mantle we wear, who we are and who we want to be – no one else. Remember that what you put out there comes back to you, so take off the cloak of the scapegoat and be who you were meant to be.
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