Scapegoat Recovery – 5 Ways to Stop Suffering & Live Your Best Life

Peace of Mind w Text


by Glynis Sherwood

Scapegoating is an insidious form of family bullying that is destructive to both the target and family alike. Family should be a refuge for all, but becomes destructive through three main mechanisms – hostility, betrayal and ostracization of the scapegoat. Scapegoating creates an adversarial atmosphere of winners and losers, where loyalty is for sale to s/he who will submit to the will of the main bully/bullies.

Targets of family scapegoating are blamed and shamed inappropriately for the problems in their family. They endure ongoing, multiple losses and harm to their sense of self from this form of abuse. Foremost, targets experience tremendous grief through rejection by family, as well as loss of self worth by being shamed, invalidated and abandoned. Scapegoating causes high levels of anxiety as the target never feels safe emotionally in the family, and can lead to depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress. Damage to self worth can cause relationship and vocational problems as well.

Many targets endure decades of ongoing abuse as they futilely try to find a way to fit into the family that betrays them. The truth is that few scapegoats will ever receive the acceptance and love they need, and many find they need to distance themselves from family in order to preserve their sanity and dignity, and get on with their lives.

How to Recover from Scapegoating and Rebuild Your Life:

1. Acknowledge the Impact
Identify the personal cost of mistreatment by your family – fear, anxiety, sadness, depression, grief, self doubt, rage, insecurity, relationship problems, work difficulties, addictive habits, sleep disorders, etc. Do not minimize the harm to you, especially if you feel guilty or desire to reconcile with abusive family members. Scapegoating is a deliberately alienating experience, designed to harm you. Sadly, healthy reconciliation rarely happens, not because you have done anything wrong, but because perpetrators won’t allow you to stop being the scapegoat.

2. Develop an Accurate Point of View
Understand what scapegoating is and isn’t. It’s abuse, not a misunderstanding nor a negative reflection of your character. Even if you have made interpersonal mistakes, you are not responsible for the bad behavior of family members, no matter how much they try to blame you or claim that they are the ‘victim’. Choosing to exercise self control and not act abusively is a fundamental adult responsibility we all share. People who choose to abuse family members are doing this deliberately, even if they rationalize their behavior to themselves and others.

Have Realistic Expectations
Give up on false hope that scapegoaters will become reasonable or caring – if only you can make them understand. This rarely occurs, and is draining, frustrating and futile. Scapegoaters often have inflexible personality problems, such as narcissism, that reinforce their lack of insight and bad behavior.

3. Make Peace of Mind Your Top Priority
Your peace of mind is likely on shaky ground due to being scapegoated. You have been under attack – mentally and emotionally assaulted – likely repeatedly. This causes psychological injury. In order to recover from this injury, make your mental health your top priority and safeguard it at all cost.

Decide what you must do to help yourself feel better and create emotional safety. Do you need to limit or end contact with abusive family members? If you decide to maintain contact, clarify your ground rules with yourself. In other words, Who to stay in touch with? How? Where? When? What to discuss? What’s off limits? Who to tell about your boundaries?, etc.

Once you have decided on the relationship boundaries you need to set and keep, turn your attention back to yourself. What do you need to do now to help yourself feel better and begin to heal?

You will likely be experiencing some difficult emotions, such as fear about setting limits, or grief over the loss of family you never had. Take time to understand and experience these feelings, no matter how difficult, as they point to your true needs. Mourn the absence of family support and love that was your birth right. This loss probably led to feelings of extreme loneliness, and may have impacted negatively on past and current relationships, or your ability to reach your potential. Cultivate supportive friends who understand and appreciate you. Compassionate relationships are a significant buffer to the backlash that can come from scapegoaters who don’t respect healthy limits.

Complicated Grief
‘Stuck’ grief occurs when you not only have trouble accepting loss, but doubt your ability to survive after admitting the loss to yourself.  In other words, complicated grief is a form of denial.  In scapegoating situations, denial of grief and loss is fortified by clinging to fantasies of better relationships with abusive people, if you can only get through to them.  This unrealistic hope makes you vulnerable to self blame and depression as you discover that no matter how caring, gracious or forgiving you are, the scapegoating still persists. Believing that you can’t survive without abusive family members because you can’t cope with the truth of loss is a set up for chronic repressed grief, depressed mood and low self worth.  Complicated grief is the mind’s way of warding off the reality of the loss inherent in family abuse.  As you are not dealing with the reality of the abuse and loss, you cannot do the work of mourning, which is necessary for the heart and mind to return to healthy functioning.

Anxiety and Trauma
It’s likely no surprise that scapegoats tend to suffer from high anxiety. Anxiety is the body’s threat response system that throws us into fight, flight or freeze mode. If you have been repeatedly scapegoated over many years, then you have been continually traumatized. Repeated trauma tends to create a state of permanent anxiety. It will take your nervous system time to calm down. You must distance from abusive family members in order to overcome anxiety and trauma symptoms.

Anxiety recovery takes a multi-pronged approach: Physical relaxation, paired with emotional expression and insight, and the ability to challenge anxiety based beliefs (e.g. I will always be alone; I can’t survive without my family; No one is on my side, I can’t risk getting close to anyone or they’ll hurt me, etc). Therapy can be a valuable resource for healing from the trauma and anxiety of scapegoating.

4. Untie From the Shame That Binds You
This is usually the biggest hurdle and most important healing step. Shame – or self hatred – stems from the experience of being dishonored, disgraced and condemned. Shaming happens when a scapegoated family member undergoes recurring criticism, blame, disapproval, rejection or abandonment. Often this mistreatment begins in childhood. During this process, the abused child learns ‘I am bad, unlovable and lack worth’. At the same time, the abuse is either denied, minimized or rationalized by the perpetrators. In this way scapegoats are further injured for being victimized. This false – or pathological – shame is internalized over time and viewed as the truth. The ‘Inner Scapegoat’ that takes hold convinces targets that they are fundamentally flawed because they are being mistreated.

Healing from shame requires a high level of awareness when the Inner Scapegoat has been activated – challenging negative and self-punitive beliefs, and truthfully reframing victimizing experiences. Scapegoats must consistently stand up to the idea that they are bad or unlovable. This will likely take a lot of practice. Self hatred can also be triggered by ongoing mistreatment, so it’s important that distancing from abusive family members or unsupportive friends takes place.

5. Moving On
You will have moved on once you have freed yourself from the shaming Inner Scapegoat, distanced from abusive family members, and feel optimistic about your ability to create and sustain a ‘new’ life.

A Realistic Perspective
You will no longer be riddled with self doubt or insecurity because you will see scapegoating for what it is – a lie designed to elevate the status of abusive family members while keeping you down at the same time. You will steadily grasp that you have been mistreated by people you should have been able to trust and feel loved by, due to their character defects.

Healthy forgiveness is a process of releasing or letting go of feelings of hurt, anger and resentment that stem from being wounded by the actions of others. Why is this a good idea? The emotional costs of resentment are high, and contribute to chronic anxiety, rage, bitterness, low self worth, relationship problems and stress related illnesses. Freeing yourself from pain that is preventing you from being in control of and enjoying your life is liberating and allows you to live in the present moment.

Letting go of a grudge improves quality of life, with benefits including being able to focus on the life and relationships you want to have, being at peace and creating room for happiness again. These are essential ingredients for a mentally healthy existence.

Forgiveness does not require letting unrepentant victimizers off the hook, forgetting or ignoring unacceptable behavior. It is more about letting go of anger, guilt and hurt towards scapegoaters – and yourself – so you no longer live in the prison of the past.

Read my article Forgiveness – A Key to Your Psychological Well Being for a detailed account of the ‘How To’ of forgiveness.

New Self / New Relationships
Ending or limiting abusive relationships, results in a shift in identity. Many scapegoats have lost years and decades of their lives trying to work out impossible relationships. It’s a demoralizing process that erodes self esteem, optimism and happiness. The new freedom that comes from setting healthier limits can also be accompanied by feelings of uncertainty and loss as people ask themselves “who am I now that I am no longer functioning as the family scapegoat”.

There may be feelings of grief that arise now that you are no longer in a pattern of holding onto false hope with abusive family members. You may feel lonely as family dynamics, even though toxic, have taken up much of your time. Relationships can be a challenge as you either struggle to not let pain seep in, or have difficulties with trust and intimacy. You will outgrow relationships that have abusive elements, reminiscent of your scapegoating family, paving the way to greater satisfaction.

If you feel stuck in self blame, grief, anxiety or indecision about how to handle your scapegoating family members, counselling can help. You can discover how to be more confident setting healthy limits with family, and be able to stand up for those limits, no matter the opposition.

Counselling can help you grasp and feel – deep down – that you are not ‘the problem’, but rather the target of abusive family dynamics, and deserving of better treatment. When you start to overcome negative beliefs that you are somehow bad, inadequate or flawed – you can free yourself from feelings of guilt, self blame or shame. This lays the groundwork for building your self worth so you feel more sure of yourself and your relationships.


Like this Article?  Read more Scapegoating articles here

Need help with scapegoating?  Click here to visit my Scapegoat Counselling page

Counselling is available by Video worldwide.

Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor, specializes in recovery from Scapegoating, Low Self Esteem, Anxiety, Depression, Grief and Addictive Behaviors.


  • How have you recovered from Scapegoating? What do you want others to know?

    • Susan Campbell

      After no contact and reading and understanding how dysfunctional families work/don’t work, using uplifting empowering affirmations and listening to myself to define a stronger sense of self, by sticking with my resolve the hard days became easier and fewer. I mourned for their loss all the time I was trying to fit in. I never do now. It really does get easier, life is clearer and I can use all my thoughts to concentrate on what is happening now, where as before there was this constant feeling of confusion and sadness taking up too much of my energy. I’ll never go back.

      • Thank you Susan. It’very helpful for others to hear – from someone who’s been there – that life does get easier once you make a commitment to remove yourself from abusive relationships.

    • Panda McGuaig

      I have an adult sister who has behaved the exact opposite of me no matter what I do, and who was encouraged by my mom (father not in picture) to be different than me… I did well in academic subjects at school and told to attain ‘A’ grades, she took gym and basic level classes, was told ‘C’ grades were Ok for her. I learned how to play piano, she was permitted to quit after a year of lessons. I took ballet, so she took tap. I babysat to earn money, she didn’t want to. I worked after school in a deli at the local food stores and helped get her hired, but she refused to slice the meat and would only work the cash register. I was in French Immersion (in Canada), she took no French classes. I went to University for an honours degree, she got a job out of highschool as an RMT after a short course. I had dark hair, she dyed hers blond. I wrote a lot, filling multiple journals and diaries per month, she wrote nothing. The more updates I posted on social media, the less she posted. My friends were from all walks of life, all interesting people with good hearts who were willing to include her. But she clung to one friend who was morbidly obese and in and out of the doctor’s with severe health problems. This friend was jealous of my sister, who was very slim and pretty, and consistently made her cry! If I tried to give my sister any advice… she didn’t take it because we were “different”. I strongly opposed the way my mother seemed to be placing her in my
      shadow, but I was too afraid of my mom and too isolated to do anything
      about it. As an adult, my sister spent many years complaining to me about her life (including this friend who still takes up a ton of space in her life)…. but still wouldn’t take my advice, and over the past year I realized she was just dumping her problems on me.

      When I tried to set some boundaries with her so that I could make more progress healing from PTSD (I was sexually assaulted multiple times as a teen by different men – mainly by my mother’s “friends” who she left me alone with – she never did this to my sister)… it went badly. For 2 years after her first child was born, she was calling me up and asking me to babysit that same day. 11 months later she had a second baby. Still, I always said yes *playing the scapegoat role*. After doing this at least once a week for 2 years (feeding, diapers, bathing, entertaining, you name it! And I have no children of my own so it was new to me), I finally said, “I’m sorry I can’t babysit your children last minute anymore, it’s adds to my anxiety. Now that they’re toddlers, can you please schedule babysitting with me at least 4-5 days in advance?” She ignored me, and I haven’t been asked to babysit once… in the past 2 years! I now only see her children if I arrange a time to visit them.

      In reality sister has made it very easy for me to distance myself. It has broken my heart, but I’ve had no choice. My therapist has helped me see she was treating me with rage and contempt. She was triggered whenever she heard about any of my problems, whether they were heavy – like my suffering childhood sexual abuse – or more normal – like overhearing me ask my mom for a lift to work one day when my fiance was out of town with the car (I was desperate because my job is in a rural area without public transport and my mother in law who will loan me her car was away as well).

      What I want others to know is that there is NO LOGIC to scapegoating. If you’re flying high, you’re looked down on. If you’re having a low point, you’re looked down on. So… it has nothing to do with you. You don’t need to change WHO you are. You just have to stop letting them experience who you are in life. Setting boundaries won’t change you. It will protect you. And you are worth protecting. Your healing is worth protecting.

      I also want to say something specific. That “difference”? It could be manufactured. For the purposes of scapegoating. For example, I don’t believe I was significantly more intelligent than my sister as a child, or more talented at music. In later life, now that I’ve been struggling with healing from childhood sexual abuse… it now seems the abuse itself is what’s making me different. My mother abused me to isolate me from my sister. And my sister abuses me because I’m different. So, what I’ve learned is that if a person is going to go so far as scapegoat you… they will fail to be compassionate even when you are suffering most. When Glynis says the abuser won’t change… believe it. Nothing will change it. You can be dying of cancer and they will still scapegoat you (ever seen Million Dollar Baby? There’s an example of this type of abuse as an important part of the film). Nothing will ever make my sister feel compassion towards me. When I needed her to show compassion she rejected me. When I told her I felt rejected she said, “you’re not being rejected.” And that was it.

      After the past 7 months of progressively distancing myself from my sister (and my mom incidentally since they are together every day, codependent, share a car, etc.)… I’ve come to understand that she resents how I’ve been the victim of abuse. I also think her resentment is compounded because my personality is very strong and therefore takes on very little of a victim personality.

      And I do think that this is because the scapegoat is the strong one. In distancing myself, I’m recovering my strength. It was always there, I just recognize it now.

      • Panda – Your final words say it all “In distancing myself, I’m recovering my strength. It was always there, I just recognize it now.” Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    • Panda McGuaig

      I want to add that my sister doesn’t know about the rest of the sexual assaults in which our mom was an accomplice. I’ve kept them a secret because she seemed not to believe me about just the one incident, and it certainly didn’t change her relationship with our mom. She still lets my mom look after her little kids. So… in this way I’ve stopped telling the truth. And I’m no longer a defender of the weak – a defender of her kids. I don’t want to feel like my main role in their lives is to watch from the sidelines waiting for signs they’re being abused. My therapist helped me to see that with PTSD and my own trauma, that I could never be a real help in that situation, and that I could end up having a breakdown myself if I felt like I weren’t doing enough to protect them. Even worse, she suspects that if I stay in my niece’s life that they may
      hurt her to hurt me. My involvement would become a reason to scapegoat

      Essentially, the only solution is to accept that your family is abusive and you can’t stop it. When you change your role, another scapegoat will be chosen. I’ve learned that I can’t keep being a scapegoat just to protect children in the family from becoming one. That’s tough to swallow. I don’t want the same thing to happen to my niece that happened to me. But I can’t stop it from happening and I can’t wait around to see if it does.

      You must live your own life and walk away from the fire, walk away from the car crash. You can’t be a hero. I agree with Freebie – move!

  • Freebird

    A truly helpful article. It’s like you looked into the window on my life. I have recently gone NC with my entire family, including my beloved adult daughter and her family, 2 “best” friends who I realized were dumping all their garbage like anger onto me. I am now truly alone. But; I’m happy and proud of myself for the first time in my life. I have always been the one who blew the whistle on abusive, neglectful parents, husbands, and now my daughters Narcissistic treatment of me and her children and I have been punished my entire life for stepping forward and saying, “somethings wrong here! You people are all abusive and sick. Turns out I’m the only normal one out of the 20 or so “close” relationships I’ve had in my life. I’m moving to the other side of the country so there’s no chance I’ll even have to bump into any of them and I’m going to start a fresh live, what’s left of it! Even if I only live for a few more years free of all the madness, it will mean I’ve had a worthy life. Thank you, Glynis

    • Thank you Freebird. May you find the love and support you deserve wherever your journey takes you.

    • unspoiled American

      How brave you are to go no contact with your own child. I need to do this with two of my children but I’m not as brave as you. I wish you all the happiness you deserve!

  • Cyndinca – You are an inspiration. As you continue to build your confidence and belief in yourself, the odds improve that you will find people who will value the many gifts that you have to offer yourself and the world. I wish you the love and support you so obviously deserve.

  • Kim S

    I live this and have for years. My 3 sisters and my father are the scapegoaters and some my mom but not as much as the others. I had to get 4 mental diagnosis to prove I am not the crazy one and I am still being called crazy. Like that “crazy” email I wrote. But when shown to others it does not appear to be crazy. I am constantly being told how inadequate I am all the wrongs I have done, i need help and on and on. But guess what? In relationships with other family members and non family members noone ever says anything about this so called behavior or insinuates I need help etc. I do have health issues and do have disabilities and that makes it worse. But I have 4 diagnosis I have no personality disorders, no mood, no depression, no anger, no aggression etc. Nothing! And that is still not believed. They have tried to turn my now adult children against me. I also have alienation issues with my adult daughter whom that is because of my ex and at the hands of his wife. I hope that will change now that she is 18. And my ex and his wife are friends with my father and 3 sisters and that was high conflict divorce. And guess what the main scapegoater is a psychiatrist my father whom uses his profession as a mask. I am on # 5 above. No matter what I say or do or if I ignore them for a year will work.

  • margaretpaine

    Great article. Coming into the holiday season, many of us try to connect with the scapegoaters and have to put on a happy face as scapegoating gets worse over the years. This year I have said no more cards or gifts or false realities for me. This is my gift to myself. I have gotten healthier over the year with no contact. Holiday season just is more trauma and PTSD and blocking me out and husbands who protect them with anger and near violence and rejection of the truth. My brother idolizes my sister who hurt me so much and throws into my face how lovely she is. I get smacked in the face with denial and deflection and blocking. So I’m saying when they get counseling well then they can get to know the real me. I know their protective split personalities will never allow for reality to happen(they have Stockholm syndrome from my abusive mother and now they idolize her) so I guess it’s really goodbye to them and hello to a healthy me I’m sad but as I stay away from them, I get how I was so horribly scapegoated. Thank you. Onto a healthier me.

    • Margaret – Sounds like you have a decent sense of limits and the courage to set them. Good for you. I hope the sadness you are experiencing begins to get smaller as you continue to treat yourself as a person of value and worth. All the best to you, especially over the coming holidays.

  • Jill – This sounds so tough for you. I’d recommend you find a counsellor who understands family abuse to give you some support as you try and navigate your way dealing with this challenging family dynamic.

  • weixin

    Goddamn I was scapegoated for 2 decades. Now I’m suicidal but seems like no one cares, the last counsellor I spoke to stopped meeting with me. I still wanna live but do I have to attempt suicide to show ppl im serious? It might actually be better if I succeeded tbh. I’m in Vancouver too btw.

    • Weixin – You are in crisis and need help. As I am only one person, I am unable to provide crisis counselling services and would encourage you to contact the suicide help line in Vancouver 1-800-784-2433. They will take you seriously and hook you up with resources. The pain you are going through was not caused by you, but you must take steps to overcome it, like everyone else who has been terribly hurt by scapegoating. It starts by standing up to the Inner Scapegoat. The hurt that others caused you is living inside you and controlling your life. It is not who you are, but the projection of others who did not know how to love you. It is these past hurts, and the way they define you, that must die – NOT YOU! I hope you will not give up on yourself, and continue to take steps towards the healing you want and deserve.

      • weixin

        Thanks Glynis. As long as there’s hope, I won’t give up.

        • Weixin – Yes, there’s always hope. Please read my articles on scapegoating as often as you need as reminders of that hope, and read through the comments to see how other people who are dealing with scapegoating are coping, surviving and, in many cases, thriving. Hang in there! 🙂

  • margaretpaine

    I have reoccurring scapegoating. It’s like stalking me! I just get calm with peaceful people and here it comes. The peaceful people are in denial of an abuser, I see the pattern then the abusers uses the nice person who’s in denial and not real, to abuse me further. I pick up this pattern more readily now and detach which is good. Spent 8 years trying to talk my sis and bro out of their denial and scapegoating. I’m exhausted. I have ptsd, a locked door right now, an abusive roomate I don’t dare go near. I go to domestic violence counseling and alanon but once again I have to move and am considered the abuser because I spoke up about the abuser. Sucks but I remain strong and more in the truth and don’t waste my time with fakers. And takers.

    • MargaretPaine – Good for you for holding your ground during these most challenging time. Hope the clouds part soon for you!

  • Angela

    Im struggling to understand why my mother scapegoats me. I know why – because of the fake tears she cries to gain sympathy, love and attention from a fairly loveless marriage but why treat a loving and giving daughter so bably?
    Im now 51 and left our country some 19 years ago to escape the hurt she would cause. My grandad abused me until i was 10. My mother when told, just ignored what i said and has been in total denial ever since. She has caused family problems so many times that i break contact for years. Yet everytime i return, within months it all starts again. This time i was wise and didnt take the bait, so my Mum turned my brother and sister against me instead.
    As always, i have gone NC but my heart breaks all over again.
    How do i accept that i mean so little to a family i have supported repeatedly over the years.

  • Erica Joy

    Thank you for this article. It speaks to my experience of being my family’s scapegoat for the last four decades more than anything else I’ve read on the subject. The process of recovery is ongoing for me. Relocating to another state far away from my family twelve years ago helped. Divorcing a man who treated me just as disrespectfully as my family helped. Seeking years of therapy helped. Going to massage school where I started to heal trauma somatically and to trust myself and the wisdom of my body all helped. Finding space — sky gazing and meditation helped. Dancing. Art. Learning to be a friend to myself and others. I had been trying to find the right emotional distance from my family for years, I’m exhausted from the begging for scraps of time and attention and love. The most loving and compassionate thing I can do for all of us is to accept rejection. I surrender the fight for inclusion within a family who rejects me and own my role as the bearer of the familial shame and grief. I feel these feelings deeply in my body. I dance these feelings. I write and paint and sing these feelings. There is relief in letting go of the fight. I can hold myself open to the world with dignity and compassion recognizing my wounds as places of exquisite sensitivity and beauty more and more often.

    • Erica – Glad my article was so helpful to you. Seems like you have carved out a really solid life path of fulfillment and recovery, far beyond the rejection and pain of your first family, and have truly embraced the wisdom that comes from within. Wishing you all the best as you continue on your healing journey.

  • Dee

    I had an emotionally and physically abusive mother, most likely the family scapegoat herself, she was a alcoholic and drug addict. My father, also an alcoholic, the scapegoat of his family. This cycle was going to continue with me, being the scapegoat for many years by my extended (next generation) family. However through therapy (counseling) I am doing everything I can to break the cycle. Nothing prepared me for how difficult this process would be. With a 20 year old adult child it has been the most challenging experience I’ve been through, even tops being physically abused by my own mother. My son and I have our relationship back, after my extended family tried to turn him against me. Your article is amazing, so clear and concise with steps to heal. It has been an increasingly challenging process, mostly because there were no step by step instructions. I feel I’m in a much better position to heal fully, just reading the comments of other scapegoat experiences. Thank you so much Glynis!!!

    • Dee – Thanks so much for your comment. I’m so glad my article has been of help to you. You have done a remarkable job of breaking free of the painful legacy of your family. Great news that you are building a stronger foundation with your son. Keep up the good work!

  • Rachael

    I was a scapegoat until I dumped every single family member from my cousins to my mother. One of the best things I ever done. One thing that I learnt is that consultants are equally ready to destroy you’re life without even a second reccomendation and give you border line personality disorder as a diagnosis it’s a life ruining diagnosis. I know that I don’t have bpd I don’t cut I don’t change my personality I don’t care of rejection I’d rather be left alone in the 1st instance I’d rather be rejected I hope this happens sooner rather then later I do things so people will leave me alone and not bother get close to me. Due to my scapegoat personality people are ready to reject me but I know that I am so better off on my own I have jesus as my salvation and people are unnecessary in my life. I stand up for what’s right and I have suffered all of no. 1 criteria and did for so long.

  • Fiona

    I decided over a week ago to avoid any contact with my family then realized for the first time in decades I’d stopped waking with clenched jaw and ground teeth. I was worried that I’d abandoned my poorly mum who loves me but hasn’t been able to stick up for me as she is also the scapegoat with my elder sister the ringleader. At 53 I’m unmarried, childless and broke as I lost my career as a fairly successful artist in animation after caring for my mum over the last ten years. I’m in the UK but over the years I worked abroad to escape even went to Vancouver but never had the self belief to reach my full potential and occasionally got bullied at work. I hadn’t a clue till I read your article on what had gone on and thought I was probably odd and weird and now it all makes sense….thank you. I’m struggling to regain myself after loosing so much and most of my life but hopefully thanks to your article I can regain a little self worth through my work and knowing I’m not strange after all.

    • Fiona – Seems like going No Contact has been the right – though certainly not easy – choice for you. Sounds like it’s not easy trying to figure out how to maintain a relationship with your mother, after dedicating yourself to her all these years. And it has cost you a lot. I’m glad my article helped to shed light on your situation. Now, with that understanding, you can focus on self protection and building yourself up. I wish you all the best as you take back your life from this mistreatment.

  • Cindy Lee

    Thank you for this and the No Contact article for scapegoats, Glynis. I recently went NC with my father, and then blocked my cousins on that side of the family, because that whole side is toxic and narcissistic. It’s only been a few weeks, so I go from feeling immensely relieved, to really sad. I know that’s grief, and that it will heal and I’ll feel better than I ever have. I was always anxious with a pain in my solar plexus. That pain pretty much fell away when I made the conscious decision to go NC and didn’t reply to a couple of emails from my father. He did the dance of chasing when I didn’t reply to his first email, and upped the desire for contact, but I deleted. Then I cried. My body has been depleted for decades because I was living in fight or flight mode. Now I feel calmer, and think that, with the help of your healing steps, I’ll get through this. It’s so hard, but my Mum and sister have both passed away, so there’s no-one I need to be in contact with, and anyone he bad-mouths me to – well, I’ve let go of needing to prove myself as being okay. I *am* okay. I’m only just beginning to see that, at age 58…

    • Cindy Lee – I’m so very touched by your comment, and to know that my articles are helping you to find the freedom and peace of mind you deserve.

  • Kelly

    Both my parents were narcissistic. My dad was the ABSOLUTE WORST! He was angry everyday- he never smiled. I have no good childhood memories of or with him. It was like living with a stranger. He let all his anger out on me, even giving me a black eye when I was 5 years old. My teachers even questioned me and I kept lying until I cried. I said I fell off my bike into the wall. I covered up my dad’s abuse and now I’m mad that I did. I am 36 now and didn’t realize I was raised in a dysfunctional home until I was 28, after a failed relationship and 3 kids. My mom shifts all her blame onto me. I remember at age 17 she said I ruined her marriage because I always made my dad mad. I was shocked because I didn’t believe I ever did anything wrong, but be picked on. My dad picked on my mom too, telling her she was stupid, worthless, and uneducated. Yet, she’d always take his side and she allowed him to best me. I am still very angry- it’s hard to let go of the pain, hurt and resentment- very hard! My father has since passed of cancer and I have gone no contact with my mother because she is negative and blames me for everything.

    • Kelly – Given the betrayal you have described, I hope that over time going No Contact will give you the peace of mind and dignity you seek and deserve.

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  • FindingPeace – IMO, it’s mostly about setting boundaries with yourself ahead of time and being prepared to honor them as needed. Get clear about where you will stay, how much time you will spend, with whom and where, what subjects are off limits, and what behaviors are ‘deal breakers’ – i.e. indicators that you need to pull back. Sadly, keeping it superficial and having an escape plan at all times are usually essential.

  • ImASurvivor

    Hello Glynis, thank you so much for your work! I’ve had a really difficult morning after getting mayorly triggered and reading this makes me feel understood and gives me hope 🙂

    I’ve become the scapegoat of my family since I’ve spoken out about sexual assault by my cousin when I was younger and by a brother-like man (also, my brother’s best friend and roommate). The immediate reactions of my siblings where to accuse me of lying and tearing the family apart, telling me it was a grey zone and I should be happy I wasn’t in the hospital. Some of those words were screamed at me while I was lying on the ground, shielding myself and asking them to stop. My sister later also told me to stop whining and that she wants to stay friends with the rapist and I should respect that.
    Those reactions have led to a even more severe shattering of my identity, as I had always understood myself as being a family-person. I have been diagnosed with complex PTSD and have not been able to “function” at work or in social life.
    My parents – who have relied on me to mediate interfamiliar conflicts since I was a pre-teen – are now neglecting to deal with any of what happened. They have told me many times that I should sort out the situation with my therapist and should “just make peace” with my siblings.
    My brother, who had first doubted me, then kept on living with the rapist for 10 months. He then moved out just because my youngest sister (unbeknownst to me) gave him an ultimatum that she would cut contact, if he didn’t move out. Apart from her, the family did not talk to him about the impact this had on me, my parents just told me I should feel sorry for him in this difficult situation.

    Today, the only sister who has helped me in this, sent me pictures of her prom, where all of them where together, smiling and posing. They all live very far apart and apparently came together for this. I wasn’t asked.

    I’m trying to understand this and work through some of it with my CBT therapist. On most days however, I’m still really at a loss on how to deal with this. I love them a lot, and at least my parents call me frequently, but still neglect to deal with the situation. I feel trapped. I’m considering no or low contact.

    • ImASurvivor – Glad my articles are of help to you. Yes, it certainly sounds like you need to tighten the boundaries that your family does not choose to respect regarding the truth and your safety – emotional and physical. By continuing to break a fundamental rule of scapegoating – i.e. never reveal the truth of victimization and, therefore, family dysfunction – you are being retaliated against. Seems understandable that you are contemplating communicating, through limit setting, that you are no longer available to be abused, dismissed or punished for speaking up on behalf of reality. Best of luck to you.

  • Carelyn

    After our mother passed and when I was being scapegoated and lied about by my sister-in-law and oldest sister, I totally distanced from my entire family, including a younger sister and a brother who seemed to buy into the lies and tried to make me feel guilty. Since then I have had a total of three phone conversations with the younger sister, and email contact only with the oldest sister, and it has never gone well … ending with me being upset and crying for at least a few days and generally wishing I had stayed no contact. But longing to have some sort of normal family, which I now understand is really impossible. The reason they lie and scapegoat is to deflect accountability from themselves and their own bad behavior. Ys, it is sad for those of us going through this, but I would rather be on the receiving end of it than on the dishing-it-out end because I believe their behavior does not result in any kind of joy or peace for them. It only embeds their own self-loathing even more deeply. My goal now is to stop re-creating these patterns in my personal and work lives and to stop seeing myself as All Alone In the World. There are many many good people out there who will value us and treat us with the respect and caring we desire. And if someone does not, that is their loss and I do not have to keep going back for more. I think I will actually do the same thing I did when I left my emotionally abusive and scary husband … have a ceremony of letting go of The Dream that I can somehow make it all come out the way I have always wanted it, and bury the hurt and the shaming/blaming and physically walk away from the site of the ceremony as a definitive step that I have turned my back on allowing myself to be abused and I am now walking on a path of self-love and wholeness.

    • Carelyn – Such a mature and inspiring response to a very painful situation. Best of luck.

  • Gisela

    This article has been unbelievably valuable. In a time past, I experienced being minimized by my siblings; one in particular. I was sensitive and did not engage in unkind retorts. Neither did I have the tools to deflect what was probably scapegoating. My buttons would get pushed and I would often react with an angry outburst. The outburst would then be perceived as me being the crazy one. I also spent years trying to be seen for who I was, with no luck. I am the eldest but my two younger siblings somehow were in a place of power above me.

    I finally saw these negative interactions for what they were. I realized that this was not so much about me but about two individuals trying to maintain a power position. My moment of awakening came when I said to myself “You can no longer react.” When the next abusive situation arose, I surprised myself by stopping to think about my response and then to speak my truth ‘quietly but clearly’. Guess who lost her cool then. My sister still tries her odd little digs in spite of my no longer reacting.

    The situation at present is that my youngest daughter is now being put into the same position as I was then. I have recognized it as scapegoating. There was an incident at my mother’s home two days ago. Thankfully I was there to offer some protection to my daughter. It is now her turn to reflect on the changes she needs to make regarding how her aunt is treating her. I sent her this link and she was surprised by how accurately it described her situation. The recent incident and this article I believe with be the catalyst for some necessary changes in family dynamics. Thank you

    • Gisela – Glad my article has been helpful to you and your daughter. Accusing a family member of being crazy when they react angrily to abuse is gaslighting. Yes, it’s all about maintaining power abusively. Congratulations on learning to reclaim your power by maintaining your cool in the face of this onslaught. Your daughter is lucky to have such an insightful, and protective mama.

  • Chang Deshi

    Is challenging to recover from Being Family Scapegoat, is it perhaps because family scapegoating benefits, unites, boosts the confidence and empowers the rest of the Family that it is allowed … family scapegoating gets such little attention … warrants so little interest? However can see the damage everywhere.

  • Em J – So glad my article, and the comments, have been helped you gain clarity on family abuse. When abuse is ‘normalized’ by the family system, it can make it much harder to trust your instincts. It’s good that you are finding some peace of mind in the distance you have needed to create, especially during a health crisis. Tragically, your family doesn’t seem to know how to appreciate or support you. It takes time to learn how to build up self worth and overcome the shame that never belonged to you, but it’s so much more likely now that you have removed yourself from this abusive dynamics. I provide video counselling to people who want to overcome the painful legacy of family scapegoating, should you wish to get in touch. All the best.

  • robynoinaz

    Great article. I was the family scapegoat growing up and acted out because of it. I later became an extremely anxious person which led to panic attacks and agoraphobia. I’ve been doing EMDR therapy and am realizing I was and am a good person. My sister (my main abuser) will never understand her part in the family dysfunction so I’ve made the decision to cut her out of my life and am happier for it. I think that was the biggest change for me. I always held out hope that my sister would someday see that I’m a good person but that will never be. She’s far too invested in the idea of holding me down in order to build herself up to ever see it. I wish her the best and hope she can find peace in her life. I just don’t want her in mine.

    • Robynoinaz – Thank you. Sounds like it’s been a painful journey for you, but also one of taking yourself very seriously. Sometimes it is necessary to stop contact with abusive family members, for our own mental health and peace of mind. I’m impressed by your capacity for forgiveness!

  • MM6976

    I was the scapegoat. I struggle daily with complex ptsd, rage and the mental programming that I am defective, inherently flawed and worthless. I won’t provide details but the physical abuse and psychological manipulations were insane. They destroyed every aspect of my life because they could and now they deny it. They go on with their lives as if nothing happened. When I was a child I saw the outside world as a wondrous place and dreamed of a life free of them. I used to believe I had a chance to build a happy life and achieve some of the goals I had set for myself. I was a straight A student and had several talents that most families would have been proud of and encouraged. These were gifts that if allowed to develop could have served me well in many types of careers. I was never allowed to pursue any of my interests or dreams and was openly mocked and humiliated for every effort I made to achieve anything. They made it a point to squash everything I did. They were in control of every aspect of my life, made sure nothing ever worked out for me and seemed to take great pleasure in doing so. I have literally spent my whole life trying to get away from them with no success. At this point it’s just survival. I live my life completely and totally alone and have felt for years lIke i am trapped behind some kind of barrier on the outside of life watching everyone else live theirs. I have tried so hard for years to make a life for myself and have watched others with less talent blow past me like I’m not even here. I feel like I’m not even a real person and I could disappear like a wisp of smoke and nobody would ever know I existed. I’m not lazy or looking for sympathy. I am just so very tired. I don’t have a way to make a living and my day to day life is nothing but stress. My living situation is almost intolerable. I have developed stress related illness and can barely function. The people I am forced to interact with treat me with disrespect because that is what I attract. I know on an intellectual level that they are sick and what they did was wrong, I knew it when I was 5 yrs old but what you know in your head and what you feel in your heart can be entirely different. Even though I knew they were the crazy ones it affected me deeply. I still attract monsters. No matter how positive I try to be deep down I know i am nothing and feel so powerless to change my life. I really struggle with rage. I want them to be held accountable for what they did and continue to do when they can get at me. They sabotaged my life and now torture me about what a loser I am. I am not crazy. It is normal to be angry when somebody intentionally harms you. I want revenge. I have threatened to expose them but I don’t think anyone cares. They can do the dirtiest of deeds yet they always come out smelling like a rose. I have no insurance and cannot afford a therapy. The low cost sliding fee options are not effective. The last place I tried assigned me to a counselor who had no knowledge of this family dynamic and told me she wasn’t trained to help me. It was clear she didn’t like me, after all, how dare I be upset and angry that my whole life was taken away. I am truly happy for those here that have overcome this but the fact that some people have and I still have not just makes me feel like my family was right. It might work for some but not ever for me. Everyday something happens that traces directly back to them and it triggers intense anger that essentially drains me. How can I stop the rage? How do you forgive someone when there are daily triggers and reminders of what they did? I want them to feel the pain they have caused me. I don’t want to be angry but all my attempts to resolve this have been unsuccessful.
    Is it actually possible to reprogram the beliefs they implanted? How do you forgive someone who isn’t sorry, refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing even when proof is put in front of them? I feel completely powerless still so many years later. Is there any way to really fix this and become who I was meant to be?