The Blameless Burden: Scapegoating in Dysfunctional Families

Person in gray skirt suit stands under spotlight, head bowed, in red-toned roomIn biblical lore, Aaron selected a goat on behalf of the entire tribe, cast upon it the sins of all members, and then banished it alone to the wild. The members of the tribe were then at great ease, having been freed from their cast-off sins—whatever those sins may have been.

Everyone felt better, though they had neither identified their specific sins nor atoned for them. They had simply agreed to hang them on the goat. If this spurious logic was obvious to anyone, it was not discussed. Why question an agreed-upon means of making everyone feel better?

Now about that goat. It was selected from the herd and sent forth into the wilderness for reasons having to do with the sins of others. The goat had done nothing to merit banishment. But once the ashes were cold on the rituals of dispatching it, the goat found itself alone in the wilderness, isolated from its herd, in unknown territory, suddenly forced to fend for itself. It faced dangers from predators; difficulty finding food, sustenance, and shelter; and it lived the constantly woeful insecurity of a herd animal without a herd.

This is the story of the scapegoat.

In dysfunctional families, for reasons similar to those Aaron devised, there can also be a designated person selected for the role of scapegoat. In a family system, the selection process is less overt than Aaron’s. It is done more by consensual and habitual shunning that becomes an unspoken code of behavior: one person is chosen to bear the brunt of any psychological discomfort experienced by the family as a whole. It is justified by repeating the stories that create and then reinforce the image of the scapegoat as being a person who is worthy of disdain and disparagement.

Like the strong goat Aaron selected, the target of family scapegoating is also often the strongest and healthiest member of the family. At first blush, this may sound counterintuitive. But think about it a little more. In Aaron’s case, there would be no group pleasure derived from banishing a weak animal who might easily die anyway, because that would not gratify the needs of the tribe to send off their sins on a robust vehicle, a strong goat who was up to the task of bearing the burden. So it is in families: the targeted individual is often the most accomplished. She—and for the purposes of narrative cohesion, our scapegoat is a female here—must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the shunning voices which might easily and quickly topple a weaker person. The scapegoating would fail if the weight of the sins killed the goat before it could even get chased out of town. Catharsis is the goal. The goat needs to be strong enough to suffer in order that the tribe members do not.

Just as the goat was blameless despite being sent to its lonely death, so is the human scapegoat innocent of all charges. She may not be a perfect human being, but she is no different from anyone else in her range of faults. It is not her character or her actions that have directly caused her banishment. It is the way her character and her actions, and often her accomplishments, have been experienced by the dysfunctional family members, who for their own unexamined reasons need to dispel this person from the family realm in order to avoid looking into their own consciences. They need to punish the scapegoat for provoking by her very existence the discomfort family members are feeling that is actually a result of their own unresolved issues.

If you are being scapegoated in your family, please seek professional help. You are not likely to be able to intervene in a dysfunctional system that treats one of its own members in this way. You may continue to experience the futile attempts at explaining yourself. You may fail to understand the way you are being treated. You may begin to doubt your own version of your life story. The price is too high.

Can a human scapegoat die like the goat of yore? Maybe. If not physically, certainly emotionally. It is difficult for the scapegoat to believe that her family would treat her in this unconscionable manner if she were not guilty of some grave sin. She wracks her brain and her heart to understand, but she cannot. The reasons she is given for being mistreated seem shallow, petty, and incomplete. It is difficult for her to believe these small transgressions could warrant such heavy condemnation.

She begins to doubt her own version of reality, since consensus in her own family supports a narrative different from her own about who she is and what she does or has done. She learns that if she tries to sort this out, she will be accused of “playing the victim” or being selfish, or being a “drama queen.” She is able to hold to her knowledge that this assessment and treatment are not right, until one day, utterly discouraged, she gives up. The full weight of the banishment settles upon her. She is alone. She doesn’t try to understand or explain anything anymore. She has moved into accepting a fate that makes no sense to her.

Good mental health at this point suggests she make her peace with leaving behind the family that fails her so completely. And if she is strong and well-supported with friends, she may be able to do this. She will pay a lifelong price for sins she did not commit, however, because it is difficult and painful to extract oneself from one’s family. It is counter to the most basic of human needs for home, shelter, affiliation. It is a cruel and inexcusable undertaking for a family to scapegoat a member.

If you look at the research regarding the fate of individuals who have been relentlessly bullied, you can draw conclusions about what happens to scapegoated family members, for scapegoating is bullying with focused and long-term intensity. Some bullied children go on to become bullies themselves. Some develop social skills to divert and challenge bullying, though the scars of having been bullied may insert themselves into their lives in many ways for many years to come. Others, however, do not survive, driven to suicide.

If you are being scapegoated in your family, please seek professional help. You are not likely to be able to intervene in a dysfunctional system that treats one of its own members in this way. You may continue to experience the futile attempts at explaining yourself. You may fail to understand the way you are being treated. You may begin to doubt your own version of your life story. The price is too high. Please find a counselor who can help you unravel the fictions that subvert the truth about your life and about who you are. Good counseling support can help free you from the binding ties of pain, guilt, and shame that you did not create and which are not justified.

You were not born to bear the sins of others any more than Aaron’s goat was born for such a fate.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC, therapist in Seattle, Washington

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Leo

    January 30th, 2017 at 8:50 AM

    Yeah I know many families who all have that designated scapegoat
    mine included

  • Sarah


    February 3rd, 2017 at 11:12 AM

    I’m sorry to hear it, Leo. I hope you have good support from friends and others. I send my best wishes to you.

  • April

    July 6th, 2017 at 2:32 AM

    I haven’t been able to sleep tonight with seemingly unrelated flashbacks regarding community harassment after my childhood removal by CPS and my divorce. I just so happened to come across this article that validated and explained these experiences and their relationship to each other–I was scapegoated. Thank you for helping me see this phenomenon and my own role in them subjectively.

  • SpeakOutInFaith

    July 9th, 2017 at 12:33 AM

    You may have a generational curse in operation where the sins of the father are visited on the sons to the 3rd & 4th generation. You have to break the curse to get free of the demonic stronghold. Google it and you will find prayers to pray to break the curse(s).

  • Lynette

    January 30th, 2017 at 10:15 AM

    I think that most of the time when one wants to avoid taking any sort of responsibility he or she will generally look for someone on whom they can thrust the blame. This is human nature, not a particularly pretty trait but such is life. We are always looking for a way to make ourselves look better and to make someone else look at fault for what mistakes and errors have been made.

  • Sarah


    February 3rd, 2017 at 11:15 AM

    It’s true that it is often tempting to avoid responsibility and blame others for our own problems. However, in the case of scapegoating, there is a difference: scapegoating is a continuous familial pattern that isolates one member from the other members of the family, and holds that one individual blameworthy. This is a malignant pattern that can lead to serious problems for the scapegoat, while the other family members collude in the delusion that they are blameless.

  • Jessica T

    February 13th, 2017 at 11:29 PM

    Exactly. Very different from just blaming various others for your mistakes. Reading this has probably saved me from suicide. Just knowing this happens, without justification, means more than I can say.

  • Christine

    July 7th, 2017 at 10:32 AM

    True, I was used as the scapegoat for my family and still am, since I stopped visiting my dad and mom, dad is alcoholic since I was born and still is, he and I disagreed over trump after he brought up the subject, he likes him I do not, so my father told me to” go home” !

  • Pamela

    July 8th, 2017 at 12:22 AM

    You are so very correct. My much older brother (and sisters) scapegoated me. My mother doted on him, making him the golden child. I came along midlife and was much younger, so I was really scapegoated, as I was female and just a helpless kid. I then married 2 husbands that were much like my older brother (we tend to recreate the familiar ). After years, I finally got the answers and validation I needed to leave the marriage (from Sandra L. Brown’s books-one being “Women Who Love Psychopaths)”. Sadly, pathological disorders can be genetic and all 3 of my adult kids backed my X., joining in scapegoating me and they all still do now. Thankfully, people like you write information that brings this to light for our understanding and validation. Thank you so much-I really felt great validation from your article and saved it to help validate me when I get a brush with pathological scapegoating.,

  • Robin

    July 7th, 2017 at 2:27 PM

    I dont believe that at all. I don’t think healthy, rational, psychologically sound people automatically look around for someone to nail to avoid looking bad, or avoid admitting a mistake. Thinking this is just life is what’s wrong the world today…

  • Sarah Swenson

    July 7th, 2017 at 5:05 PM

    Hello, Robin- that’s precisely the point. We are not speaking here of what you are calling “healthy, rational, psychologically sound people” when we talk about scapegoating in dysfunctional families

  • Carla

    January 30th, 2017 at 2:35 PM

    I got so tired of everyone in my family telling me to stop being so dramatic about everything and to stop over reacting. I finally just had to lay it on the line with them and be like look, this is who I am. You either accept me for who I am or you cut ties with me because I for darn sure am not intending to change who I am to please someone else.

    They still love me and I guess they have all chosen to accept me for who I am.

  • Sarah


    February 3rd, 2017 at 11:16 AM

    Hello, Carla – good for you! It took courage for you to do this, and I am very happy for you that your family understands you. Kudos!

  • Elisa

    July 24th, 2017 at 7:41 PM

    When I did this my family turned on me like a pack of hyenas.
    It was so bad that even my woefully inept parents took notice and started (almost) defending me.
    I am NEVER allowed to behave in any way similar to the rest of them -who are ENTITLED. (sarcasm)

    I find my self utterly fed up with it all. I also find my self largely turned off by their personalities. Most of all by the rapidity with which they attack someone and have no poise or mercy to show.

    Such people are so fundamentally emotionally unhealthy. …It is again a funny joke that I got to have the anxiety disorder and, of course, then get to bear then the shame of being mentally ill -when in fact the entire family are mentally ill.

    I am working on creating at last independence from these losers who have dogged me for years.
    It is hard because there is precious little support. I hardly have any friends -this is partly because of my own inherent nature (quiet, prefers less socializing, and also prone to some social anxiety) but is also the legacy from being bullied and shamed by hypocrits.
    It’s ironic, that the very one who has struggled for years to be employed, or not underemployed, has few social supports, who was bullied and developed crippling anxiety, is then put upon further -taken advantage of again and again. And it’s all done in a hidden way – partly because it is just easy to take advantage of this person (easy to do and easy to hide that you are doing it).

    I can’t, for instance, discuss options for how I would live independently. I am almost 40 years old now…
    My own mother will undermine my confidence if I dare to share with her any plans for living alone.
    My brother and my sister, who were never burdened with my level of sensitivity (and the propensity for anxiety and some level of difficulty functioning that it brings) were given assistance to be independent. My parents do the opposite: they hinder me even more.

    THAT is what I have to deal with in my “family”. On top of being told that I deserve such abuse.

    I sometimes feel such IMMENSE rage and frustration. So much of my battles have been about feeling confidence within my self – when I have been trained to believe in my “inherent incompetence” (by losers who felt that way about themselves).
    I know I can at long long last stand on my own – find for my self a place for me (and my cat), even with little money. …It is laughable that in actual fact I have a GREAT deal of independence.

    It is funny that in actual fact, I would assert that I have MORE independence than probably the average person. Perhaps, easily, even.
    But that a lot, even possibly most, people would NEVER imagine this as the truth. Well it is the truth.
    I have had to fight brainwashing and toxic lies about who I am from the inside out and I’ve had to do this fighting almost ENTIRELY ALONE.
    That’s why I am stronger than most people think, and probably stronger than a lot of people -and I’d say, I am most likely to be stronger than as$holes who would look down on me for being nearly 40 and still be trying to ‘move out of home’.
    …When I do have my own place, or even just a share house, I will be so happy. When it is finally my own place, after all these years of poverty and disadvantage, I will be in bliss. I also look forward to making my father even more surplus to my life than he currently is – just for having put me down and destroyed my self confidence like he did. Though in truth it’s really just because he is such a loser who has never believed in himself that he did his best to try to make me feel that way.

  • Rose

    January 31st, 2017 at 8:16 AM

    No one person can handle being treated like this nor should one have to. I think that it is pretty ignorant anyway to think that just because you put it on another that it is no longer your worry or responsibility.

  • Sarah


    February 3rd, 2017 at 11:18 AM

    Hello, Rose – Thank you for your comment. I would agree with you. However, families often collude in false narratives specifically in order to avoid taking responsibility. This is not a conscious decision, which makes it all the more difficult to identify and resolve.

  • Christine Teresa Rogers

    July 7th, 2017 at 10:40 AM

    True Sara

  • Elisa

    July 24th, 2017 at 7:53 PM

    I agree.
    It also WILL cause damage unless the individual targeted has the skill or access to help in dealing with unconscious beliefs and how to change them . ….No small task.
    Believe me.
    So, even in their LIE, they know the truth of why it is done.
    ….Even more sour to taste, is how the world at large will often continue the treatment. Continuing on where one’s “loving” family left off. And so, a person can encounter struggle after struggle and be taken advantage of repeatedly.
    Some people, a section of the population, will right you off BECAUSE your family did. And they won’t bother with a second thought about it. Such is the level of their depth of awareness and appreciation of what it is actually like to be at a disadvantage.
    The smart ones, though, know that some percentage of people who ‘lose’ are in fact the good guys. But a lot of the population will just side with the bully because it is easier than having to think, or look within.

  • morgan t

    January 31st, 2017 at 2:04 PM

    If the family is fully functional to begin with then you wouldn’t have to worry about something like this happening.
    I am sure that from time to time you might look to blame another person but it is not going to be a home where you are constantly ganging up on just one person.

  • Sarah


    February 3rd, 2017 at 11:22 AM

    Hello, Morgn – thank you for your comment. I agree! If families are healthy, scapegoating does not occur because it is not necessary. Everyone learns to take personal responsibility, and family members love each other and work to the benefit of all. I wish all families were like this!

  • Michelle

    July 9th, 2017 at 8:13 AM

    I found this article to be highly informative and beneficial for my life. It described my life situation. thank you!!

  • Anue N,

    January 31st, 2017 at 4:44 PM

    Grandparent estrangement/alienation is not natural or healthy no matter which generation is the perpetrator.

  • Sarah


    February 3rd, 2017 at 11:24 AM

    I agree, Anue. It is heartbreaking.

  • Carol

    January 31st, 2017 at 5:17 PM

    Family scapegoat here. Mother, grandmother, daughter and sister. I have been scapegoated in my family of origin and the family I created. It’s a heavy burden to bear.

  • Sarah


    February 3rd, 2017 at 11:27 AM

    Hello, Carol, It is a heavy burden to bear, I agree. I hope you find solace in good friendships for support. I send my best regards to you.

  • Dianne

    February 5th, 2017 at 3:15 PM

    Scapegoat here. I’m finally in no contact with my dysfunctional family. It’s so amazing that you literally do nothing to be hated by them. My mother is a narcissist. So this is common on families with narcs and aspd. In fact. That’s the ONLY dynamic that causes this. Bring awareness to narcissism personality disorder. Seems the world tries to hide this disorder and how common it is. Have several in my family. Screw them all. Sick people they evil. Very self loathing and they just wanna destroy anyone who isn’t sick like them. Well. I’m sorry you were born cursed with narcissism. I wasn’t so get the hell away from me. They ar all screwballs. There’s no cure. Go no contact. Having no family is better than dealing with a narc family.

  • Lynn J. W.

    January 31st, 2017 at 7:20 PM

    I’m a therapist and see this in my practice all the time with patients, and experienced it with someone near and dear to me. It truly is devastating. I find it more prevalent in families who have been raised in an environment where communicating any negative feelings is forbidden. The anger and hostility that ensues is buried but comes out in vicious, passive aggressive ways. It’s absolutely awful and there isn’t a good way to handle it, because the offenders will gaslight and deny any culpability.

  • annie mac

    January 31st, 2017 at 11:05 PM

    The dysfunctional family will always deny and condemn the innocent ones…that just shows us how ill and disordered they are living in a life of dental.

  • Sarah


    February 3rd, 2017 at 11:31 AM

    Hello, Lynn – thank you for your comment and for sharing a view into your practice. I agree – scapegoating is devastating. The passive agression and gaslighting are the ingredients that make it so difficult for the scapegoat to defend him/herself, because the family members will deny everything. It is vicious. I’m working on an article about gaslighting at the moment for this very reason. It will appear here on in the near future.

  • June G

    June 17th, 2017 at 8:13 PM

    I have been living this very painful life due to several large family estates and my brothers who stole them from me and used large amounts of the money to buy off my kids after we put them through college. I am the most educated, popular in school, and successful kids and marriage, but so many evil, illegal things have been done, it’s caused a lot of heartbreak. I have a therapist and am considering reporting them for legal action. Its the worst case I’ve ever seen.

  • Elisa

    July 24th, 2017 at 8:21 PM

    I’m not sure of Annie’s situation in her family, but I know in my family it is a shared sin -the original one, I mean. But that ONE individual is made to bear it.
    It is so exhausting to have to deal with.
    I came to the conclusion in recent years to PHYSICALLY remove my self from such toxic personalities. …I am sadly, still summoning both the financial and emotional resources to do so (something which I am -OF COURSE- doing almost entirely alone and with very little resources as per usual…)
    One very big, pivotal realization for me has been to at last GET, deep down emotionally, the notion that: “No one deserves abuse”.
    Being in any abusive relationship, I think, brainwashes you along the lines of believing that the onus is on you and you alone to change the situation (ergo, the scapegoating). You can even be pretty clear logically that this is bull shit, and it is a SHARED problem and not just yours -but unless you can DE-HEARTWASH, rather than DE-BRAINWASH, you are still going to be acting on unconscious brainwashing. …I say “de-heartwash” (clumsy term, I know) but I mean by it to show how so much is unconscious, what a person believes and acts on.
    It is incredibly frustrating to be doing your best to do right, for years even, only to find out that you have been rehashing the same BS the whole time. …For me, I did my best to not become a VICTIM, only to find that I had succumbed to the age-old victim trap.

    I WAS brainwashed into taking on more burden than was mine.
    This is why there is such necessity to finally remove my self from these, by definition, TOXIC people. I am tired of having to fight not only my own weakness but THEIRS’ also. ..It is like having to get rid of your own baggage, only to have those around you dump theirs’ onto you. And never getting a break: BECAUSE they always dump their shit onto you.
    And, deep down they know they are abusing you. They know, deep down that they are full of shit. Once thier minds quieten down and they get any kind of ‘observer’ sense of what they are taking part in.

    I am just SO TIRED of all of this. …I have been battling this sort of stuff for too long. I even made some awesome breakthroughs, only to fall into it all again.
    All the while, I watch others get on with their lives. People who don’t have my decency or strength, quite frankly. …So much BULL SHIT flies in this world. It can be so very fucking unfair.
    And one can get so sick of working towards a spiritual goal, of being rewarded somehow in the future. All the while, watching shitty people get a relatively easy time in life, and enjoying wealth and good times.

    In any case, I cottoned on to how I had been brainwashed into taking on burdens that were/are not mine. ..And it never ceases to shock me, almost makes me laugh sardonically, how these same individuals who are abusive towards a person, only desist from such abuse to treat you respectfully, when you quit buying into their bull shit that you are worth less than them/ are more flawed or at fault. …THEIR bull shit!!!
    …And yet ONLY when you quit listening to their horrible views do THEY give you respect!!!!??? W T F !!!!?????
    Their negative labels and put downs are all just a bluff -a desparate tactic to deflect attention away from their own vulnerability.
    It’s all like one big poker game. …I knew this a long time ago, though. The hardest part I think is acquiring the emotional resilience and strength of attention/mind, to wheedle out all of the little bits of negative brainwashing or, just plain lack of clarity/awareness that gives room then to self doubt (or these awful abusive poker games …a whole lot of bluff yes, but it still creates misery if you can’t get unstuck from it all).

  • Colg

    July 8th, 2017 at 9:13 AM

    My fam is this way to me. And yes conversation was never a significant tool in my family.
    And of course should have been the most valued tool of all.
    And yes if you were the scapegoat in your original family, and unless you are able to get away from them, get an education and handle on what happened in you family of origin, (which rarely happens) then you will carry the stigma for your whole freaking life so unfortunately. Probably be a loner type person thinking no one understands you, etc, etc. Been there, still there. Hideous existence indeed.
    Psychic mediums seem to be some of the people I value most these days. No judgement with them.
    Learning about the after life is another very freeing tool for me.
    Looking forward to and not being afraid of death is so much a part of a healthy life, since so much fear is built around death in our earthy lives.
    All we do here comes with us to the next life after life.
    Therefore none of our accomplishments go to waste.
    That’s huge for me.
    Hope I have helped some one with my earth life outline. Thanks for scapegoat article.

  • annie mac

    January 31st, 2017 at 11:02 PM

    Ive been ostracised for over 20 years being the scapegoat of the family. I have lived with shame and have lived with confusion and wondered over and over in my mind….have I missed something ? Had I unknowingly been an axe murderer and a serial killer? A drug lord feeding innocent children with elicit drugs? The list goes on and on, but I haven’t had a brush with the law, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs – Im a lawful citizen, a good person, people like me EXCEPT my family! I am left out of all family functions even though Ive never tried to prevent my own children from seeing their own extended family on my side. In fact my in laws were more loving and supportive than my own family. I live with such emotional pain, and sometimes it would be easier if I had been some crazed human deserving of such treatment, that I could understand. I do however, know that I am the healthy family member, emotionally and the only one who is not a narcissist….I am a truth seeker, a whistle blower, and THAT IS MY CRIME. It has caused me to want to take my life on two occasions recently and I still feel so much shame, and pain even though, I understand I am the scapegoat for the reason of bringing the truth to the table.

  • Sarah


    February 3rd, 2017 at 11:11 AM

    Hello, Annie, Thank you for your story. It takes great courage to do what you are doing. You show wisdom in understanding that it is often the scapegoat who is the only one who speaks the truth in a family like this. Best wishes to you.

  • Gillian

    March 7th, 2017 at 9:58 PM

    I am so grateful for finding this information. Yes I too am the family scapegoat. It is so very hard growing up in a family desperately wanting love and acceptance and consequently trying too hard to earn it in some way. My two sisters have gaslighted lied and abused me for my whole life, I am now 61 and whilst it is comforting to read the answers to questions that have plagued me eg why am I so unlovable ? What did I do to deserve being treated with such cruelty ? There must be something wrong with me. I was abandoned and abused even when I was enduring cancer treatment, chemotherapy. So was my elderly father at the same time. An extreme version of “kick you while you’re down”. My mother is at the root of all of this primarily. None of us were truly loved as children, you were rewarded temporarily if you were the prettiest or the most outgoing or the smartest. I swore that I would never subject my children to such emotional cruelty and I hopefully have achieved that to a large degree. But I am more interested in why I was chosen as the scapegoat, through reading this I can now see why, who would have thought that it is for your kind nature and genuine love of others ! But it makes a lot of sense now. I always lived with a vague feeling of being envied (for what I could never work out as one was much more beautiful than me and the other very outgoing in nature and married a wealthy man who indulged her every whim. I, on the other hand was happy in my relationship and enjoyed being a Mum to my 4 children living a pretty frugal existence at times. It didn’t take much to incur their wrath – go on a holiday, learn to paint and God forbid start selling the occasional painting, actually be satisfied with my home and car etc. It had to be quashed in one quick blow, either in acts of put downs, subtle and blatant or acts of one-upmanship.
    My father was also exploited and bullied when he became old and frail.
    After he passed away I decided that it was time to cut contact. I was still bullied and abused by phone, letters etc. Now there is an attempt through social media ! What do I do to get rid of these people who have sucked me dry and spat me out multiple times only for me to forgive and go back for more.
    I can no longer do this as I am so tired and worn. But at 61 I will not give up, I fought cancer, it has made me more resilient in some ways. Thank you for your article and for listening. Good luck to all out there dealing with being a scapegoat. My advice ? Don’t leave it as long as I have before putting yourself and your sanity first and foremost.

  • Donna T.

    July 5th, 2017 at 6:29 AM

    Thank you for sharing. ❤ In the last few years, I’m finding out all this behavior has names. I may not have known the appropriate terms…but I know all the emotions. I’m so sorry they won’t leave you alone. It’s not what we want to do, but the blocking feature does help. I hope you are able to live out the rest of your life doing ALL the things that you are passionate about, all the things that make you who are and also that you are able to find peace…peace of mind. You deserve it! 💛💛💛

  • C Diane

    February 4th, 2017 at 3:09 AM

    Thank you for sharing this. Please pray for my family. Dysfunction has been in my family for many generations. My mom was manic bipolar and put me through alot of pain all as she was in and out of my life through out my childhood she caused alot of pain.To stop from getting I grew cold and resentful towards her. My mom told me once that someday I would know what it was like and one day one of my kids would be cold towards me. I wish I could have been more compassionate and forgiving towards my mom. I wasn’t very pleasant the last time I saw her not knowing it would be the last time I saw her my mom, just like her dad, her twin sister my aunt, had ended their lives years before her, she ended hers too and committed suiside on 3-11-11.
    I am a single mother of 3. My daughter and I had a horrible argument right before she left for college. We both said mean things to eachother that I regret so much. It has now been over a year since I have seen her. She refuses to speak to me. I have repeatably apologized and reached out to her, but her resentment seems to grow even more towards me. I miss her so much. My heart is so broken. I am losing hope that I will ever see or be able to mend things. 💔😟

  • Sarah


    February 8th, 2017 at 11:47 AM

    Thank you for sharing your painful story. I wonder whether you’d consider working with a therapist to help reframe your relationship with your daughter. it might offer you support in finding a new way to communicate with each other. I send warm regards to you.

  • Russette W.

    February 4th, 2017 at 11:02 AM

    I was scapegoated by my mentally ill husband and my children. It was devastating. Therapy helped, and the abuse stopped due to mental health intervention and my husband taking responsibility for his behavior and changing it. Over time, my kids realized what was going on, and we all moved past it. That was years ago, and life is much better now, but the scars are forever. I will never be the same open hearted person I was, but I’m stronger and kinder for having survived it.

  • Sarah


    February 8th, 2017 at 11:48 AM

    Thank you, Russette, for your comment. It is a measure of your fortitude to see the turnaround you have achieved in your life.

  • Sanda

    February 4th, 2017 at 8:27 PM

    Yes i am a scapegoat for my family 😞 i dont even want to explain what I’ve been through and i never thought this is what it was called until now. Thanks!

  • Sarah


    February 8th, 2017 at 11:49 AM

    I’m glad you found this helpful, Sanda. Best wishes to you as you move forward.

  • Karmen

    February 6th, 2017 at 2:05 AM

    This is a really good article. I was scapegoated, and I had spent my whole life believing there was something wrong with me (as they had always made me believe), until one day I realised it was them, they were the problem. I finally left the family home 2 months ago, changed my phone number, they don’t know where I work or where I live. I don’t have any friends so I’m doing everything alone. It’s not easy but all I want is some peace of mind, and it’s starting to get better now, slowly but surely. Better alone than in bad company.

  • Sarah


    February 8th, 2017 at 11:50 AM

    Hello, Karmen – best wishes to you in your new life – I commend you for taking such good care of yourself.

  • Rebekah

    February 6th, 2017 at 5:17 AM

    I was the Scapegoat from grade five until I finished school and I am still the family Scapegoat. At school, people could bully me and get away with it – because I have a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome I was deemed “retarded” by the staff so it didn’t matter what was done to me; even if a staff member saw something happen (such as a time I was shoved down the stairs and broke my ankle, the person who pushed me said “go f***ing die you retard”) nothing would be done, apparently the bullies never did anything wrong and it would always be my fault – the bullies could say I did or said something and even if I didn’t (most of the time I didn’t do or say anything) I would be in trouble. I was suspended from school several times and given detentions – for example, a bully could say I hit them (I have never physically assaulted someone; the worst I ever did was tell someone to shut the f*** up) and because I am “retarded” the staff member would believe the bully and I would be in trouble.
    My mother is now forcing me to go to Human Rights because a college I attended never provided me with a copy of notes from classes (that is the only “special need” I have since I am not fast when it comes to copying notes from a teacher’s lecture). I don’t want to since I was in the college for a short period of time then attended a different college and graduated with honours – I received a 96% average in the Administrative Specialist program. I tell mom that because I was in the first college (the one that did not provide notes) for a very short period of time (four months), I don’t see a point, especially since this happened in 2012! She flips out every single time I say I don’t want anything to do with this Human Rights issue – she is the one who filed the complaint, not me. I also point out that she tells me to “let it go” when it comes to being treated like s*** for eight years in school (grade five until I graduated grade twelve) and why can’t we file a Human Rights complaint regarding the fact that while I was in school the staff always allowed people to beat me up, verbally abuse me, and write nasty things about me – isn’t it against human rights to allow this type of treatment? Every time I mention that she shuts up; she knows that what I went through (since it was for eight years) has contributed to me developing Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She, along with family members from her side, constantly remind me of things I did that were “bad” in the past (such as pouring my aunt’s perfume down the bathroom sink when I was nine years old – when they would bring that up they would scowl and call me deceitful and dishonest, but they can’t say that I did anything wrong while I was in school because they know I never did anything wrong there), as well as justify every time they treat me like s***. I have believed for a very long time I was always at fault but realized I wasn’t – this comes from reading numerous articles on Scapegoating – I now know I have the role of Scapegoat, at both home and when I was in school. I know we all have a role in life and if someone told me that was my role when I was younger (therefore that would be why I was always wrong and everyone else was always right, since they could do and say whatever they wanted to me and get away with it), I still would not like the role but would have accepted it as the reason why people could do whatever they wanted to me – just like a janitor having to clean up messes; the janitor probably doesn’t want to clean up someone’s puke on the floor but that is part of their job, just like being treated like s*** is part of my job as the Scapegoat. If I could move out of my mother’s house I would, but unfortunately, I don’t have the money or friends to help me, so I am stuck with this, my payment is being treated like s*** constantly.

  • Sarah


    February 8th, 2017 at 11:53 AM

    Rebekah, being singled out due to Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger Syndrome) adds another layer of distress for you in the role of scapegoat in your family. I hope you can find some support either at school or in your community.

  • Rebekah

    February 16th, 2017 at 12:35 AM

    The thing is, there is no way for me to get help. Schools didn’t do anything; in fact, they used my disorder as a reason to let bullies away with bullying me yet if I stood up for myself (such as telling a bully to shut up) I would be in trouble. I have even been suspended or given detention for things I never did – the bully could say I did something and who would the school believe? The bully. Yet if the bully did something to me and I reported it nothing would be done because all the bully would do is deny it and the school would believe the bully. Even though I denied the false accusations, I was never believed because of my disability. And trying to get help from my community is pointless. There is a mental health clinic that I have tried but they brush it off and treat it like I am overreacting (this clinic has a bad reputation for treating people like this – there have been news reports on this clinic). I don’t have any friends to turn to (I am too “retarded” for anyone to like) and family members think that I am bad – they will bring up past mistakes I have made yet if I bring up anything someone else has done (such as say or post nasty things about me) I am told to “let it go”. How can I get help if there is no help? It seems if you have a disability, you’re doomed – no help is available and you’re automatically labelled “the bad one” – if you make a mistake, it is held against you for life (yet if you are angry with someone for a mistake they made, and the mistake they made is more serious than the one you made, you are at fault and accused of being a vengeful person because you won’t “let it go” – this happened to me in school, a teacher said this, but how could I when the same thing was happening to me every single day? The teacher said I have trouble letting things go while I was in the school, not when I left! Would you be able to let something go if the exact same thing was happening day after day while you were in a place – being called names, rumors being spread about you, and being physically assaulted?). I told a family member last night that I have realized that my role in life is Scapegoat and they flipped out – this is the same family member who is forcing me to go through this Human Rights crap and if we have to go to court and face those people, I am going to be sick. Because I don’t want to do it, I am at fault and apparently it will smear my name even further – the family member started this to begin with when they went against my wishes and filed the Human Rights complaint! I bet if I originally suggested that I wanted to file a Human Rights complaint I would be scolded and told to “let it go”. I pointed out that if the college had just treated me like crap, accused me of doing things I never did, and/or people were bullying me and allowed the bullying to take place but punish me if I stood up for myself in any way, no Human Rights complaint would be filed. I think the family member knows that I am right so that is why they tell me off when I mention this. Also, an ex-friend who called my house last night because I e-mailed them to tell them how they made me feel – they claimed I threatened them when I never, I only pointed out that they hurt me when they defended a guy who called me down to dirt and said “people should be careful of me” because of some bad mistakes I made in the past. I compared myself to the fictional character Carrie White, since we were both treated very similarly – I made a post about this on another website and people are shocked at how much I have gone through and have said that while they too have been bullied, they have not had it as intense as I did (and still do). The link to the article is Because I compared myself to Carrie White, the person claimed I threatened them because Carrie killed everyone in the end – I would not do this, I stated in my post to this person that I was like her because the ways we were both treated by students and family, and neither of us have any friends. My family member stood up for the person who called, saying that the person did nothing wrong and could have called the police instead and charged me with threatening them – I decided to find out if I could be charged but found out I couldn’t since I did not threaten them and the name does not mean a threat at all, it was agreed that the only reason I used the name was because of the similarities between Carrie and myself. In the end, I pointed out that we all have a role in life and my role is the Scapegoat and I am right that this is my role. The family member accused me of being negative and has not apologized for treating me like crap or making me feel rotten, they always try to justify their actions by mentioning things they have done to help me – I guess if you help someone it gives you a free ticket to treat them like crap.

  • John

    April 18th, 2017 at 5:02 PM

    I too have aspergers and had to endure the lifelong family scapegoat role. It sometimes feels there is noone who understands the depth of frustration and emotional pain this causes. My advice: 1.) find a way to move out and distance yourself from your abusers. Limit contact with them. This takes time, but you will feel better. 2.) understand that you are a good person and your abusers are mentally ill. 3.) find a local support group, or seek counseling.

  • Rebekah

    April 26th, 2017 at 4:35 PM

    Unfortunately, I live with this person and can’t limit my contact with them since we are both home constantly – I have no friends to hang out with and getting a job is pretty much impossible; where I live if they find out you have a disability they won’t hire you. There are no local support groups to go to; if I said I wanted to leave the house for any reason and was gone for any length of time I would be in trouble, especially if the family member found out that I was going to a place that involved people like me meeting. Seeking counselling is also out of the question since as soon as the counsellors hear that I have a disability, they shut me down and won’t listen. That’s how sh#tty the health care system is where I live – basically, THERE IS NO HEALTH CARE SYSTEM! I do know that the family member is the one who is ill; they are nasty to people when they drink (they are the functional alcoholic) and they drink a lot, almost everyday and apparently it’s my fault they drink (they told me that if I didn’t give them so much stress they probably wouldn’t drink). I don’t try to bring stress; there is stuff that has happened that I handled myself and if I told them about it then they would have a good reason to drink. Because of the way I have been treated by society in general I try to avoid going anywhere unless I absolutely have to – this is thanks to all of the years I have had of being bullied and am still bullied sometimes at 27 years old.

    Did you have issues like this?

  • Deb

    February 6th, 2017 at 5:52 PM

    Society and the helping professions further hurt people in this situation by diagnosing them with a mental illness. This then givws the family more ammunition and validation that it is not their fault and its something wrong with the scapegoat.

  • Dianne

    February 7th, 2017 at 6:08 AM

    I agree. Imo, any educational degree in which one will practice therapy and counseling should know about narcissist personality disorder and cluster B disorders. That’s what this article is about. Cluster B disorders with NPD. Narcissists abuse their children causing lifelong damage to the children. setting them up for further abuse. If you are not educated in cluster B and NPD disorder you shouldn’t be a psychologist. NPD is a huge problem in society and the world and nothing is being done about it.

  • Sarah


    February 8th, 2017 at 12:03 PM

    Hello, Deb – One focus of psychotherapy is to offer supportive counseling to those in distress, and it is helpful to the extent that a person is able to communicate the reality of her situation to her therapist. Sometimes, individuals in emotionally abusive environments struggle to do this because the abuse robs them of the ability to see their abusers clearly. It can be a difficult series of knots to untangle and it can take time. It would not be a therapist’s intention to side with abusers against a person who is being scapegoated, since a major goal of our education and training is to assist a person develop a clear and accurate self-image. However, if you believe that your therapist does not seem to understand you when you are making good faith efforts to communicate, working with him/her might not be a good therapeutic match for you. Finding another therapist is always a good idea when the match doesn’t feel right.

  • Elisa

    July 24th, 2017 at 8:46 PM

    HEAR! HEAR!!
    Completely agree. …Often society, at large, only continues on where your abusive family left off.
    This in fact happened to me. …I developed an anxiety disorder from having been scapegoated in a workplace, and my father (and most of my family) colluded with this and possibly did the most damage as a result.
    Then I received abuse from a so-called sibling, being wrongly labeled with more severe forms of mental illness (she took whatever molehills she could see and made them out to be mountains) so that she could get away with more outright abuse -since much more stigma exists for those with psychotic illness than does for those with anxiety illness.
    Now that my life has turned around – because I finally found some supportive people, and then graduated from that to at last realizing how messed up my family are and, in turn, how I had ingested their toxic beliefs about my self. …Well, whaddya know-??!!! …The anxiety died down considerably.
    And of course, this same cruel person who spread lies that I was psychotic or pre-psychotic (never mind absence of ever getting any diagnosis) now wants to be friends!
    I was put through unbearable osctracization and even more intense pain than I had already been through -and I had been through a serious, suicidal depression as well as years of not being able to work because of horrible anxiety … and the person who put me through it, not only NEVER apologized but also acts as if nothing happened.
    These sorts of personalities NEVER stop until they have either destroyed you or you wake up and FIRMLY realize what LYING, EMPATHY DEFICIENT SOULLESS LOSERS they are.

  • Olivia

    February 7th, 2017 at 4:40 PM

    It is great relief to see others going through this and that I am not crazy. I have been going through this with my mother and sisters now for a couple of years now. I saw an excellent counselor the year before last however, our insurance changed and I am now seeing someone different. This is my second year and I just don’t know if things are right. How do I know if I’m with a good counselor who understands? The first person I was with, I walked out feeling empowered and good about myself. This guy, not so much. I walk out questioning who I am and why am I even here to start with? Unbelievable. Not sure what to do. Any advice is helpful. Thank you everyone! We all need to stick together! We will make it!

  • Sarah


    February 8th, 2017 at 12:07 PM

    Hello, Olivia – it is always your prerogative to seek another therapist if you feel that the therapeutic liaison with your current counselor is not beneficial to you. I realize it can be daunting to move from one therapist to another, but the goal is to find someone who understands you well enough to offer you meaningful support in your process of understanding and overcoming distress in your life. It is very personal. The therapist directory on might be a good place to start if you are considering making such a change. Best regards to you.

  • Mrs K

    February 14th, 2017 at 8:50 AM

    This article really struck a chord with me. I am about to start IPT (interpersonal psychotherapy ) and am hoping this with give me answers and closure.

  • Sarah


    February 25th, 2017 at 7:22 AM

    Hello, Mrs K – I send you good wishes for your work.

  • Deb

    February 19th, 2017 at 12:13 AM

    Hi Sarah,
    You’re article has described my situation exactly. I don’t have support from extended family either. I have cut off from my entire family because of it and I feel so alone and heartbroken. Suicide is something I consider a lot. One of the biggest needs I have is to have people around me, to live with others, have protection and support, just a family should be. Finding this is turning out to be impossible but I need it so badly. I don’t know what to do. Psychologists won’t get that close – like a family member. So I’m stumped and my heart is bleeding.


  • Dianne

    February 19th, 2017 at 4:22 PM

    Research narcissistic personality disorder. It’s genetic. Runs in families. I came to realize both my parents had the disorder and it took me 50 years. One of my siblings is an overt narc and my mother has aspd and is a covert NPD. I cut off all contact. Have to in order to stop their abusive behavior. Npds do not seek therapy and that’s why the problem does not go away. Remove yourself from a toxic family.

  • Sarah


    February 25th, 2017 at 7:24 AM

    Hello, Deb – Unfortunately, feeling isolated the way you describe is not an uncommon result of the scapegoating process. Is it possible for you to join a group of some kind that is related to a keen interest of yours? Finding community is very important, as you move forward in replacing the negative family connections that have hurt you with positive bonds and new friends. I send you good wishes and want you to know you are not alone.

  • Clare

    February 27th, 2017 at 8:07 PM

    Thank you for this article. It describes exactly my situation – the heartbreak and despair. the anger and injustice and confusion, I have been completely ostracized by my siblings for 15 years, and I do not know why, except that I was told it was to punish me for something (I am not told what it is). In the meantime our elderly mother died – although I was her main carer, I was cut out of her funeral arrangements, which was terrible, and many many other hurts. There is no contact at all. It is a very hard road indeed, and I agree with what you say about the inhumanity of it. I have no family whatsoever, as even my nieces and nephews ignore my existence. I sometimes read that family members who act in this way do so unconsciously, but my brother and sister know exactly what they are doing, and did it deliberately. I feel there is no excuse for treating another human being in such a way. Thank you for the understanding of the pain that comes across in your article. I found it validating for my attempts to survive.

  • Dianne

    February 27th, 2017 at 8:47 PM

    Similar to my situation. They do know what they are doing. Basically you are being punished and cut off because you prob refuse to play in their dysfunctional cesspool of behavior. They cannot admit to themselves they are broken or defective and anyone who is not dysfunctional like they are they will accuse of being the bad one in the family. in their warped distorted reality you are bad for not wanting to be disordered like they are. They are jealous of you. Hold your head high and do not let them bring you down to their level. This is more common than you think. My family are narcissists and I pointed out their dysfunction so I’m bad. Lol. Ok. Let them live in their cesspool. I want no part of it. They don’t change and they can’t become functional. Without seeking therapy. And they won’t do that. Guess who seeks therapy? Me. To learn how to cope with their dysfunction. I’ve walked awAy from my family in order to survive. No other way to do it. I can’t write their story and ending. Only mine. And I want to live a life free if their abuse. So I moved on. Stay strong. You are strong for not towing the line of dysfunction.

  • Philippa

    July 5th, 2017 at 2:34 AM

    So many inspiring people here. I’ve also chosen the path towards greater mental health and to be free from the dysfunction of my so called ‘family’ who are apparently desperate to have me back despite me being such a bad seed? I would have thought if I’m so bad and cause so much trouble for them that they’d be HAPPY that I’ve left, but no, they’d be happier to have me back to take on the role they forced me into without even asking me…that of scapegoat. Apparently I’M the asshole for refusing to do this and giving them the space to look at and own their own shit! How terrible of me. I stupidly answered an email from my younger brother recently and that was a huge mistake. I’m still healing from the gaslighting attack he threw at me (while I was homeless and needed comfort and love). Instead I got told (while he was gaslighting me on past memories I confronted him with) that I’ve ALWAYS been the one who has gaslighted them all and whatever I say he just twists the entire memory around or changes it all together so I’m left trying to recall when that happened (It usually didn’t at all). I worked out after that I’d fallen for another manipulation by him and I could feel how much he hates me now. I did nothing but love him so much. He was my little brother, but now he’s just another sociopathic coward that doesn’t want to look at his own problems, so it’s on me again.
    They leave us with no other choice but to leave, literally. No one wants to leave their family. It’s the most painful and impossible decision to ever make, but they left me with no other choice if I’m to actually enjoy my life free not insanity!

  • Stacey

    March 8th, 2017 at 5:23 AM

    Thanks for this article. This has helped clarify some things my psych has said to me. I’ve had no contact with one sister for two years and slowly reenaged with my mum and one other sister in the past 6-12 months. My third and oldest sister is also estranged. I’m the scapegoat. My sister and my husband had a secret friendship where he rang her for 3-4 hours every second night. 7 text messages a day. 20 text messages on Christmas eve. I’m the one to blame, apparently, for their deception. For their lies. For my reactions to their continued contact which i discovered in the following 12 months after the initial discovery of their very supportive friendship. I realize now I’ve often been the scapegoat to deflect from their own behavior. I’ve always been honest about who i am and what I’ve done. And i apologise. But everyone else in the family deflects and shifts blame and never apologises. I’m still trying to work out if i have enough strength to reconnect with the other two sisters or just to let it go. It’s taken me a long time to realise that my reactions were fairly normal given the circumstances. That it’s ok to take a break from people sometimes, for your own health and safety. I went to Christmas at my family of origin’s gathering this last year. My husband’s friend/my sister took off before i even got out the car. Her 3 daughters were left there by themselves for 12 hours on Christmas day. I’ve come to realise…that says it all. I’m slowly rebuilding my energy and packing away some things into this empty shell that I’d become. Thank you for helping me achieve some more clarity

  • Adriana

    March 12th, 2017 at 3:09 PM

    I know firsthand society does not fully appreciate the depths to which such a family will go to not face their sins. Mine, upon my discovering that the years of physical suffering I was enduring after the endless abuse was the result of a ruptured birth defect that would forever change my life without surgery. That was the first time my mother told me SHE HERSELF would kill me in my hospital bed (instead of sending my father to do her bidding for the first time), because she wouldn’t lose him to a ‘child he never wanted in the first place’. She then proceeded to tell everyone she could that my condition was a lie to try to ‘hurt her’, leaving me no one to turn to post-op after a very traumatic surgery (removing the base of my skull and 2 vertebraes). She even cursed out my pastor on the phone for attempting to talk to her. He arranged to have people help me but my soul was so shattered I could barely breath. I simply wanted to die from it all, but I desperately wanted my family whole and felt someone would have to step back and see the carnage that always led to her tiny feet, but it never happened. The family’s only stay-at-home mother had children who became more abusive as they went on (I’m the oldest and only non-violent family member). Parents are to get better with each child; our did not but the children were blamed ALWAYS. It is a dangerous behavior that should NEVER be tolerated in a family. Serial killers can only kill your body but they cannot take your family away from you. Dangerous mothers can rip the very soul out of a family if they are not properly addressed.
    If you have a dangerous family LEAVE. You are in more danger than you could know and they will never shed a tear for you as desperately hard as you want them to. They were broken long before you arrived into their lives.

  • Evan M.

    March 17th, 2017 at 12:28 PM


  • Mallory P.

    March 23rd, 2017 at 8:06 AM

    As I have read, it seems people feel justified to make someone the scapegoat if they do things for the scapegoat. I am wondering, is it normal for these people to flip out if the scapegoat shows any feelings at all (such as upset, frustration, etc.)? If I ever show upset (such as crying) or frustration (saying I give up with something) the person that regularly treats me like dirt will flip out. I guess it’s an unspoken rule “thou shalt not speak thy mind.”

  • Y

    July 3rd, 2017 at 11:38 PM

    Thanks for this article. I’m working to extract myself from a highly dysfunctional family system at 28. It’s taken me a lot of time and a lot of pain to start to understand and trust my experience. My family put ALL of their shit on me from a really early age. Thankfully, I’m strong, but they destroyed my first 30 years to the point where I internalized huge self-hatred and began isolating myself socially really early on. I loved them fiercely and didn’t know better. Even now, the habit of directing their violence towards myself is still strong. And how unfair that I have to clean up a mess I didn’t make? On the other hand, I can’t help but think that I came to do this work for them because they have had so much trauma in every single generation going back at least 4. I’m a warrior soul. Not just anyone could have done this work. But now, hungry and struggling to meet my needs, alone and with few friends, I’m breaking away.

  • Katrina

    July 4th, 2017 at 8:34 PM

    The thing about suggesting therapy is that all I have done is tell my story. The hour is up and then I am left to think about it until next week. Therapy helps if you need to reframe something and see it a different way. It doesn’t help very much when you see it all to clearly but there is nothing you can do about it. Regarding having a support group of friends – that is many times difficult. Many people will judge you and wonder what “the other side” of the story is… There is also a shame in being ostracized from your own family and you feel like you cannot belong fully anywhere. I have not found any answers and as I get older, I am not as strong anymore to hold up under it…

  • Sarah Swenson

    July 5th, 2017 at 8:47 AM

    Hello, Katrina – I can understand how overwhelming it might feel. Counseling can help you discern a plan, even though it may seem initially tgat you are stuck without options. Also, if your friends are judging you negatively, that might contribute to your feeling stuck. Loving friends would offer you support and help you feel confident. I send my best regards to you.

  • tracy

    July 11th, 2017 at 10:53 AM

    Katrina, I have tried to work with several therapists, since I was in high school. It took me a few years to trust one enough to make any real progress — in my 40s. Don’t give up. Stick with one you at least feel comfortable with, even if all you do is tell your story. Sometimes it takes telling that story a hundred times, before you really feel the truth of it. And feeling it truly is knowing you’ve finally reached the festering wound — and knowing you’re ready to clean the evil they dumped on you out of your heart (and soul). You have endured; you are strong — use that strength and endurance to heal yourself. I believe in you.

  • Kim

    July 11th, 2017 at 11:48 AM

    You said that perfectly. I can’t imagine ever being able to “get beyond it” or “let it go,” and because of that I can’t imagine ever feeling whole or well. My emotions play such a huge part in the way I feel physically, too. It makes me angry that I can’t let something go that I didn’t create, have no control over, and don’t deserve. I wish I could just let it be. I want to be able to wake up one morning and not have my first thought be, “Why do the people I love the most in this world not love me back?” I don’t see how any amount of counseling can ever answer these questions or even teach a person how to live without answers. It’s just so cruel and unfair. I would never wish this pain on anyone, so how can people who are supposed to love me choose to cause me such pain? Sometimes I wish I had done something to deserve it. I think then I could heal, because I could forgive myself or make amends with them. The way it is, there is nothing to forgive or make amends for so how can you deal with or make peace with something you can’t even identify. I have apologized for every transgression I can possibly imagine, and I continue to try to mend relationships to no avail. In my mind, I want to continue to try because I don’t want them to think I gave up on them. I want them to know they mean enough to me to keep trying. If I walk away, I’m doing what they did. Giving up on them (although for a reason) like they gave up on me (for no reason whatsoever), and that’s not who I am. Doesn’t everyone want that kind of unconditional love in their lives?? Obviously not, but WHY not?

  • Tink

    July 11th, 2017 at 1:13 PM

    There are people that lack empathy. These psychopathic, narcissistic people live to destroy. They do not care about love.-they care about power. It’s nothing lacking in you. It is NOT you-it’s them. For answers research Sandra L. Brown’s work. It will set you free,

  • Emma

    July 5th, 2017 at 3:02 AM

    Great article – I am currently experiencing being the scapegoat over the last 6 months and since marrying my husband 2 weeks ago his ex wife and children have upped their wicked games and the hostility. I have a great therapist for support but I feel for my husband.

  • jackie

    July 5th, 2017 at 5:04 AM

    I think it is interesting if I tell my story straight from the heart I would be accused of lying and making that stuff up.

  • jackie

    July 5th, 2017 at 5:11 AM

    I think it’s interesting if I SPEAK from the heart I am accused of making it up. These people want nothing to do with reality. Everything has to be their way, the way they see it.

  • Sarah Swenson

    July 5th, 2017 at 8:41 AM

    Hello, Jackie – that’s one of the reasons that it feels so crazy-making to be involved with individuals who gaslight others.

  • Carolyn R.

    July 5th, 2017 at 5:17 AM

    Interesting article. One problem I see with it is that it is giving some people the satisfaction of crying foul and claiming to be the scapegoat when it is their own actions towards others that are causing the problems. The person in our family who would claim to be the victim is actually victimizing the entire family.

  • Sarah S.

    July 5th, 2017 at 8:39 AM

    Hello, Carolyn – as you rightly point out, claiming to be the victim while being the person who causes the distress is not gaslighting.

  • Narcissa

    July 5th, 2017 at 8:44 AM

    That may be the case in your family but 99% of the occasions the victims are usually silenced and every time they try to speak their minds they’re told it is their own actions that make others uncomfortable.

  • Sarah Swenson

    July 5th, 2017 at 9:34 AM

    Yes – that is the goal of gaslighting.

  • Elizabeth L.

    July 5th, 2017 at 10:18 AM

    Thanks for writing this. I’d never heard of the family scapegoat until my therapist mentioned it after an episode of spectacular gaslighting during a family holiday. I am (was, as a teen) a whistleblower, but I’d felt alienated from the rest of the family before that–even before the abuse. Everything I’ve read indicates that it’s pointless to try and earn their love and respect. I gave up trying, and it feels good!

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    July 5th, 2017 at 12:28 PM

    Hello, Elizabeth – you make a good point: it is very difficult to turn a family around once a pattern of scapegoating has been established because change threatens every member. I send my best regards to you.

  • Chinchilla

    July 5th, 2017 at 3:29 PM

    Thank you so much for giving this thing a name!! This is how I have been treated since my dad and my sister started building their alliance against me since I was 7, while my mother was watching my treatment throughout my adolescence and it is still going on. I thought I had Asperger’s or some other autistic disease, since I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong. But I grew stronger and I’ve spent less and less time with my family the last years. It’s sad to be a part of a family that treats you like crap and demeans you in every possible situation. It does something to you and sets you up for experiencing similar situation in your life, because of negative interpretations of events that may not be as one have experienced before. I’m better and stronger now. I’m working on myself and on being able to connect with people and I want to lead a full life without people conatminating me for being my true, honest self. Again, thank you for giving a name to this. :)

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    July 5th, 2017 at 4:50 PM

    Hello, Chinchilla,
    Thank you for writing such a positive note. I’m glad my writing touched you. It took great strength to do what you did. It is encouraging to hear your success story. All the best to you.

  • Henk

    July 6th, 2017 at 2:19 AM

    Thank you for a very good article. This was my life. Only God can heal those scars .

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    July 12th, 2017 at 11:25 AM

    Hello, Henk – I’m glad you found this article helpful. Thank you for taking the time to say so.

  • Tam

    July 7th, 2017 at 3:40 PM

    It’s happened to me a couple of times with my family. Once when I confronted my grandfather’s incest(I was pushed out of the family because noone was strong enough to confront it)….and again when my grandmother was dying, I asked for help caring for her and was called a martyr and actually almost physically attacked. My grandma died and now I’m just not included in any familial get togethers. Is fine by me, I realize they are just weak people who just aren’t very nice (basically). It’s alot to work through but coming out the other side of it, I realize I don’t really care for the types of people they are….politically, everything. So, it’s better to be excluded in the end….and they can go on with their lives lighter (since they feel they loaded their crap on my shoulders). I’d sooo much rather be me than them. Cheers!

  • Morgan

    July 8th, 2017 at 4:45 AM

    Married into a family with 5 sisters, my ex was the only boy. I thought I was going to love being a part of a large, tight knit family. I endured 28 years of being shunned. We’d go to a family function and I would end up with all the nieces and nephews because the adults wouldn’t have much to say or even try to interact with me. The entire family went on a cruise and MY family was the only family that wasn’t aware or invited. It was heartbreaking to endure. Each of my 4 children were born and no one came to celebrate with us. My oldest was hospitalized multiple times for severe asthma, no one helped, no one cared to visit or bother to see if she was okay. After 28 years we divorced—and I’ve never seen or heard from any of them since.

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    July 12th, 2017 at 11:24 AM

    Hello, Morgan – how difficult that must have been for you! I send my best regards for your continued healing. The scapegoat is not to blame.

  • Shirley

    July 8th, 2017 at 11:50 PM

    I am the scapegoat too. Due to father, brother and his wife and their 4 children, as well as some my cousins.
    I am seeing a counselor, and am going to talk about this scapegoating, but i am very sad of the isolation my two children and i experience due to their
    Dysfuntional behaviors. Creating isolation for me and my two lovely children is so unacceptable. I have a few health challenges and Having no family support is such a burden. I have God who helps me by giving me Peace and his protection. I am just realizing there is no real reason to do this to
    A family member, I hope to emulate love and acceptance to others and do not want to be accepted by the dysfunctioning ones, as I would then
    be considered as one of “them”.
    God makes it clear this behavior is not loving and he will be the judge for all our souls. I pray for all scapegoats to have the Love and Comfort and Peacevto stand strong and become the light to those in darkness!!!

  • Kim

    July 9th, 2017 at 4:20 PM

    Bless you for writing this!! I burst into tears upon reading it, and now i understand. I’ve been trying to figure out for years what it is about me that is so unlovable and easy to cast aside, questioning my own worth. After all, if your family can’t love you, who will? Your article saved me.

  • Sarah Swenson

    Sarah Swenson

    July 12th, 2017 at 11:23 AM

    Hello, Kim – I’m glad you found my writing helpful to you, though I am sad to hear of your distress. I send you my best regareds.

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