Mayukh Saha
Mayukh Saha
February 23, 2024 ·  4 min read

A Possible Upside of Being Scapegoated in a Toxic Family

Let’s be clear: there is nothing, I repeat, nothing good about growing up as the chosen victim in your family of origin. One particular type of verbal abuse that happens in society on all levels, including inside the family, is scapegoating. The entity gets to pretend they would be “perfect” or “thriving” if it weren’t for that one person or group who is accountable for all that is wrong by mentioning that one person (or group, depending on the context). Nevertheless, during the interviews I conducted for my book Verbal Abuse, I learned about some intriguing, albeit anecdotal, trends from individuals who had been used as scapegoats by their parents and frequently by their siblings.

The Impact Of Scapegoating On A Child’s Growth

The extent to which the scapegoat position harms a son’s or daughter’s development varies in part on the individual’s personality and understanding of the dynamic, whether in early or late life.

One daughter stated that by the time she was seven or eight years old, she recognized what was happening: “My mother made no effort at being at all even-handed; she favored my older sister who could do no wrong, and she blamed me constantly for not being good enough. The unfairness of it all rankled me, and I actively looked for outside positive feedback to offset what was going on at home. My father also didn’t join in on the bullying, so that helped.

However, a different daughter, who is now 46, explains how she lost consciousness: “I honestly believed every word my mother and siblings said about me until I went into therapy at a friend’s suggestion when I was 30. I blamed myself for everything and couldn’t take credit or feel pride in anything. When something good happened, I thought it was a fluke. When someone liked me, I doubted it, and when something went wrong, I knew I’d made it happen because I was flawed and deficient.”

A 50-year-old son said that his success stemmed from being used as a scapegoat. He opened up about how his father and siblings would often bully him and although he was able to protect himself most of the time, it served as a conscious promise to himself to never be like them. This determination was what drove him through college as well as med school. He successfully made a life for himself and never intended to make any contact with them.

A Glaring Example Of Poison Within The Birth Family

Even when scapegoated youngsters are aware of how unfairly they are being treated and how they are being bullied, they almost always become emotionally distant from others and become self-armoring. Being denied a feeling of acceptance in their birth family has a lasting impact and might follow them into adulthood. They may grow up to be high achievers, actively striving to live up to their parent’s expectations of them, or they may have internalized so many negative messages about themselves that they have low expectations for themselves, avoid failure at all costs, and struggle to set and meet goals. There’s no denying that there are serious psychological and emotional injuries. 

There could, however, be a bright side to everything. Out of all the kids raised by a verbally abusive parent or parents, the kid who is picked on is more likely to accept and identify the unhealthy patterns in the family dynamic. In contrast to her or his siblings who have wholeheartedly accepted the family narrative, he or she is more likely to look for assistance in recovering from these habits and their impacts. Ironically, after seeking assistance, the scapegoat is frequently the only child in the family with a chance to build wholesome and long-lasting relationships.

The Twisted Upside Of Being Scapegoated

This is because the other kids in the household are picking up lessons from the verbally abusive parent even when they aren’t being used as scapegoats. They are reminded of the transactional nature of receiving assistance and safety from abuse by witnessing the treatment of the scapegoat. As a result of normalizing verbal abuse, bystander behavior, and perhaps participating in the blame game, they lose empathy. To get along with others, they learn to control their emotions and keep quiet. Should there be a preferred son or daughter, or one of each, these trophy kids understand that affection is acquired via meeting their parents’ expectations.

Their sense of self-worth is based on the flimsiest of foundations because they live in a society where success outside of themselves and how they appear to others matters more than who they truly are. Trophy kids have no idea about self-reflection or who they are. Because they don’t want to see past what their family myths tell them, they bring those mental models into their adult relationships. Scapegoats become the family’s bad apple once they reach maturity and leave home, not to mix up our metaphors from the barnyard. Any attempts they make to challenge the family myths will be faced with fierce denial and retaliation; they go from using the children as scapegoats to defend the family dynamic to uniting the other family members by questioning their reality as the bad sheep.

Read More: Why the Time Spend With Grandparents is Priceless

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