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I wish the psychiatrists my family encountered when I was a child were awake to these dynamics. Scapegoats in my family were admitted to a local mental hospital and labeled "sick" to the small surrounding community. There were 3 (of 5 children) admitted to this facility. Why couldn't the hospital personnel see that the problem wasn't with the children in my family?

Hi Jill,

Im so sorry to hear this happened in your family. What a perfect way to create a scapegoat. Having a professional with a degree on the wall label someone as mentally ill or crazy is the perfect way to set them up to be a scapegoat. I really hate it that children are locked up and medicated. I believe that in almost every case its the parents, not the child who need the therapy.

I dont know why mental health professionals arent more aware of this. I think my field (psychology/counseling) is heavily influenced by the medical model which views everyone whois broughtto them as having some sort of disease or disorder. Psychiatrists, because they are medical doctors rather that PhDs,are especially susceptible to this. I wish more professionals were taught to think of a family as a system, instead of dealing with the child only. And like in your family, Iconstantly see children being diagnosed with a disorder then pumped full of medications, really serious medications. And these medications are primarily for the purpose of keeping them quiet and compliant. No one ever thinks, Hey, maybe the kidhas something to yell about and maybe we should listen to him. When Im working with children, if at all possible I try to see the entire family
together. My gosh, its amazing what you can see then, all the roles and the interactions. Then you understand why the child is acting the way they are!

Thank you for you wonderful feedback.


Thank you for the response, and for the work you have done and shared here. As a child, I believed and embraced all of the "scapegoat" messages I received (i.e. I was the problem, I "created" the problems). I have spent a good deal of my adulthood trying to convince myself otherwise. Your work here makes it easier to believe that it wasn't just me. Thanks again.

You're very welcome.

I'm a lost child forced to look after my anti-social mother with moderate alzheimers. Hero sibling wont help. Carer will be booted out by the mother sooner or later. Not copos mentis so nursing home not possible. Super-stressed. What to do? Emailed reply would be very welcome

i agree

I am 42, and I just found out about these roles. I am a ultra lost child. I have no friends, I avoid my family at all costs. I do not celebrate holidays. I cling to my dog like he is the only possilbe love I could ever have in my life. I don't socialize. I live totally within my own thoughts. I fantasize.
I have no idea how to socialize. One time I went up to someone to say "Hi", and I was immediately rejected. I just crawled right back into my hole.

How do I break this pattern?

Hi GW,

I'm so sorry to hear this, but I can certainly understand. And I see this pattern a lot. If you can't trust your family to be fair with you, how do you trust anyone else?

I'm so happy to hear that you have a dog. This may be the key. I don't know where you live, but if there are leash free areas, or dog clubs in the park you might try those. I have had many clients learn to socialize by taking their dogs to a dog oriented activity. The topic of conversation is something you love - your dog. Many people who are naturally shy have less trouble talking abou their dogs. It also gives you an opportunity to get other people to talk - about their dogs. A favorite topic of most pet owners. I once had a client who developed very close friendships at the dog park in his apartment complex. When he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, it was these friends who walked with him until the end. His family never even knew he was ill. His dog park friends visited him in hospice and brought his dog to see him. After my client died, one of these friends adopted his dog.

I would also recommend you see a counselor. Being able to form a healthy, trusting relationship with your counselor may be the first step to being able to form healthy relationships with other people. You can practice your relationship skills with a counselor and learn new ways of interacting with people. You can also work throuogh all the hurt and pain it sounds like you have experienced.

I hope this helps.

It's funny, but the role that seems the least talked about in this article is the one I most want to know about - the lost child. I was/am a combo of that role and the good child. I did everything as right as I could and kept super quiet and to myself. And those are behaviors I'm still doing, many decades later. I had forgotten about these roles in a family until connecting with a stepsister yesterday who's had problems and realizing in a flash that all these years she was the scapegoat. And we also had a "hero" who was a star in whatever he did. Pretty classic. And sad. Thanks for writing this. Explains it all very well. Is it unusual for the children to be estranged as adults?

Hi Susan,

Wow, you are right. And isn't that ironic? The Lost Child is the one least written about, and that includes me. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Unfortunately, it is not unusual for adult siblings to be estranged. I hope that can change.

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