An Insidious Family Pattern
of Blame and Shame on One Family Member
Lynne Namka, Ed. D. ©
is a serious family dysfunctional problem with one member
of the family or a social group being blamed for small things,
picked on and constantly put down. In scapegoating, one
of the authority figures has made a decision that somebody
in the family has to be the bad guy. The mother or father
makes one child bad and then looks for things (sometimes
real, but most often imagined) that are wrong.
are different reasons one child is singled out to be scapegoated.
Perhaps the child is vulnerable. Or the child is hyperactive,
noncompliant or acts out. Sometimes the scapegoated child
is viewed as weak who cannot defend himself. At times the
parent heaps on the blame because he cannot stand the child
who has traits and characteristics that are similar to his
own! Sometimes the child has personality traits that are
similar to a disliked relative (She reminds me of my aunt
Tillie who I never liked.) Other children in the family
can pick up the scapegoating pattern and join in taunting
and hurting the scapegoated child. In extremely dysfunctional
families, the parent may goad the other children to pick
on the disfavored one.
one child is favored and given special status by the parent.
This child can do no wrong according to the parent when
they are growing up, but being the favorite backfires on
them. Children who are favored often develop their own form
of pathology in that they grow up feeling special and entitled.
One woman said, "For years I resented my sister who my moved
adored. I wished I had been special to my mother. Now I
see how messed up my sister is and I'm glad I was not the
chosen one of a very sick mother."
members of the family are affected. Children who are scapegoated
often feel insecure and develop a victim mentality. They
learn that they are at the bottom of the pecking order in
the family and often automatically gravitate to that role
at school or at work. This dynamic of making one child "good"
and another child "bad" in the family is a vicious generational
theme learned and passed down from parents to children.
an insecure parent will be aggressive with one of the children
to vent his own sense of frustration at not doing well in
life. Aggression in families creates decrease in self-esteem
in the children. Aggression, the use of force against another
human being, is always present in scapegoating. As Elizabeth
A. Kaspar says, "The aggressive person is one who tries
to dominate others. Aggressiveness, too, can take several
forms. The aggressive person is frequently rude and humiliating,
(e.g., "What do you mean, you aren't going to do it?"),
or the aggressive person can become self-righteous (e.g.,
"I am only insisting on this for your own good."), or she/he
can resort to being manipulative (e.g., "If you refuse,
what will everyone think of you?")."
Bullying is always scapegoating.
Abuse is always scapegoating.
seems as if we humans as a species seem to need someone
to vent our anger on and make wrong. Scapegoating is a projection
defense. It is the ego saying "If I can put the blame on
you, I don't have to recognize and take responsibility for
the negative qualities in myself. What I can't stand about
myself, I really hate in you and have to attack you for
it in order to deny that I have the same quality."
is a huge social problem contributing to the hate that exists
in the world. There is scapegoating of whole groups of people
happens when there is prejudice or stereotyping. Unfortunately,
in a larger sense, some Jewish people or other ethnic groups
and minorities have been scapegoated by the lower conscious
members of their culture.
there is not much research on scapegoating for all the damage
that is does to families and to society. Here are some ideas
from The Scapegoat Society, Forest Row, East Sussex, RH18
5JF, England. www.scapegoat.demon.co.uk
is a hostile social - psychological discrediting routine
by which people move blame and responsibility away from
themselves and towards a target person or group. It is also
a practice by which angry feelings and feelings of hostility
may be projected, via inappropriate accusation, towards
others. The target feels wrongly persecuted and receives
misplaced vilification, blame and criticism; he is likely
to suffer rejection from those who the perpetrator seeks
to influence. Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from
"approved" enemies of very large groups of people down to
the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. Distortion
is always a feature
scapegoating, feelings of guilt, aggression, blame and suffering
are transferred away from a person or group so as to fulfill
an unconscious drive to resolve or avoid such bad feelings.
This is done by the displacement of responsibility and blame
to another who serves as a target for blame both for the
scapegoater and his supporters. The scapegoating process
can be understood as an example of the Drama Triangle concept
perpetrator's drive to displace and transfer responsibility
away from himself may not be experienced with full consciousness
- self-deception is often a feature. The target's knowledge
that he is being scapegoated builds slowly and follows events.
The scapegoater's target experiences exclusion, ostracism
or even expulsion.
so far as the process is unconscious it is more likely to
be denied by the perpetrator. In such cases, any bad feelings
- such as the perpetrator's own shame and guilt - are also
likely to be denied. Scapegoating frees the perpetrator
from some self-dissatisfaction and provides some narcissistic
gratification to him. It enables the self-righteous discharge
of aggression. Scapegoaters tend to have extra-punitive
characteristics [Kraupl-Taylor, 1953].
.On another view,
scapegoaters are insecure people driven to raise their own
status by lowering the status of their target
What Should You Do if You Are or
Were Mean to One of your Children?
the dynamics and deal with your anger. Examine family patterns
of favoritism and placing the blame on one child. Do a web
search on The Drama Triangle. Take responsibility for your
actions. Apologize to the mistreated child (even if they
are an adult now) and stop playing favorites. Get into therapy
and learn to live with yourself and family members in more
What Should You Do if You Notice
Someone Being Scapegoated?
you know a child who suffers from scapegoating, show him
or her some extra attention and be reassuring that the rest
of the world does not see him as "bad." Stand up and speak
out against injustice when you can saying, "Hey that's not
fair. Leave him/her alone." Get other family members to
join you in insisting on fairness--there is strength in
numbers. Break the destructive silence--when necessary,
report abuse to the authorities. Become a mentor and act
as a positive role model so that he can learn to see himself
as a valuable person in his own right. Some children from
dysfunctional families seek out more positive people to
learn from. Do not let him accept the identity of being
a bad person simply because a family member was a dysfunctional
What Should You Do if You Were Mistreated?
you recognize that certain people in your family or workplace
always take the brunt of what is going, it is probably scapegoating.
If this is your dynamic, you can learn what you do to perpetuate
unconsciously to keep yourself a victim. Do whatever it
takes to change this role of being blamed. If you were designated
the black sheep of the family, then studying this dynamic
is the way to release yourself from its poison. Learn to
recognize the negative family patterns of blame and shame
and vow to stop doing them in this generation!
trying to win the favor of a parent who did not like you
when you were growing up. A parent who rejects their child
has some severe personality disturbance and is not likely
to change. The best you can do is understand the underlying
dynamic of your parent and try to come to peace with this
on your own. Don't expect your parent to "own" up to their
mistreatment. Most likely, they will only deny and blame
you again for being ungrateful. Some children who were scapegoated
have as little to do with the abusive parent as they can
when they grow up. Refusing to remain in an abusive situation
is a healthy choice.
some reading to explore how scapegoating may have affected
not only your own personality, but also others in your family.
Do a web search on assertive behavior to learn to challenge
others putting you down. Take an assertive class and learn
to set boundaries to other's inappropriate behavior.
is a bill or rights from an anonymous source for the meek
and mild who have grown up allowing others to be mean to
I AM MY OWN AUTHORITY
give myself the right to be me to function as I see fit.
It is impossible to have a sound self-concept until I am
true to myself and accept full responsibility for my own
individual life, my own need fulfillment. At any instant
I can start a new life.
MYSELF THE FREEDOM I DEMAND OF MYSELF THE RIGHT:
recognize myself as the most important and interesting
person in the world a unique and precious part of life.
feel warm and happy, kind and living toward myself.
realize that at my divine center I am no better or worse,
or more or less important, than anyone else in the entire
be different, to make mistakes, to be "wrong," to be inadequate.
take the time and effort to fulfill my own
be happy and free to be harmonious and effective to
be open and kind, loving and lovable compassionate and
be keenly sensitive and aware radiantly healthy and
do less than perfect to be inefficient, to procrastinate,
to "goof off," to kill time.
perceive myself as an absolute "nothing" unworthy and
have "unacceptable" thoughts, images, desire and experiences.
allow others to make mistakes, to be "wrong" to be ignorant,
to be "screwed-up."
act spontaneously, to resist, to change my mind, to be
be emotional to love, to cry, to be angry, to be selfish
drop all masks and images to not fulfill other's expectations
and images of me.
be criticized condemned, disapproved, disliked and unwanted.
fail and to learn from it.
be loyal, courageous, and exceptional
in both my person and my work.
accept my own authority to follow my own "knowing."
myself complete freedom and I recognize that I am inescapably
responsible for all my decisions and actions. For I must
inevitably pay the price incurred. I profit or suffer, learn
and grow according to the "nature and consequences" of my
act. I realize that "good and evil," right and wrong," are
but intellectual concepts, for there is only wisdom and
unwisdom, only wise and unwise acts.
prior to serious decisions I ask myself, "Is this act wise?
(i.e., will it injure myself or others will it contribute
to my basic needs is it in alignment with the laws and
forces of life?) What is the total price involved? Can I
afford to pay it? And, am I willing
to accept the consequences?"
that in the final analysis I need answer only to myself
and that I have all the time there is for my total unfoldment
that at worst I can only postpone my ultimate reunion
with the Infinite. However, wisdom and love, freedom and
joy beckon me onward and I choose to proceed as rapidly
as my prevailing perception and wisdom allow.
Person Who Reads and Takes Heed."
C & Lyons, M. N: Scapegoating.
S: Step-parents and Their Children. London, 1988.
A.D: Up from Scapegoating. Illinois, USA, 1995.
T: Scapegoats: Transferring Blame. London 1995
R: The Scapegoat. USA, 1986
L. The Doormat Syndrome, 1989
L. Violence in Families at the Angries Out web site at index.htm
S.B: The Scapegoat Complex. Toronto, 1986
S: On Scapegoating. In J. Group Psychotherapy. 32, 1982.