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Let's You and Him Fight

The Scapegoat

Throughout years of working with people who are struggling with substance abuse, mental illness, or childhood abuse issues, I have started to see a pattern.  It is not uncommon for people with these issues to also be the Scapegoat or the Black Sheep in their family.   The Scapegoat role is a role that you learn in your family of origin.  If you don't recognize that you are locked into that role, you will replicate it in every interaction you have - your relationships, your marriage, your own family, your work, your friends.  It has the potential to totally destroy your life.  What is the Scapegoat role?  How did you inherit it?  How do you get out of it?

It is important to know the legend of the Scapegoat.  The Scapegoat is an old Jewish custom.  In the days before meteorology and biology, ancient peoples who experienced plagues, famine or drought often believed that God was punishing them for a sin.  But they did not know who among them had committed the sin.  So they performed an ancient ritual.  A goat was brought into the center of the community.  (No animals will be harmed in the writing of this article.  I promise.)  A ritual was performed which allowed each member of the community to heap their individual sins upon the goat.  The goat was then driven out into the desert, away from the community.  The hope was that the goat would remove the sins from the community in order to glean favor from God and have the punishment lifted. 

The metaphorical Scapegoat works the same way in a family system.  (It is important to realize that what I am about to describe is a subconscious process that is passed down from generation to generation.  The family does not consciously realize they are doing this at any point.)  The family heaps their collective sins on the Scapegoat of the family, then drives them away from them.  They can then point at the "black sheep" in the family and proudly proclaim that they are not like them.  This serves the purpose of allowing the family to look very good to outsiders, by making the Scapegoat look completely bad.  The Scapegoat is sacrificed for the good of the family.

How is the Scapegoat chosen?  Please pay attention if you are your family's Scapegoat.  This is important.  (Again, this process is totally subconscious on the part of the family.)   The Scapegoat must have two characteristics in order to be able to perform their function:

1)  They must be the strongest.
The Scapegoat has to bear the sins of the entire family.  They have to survive, alone, in the "desert" without the comfort or support of the family.  So they must be strong in order to carry the burden.

2) They must be the most loving.
The Scapegoat sacrifices themself for the benefit of the family.  Again, this is somewhat subconscious, but only some level they know they are doing this.  They give up themselves so the family may appear to be "OK". 

How do you get out of this role?  First, you have to acknowledge that you are in it and understand how it works.  Most Scapegoats are fully convinced that there IS something wrong with them.  There isn't.  You really have to wrap your mind around this first.

Second, you have to realize that you may have been cast in this role by your family, but you are now acting it out in your own life.  There is something you are doing which causes other groups of people to cast you in that role.  I'll be writing other articles to elaborate on the many ways this can be done, but the ways can be as varied as there are people.  Learning your specific style of interacting is crucial.  A counselor will be very helpful.  Group therapy would be even more helpful.  You will replicate the Scapegoat role in the group and this is where the power of group therapy lies.  The other members will be able to give you feedback about what you are doing to re-create that role.  Only by facing the fact that your own behavior is now creating the role can you change the pattern.  However, if you are the Scapegoat, you are the Scapegoat because you are the strongest.  You have it within you to face this and change it.

For more information about this topic look in the right column of this web page under "Categories".  Click on the category, "Scapegoat".  As I post updates, they will appear here.


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" However, if you are the Scapegoat, you are the Scapegoat because you are the strongest. You have it within you to face this and change it."
Encouraging. Hard to believe, but I'm going to hold onto it, pray, and see what kind of opportunities come up to act differently.


Hi LeeAnn,

And that is what makes you strong. You look for opportunities to change your own behavior rather than investing your energy in blaming others. Good for you! That is where it all begins.

carol williams

I realised through my own efforts that I was the strongest, the one who sees the most, and the one who COULD NOT be silent about all the wrongs within the family. I was "different" the outsider, the despised one. The same happened (and still does) outside the family.

At the same time I was "the kind one" of the family whom they all believed would never reject them.

I am free of them now - emotionally and mentally. But I am fifty years old and the legacy of all the years and years of rejection by others and having to live as in a straight-jacket (also suffered from social phobia from a very young age (at least four - relationship with mother was never great, feared her when young - and father saw himself in me but loathed himself).

Wish I had received help earlier but I do believe that there was a purpose in being the scapegoat. It's a role for the strong. But I don't like my family. At age forty my role as scapegoat ended. But the legacy (behaviour)with regard to others is still there - the expectation of being rejected etc.

To be the scapegoat and to suffer a social phobia - how common is that. I am also hellishly sensitive and really wish I could speak to an intelligent person about it all, though it is in the past now.


Hi Carol,

I hope you find that someone to talk to. It really helps to talk it out, especially with someone who understands. Just because things are in the past doesnt mean we dont still think about them and having feelings about them. I wish you all the best.




I moved back after 17 years to be close to my family...thinking that many of the past events were forgotten or over. WRONG! When I came back it was a exciting for a moment but then came certain family members that appeared to "revisit" the pattern that my father set during our growing years. I started to feel revictimized and couldn't pinpoint it. Then recently...Scapegoat came into my mind. And here I am...now that I know that is what is going on...I can now change the pattern.

So glad for this site! Looking forward to making change! Its TRUE, we really are the strongest...even when you feel like dying.

Elizabeth Weight

You have solved a mystery for me. I was half way there but you have completed the journey for me. Unfortunately I am finding it hard to forgive my siblings and mothers for making me thus. Any tips? Thanks so much for your insight.


I allowed my family back in after 30 years, out of pity, and they gleefully resumed the old humiliations and rejections, except when they wanted money. I'm still trying to get rid of them again. I believe there are bad families. My parents were the ringleaders of all the abuse I suffered. I was told that if I tried to defend myself against physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse, I would be taken to court as an incorrigible. This was from my loving mother. I was the one who was strong and yes, most loving. If you are young, or not so young, get the appropriate help. I am old, alone and bitter. My idea of Hell is rejoining my passed on family members and the ones who remain with me. I don't pray for them. I write them off as purely evil beings. I pray for the health and happiness of my beloved friends, who gave me the only love I ever knew. I include my many kind, loving boyfriends. I was never hugged until I started to date. I now, at least, have memories of sweet hugs and gentle kisses, with never a hint of sexual content. Did my friends and boyfriends know? I don't know. We are so shamed by these people, we tell no one. Please get help. Tell!! There is love waiting for you on this earth, but never, never from your families.


Wow, this is so enlightening! This is the first time I have heard that the scapegoat might have some positive traits (strength?)~
I am the third of four children, my two older sister 2 and 4 years older, and the younger 16 years younger. I have heard "there is something wrong with" me for so many years that it is refreshing to hear that something is possibly a good characteristic. In my family, the oldest acted out the anxiety the most, the second was the hero, and I was sort of an adapter. the youngest was a second hero that replaced my second sis. My parents are passed now, and as an adult was in more of a caretaking/blame role, quite awkward for me, as my sisters were unable to help as my mom aged, and her mental illness worsened, but I stumbled through it. What is hard is that my sisters had to totally shift the blame to me when mom died. Before that, I was somewhat helpful. At this point, they and their children think I am a horrific person (based on gossip) and I am trying very hard to not pass this on to my adult children. I am stressing understanding and forgiveness. But sometimes it just throws me off balance when I hear that maybe my oldest sis is sick again, knowing that they may or may not tell me, or one of the neices are marrying, and I am invited, but know if I go they all will be angry with me. It is a darned if you do darned if you dont situation. so hard to know what to do.


I am the family scapegoat and my family of origin works very hard to convince me that there is something wrong with me.

They set me up in alot of catch 22 situations.

For instance, I am severely allergic to cats, so they fill their home with cats (5 to be exact) and then when I can't go over (because I go into anaphalactic shock) they go on about what a *bad* daughter I am, for rejecting them and all.

My mother, the one that took me to the hospital when I was in anaphalactic shock as a child even needed to be convinced at Christmas that I do indeed have allergies, my eyes swelling shut and my inability to breath were not hints enough for her in addition to my frequent trips to the hospital as a child, or the fact that she was the one that took me to the allergist and had me tested.

She was demonizing me for not coming at Christmas while my relatives convinced her that I have allergies.

They act all victimized by me, like I am staying away for childish reasons and say things like "If that is how I want to be then fine", they even outright lie and claim they were not invited to events instead of just admitting that they decided not to go on their own.

Last easter, by sitting on the organ stool (incidently the only place in their home not covered in cat hair) I just ruined my dads whole organ. He came scurrying over and rushed to find the A key that he had to glue on last week lamenting the whole time about how I ruined it and he just fixed it too.

Then when I look surprized at his over reaction he tells everyone that I "left in a huff" for no good reason.

I didn't even leave in a huff, I was just dumbfounded by his reaction.

So in my situation, my parents work very had to convince me that there is indeed something wrong with me.

Any success in my life is profusely denied.


The difference I see in my story and other stories of scapegoats is, my family seems to be normal (except for me, in their eyes). My parents have been married for 40+ years, my brother (the golden child) married 10, with 2 perfect kids. Growing up there was no alcoholism, no abuse, other than emotional neglect. When I think of my father, the emotion that comes up is disdain (his for me) when I think of my mother the look I see on her face is pity, my brother; annoyance. However, if you look at THEM as a family unit, without me, they look perfect. I know I was the scapegoat since an early age (or birth) I was very unhappy and attempted suicide at 13, before even venturing into illegal drugs and all those expected scapegoat behaviours.
Is this common? For the scapegoat to be the only visible dysfunction? THANKS for the info.

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