Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scapegoat Healing

Name of art piece: "Scapegoat Healing"
size: 10" x 13" on 11" x 14" paper
printed on archival paper with archival inks
artwork © 2014 by Lise Winne
a hand signed print is also available here
(design dedicated to Robert W. Davis)

My new announcement! I am pursuing another masters degree (MSW). More about that towards the end of this blog. In the meantime, here is my post (with my own illustrations and graphics) on what scapegoating is all about:  

The Making of a Scapegoat
in Alcoholic and Narcissistic Families
(Note, sources are at the end of blog or you can click on the purple links throughout this post for further reading).

The term "scapegoat" originally comes from a Jewish custom and ritual where a goat is chosen to carry all of the blame for all of the tragedies in the community or family (famines, fighting, plagues, whatever). The goat is sent out to the desert away from the community (where it presumably dies).

In the past, human scapegoats were the human sacrifices, ritualistically tortured, put to death in order that the tribe should live, or so it was believed. No matter how it is painted, scapegoating is a primitive mindset in which the primary objective is to divide the good from the bad and torture the recipients deemed to be bad whether that abuse is through mental, emotional or physical means. 

Scapegoat theory as it relates to humans was developed by Kenneth Burke, a philosopher. These days it refers to individuals or groups who are continuously blamed for all that goes wrong in a family, tribe or community. Alcoholic families and narcissistic families are notorious for using scapegoating. Scapegoating is basically bullying and getting picked on by an entire family, with the end result being that the scapegoat eventually lives outside of the family unit. Over time, the entire family usually dissolves (more on this later).

Almost all scapegoating and bullying takes on a predictable pattern which escalates:
1. passive aggressive jokes and jabs, mocking, put-downs, condescension, directing, advice which is not in the best interest of the individual, refusal to listen to your point of view, unsolicited advice and lectures, arrogance, uncaring attitudes, minimizing your pain, trying to pit loved ones against each other ... escalating to:
2. insults, criticism, demands, micro-managing, rage, threats, shaming, name-calling, no respect for autonomous decision-making (with ultimatums) ... escalating to:
3. overt bullying, the silent treatment, blackmailing ... escalating to:
4. enlisting co-bullies to help, feigned victimization (also used to enlist other bullies) and in general, trying to gain an audience to use in the purpose of more bullying ... escalating to:
5. isolation tactics, damaging gossip, and smear campaigns (used to separate you from your loved ones, peers, family and/or community), with continued escalations of abuse, whether verbal, emotional, physical, financial or sexual.

Verbal abuse includes insults ("stupid", "piece of crap", "waste of a human being", "shut up!", "you're nothing!", etc), name-calling, labeling in derogatory ways, swearing at, raging at, shouting in someone's face, intimidating talk, and so on. As for identifying emotional abuse, go here for a list of common emotional abuses towards children. For adults, this website is the most comprehensive on the web for identifying some of the most common emotional abuse tactics (some that are listed aren't abuse, some are just traits of dysfunctional adults). For physical abuse, it is not just about punching and beating, it can include pushing, shoving, slapping, tripping, physically preventing you from leaving or staying, yanking things out of your hand without your permission, throwing things at you, unwanted or inappropriate touch, and so on.

According to Kellen, a licensed therapist, physical violence starts with verbal and emotional abuse first:
For those who are new to the idea of domestic violence, the violence does not usually start with a physically violent act. It usually starts with words, beliefs and emotions. Words like, "Stupid" and "Ugly" and "Loser". Beliefs such as minimizing, "I only hit you once" or blaming, "You make me so mad I can't help it". Emotions such as guilt and shame are used to manipulate. It starts not with violence, but with power and control. The abuser decides...what the victim is allowed to do.

In many alcoholic families, there is a point in the disease where most alcoholics feel grandiose and entitled and blame everything that goes wrong in their relationships on someone else. Displays of irrational rage, bullying and/or violence can also be part of day to day life with an alcoholic. Who gets blamed for these behaviors? Someone is chosen from the family group for upsetting the alcoholic. However, sometimes the alcoholic is chosen and blamed for upsetting other family members with his/her drinking and behavior.

Families who pick on one member to blame for all things that are family-related, and cannot find anything real or rational to place their blame upon will often use subjective blame: the victim's feelings as perceived by family members. One instance of this would be "You're angry at everyone in the family." Sometimes there is a threat of punishment afterwards for the perceived (made up) anger in the victim. Another instance would be "You're ungrateful" (which is a subjective perception or made up feeling in the victim with an attempt at a guilt trip thrown in). Another instance would be "You brought this upon yourself, young lady! You always try to infuriate us with your crying and poor-me attitudes when the real situation is that you are doing it to try to make us look bad and feel guilty with your insane complaints and criticisms, which have no basis in reality (because you're insane!), when you are the one to blame for everything that has gone wrong. You bring misery and drama to this family with your self-induced pain, so for that you deserve to be punished." -- which is using all of the scapegoat tactics in just a few sentences (more on this in the next few paragraphs) and is much more common than you might think. It is making up a feeling, with a guilt trip thrown in, telling the victim they are crazy, that they don't have a right to speak or feel anything about their experiences, disrespecting the fact that the victim feels hurt with further shaming about those feelings, and then heaping on more abuse and blame. Notice how the logic shifts to blame the victim in every clause, and for everything, even the imagined. Narcissistic families especially do just about anything to blame, including provoking the victim endlessly, so that they can keep up the blaming and shaming. For instance, a family will threaten, bully, insult, isolate or trip up the scapegoat family member in some way, and then when the member reacts with a feeling (pain, anger, withdrawal, pleading, headache, a nod, a glance, rolling eyes, etc), uses it to justify further punishments and abuse. This is the most dangerous tactic in that these kinds of practices on a consistent basis can lead to feelings of helplessness and suicide, especially in child victims who feel there is nowhere to turn and nothing they can do to stop the bullying (and indeed, bullying has been found to be a cause in more than 72 percent of all suicides nationwide). In other words, this tactic can be particularly dangerous and sinister.

Basically, most anything is used to pile the blame onto the scapegoat, no matter how irrational and subjective it is.

The following are the most common tactics that scapegoat-ers use, just in case you get these during an episode where you are being strong-armed or bullied. These include:

1. "You brought this on yourself"
   Why you shouldn't believe it: it is heaping blame upon the victim for inciting the rage and abuse from the perpetrator. Your perpetrator is responsible for his actions; you aren't. Abuse is never justified, ever. It is an excuse, plain and simple. It is an attempt at power and control by the abuser, a way of saying "I have a right to abuse you because you are flawed in some way", or "feeling something I have perceived", or "feeling something I do not like", "asserting or justifying your rights in the relationship in a way that I don't like because I think you deserve to be dominated and punished, however subjective my opinions are." Any excuse is given in making the monster come out in the abuser. 
2. "You're ungrateful" (variations include "you hate such and such", "you are angry", or labeling feelings on another as justifications for blame or further abuse)
   Why you shouldn't believe it: this is the most common tactic in getting victims to feel that they owe something to the perpetrator. I have personally witnessed abused children from alcoholic families report that their parent said this. Some of them were too young to comprehend why this was continually being levied against them, because most of the time, the children's feelings were misinterpreted. Most abusers give things to their victims: pedophiles often give candy, pimps often give drugs and/or security, abusive parents might give gifts, and so on. Gratitude is a feeling (as in "I feel grateful"), not an act. Whether you express enough gratitude is subjective, and at any rate up to you (not the accuser) to decide whether it is something you feel or not feel (only you can know what your feelings are). Alcoholic families are more likely to use perceived feelings in the scapegoat to place blame; whereas narcissistic families go further to use perceived feelings as an excuse to punish. Even if an abuser gave you something, it doesn't give him or her a license to threaten, mistreat, punish, scapegoat or abuse. No judge in this country ever said, "I find you guilty and at fault for how others interpret your feelings of gratitude." There is a reason why the law doesn't allow interpretation of feelings as evidence for guilt. Don't fall for it. 
3. "You're over-emotional" (variations on this include "making mountains out of molehills", "drama queen", "crazy for being hurt", "you're a baby" and any other insulting phrase having to do with expressing pain through emotions)
   Why you shouldn't believe it: Emotions are a way of expressing the severity of pain you are feeling in the situation. It is the body's way of getting rid of stress so that it won't cause damage to your mind and internal organs. Again, it is up to you to gauge how much pain you feel in the situation, not up to the accusers. If they aren't going to acknowledge your pain, then that is a sign that they want to be insensitive to it, and perhaps pile on more of it, not a sign that you shouldn't feel what a situation warrants. And if they aren't going through the same pain that you are going through, how can they properly judge you and your emotions? Perhaps they are just bystanders who expect you to suck it up. In addition, you should be examining whether the family is trying to get you to shut up about your emotions as a tactic for keeping the dirty family secrets from leaking out.   
4. "You're mental" (variations on this include "You're crazy", "You have psychological issues" or any other phrase that insults and diminishes your mental capacities)
   Why you shouldn't believe it: Bonafide mental illness is something that only a professional can diagnose (and even then they can get it wrong: in the 1960s many children who were sexually abused were misdiagnosed as having childhood schizophrenia, an unacceptable diagnosis, since schizophrenia does not manifest until 18 years of age and older). If you are being accused of being "mental" during any action of abuse or bullying, be suspicious of the intent! Is it being used as a weapon? Is it perhaps a gaslighting tactic? Again, if your family members aren't going through the same experience in the same way, they have no right to judge how you perceive a situation. 
5. "You have no right to criticize" (variations on this include "You have no right to complain", "Don't you dare criticize me!" (especially if the criticism is legitimate), or any other phrase that attempts to shut you up about the abuse, or make you think that you are wrong for bringing up the subject in the first place, or from feeling anything about the abuse.
   Why you shouldn't believe it: in fact, you do have every right to criticize or complain. That is the only way things change and it is the only way to stand up to bullying and abuse (think about the Civil Rights cause here: if no one complained, blacks might still be considered second class citizens). Scapegoats have very little to lose by complaining because they are already on the family margins, and many are already receptacles for escalating bullying and abuse in the family or outright family rejects. Most scapegoats do get to the point of: what do I have to lose anyway? Unless your family is like The Godfather movie, you don't have much to lose by talking and probably will lose much more by being silent (again think of the Civil Rights Movement, The Women's Suffrage Movement, Apartheid demonstrations, India's Independence Movement as opposed to being silent in North Korea, the Jim Jones Community and the David Karesh Commune).   
6. "There are consequences for speaking to me in that tone" (variations would include "speaking out", "telling your story", "letting the truth out", "telling your version of things with ____ emotion" or any other phrase that lets you know that you will be punished and retaliated against if you assert your right to speak or emote).
   Why you shouldn't let it phase you too much: their threat is a sign of their weakness (otherwise they wouldn't feel the need to threaten you). They are threatened by your strength and abilities. If you are a scapegoat who hasn't brought into a totalitarian inferiority complex (their version of you), then your show of strength is very worrisome to them. If you are part of an alcoholic family, your non-compliance threatens the dysfunctional situation that many in the family are trying so hard to protect, family honor being the motivating force. If you are part of a narcissistic family, your non-compliance threatens the narcissist(s) from exposure to others outside the family, the image of perfection being shattered. Scapegoats aren't too worried about their reputations: they've been criticized ad nauseum, kicked around and down the block so many times: most care more about growing into emotionally healthy human beings and finding healthy relationships and working on their own spiritual growth and integrity than being an actor spouting what people want to hear with a lot of bad deeds hiding in the closet. If you, as the scapegoat, were treated well and it was a happy functioning family where members loved and respected each other, let all family members have emotions and a voice, and worked to own their part of the family troubles and hurts, there wouldn't be a need for threats.

To sum up, if any of the previous phrases are used around or following an incident of abuse, bullying, punishment, scapegoating or threat, see them for what they really are: the most common of tactics to get victims to question themselves, and ultimately to get victims to apologize to the abusers for the abuse! All kinds of abusers use these phrases, not just family scapegoat-ers: these include pedophiles, pimps, abusive johns, slave owners, school bullies, family bullies, batterers, spouses and even emotionally abusive co-workers and bosses.     

The Scapegoat and the Alcoholic Family

graphic art by Lise Winne
© 2014
Children in alcoholic families, according to Claudia Black PhD, grow up with three dangerous rules: don't trust, don't feel and don't talk. Pamela Weintraub, of Psychology Today, discusses why living with alcoholic parents is traumatic:

The alcoholic family is one of chaos, inconsistency, unclear roles, and illogical thinking. Arguments are pervasive, and violence or even incest may play a role. Children in alcoholic families suffer trauma as acute as soldiers in combat; they also carry the trauma like an albatross throughout their lives.  

When I have talked to recovering alcoholics who are long time members of AA, I asked them why alcoholic families scapegoated one family member. Their consistent answer was, "Alcoholic families will do anything to avoid, to deny, to pretend and to lie about the elephant in the room."

So the picture I got one day was this: there is an elephant in the room. The elephant is alcoholism and abuse. It is too big for the room, so it sits on just one family member as it does not want to bring too much attention to itself by sitting on other members. The family member who it decides to sit on will probably be the most vulnerable one, or the one who gets laughed at the most, or the one who is on the edge anyway. This is the safest for the elephant, so he won't be reprimanded by the entire family. The family member that the elephant sits on feels pain and shouts out, "ouch!!" every time he is in the room with the family. How will the rest of the family members react who aren't being hurt by this elephant and don't want to look at or believe there is an elephant in the room?

If you said they would blame the person who is sat upon (abused), you would be right. And that's why alcoholic families come to eventually say, "You are crazy" in reaction to their family member experiencing abuse, and "you create drama" for emoting or saying what it felt like, and "I don't want to hear any of this" when the victim continues to say he is hurt. The family eventually gives the victim ultimatums and threats when he continues to talk about it (whether inside and outside the family), even when he tries to show his family evidence that it exists. The victim is not going to stay around the family with the elephant of alcoholism and abuse crushing him, so he leaves. And then the family might say "You are ungrateful!" as the victim goes out the door, perhaps even throwing in "You never loved us anyway!" The scapegoat interprets their actions as insensitive, uncaring, cruel, inexcusable and heaping on more pain and abuse on top of what he has already experienced. If the victim is a child, he learns to be silent instead (i.e. don't trust, don't feel and don't talk). And this is also how victims, in general, get blamed for abuse.

This is just an instance of how an innocent child can get abused and blamed:
Say Mom, Valerie, gets drunk. Her child enters the kitchen to get a glass of water and Mom says "You can't have a glass of water until dinner time." The child already has the glass in his hand, and drinks down the water fast because he is very thirsty, and says, "I'm sorry, Mom, I hope you're not mad, but I just really needed this as I was outside getting sweaty playing baseball" and puts the empty glass in the sink. Since alcoholics often misinterpret emotions, Mom interprets the child's drinking down the water as an angry, belligerent act of defiance and says, "How dare you!" Since alcoholics can have very little control over their actions and emotions, she picks up a stool to use as a weapon. The child tries to make a run for it, realizing that his mom's face is red, enraged and that she's drunk (again -- oh, no, not again!). The whole time the child is screaming, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" But to no avail. The child is beaten badly with the stool. The family rushes into the kitchen to see what happened and sees their Mom with the crying child. The mother tells everyone that the child is at fault. The child's siblings take the mother's explanations as justified and discounts their sibling's explanations (so that they will not be her next targets) and the father takes his wife's side as a co-parent and to support her in disciplinary actions. The child is accused of making his mother angry. Perhaps later the child is told, "You know how she is when she's drinking and cooking. You should have known better." Everything in this situation totally enables and excuses the abuse, and discounts the pain the child is in, even though being beaten repeatedly with a stool is unjustified given the very minor offense.

When you go to Alanon, you hear all kinds of stories like this (and others): a father shoots up his house with guns with his children sleeping upstairs; a mother lies around on the family couch all day drinking and swearing at her small children; a teenage son steals continually from his parents to buy liquor, and is skipping school on a regular basis; a husband who used to be humble, responsible, sensitive to others and monogamous is now cheating, irresponsible, insensitive and constantly cruel, boastful and arrogant, and so on.

How do scapegoats feel when they can't escape? How do they cope when the pain and depression run too deep? They have been known to act out, to defy, distrust and disrespect authority, to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs, or find some way to communicate their feelings through other means than within the family.

Which is to say, alcoholics can be scapegoats in families too. This isn't right either -- one should always remember it is a disease first and foremost. That disease can make a person behave in certain ways that are notoriously destructive to any relationship that the alcoholic is engaged in. But they probably wouldn't behave in this manner if they weren't an alcoholic (or a scapegoat). Yes, it is hard to get past the alcoholic anger and abusive behavior. But remember also that we live in a society that promotes capitalist ventures like legally selling alcoholic beverages (and what better way to keep breweries and detox centers in business than addiction)? Therefor it is relatively easy to get addicted, especially starting in college where it is widely used, abused and where peer pressure makes it hard to resist.

Most of the regulars at Alanon primarily discuss bullying and abuse as it relates to their alcoholic loved one, at least the ones I have been to (and even in Alanon literature). It is the dominant, prevalent topic at most meetings. Everything else is secondary (usually) in discussing an alcoholic: the self-centeredness, the grandiosity (arrogance), the pathological lying, the lack of logical and rational thinking, the boasting, an inability to read other people's emotions correctly, lack of empathy, destruction of work and relationships, embarrassing social situations, spending too much time drinking at the expense of other activities, spending too much time with drinking buddies at the expense of other relationships, etc. But in all of these instances, it is just part of the disease. For instance, pathological lying is part of the disease of the addiction part of alcoholism -- and as the disease progresses, lying is used for most any situation outside of the addiction as well). An inability to read other people's emotions, to be arrogant, to lack any empathy at all, to act childish, act like someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is related to alcoholic brain damage (the amygdala, in particular) -- and has to do with the personality shift that many people see in their loved ones when they complain that "he used to be so nice, but turned into a monster once the drinking got to a certain stage."

Anyway, not to get off-topic, you have a right to set up strict boundaries for your safety and well-being, but you should do what you can not to retaliate, or scapegoat an alcoholic family member. This can be difficult when the disease and/or the anesthetizing effects of drinking can cause the alcoholic to imagine anger where there isn't any, and to bully and abuse others. The important thing to always have in the back of your mind is that this is a disease which has altered or hijacked all rational responses and empathy in the alcoholic. "Letting go with love" is the phrase most often used when dealing with abusive alcoholic family members (Alanon slogan).

I have personally seen good results from therapy when the whole family attends counseling. Relationships seem to grow and members start engaging in emotionally healthy responses to each other. It is even better for recovering alcoholics in that they are less likely to relapse if their family is in therapy compared to alcoholics who are in recovery alone. Once the family members understand the commonalities they have with so many other alcoholic families (including toxic roles that they have adopted like scapegoating one member), they heal.

If there is only one family member getting therapy (which has traditionally been either the scapegoat or the alcoholic), the family becomes further frayed and fractured, with many, many members distrustful of one another, not talking to each other or completely divorced from their families. This is why alcoholism is referred to as a "family disease"; the whole family has to be in treatment or family rifts will spiral out of control.

The following graphic is one I had to make for another assignment, so I'm posting it here too.

What this graphic is saying:
As long as blame is fixed and unchanged with the enabler(s) and alcoholic, with the scapegoat doing all of the work at trying to find a creative solution to the problems, the alcoholic family disease of scapegoating stays fixed as well. Once one scapegoat has left the family and gone "no contact", another family scapegoat usually is adopted from whomever is left within the family.

The Scapegoat and the Narcissistic Family

The other kind of family that scapegoats is the Narcissistic family (which often has its roots in alcoholic families). As with the alcoholic family, I have included sources below.

Narcissistic families are much harder to heal than alcoholic families. Narcissism is one of the most entrenched psychological disorders that mostly gets worse with age rather than better. Narcissists can be either fathers, mothers or lovers, but for the sake of convenience, I am focusing on the Narcissistic mother in this blog post (though be aware that there are 4 times as many narcissistic fathers as mothers). Narcissistic mothers have also received more attention from psychiatrists and psychologists than Narcissistic fathers, perhaps because these mothers are the opposite of nurturing and kind (especially if a child gets on her bad side or inadvertently criticizes her and doesn't accept the role the mother assigns to that child).

Narcissistic mothers can either be born from alcoholic/addict families or have a parent with a severe mental illness, are born with damage to the amygdala part of the brain (the part of the brain that is responsible for empathy), taught by a parent that they can do no wrong (golden child) or they are born from a severely abusive parent (and cope with it by having multiple personality disorder where one of their personalities is narcissistic). The family she grew up in might have had poor boundaries, poor conflict resolution skills, a lot of irrational rage, siblings fighting over scraps of attention and affection, and a lot of neglect (or abuse). Either extreme favoritism (with doting and enmeshment) or extreme distance, ignoring or neglect (with irrational rage and erroneous blaming in the childhood home) appear to make a future Narcissist.

Adult children of alcoholics who were abused as children often become abusers themselves (learned behavior). They most often have shattered self images where appearing perfect and magnetizing others becomes the primary goal of their lives and it will supersede any other goal, including any and all intimate relationships. According to Addiction Treatment Magazine:

Incest and battering are common in alcoholic families. An estimated 30 percent of father-daughter incest cases and 75 percent of domestic violence cases involve a family member who is an alcoholic. COAs are more likely to become targets of family abuse and/or to witness family violence at the hands of an alcoholic parent ... When they’re a little older, adolescent COAs may stay in their rooms for extended periods of time, become secretive, and have difficulty relating to other children or say that they have no one to talk to. Teen COAs may begin to show depressive symptoms such as perfectionism, hoarding, isolation, and becoming extremely self-conscious ... When they mature, adult COAs often fail to relate their problems to their growing up with alcoholic parents. Many adult COAs have problems with aggression, depression, and impulsive behavior. Studies show adult COAs often abuse psychoactive substances ... They’re also likely to have difficulty establishing healthy relationships with others. They have problems with intimacy. Since they don’t trust others, they fear if they try showing love to another, they will be hurt just as their alcoholic parent hurt them as a child.

Studies have shown that many narcissists also have a brain disorder (under-developed anterior insula region), and they can exacerbate their pathology by drinking alcohol. Studies also reveal that narcissism runs in families: where there is one narcissist, there is usually another.

Narcissistic mothers are notorious for punitively and consistently favoring a golden child (who she deems can do no wrong) and disfavoring a scapegoat (who she deems can do no right) among her children. The golden child and scapegoat are used by her to keep up an appearance of infallibility and perfection. (Here is another link about that by a psychologist who specializes in the subject).

Life with a Narcissistic mother takes a predictable path. She is most concerned with her image and reputation first and foremost. She has children, not to raise healthy contributing members of society, but to serve as extensions of herself who she can manipulate at will. She is very controlling and meddling and long after her children have become adults (and even grown old), she gives unsolicited advice (which, for the most part, are really commands). The most telling sign of a Narcissistic mother is that if someone hurts her feelings or exposes a weakness, even if unintentionally, she becomes enraged, and will retaliate, usually the most punishing and cruel form of revenge she can muster without breaking the law (which usually means, at the very least, extended forms of the silent treatment or trying to keep the family member isolated through some form of ostracism). The other most telling sign is that she expects her children to disclose all of the details of their lives, but will keep her own life, feelings and thoughts close to the chest. If she doesn't receive the disclosures she expects from her children, she can be retaliatory and cruel about that as well. She can be charming and generous if her children accept her dominance and the roles she assigns them. But, she expects complete compliance, even when her children are elderly and have grown up children of their own, all the way up until her death. She expects her children to praise her and uphold an image of perfection about her. She will resist any possibility that her perceptions and ways of dealing with others are wrong or hurtful (or any other flaw). She can never totally accept that her children have minds and dreams of their own. This encourages her children at a very young age to be sycophants, and to compete for her love. But in fact, she is incapable of real love: real love contains empathy and is not conditional upon her subjects upholding an image. Any hint from her children that she is less than perfect, even when that child is well into adulthood, will endure harsh punishments. Typically, her underage children are isolated while adult children are discarded for extended periods of time.

This is in sharp contrast to normal, caring mothers who treat their children as individuals, with an even hand, are open to some reflection about themselves, are secure in their worth as people and citizens, and open to feelings, complaints and criticism, who focus on the positives of each child (as opposed to pitting children against each other -- a trait in mothering that is almost exclusive to narcissists), who root for each child's strengths and discourage sibling rivalry, who value children for who they are and what they contribute to society rather than what they do for her (in terms of letting her serve as a Director to their lives) or what kind of image they uphold of her. Normal mothers also do not ostracize their children -- they would have to be in imminent danger to even consider it (though some mothers from strict religious communities will do so under tremendous pressure from their communities).

Narcissistic mothers can pretend to empathize, to be confidential, to be loving to their adult children. That doesn't mean they actually are that way or feel that way. The acting job can be so extremely convincing that they can shock the whole family, and every other witness in their midst, with their swift about-face, when they perceive that there might be a complaint or criticism, and retaliate by throwing one of their grown children away like so much rubbish. And it usually doesn't end there: they continue to go for the jugular: insults, threats and smear campaigns, and any other ways they think will achieve their desired goals of punishment. Most people, even other family members, assume a familial relationship among grown-ups is based on intimacy, mutual sharing, trust, love, caring, helping one another out in times of need and working out problems constructively. When a narcissistic mother instead goes for threats, domination, control, insults, harsh penalties and rejecting over uncertain threats to her perfection, it can be shocking, not only to the victim, but the destruction it unleashes resonates throughout the family system, just as it does when an alcoholic abuses one or more of his family members. True empathy cannot just disappear overnight, and over challenges to ones self image.

In fact, what the acting job of empathy is really about is trying to gather information just in case her children "get out of line" and she wants to use it against them later. Genuine love, trust and intimacy mean nothing to these kinds of mothers: it all will be trashed and sacrificed if her adult child is not doing exactly as she wants, if she feels she is losing control and domination, or if she feels that her image is even slightly tarnished in the course of a transaction. In addition, these kinds of mothers will have no qualms about hurting, punishing you, telling everyone that you are crazy and giving you the silent treatment when you are most vulnerable, down on your luck or going through tragedies in your life. In fact, these kinds of mothers most often strike just at those times, in an effort to bring attention to themselves by usurping the real tragedies and hardships in your life.

The punishments take on a predictable pattern too (which I have already outlined above, except they are even more predictable, intractable and inexorable than the alcoholic family): first the explosions, insults and threats, next the silent treatment, next the flying monkey treatment (enlisting co-bullies to do her dirty work for her, which most likely will include a spouse, and any other willing family members) and finally smear campaigns, ostracizing and isolation tactics. Believe it or not, after treating her child like this, she expects an apology!

It has also been well established that the golden child can and does use his influence and status to bully his other siblings if he feels his domination or authority is being threatened or challenged in some way: this is his way of ensuring that all of the attention, the family resources, the entrusted confidences from the parent, the family gossip (used for manipulations), and all of the praise go in his direction. Meanwhile, the scapegoat is blamed and disciplined by the mother for every altercation between the two children -- because the protests about the abuse by the scapegoat make the mother appear less than a perfect parent! In other words, she takes the complaints about the bullying personally (even if her assigned scapegoat is a young child!) as a criticism of her parenting abilities and punitive style of favoritism rather than being compassionate and trying to solve the bullying issues going on under her roof. The mother either condones the bullying or looks the other way. There are many instances where the scapegoat will complain about the bullying and then the mother expects the scapegoat to apologize to the bully golden child! In most cases, the mother and the golden child work in tandem in front of an audience of other would-be sympathizer bullies, to blame and shame the scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in the family. It is a situation, which often, for the scapegoat, results in either suicide, severe depression (which can manifest as psychological disorders since she is not allowed to express hurt or emotions without repercussions and escalations ... and drastically falling grades can become part of the picture too if the scapegoat is a child). Eventually, if there is no intervention, the scapegoat is ostracized from the family or voluntarily abandons the family. This seems to be the norm.

The scapegoat children are predictably the least like the mother. They are often the most empathetic and sensitive, with abilities at real intimacy, despite the environment of fear that they grow up with. Meanwhile the golden child is most often the least sensitive of all of her children (many goldens are boot licking, insincere, bullying, brazen and arrogant, and mostly in relationships for gain and manipulation; they take wild chances in life because they are taught very early that they can get away with almost anything).

The golden child can often become another narcissist because he (or she) has qualities the mother sees in herself and falls in love with. The golden child, in addition, receives more nurturing and unconditional approvals, even approval of escalating abusive behavior, and the preferential treatment further teaches the child that he is entitled to special privileges, confidences and treatment and can abuse others without repercussions. This is well established in psychology literature also.

Sometimes the scapegoat can take on a favored position with the mother for awhile if the golden child is not living up to all of the expectations of the mother. But this is not common, and in any case, short lived; unfortunately the roles are established in early childhood and are usually fixed for life, with the mother upholding the roles with intimidation, threats and cues.

The reason scapegoats lose or leave their families eventually (whether through abandonment or through ostracism), whether at the onset of adulthood or later, is because the role is simply too painful to bear. Within the family they are not allowed to complain, criticize, protest, question, comment, tell the truth or feel hurt by the toxic family dynamic. It is "don't trust, don't feel and don't talk" on steroids! The difference between the alcoholic family and the narcissistic family is that there is the constant additional unspoken threat of punishment and being isolated through smear campaigns, both of which are used to inflict severe pain and damage to the target(s), not just a short disciplinary measure or brief time-out.

If the scapegoat protests or criticizes, it will generally lead to his or her ostracism; whereas living in silence, stuffing the feelings and accepting that things will never change eventually leads to hopelessness about the situation and voluntary abandonment (which many scapegoats describe, following a grieving process, as relief ... it is hard to be in a relationship where you are constantly expected to reveal everything going on in your life and then examined, told what to do, walking on eggshells, worrying about retaliations from your parents and other assigned bullies, worried about stepping on your parent's feelings unwittingly, being in situations where bullying is condoned or disregarded, and being micro-managed through passive aggressive commands for every aspect of life, commands which are often given to cripple success and reward failures).

If the mother has more than two children and the original scapegoat has abandoned the family, a new scapegoat will be assigned the role from her remaining children, until all scapegoats have left. All that is left, for the mother, in her old age, usually, is her golden child, and she can wear out that relationship too. In that way, it follows a similar path to what happens to alcoholics' relationships.

There is always a catch-22 in these cases: 1. If the scapegoat is not willing to be a victim of bullying and abuse (and suck it up without complaint), as expected by the family via the scapegoat role, the retaliations and escalations become more pathological and dangerous. In this case the mother instigates the escalations if her child doesn't accept the role. 2. If the victim stays in the role of the scapegoat, keeps silent and endures it (i.e. don't trust, don't feel and don't talk which means never-ending condoned bullying and abuse), the golden child continually instigates the escalations to get the scapegoat out of the family. Either way, the scapegoat cannot win the hearts and minds of the family: no action, no words, nothing at all will make a difference. Only a complete change in consciousness in the mother or golden child will change the situation and that is doubtful. That is why feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and depression are such a huge part of being a scapegoat and why extricating yourself and getting professional help via therapy is often necessary.

Children can especially be vulnerable to narcissistic rage and attack if and when their parents divorce. Narcissists either marry cowering doormats or people who will serve as co-bullies. She will usually have it no other way. Both kinds of spouses must buy into her image of herself as irresistible, always right, always perfect in every situation she engages in (including the way she disciplines their mutual children). If a husband doesn't agree to everything she does, and in how she treats others, including the children, he is soon a victim of her rage and retaliations too. Often she moves on from her spouse until she finds a lover who will give her everything she wants. For this reason, narcissists are notorious for having many, many affairs while they are married (and they have even been known to use affairs for the purpose of bullying and punishing their husbands). Narcissists primarily divorce over narcissistic supply issues. When narcissists divorce, they mean to cause pain, and a lot of it, no matter how much misery they have previously inflicted on their spouses. They can never fathom their part in the dissolution of their marriage(s), or any relationship, so they try endlessly to win over their children's perceptions in the battle. Children can especially be targets during their parents divorce. Even years or decades after custody battles and financial assets have been finalized, narcissists often continue to work at trying to take their exes down through psychological warfare, smear campaigns and disparaging comments. In addition they often expect their exes to either die of grief or to make efforts to win them back, so strong are their feelings of entitlement and grandiosity. This never sits well with their mutual children. It also presents a unique problem that children in other homes never have to face, in that the retaliatory behaviors from the narcissist(s) will also target children who don't pretend or comply with loyalty requirements as set by the parent(s) and agreeing (at least outwardly) to a spinning of the facts. It encourages children to become actors in return for love, the golden child seeing it instinctively as another opportunity to win and gain preferential treatment. Being rewarded for lying (and getting away with those lies) and being in-authentic has serious drawbacks as this is what can ultimately lead to a criminal mind, or at the very least being two-faced, exploiting and swindling others, trying to get away with things, and in general using others to extrapolate outcomes, and other manipulative tactics, instead of doing the right and moral thing or being in relationships for genuine reasons (mutual sharing, mutual respect, real love). Unfortunately, narcissists never think about long term consequences about what their actions are teaching -- only what they want or need in the moment.

Some children of narcissistic mothers even report that their mother seems to get high on causing their children and ex's pain to prove to herself that she matters (just as criminals love coverage by news media, even if the attention is disparaging).

When the children of narcissists grow older, the mother usually doesn't change her ways: she will ruin weddings, family announcements, graduations, funerals, etc in an attempt to draw attention to herself, even negative attention. At the very least, she will meddle with the guest list, or use these events to ostracize certain members. However, mostly she is known to pick just those moments to have narcissistic rage attacks.

Which is to say that the actions of the narcissistic parent(s) in this regard, also effect in-laws. For in-laws who grow up in fairly normal loving homes without narcissistic terror, the attempts by the narcissist(s) to usurp important events with ostracisms, rages about her reputation or image, the silent treatment, meddling, smear campaigns, et al, and then insist afterwards on extracting apologies, seem outlandish, selfish and cruel to the inlaws. Attempts by the mother to guard the reputation of herself  (and any sycophants left) and to keep in-laws contained (i.e. from talking about the family) are especially ineffective (and can even provoke it). The children of the narcissist(s) will usually put their spouses and children first and feel emboldened by rebellious inlaws who refuse to go along with protecting abuse.

Divorced in-laws from the family narcissists often become beacons and havens of compassion and sympathy for members who have been scapegoated. Eventually most members of a family gravitate towards them. This incites more rage from the narcissists which consequently continues to drive ever more family members away, eroding feelings of obligation and loyalty in the process. This is the hypothesis many psychologists use to explain why narcissism gets worse with age; the control mechanisms, image promotions, psychological terrorism and escalations that worked in the past with their nuclear families and which they expect to work in their old age, no longer is effective. The reason it doesn't work (becomes increasingly unsuccessful), has to do with emotionally healthy in-laws being introduced into the family system. New children born into the family are protected from the narcissists and increasing numbers of scapegoats usually band together to tell their stories and compare notes. Since emotionally abusing scapegoats is the only way narcissists know how to behave, they continue to up the ante (escalate) in a desperate maneuver to gain back the control they once had. What narcissists fail to understand is that, similar to the alcoholic family, their original nuclear family (spouse and children) enabled them, gave into them, as a way to keep the peace or to stay safe, since the only thing the narcissist would hear is "you are right; you are perfect, all the time, no matter what, no matter how emotionally abusive you are", et al. The way the enabling happens is that young children learn to fear their parent, and therefore don't rock the boat (i.e. don't trust, don't feel and don't talk). The spouses of the narcissists sometimes enable by keeping quiet because they fear divorce (and the fallout from divorce: being ruthlessly mistreated by the narcissist plus not being able to protect their mutual children from abuse at the narcissist's hands). Narcissistic parents are never capable of understanding that emotional abuse tactics erode their self image, not others talking about their experiences. Once new emotionally healthy people are introduced into the family system in greater and greater numbers, the family members who want emotional health and non-threatening behaviors will continue to grow in numbers as well. This, in turn, can make it possible to stand up to family bullying.

Aging narcissists eventually lose control of everything and everyone, despite their smear campaigns: they lose their reputations and family support systems, the very things they were trying, through tyranny, to protect. The narcissist eventually resembles a disreputable king without a guard.

What happens to narcissists in old age? The trend as described in blogs and on-line forums seems to be this: assuming that all parties are still alive, and that the golden child has won his mother over completely, and that he hasn't been burned by her controlling tactics along the way too, the two Narcissists can finally bond together, with no competition from the golden child's siblings, or other impediments in the way. It is typical for narcissists to give the golden child all or most of the keys to the family fortunes and resources. The scapegoats may come back to be heroes, to help with the care-giving, to show the mother they aren't the bad people they have been made out to be, but they are often disappointed at the mother's coldness and surprised at the worsening Narcissistic qualities. In any case, the siblings can, again, be bullied by the golden child (a golden child who has become a Narcissist will bully siblings even in old age), an unsustainable, unsafe situation.

For a time there is a honeymoon period for mother and golden child. But ... since the golden child has never been taught to compromise, has never been taught to listen or resolve conflicts other than always getting his own way via charm, false praises, lying, maneuvers, backstabbing, blackmailing, win-lose strategies and intimidation and abusive techniques, and has never been reprimanded for bullying his own kin in the family system, the golden child has complete control and domination over his mother. After he knows, with certainty, that he has her in his grip, he will not hear of her preferences or choices. Since she is the one who is used to a place of dominance, authority and control, usually a battle of wills ensues, with the mother on the losing end and under the complete domination of her controlling, abusive golden child. Since narcissists have very little genuine empathy, any long term care of the mother most often means negligence. If she protests, he looks at it as a challenge to his image, infallibility and authority (just as she spent her life doing). There are many horrific stories about what happens to these kinds of mothers, but suffice it to say, most Narcissistic mothers under the care of a narcissistic golden child either die alone and neglected, or left for someone else to care for her.

Generally, members who are left to do bidding for narcissistic elders are usually insincere ring-kissers (who alternately will just as easily stab everyone in the back!). Narcissistic families resemble I, ClaudiusLion in Winter and The Godfather more than, say, The WaltonsThe McGuffs or the Bucket family of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

For so many reasons, it is never advisable to have a close intimate relationship or share anything personal with this kind of parent. She will undeniably hate you for it, but real intimacy does not contain emotional abuse. Intimacy also means disclosure being a two way street: in other words, if two people are not mutually disclosing, while one of the pair is always trying to pry into the other's life for information, it usually means that person has something to hide, and that includes motives). Intimacy should always be based on truths, something that is impossible when one of the parties is only interested in relationships to promote and protect her reputation and domination.

As for examples of the Narcissistic mother? Mrs. Reed in the novel Jane Eyre is one you might want to look up. Her golden son becomes a fallen gambler (which is typical of a lot of golden children; they tend to gamble, whether it be with money, real estate, business dealings, stocks, sports, speeding on the highway, laws, in casinos and racetracks, romances or addictions -- their whole focus in life is usually on investments, acquiring more riches and domination over others, on image, winning, power and money-making enterprises and schemes at the expense of other more meaningful enterprises that help make a better society). Mrs. Reed's scapegoat, on the other hand, is sent away from the family (a red room to be isolated and disciplined, and eventually to a school where the headmaster keeps up the abuse and scapegoating so that Mrs. Reed feels absolved and justified in her abuse), which is also typical. The other typical traits of the scapegoat are revealed in the novel too -- the scapegoat is not hated for anything rational or earned and lives with low self esteem and must work harder than all of her other siblings (in this case pseudo-siblings, since she is a child adopted by her uncle, Mr. Reed). She also displays some emotional outbursts about how she is treated and perceived, which is unacceptable and a punishable offense to Narcissistic mothers (abuse usually escalates when scapegoats reveal their emotions). The scapegoat in this novel is also the truth-teller, the most sensitive one, and becomes a school teacher (which is typical too as scapegoats usually end up in the helping professions: school teachers, nurses, yoga instructors, home health aides, etc). How apropos! Mrs. Reed's other two daughters are constantly quarreling with each other and become estranged. As with most Narcissistic families, siblings almost always end up going separate ways, never talking to each other again.

So, what is a scapegoat adult child of a Narcissistic mother to do, anyway? Unlike the alcoholic family, therapy with narcissistic parents usually does not work because narcissists cannot entertain for one second that they are contributing to the dysfunctional family system at all. They see no reason to pay for anything when they aren't being praised at every turn, when everyone else is crazy (or at least that is how they'll try to manipulate it), when they want desperately to hold onto brow-beating tactics at all costs. They don't see the advantages of being team players over being ruthless punishing dictators. The narcissistic mother will avoid any other possibility than her present assigned scapegoat(s) taking all of the blame. As long as the mother's children accept their roles, she is happy; once they break out of their roles, she tries everything she can to force the roles upon them again. In a more political mother, she might make it look appealing for the scapegoat(s) to return to the family (through concessions and compromises so that both sides are happy, with some give and take, some mutual overtures). It even makes sense in terms of the mother's image, which is of paramount importance to her (showing she can be compassionate and reasonable, since even lies and smear campaigns do not work, especially since adult scapegoats usually have witnesses, perhaps a family of their own, and other close relationships that cannot be destroyed with hearsay and gaslighting techniques, making it likely that only the least intelligent, most gullible of suck-ups will remain to be manipulated). Unfortunately, for most narcissistic mothers, if a child refuses to play the role, and doesn't initiate all of the overtures in making up, it usually means the mother will escalate more punishment, isolation, blame, shame and smear campaigns on her scapegoat(s), which further threatens the mother's reputation and divides the family. These things are never rational.

Sometimes when the children grow up, they can turn things around. Here is how:

1. As I have mentioned before, narcissistic parents are known for punishing adult members who complain and speak out about abuse and for rewarding members who praise, appear to want to compete and are willing to assist her in bullying. To turn things around, simply take all rewards from narcissistic parents and divide them equally and equitably between all of your siblings. This breaks the narcissist's game of pitting family members against each other. I have personally seen good results from this strategy, but it is sometimes difficult to get siblings who have been taught to compete with each other to work together for the first time for the greater good.

2. The other strategy that works is that when you see one of your siblings getting abused, scapegoated or bullied by your parent(s), get all of your siblings together and as a group, reprimand the parent(s) for hurting your sibling. I have personally seen siblings do this together as an insurance policy (so that it breaks patterns of abuse, including scapegoating, and keeps parents in check from abusing again).

Neither of these two strategies will change what the narcissist wants and feels entitled to (power, dictatorship and admiration), but it will make all of their efforts at controlling others ineffectual and flaccid. It will almost guarantee that the parent(s) will go into shock when they see that their offspring (whom they previously thought of as frightened dishrags they could divide and conquer) turn around and have the cojones to stand up to them united!

The other strategy I have seen (which actually may be more of a manipulation), is to make use of the silent treatment. If you don't want your parent trying to control or ruin a major event in your adult life, it is easy. Just say: "You know, it really hurts me when you don't give me the autonomy and space to make my own decisions..." The reaction you'll get is as predictable as pressing an elevator button: "How dare you! You're ungrateful! You said this just to create drama! You're crazy: I always allow you to make your own decisions! You need to apologize! I won't ever help you again! You hurt meeeeeeee!!!"

The Narcissistic parent, like the alcoholic, has an illness, and probably compromised brain function as well. If you take her punishment and bullying tactics seriously (into your heart to fester there), you will suffer. "Detach with love" would work here too, starting emotionally. As with alcoholic families, the narcissistic family members spend an inordinate amount of time lecturing, blaming (with fault-finding missions if blame cannot be easily found and is not immediately apparent), and commanding (or giving pseudo controlling advice to adult family members). All of this is towards one end: so that the mother, like the alcoholic, can appear flawless, always right, always perfect, never responsible for having any part in the dissolution and unhealthy dynamics within her family.

Abused adults of narcissistic parents have very few options other than to be outside the family, especially if their siblings are joining in on the scapegoating. Children have a little more hope (public schools are on the look-out for scapegoating and other forms of abuse, even emotional abuse, at least in the state I live in, making detection easier). Children certainly have a much better chance at achieving emotional health through intervention than they did in earlier years, but more work needs to be done.

Here is a similar piece to the one I posted earlier, except it is about the narcissistic family:

Hope for the Scapegoat

Here is some advice on how to deal with the situation if you have become a family scapegoat:

1. Get help through a licensed therapist and go to group meetings as soon as you can to help with any pain you might feel. Alanon, ACOA and CoDA are some good groups to start with. Many people find solace in spiritual groups, healing groups and workshops too.
It will be comforting to know, perhaps, that many attendees wear their black sheep status with pride inside the walls of these groups. Some have lost their entire families and gone through incredible grief, thoughts about suicide at one time, wondered what they were living for and wondered what they were going to do without a family or meaningful contact with their families. But in the end, after many years, they wondered why they put up with it for so long. If you are single, some of these groups have members who celebrate the holidays together and find other ways to adopt new family members.

2. Realize that most of the hatred and venom that is directed at you has nothing to do with you. It has to do with their needs to constantly blame someone. If they see themselves as perfect and you as imperfect and inferior, then everything that goes wrong, or isn't to their liking, by default, has to be your fault, right? At least that is how they see it. But that doesn't mean there is any truth to any of it.
When alcoholics misinterpret other people's feelings as anger and hostility (typical), they blame you for starting a fight. When a narcissist interprets criticism or autonomy in your speech, he becomes so enraged that you would challenge his superiority and decision-making about your life, that he must punish you for daring to speak the truth (or speak your mind freely), but that doesn't mean you actually meant to hurt him.

3. In the end, you might want to ask yourself if you really need to be in relationships with bullies, scapegoaters, hypocrites, control freaks, liars and people who punish you or continually threaten you with it? Even if they are people you have known for a good portion of your life? If you were not related to these bullies, and you met them at a gathering, would you be attracted to them or gravitate towards them? How do these bullies fit into your friendship circles, or with your significant-other or in-laws?

4. If you still want the scapegoat-ers in your life, or feel a need to communicate with them, make sure you bring people with you that you feel safe with. Family bullies usually escalate, and if you are alone, they will torture you more than if you are surrounded by people who truly care about you and love you. Be aware that they can't stand it when you are with others, so they will sometimes stalk you to get you alone. Be sure you have a plan to deal with that.
Taking threats seriously is especially important with narcissists. They are unpredictable two-faced politicians. They love to seduce, with smiles, charm and fake compassion especially when you are at the top of your game, and then punish and discard you when you are going through tragic events, over and over and over again ... if you let them! They view themselves as too special for abandonment (even if they have emotionally abused you to the point where you don't want the relationship any more) and become enraged and punishing towards you if they think you might abandon them.

5. If you are dealing with a lot of anger issues for what your family has done to you, remember this:
In dealing with alcoholics: Most alcoholics aren't happy. They use drink to make themselves feel happy, on top of the world, of being exceptional (they get their pride, happiness and self confidence out of a bottle, in other words -- self medicate). Part of their rage towards you has to do with the fact that the side effects of alcohol can create incredible irritability. Everything can be seen as a challenge: they want to delegate burdens and be at peace with their drinking. The potent chemicals in their systems may be destroying their brain so that they can't interpret situations, emotions and issues clearly any more either, so you are seen to be angry or defiant when you really aren't. Your relationship isn't the only relationship they will destroy. They will even self-destruct over time if they don't detox.
In dealing with narcissists: A similarity to the alcoholic is that narcissists use a self-induced form of fantasy that they are exceptional to make themselves feel happy (which is how a child relates to the world, using fantasy to recreate himself as a king who is always right). Most narcissists see no point in detoxing their behaviors, as it would break their magic mirror (their fantasy), and most refuse to change, the result being that they typically have tragic ends. Hitler, Caligula, Napolean and Saddam Hussein were the ultimate evil narcissists. In the case of Hitler, it is well documented that he was a child of constant beatings and abuse (his father used it to extract total and absolute compliance; in Mein Kampf, Hitler refers to the reason being alcohol for the beatings). Hitler's scapegoats were the Jews and his golden children were the blonde German Aryans. He bullied, stole, tortured, lied, used and controlled everything in his path. He was too arrogant and special to listen to his generals when he was on the verge of losing the war, and too full of fantasies to deal with the realities he created, insisting that the German army do things his way (an outdated World War I war strategy), which, in his imagination, was his pure genius with a magic god-like touch. When it was clear that the allied forces were closing in, he wouldn't give an inch on compromises, or surrendering, and in the end, blamed, hated and resented his golden German army for letting him down. So typical! He went down in history hated, resented, remembered as a brutal, evil dictator.

Unfortunately, many scapegoats use drink and drugs to deal with their grieving, depression, anger, feelings of injustice and thoughts of suicide. There are better ways to do that. Expressing how you feel with someone else or a group of people who have gone through what you have gone through can help to relieve these feelings, more than any drink or drugs could ever hope to do. Outdoor activities, enjoyable friends, et al, can be a great reminder that there is plenty to be thankful for in the world. Art therapy, writing and comedy can always work too. Revealing the absurd situations you find yourself in with these people can be a great way to take the stress off. Here is a one-panel cartoon that I produced about a narcissist.

  © 2014, cartoon by Lise Winne

According to an article by Grace Marguerite Williams, a writer about psychology issues, scapegoats do (and often) become successful and revered members of society: 

Many golden and favored siblings "mature" into selfish, entitled prima donnas and boy wonders who believe that the world revolves around them and people exist to do their bidding. They have an inflated sense of themselves with little or no regard for others. They are often manipulative and will do anything to get their own way even if it hurts others. They further believe that the world owes them something and because they had an easier life, cannot handle stress and hardship.

Unfavored and scapegoated children either are utter failures in life because of a severely damaged self-esteem or they become the family rebels and iconoclasts who have severed ties with their toxic biological family and have found non-related family members who care about who they genuinely are. Many unfavored and scapegoated children have become wildly successful and famous and use their fame and success to help the underdogs of society.

Helping scapegoats find healing, hope and a fulfilling life is partly why I am pursuing another masters degree in social work (I already have one masters degree in art education). Not only is my graphic and artwork going in this direction, of which these several pieces are just a small part, but my thoughts, research and writing are going in this direction as well. Who will I be counseling at the end of my degree? Victims of abuse, bullying and scapegoating, including (I hope) children. I will also be able to diagnose. Writing articles, holding workshops in schools, counseling women in abusive relationships, doing research on the subject is also a dream of mine, as well as providing art therapy.

I might have been happy enough continuing with a life in fantasy and healing art and music, and I still will be devoting my time to this to a certain extent, but I feel the subject of abuse is no longer one I can ignore and I deeply want to help others suffering from it in some way.

This means that I won't be producing as much art as I have in the past, though I will need to do some to support myself, particularly graphic work, while I get another degree.

Thank you for your continued support and I hope that some of you will be interested in the new work I am doing.

Reading and Sources

Please note MY NEW BLOG for more on this subject and more (post-edit on 10/21/15): Because of the popularity of this blog post, and all of the "pins" on Pinterest, I have continued writing about this subject in a much more extensive blog with a lot of research, called Misadventures with Angry Alcoholics, Bullies and Narcissists. Thank you for giving me the support to keep writing about this subject.

Bradshaw On: The Family: A New Way of Creating Solid Self-Esteem by John Bradshaw
Secrets of Your Family Tree: Healing for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families by Dave Carder, Earl Henslin, John Townsend, Henry Cloud and Alice Brawand
Family Dynamics in Individual Psychotherapy: A Guide to Clinical Strategies by Ellen F. Wachtel, PhD and Paul H. Wachtel, PhD
Golden Child/Scapegoat (from Understanding and Healing for Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers website)
Roles in Dysfunctional Families by Robert Burney, M.A. 
How Addiction Changes a Child’s Role in the Family – Scapegoat, Hero, Super Enabler, or Disappearing Act by Ken Powers (from The Life Skills Authorities website)
Invisible Loyalties: Reciprocity in Intergenerational Family Therapy by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and Geraldine M. Spark
Family Roles Within Chemically Dependent Homes from the Rehab Helper website (UK)
Codependency is the Fuel That Runs Many Alcoholic Family Systems by Deborah Morrow, M.S., Addiction Psychology

Dealing with Alcoholism and Alcoholics:
It Will Never Happen to Me! and other books by one of the leading authorities on alcoholic families, Claudia Black, PhD
Another Chance: Hope and Health for the Alcoholic Family by  Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse
Expect the Unexpected: Living with Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families, by Marc Handelman, PhD
The ACOA Trauma Syndrome: The Impact of Childhood Pain on Adult Relationships by Tian Dayton PhD
Sober Siblings: How to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister—and Not Lose Yourself by Patricia Olsen, M.D. and Petros Levounis, M.D.
The Alcoholic Family in Recovery: A Developmental Model by Stephanie Brown PhD (Author), Virginia M. Lewis PhD
Love First: A Family's Guide to Intervention by Jeff Jay and a forward by Debra Jay
Growing up with Drinking or Other Substance Abuse by The University of Illinois Counseling Center (website)
After the Tears: Helping Adult Children of Alcoholics Heal Their Childhood Trauma by Jane Middelton-Moz (Author), Lorie Dwinell
Last Call: Understanding and Treating the Alcoholic Brain (A Personal and Practical Guide) by C.K. Murray
An Elephant In the Living Room, The Children's Book by Jill M. Hastings and Marion H. Typpo 

How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics by Al-Anon Family Groups

Bloggers Dealing with Alcoholics and Alcoholism: 
The Immortal Alcoholic
Alcoholic Daze
Demons in the Dark
Married to a Functional Alcoholic
AA Bobby steps
Twelve Drawings
I'm just F.I.N.E.
How to Live with an Alcoholic
Sandy Swenson's heartbreakingblog about her son

Dealing with Narcissists:
Why Is It Always About You: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism by Sandy Hotchkiss and a forward by James F. Masterson MD
The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman
Children of the Self Absorbed: A Grown-up's Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents by Nina Brown, EdD LPC
Silent Treatment: Preferred Weapon of a Person with Narcissism by Andrea Schneider, LCSW
Voicelessness by Richard A. Grossman, PhD, a website devoted to topics about Narcissistic Personality Disorder with an extensive message board
Mothers Who Can't Love: A Healing Guide for Daughters by Susan Forward and Donna Frazier Glynn
Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Dr. Karyl McBride
Disarming the Narcissist, Surviving and Thriving with the Self Absorbed by Wendy T. Behary, LCSW, preface by Daniel J. Siegl, M.D.
Narcissism: Dive Inside the Mind of a Narcissist and Learn How They Tick by Erica Bennett
Your Online Counselor (family and partner)
House of Mirrors  (family)
The Narcissist in Your Life (mostly family)
Parent-Free by Choice (parents)
Psychopathy Awareness (mostly partner)
Narcissism and Relationships Blog (mostly partner)
Message Boards, Help Resources for Dealing with Narcissism:
Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents Resources
Voicelessness website
Out of the Fog website forum

About the Artwork, "Scapegoat Healing"

The white scapegoat (signifying purity) that has been sent out to the desert to die, wanders instead, and finds an abundant lush garden. The family that burdened him with all of the blaming, shaming, rejection, insults and toxic emotional waste, this load has miraculously turned to white butterflies and is literally floating away, disencumbering the goat of his heavy load.


  1. Gorgeous, beautifully written and very important essay. Thank you, Lise. Those children, and the others you assist with recovery will be very fortunate to find you.

    1. Thank you. It was very cathartic to write this and glad that people are reading it.

  2. So much great info! Thank you!

    1. Much thanks for beautiful painting and very comprehensive a scapegoat, I am in therapy and working on forgiving my mom.good lu c k in graduate school the world needs more caring people like you.

  3. Well you have reached your goal because you have helped me today. I find myself constantly googling I am one and my mother a hardcore malignant narcissist. I sat in the parking lot at the church today and cried...because I feel I have failed at life. I am isolated and blamed and even cut off from nieces and nephews who once loved me because I will not make myself available for the scapegoat role. It hurts because I did nothing wrong. But your article made me realize that I never succeed because my family never wanted me too. I am the talented one and went out in the world and used it...but they hated me for it and for all the wonderful friends who love me as I point is you made me see maybe it's not too late even though I am in my 50s. Maybe. Maybe I can be the big success everyone in the world besides my family expected me to be. I just want to say out loud...I do not like my family and I don't think I love them either. I cannot love my abusers or siblings who stand by and allow it. This is the best article I have read on this subject. Your painting of the beautiful goat made me cry.

    1. I just caught this comment today -- I'm sorry I didn't see it until now.
      Being a family scapegoat is one of the most abusive situations I can think of and it takes time to move on from a family that insists on you being their convenient "punching bag" just to be a member of that family. Most scapegoats, like you, come to a point where to stay in that kind of family is too traumatizing to bear.
      My suggestion is, always, to find a therapist who specializes in abuse. A good therapist knows that you need to build a "family of choice" in order to survive being ostracized. Twelve step groups and group therapy is a good way to start.
      My heart goes out to you. I hope you find the peace you deserve.

  4. Hello Lise, really great article and very helpful thank you, is there a book to give young children to help them survive being a family scapegoat?

    1. Interesting you should mention that. I have been working on that.
      Thank you.

  5. I found a children's book helpful for a family scapegoat child, by Lynne Namka "The King and Queen of Mean". Look forward to seeing your book too.

  6. Thank you, so very interesting. I now find myself the scapegoat within my family after having thought they were my very foundations in life for fifty years. I've been shaken to the core and want to detach from them, but at the same time am sad that I no longer have the family I thought I'd have for all my life. It really screws you up. It feels like a bereavement and loss. You try to do your best only to be put down behind your back.

    1. If it is any consolation I went through it myself.

      I think when you are put in a role in the family (the scapegoat role being only one of the roles), the family isn't relating to YOU any more; they are just relating to a role, the one they put you in, and want you to stay in. In other words, they are relating to "what they want for themselves".

      It is weird to think they want a scapegoat, but there are reasons for wanting a scapegoat such as they don't want to feel responsible or to face any blame of any kind. They feel the blame has to go somewhere, so they choose one of their own to heap it on.

      The reason, perhaps, that they chose you is that you are strong and can live without them. If you leave, and stay out of contact, another family member will be the next scapegoat, which will prove to you that it isn't you at all.

      I know a lot of highly successful people who are scapegoats -- one of my doctors, for one (while the golden child in his family is a criminal). Hey, it's their choice. Let them have it, right?

      We cannot be our best selves any longer when they get to the point of treating us like road pizza. Scapegoating is gang bullying and it only gets worse.

      Smear campaigns, which it sounds like you are going through now, are part of it. It is designed to hurt you, but after years away from the family, many survivors look at it as "no family spies" -- in other words that's the lemonade part of the lemon. Trying to send in spies is what many of these families do after their smear campaigns have done a lot of damage. It's their way of assessing the damage, kind of like how reporter assess hurricane damage. Most sadistic families cannot stand NOT knowing what you are going through.

      Therapy with a domestic violence counselor, a trauma specialist, joining groups with other survivors, and survivor forums are some of the best tools for recovering. There are a lot of altruistic people (to counteract what you're going through) in survivor groups.

  7. At 56 I have finally decided no contact with my complete family. Im homeless broken down and virtually destroyed.was labled at birth by my parents as retarded because I was born 2 months early. My mother allowed her golded boy 3 yrs younger to hold me down and pinch my breast until i sreamed and cried I know she heard because the windows were open. My father was a narcissist and she was a covert narcissist. Im being bullied by 4 siblings and 82 yr old mother. I was expected to stay beneath their feet. Final straw was two days ago when I was explaining to my covert narc sister how hard it is to have no insurance and try to figure out how to get help for cancer diagnisis I just received with no help and all she could do was laugh hysterically like a hyena. I told her I was glad she was so amused by it her reply was we have to have something to laugh about. They are venimous snakes that feed off your pain. Please if this sounds like what you may be dealing with. Run away asfast as you can. They will rob your life all the way to your death if you allow this. I may not have alot of time left but I have my God my savior and my spirit and now finally my peace. Always thought there was hope but there never is or will be. God bless all the victoms you may very well be the only sane one in the family.may you realize this earlier than I did.sorry for punctuation daydreamed as an escape mechanism through most of grade school and was expected to be stupid anyway. I came home from school excited my grades were up my fathers reply was you're still no einstein are you. Im an avid reader and just realuzed a pretty good abstract painter. Had he known about eintsein he would have known einstein didn't do so hot in school either. It was completely a very horrible existence. Im alone and now trust no one. I have a old car I cant afford to put gas in have afib that makes it difficult to breath at times and no backing of any kind. Im with my daughter who supports her me and her daughter on meager wages. Get away how ever you have to. Will be alone this easter but will break out the paints and enjoy the first holiday I have ever enjoyed.

    1. Thank you for your story.

      "God bless all the victims you may very well be the only sane one in the family." -- I think many psychologists find this is true.

      I got to know a woman who was scapegoated by her mother for most of her childhood. She was the only one of her siblings who wouldn't stay silent, put up with abuse and shouting, and pretend everything was okay. What happened to them as adults? All of her siblings are heroin addicts today.

      I believe it was "the fight" in her from childhood which kept her from going down the path of self destruction.

  8. To AnonymousMarch 29, 2018:
    you are loved and you are right. Maybe you arent loved by your family, but you caNt choose your blood. sounds like to me you are perfectly sane and surrounded by assholes. May I ask: are you Scottish, and is your family alcoholic??? (100 - bingo bingo bingo) I would pray, but im agnostic, so I sincerely hope you focus on you and your daughter and work to provide them the COMMUNICATION you were never allowed to have. May you be happy and FREE - you deserve it!