www.lightshouse.org Copyright 2009.
Narcissists are master projectors. No-one is better at looking directly at a person and seeing not who that person is, but who they wish for them to be. When a narcissistic parent looks at their child, they are capable of seeing many things: a source of narcissistic supply, an impediment to their lust for power, the inconvenience of a child's feelings and needs, a string of intolerable annoyances, unwanted limitations, and a myriad of other possibilities. But never the actual child.
In a narcissist's family, dysfunctional roles are the norm, and narcissistic parents are always the producers, directors, and casting agents for the entire production. Children are assigned roles to play long before they are old enough to resist them, and grow up within the confines of these limitations, knowing nothing different exists anywhere. It is typical of narcissistic parents to select at least one "Golden Child", who can do no wrong, and at least one Scapegoat, who can do no right.
When deciding (unconsciously) what child will play each role, the scapegoating parent weighs their options on a deep, intuitive level. Which child is the most sensitive? Which child reminds them of a hated parent, or the ex-spouse who stood up to them, or something within themselves they cannot accept? Which one asks more of them, either intentionally, or by way of circumstance? Which child expresses unhappiness more often about the unbearable situations the parent creates? Which one is more vulnerable, or more outspoken? In short, which child bothers them the most?
This child will be made the scapegoat.
This scapegoat will ultimately be made to carry the lion's share of the family's blame, shame, anger, and rejection so the rest can more easily retain their patterns of dysfunction. This child will always and forever be the one who is not good enough, even when he or she excels at something -- indeed, especially when he or she excels. This child will endure more put-downs, sideways remarks and behind-the-back betrayals than the rest of the family put together. This child will endure the wear and tear of the family's dysfunction in a way that will enable the others to continue looking good despite the family's toxicity.
Because narcissistic parents cannot accept personal faults, they spend their days trying to convince themselves that everything they do is perfect. When their personality causes distress within their family, and their children's issues begin to reflect this, these parents are forced to make a choice. They must either acknowledge that they are making mistakes that are affecting their children negatively, or they must try to convince themselves and others that the problems are coming not from themselves, but another source. And the latter is the option that narcissists always and unfailingly select. In their minds, by blaming another, they absolve themselves of any wrongdoing, and they can continue to believe - and strive to convince others - that they are in fact, perfect. But they must first have someone to blame.
Enter the scapegoat...
The Scapegoat is the one who assuages the narcissistic parent's (and ultimately, the whole dysfunctional family's) guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy. The Scapegoat is the shock absorber, the buffer against the harsh reality that there is something wrong with the family picture altogether -- the trash bin into which all unwanted matter is cast. The scapegoat role facilitates the existence of family denial. Narcissistic parents teach their non-scapegoat children to accept and support the scapegoating of a given child by affirming and rewarding those children's perceptions that whenever anything is wrong, it is to be the Scapegoat's fault. Children adapt quickly to these roles, and learn readily that if they do not want to be responsible for something, they need only turn to the Scapegoat, whose case will never be sufficiently or properly heard, and whose "guilt" is so readily welcomed. Once the other family members have mastered this approach, they are much freer to do otherwise objectionable things without suffering negative consequences.
For defenseless children made to play scapegoat, the burdens of being labeled "bad" no matter what they do are heavy. The scapegoat soon learns he or she cannot win; there is no sense struggling to improve the family's opinion of them, because that simply cannot be allowed to occur. (This is the point of hopelessness at which some scapegoats begin playing the role of "bad seed", because their failures will be rewarded, whether consciously or unconsciously.) In fact, commonly, the more the scapegoat behaves and performs well, the more severely he or she is oppressed, because doing well threatens the parent's labeling of the child as bad. This causes the narcissistic parent psychological distress, because it suggests that their belief is wrong, and for such parents, the thought of entertaining this possibility is completely intolerable.
In a desperate attempt to reduce their parents' active oppression and derision, the scapegoat succumbs to the roles of underachiever, troubled one, loser, black sheep or troublemaker. This presents the parents with exactly what their mental disorder is making them feel they must have - an external object upon which to place blame - so that they can continue the reassuring fantasy that there is nothing wrong with themselves or their family on the whole.
For scapegoats, there will be disregard and/or punishment for doing well and a "reward" of a little less overt abuse or even occasional expressions of support if they fail to thrive and accept their role. Many scapegoats have reported that the only time they felt their parent supported them (if at all) was when the supportive act fostered and reinforced the scapegoat's inferiority, dysfunction or weakness. In an effort to alleviate to some degree the distress of their narcissistic parents' wrath, the scapegoat eventually gives in and agrees with the family's assessment of them as inferior and worthy of blame. They internalize the message that they are inherently bad, worthless, and defective, and believe that everyone they contact can clearly see this and will reject them as completely as her family does. They will bring the telltale signs of deep inferiority with them to the playground, to school, to the workplace, and into their community and relationships.
Commonly, because the scapegoat's psyche is weighed down with the burden of an overwhelming sense of immutable inferiority, their early behavior, mannerisms, habits, speech, and even their posture will bear the unmistakable mark of a bedraggled victim, crippled with shame and guilt. He or she is the one who cannot speak up, and this is immediately obvious to everyone with whom the scapegoat comes into contact. Having plenty of experience in the role of scapegoat, this person is the perfect target for abusive behavior. They are the one others intuitively know will not fight back. The scapegoat is the easy target - the pushover - the dupe. Scapegoats become the outcast, the bullied one, the marginalized loner, the routinely punished trouble-maker or the laughingstock.
Scapegoats are accustomed to accepting blame for interpersonal problems, and have been diligently conditioned to believe that if only THEY could do better, the challenges facing relationships in which they take part would dissolve. Despite the fact that this is an unattainable goal, they have only their family patterns to use as a template for their adult relationships, and they easily tolerate partners, friends and coworkers who are emotionally irresponsible and expect them to bear too many obligations or who give them the message that any difficulties are inordinately their fault.
It is not uncommon for a scapegoat to play a similar role in the workplace as well. Just as children can detect who among them is a vulnerable target for blame and ostracism, adults do the same. Scapegoats find themselves underpaid and overworked more than their co-workers, left out of the picture during office functions, blamed for departmental failures, and overlooked for deserved promotions and commendations. Though the quality of their work might be far superior to their co-workers', they are not likely to be chosen to participate in the big presentation or serve as a team leader, and their employee evaluations will reflect supervisors' willingness to criticize them more harshly than others. They will be overlooked at best, fired at worst.
As children, some scapegoats respond to the no-win situations they've been handed by developing destructive, defiant or offensive behavior patterns. This can create serious difficulties at school and work, as well as the community overall. Scapegoats trapped in the "bad seed" role may find themselves experiencing repeated reprimands and firings from places of employment. If a Scapegoat has developed a habit of getting into trouble, his or her difficulties with work and relationships are more likely to take the form of conflicts and offenses related to issues such as rebelliousness and unproductive or destructive behaviors.
Despite some variations in the way role manifests, the scapegoat never fits in comfortably, and is largely looked down upon or rejected, no matter the methods used or reasons given (real or imagined) for such marginalization.
Scapegoats typically seek far more psychotherapy than other family members. A scapegoat is deeply accustomed to thinking that things would be fine if only he or she weren't inherently defective and unworthy, and this often leads scapegoats to a therapist's office. (By contrast, narcissists can be defined almost solely by their unwillingness to seek genuine therapy.)
A scapegoat typically considers his or her failings to be the central reasons a partner has been insensitive, a boss has cheated them out of a raise, and siblings talk down to them. They are uncomfortable at school, at work, and in social situations, because they believe they are inferior. Much of this thinking invites scenarios of self-fulfilling prophecies, making it more difficult for scapegoats to see that they can reverse the patterns of mistreatment resulting from her observable insecurities and sense of inferiority. They blame themselves, as they have been taught to. This often leads them into therapy, where they may discover the real reason for their mistreatment in adulthood. After all, it is not their supposed inferiority that leads them into situations where they are denigrated, reinforcing their feelings of inadequacy, but the palpable bearing of their family's shame and rejection. They have not been overlooked and mistreated because they truly are inferior to others -- this has happened because they have believed the lie that they are lacking, and have behaved accordingly, which makes scapegoats an all-too easy target.
Until the scapegoat is able to extricate themselves from the lie that they are inherently bad, guilty and wrong, they will struggle. They will attract the wrong people, fail to reach their potential, and be their own worst enemies. The degree to which they are able to realize that they are mistreated not because they are inherently inferior, but because they are sending messages of vulnerability, is the degree to which they will determine the quality of their future.
Copyright 2009. The above material may be copied (not sold) if a valid link to this website is included and if the content of the writing is unaltered.
www.lightshouse.org Copyright 2009 Drew Keys.