Many people come to therapy when they feel underappreciated by their family. They may say things like:
- “Someone is constantly making accusations against me for no fault of my own.”
- “My parents keep blaming me for one thing or another as if it is always my responsibility to ensure everything goes right.”
- “I am never praised for my achievements. Instead, I get belittled in front of everyone.”
It is no secret that families can be complicated. All too often, a single family member becomes the ‘scapegoat’ for the family’s problems.
A family scapegoat is a person who takes on the role of ‘black sheep’ or ‘problem child’ in their family and gets shamed, blamed, and criticized for things that go wrong within the family unit, even when these things are entirely outside of their control.
According to an article published in the Journal of Emotional Abuse, family scapegoating tends to involve at least a few of the following eight elements:
- Scapegoating parents often have fragile, needy, and narcissistic personalities. They unnecessarily project hostility onto the scapegoated child.
- The victim of scapegoating often looks or behaves differently. Because of this, they become a target by the parent or other members of the family.
- There is a double standard in place, with one set of rules for siblings and another set for the scapegoat.
- In response to the double standard and subsequent punishments, the scapegoat acts out.
- Parents/family authority figures maintain control by attacking and forming alliances that isolate the victim.
- Parenting figures distort reality to deny the target child’s legitimate needs and to act as if the victim child is the cause of not only the family’s problems but also the parent figure’s dissatisfaction.
- The victim reacts even more negatively, which sets in motion a feedback loop that results in the scapegoat’s internalization of the parent’s view that they are a terrible child.
- Other family members who attempt to intervene on behalf of the victim face ostracism within the family.
Fortunately, there are many ways to address the issue of family scapegoating effectively. One of the best ways is to see a family therapist.
If you find yourself bearing the brunt of a dysfunctional family dynamic, here are three courses of action to consider.
#1. Re-evaluate your role in your family
The first step to addressing a dysfunctional scapegoating dynamic in your family is to become aware of its origin. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Do I tend to take on too much responsibility?
- Am I always trying to please others?
- Do I allow myself to get taken advantage of when it comes to babysitting or helping out with chores?
- Do my parents even realize I feel this way?
Taking an honest look at how you interact with your family members can help you identify any patterns that may reinforce your role as the scapegoat. Once you recognize these patterns, it will become easier for you to break them and create healthier relationships with your family members.
#2. Set boundaries and communicate effectively
Once you have identified any unhealthy patterns that might contribute to your role as a scapegoat in your family, it is essential to set boundaries and communicate effectively with those around you to maintain those boundaries.
Setting boundaries means setting clear expectations and speaking up if someone crosses an established limit. Let your family know what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable to protect yourself from being blamed or criticized unfairly.
This can be done by having honest conversations about what behaviors you will not tolerate, such as name-calling or bullying. It is crucial to ensure that these conversations are respectful and that everyone involved can express their feelings and opinions without fear of judgment or criticism.
#3. Focus on self-care and positive affirmations
Often, the reasons why family members choose you as a scapegoat have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. So, focus on self-care and positive affirmations. Take time away from them if needed and practice positive self-talk each day, such as:
- “I will not be a victim of unfair blame.”
- “I am capable of handling anything life throws my way.”
- “The way they are acting is a reflection of their pain, not mine.”
Additionally, surround yourself with people who support and uplift you. Having someone in your corner, without taking a divisive tone, can make all the difference when dealing with difficult relatives.
Family relationships can be complex, but they don’t have to lead down a path of blame and resentment. By setting boundaries, communicating effectively, and addressing conflict constructively, we can improve our relationships with our loved ones over time.
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