Have you often felt different from everyone else in group settings?
Has it seemed like a matter of when, not if others will see you as an outcast?
Have you found yourself feeling excluded and unwelcome in your friendships and relationships?
If you answered yes to any of these questions and survived narcissistic abuse as a scapegoat then you may have learned to survive by thinking about and experiencing yourself as an outcast. In today’s post, I want to discuss how a narcissistic parent can treat a scapegoated child in ways that get that child to identify with being an outcast. Next, I will describe the dilemma faced by the scapegoat child of either taking on the role of outcast or feeling like nobody to no one. Last, I will emphasize the importance of finding new sustained relationships with people who can afford your ongoing connection so that you experience a new reality where feeling like you matter to someone important does not require you to assume such painful beliefs about yourself.
My name is Jay Reid and I’m a licensed psychotherapist in California who specializes in helping people recover from narcissistic abuse. Narcissistic abuse can leave us feeling lost and estranged from our sense of who we are. In individual therapy and my online course on recovery from narcissistic abuse I try to offer a map that allows them to come back to the quality of life they know they deserve. Of course, each survivor must travel this path themselves but a map can be tremendously important to do this with. And there are 3 features on this map that I call the 3 Pillars to Recovery:
Pillar # 1: Making sense of what happened,
Pillar # 2: Gaining distance from the narcissistic abuser, and
Pillar # 3: living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules. Lastly, one can’t do this in a vacuum. It is also essential to find and participate in communities of people who can get, validate, and support you on this path. Today’s article falls under Pillar #3: living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules.
If you were a scapegoat survivor of a narcissistic parent or partner then I encourage you to check out my free e-book on this topic. It’s called Surviving Narcissistic Abuse as the Scapegoat and goes into other important aspects of what it’s like to be in the shoes of the scapegoat child or partner of the narcissistic abuser. From self-limiting beliefs about yourself that you must adopt to survive to why the narcissistic personality is so geared to put those closest to them down. This e-book can help you realize how none of this abuse was your fault but the product of the narcissist’s psychological and emotional problems. You can find the link to the book by clicking here.
How a narcissistic parent gets the scapegoat child to identify with being an outcast.
A child with a narcissistic parent faces the impossible-to-solve problem of needing that parent’s continued availability to survive while having to suffer severe emotional deprivation, distortive attacks on the child’s character, and being exploited by the parent as a source of admiration and superiority. A narcissistic parent feels worthless and often powerless at a deep level and copes by denying these feelings, projecting them into someone else, and acting in coercive ways to get that other person to identify with these unbearable feelings. Doing this allows the parent to rid themselves of experience that undermines their artificially inflated self-worth. It helps a lot if the narcissist has authority in the relationship to the person they’re relocating these feelings into. The child dependent on that parent for their psychological needs is definitely under that parent’s authority and therefore vulnerable to being abused in this manner.
If the child is regularly blamed for frustrations in the narcissistic parent’s constant need for admiration and to feel dominant then I would say that child has fallen into the role of scapegoat to that parent. A parent who attacks, devalues, and rejects a child for being what the narcissistic parent cannot bear to acknowledge in themselves is very much treated like an outcast in the family. The child can have the experience of not belonging to their own family and being seen as fundamentally objectionable. In truth, the child is being pushed away by the narcissistic parent but is led to conclude that it is the child’s own defectiveness that makes it impossible for the narcissistic parent to love them. In so doing, the child preserves his or her perception of the parent as infallible while taking the lion’s share of the badness upon themselves. This transfer of badness onto the child’s self and laundering of the parent’s character is needed when a child is being abused by that parent. This is the first reason why the scapegoat child can feel like an outcast to the narcissistic parent. But there’s another important second reason.
Feel like an outcast or be nobody to no one
In order to share a reality with such a narcissistic parent intent on finding the scapegoat child as devalued and deserving of such devaluation, the child must identify with the parent’s devaluing attitude towards them. By share a reality, I’m talking about the feeling that the child knows – in some important way – who he or she is and who the parent is. There is a sense of “this is me and this my parent” that protects the child from something much worse. If the child did not have the ability to play along with what the narcissistic parent requires, then that child would face the unsurvivable state of being nobody to no one. The child would not feel like they are somebody to someone and this is a terrifying experience that must be avoided at all costs. I liken this experience to feeling like you are trapped inside your mind – able to speak, think and crave relationship – but being surrounded by inanimate objects. Sure, the other humans may look like people but they are not acting like they have insides like you do. That is what it’s like when a scapegoat child does not go along with the narcissistic parent’s claims that it’s the child who is to blame for everything. The parent’s pathological narcissism makes it so that this is the only rigid way the parent can behold the child which puts the child in a comply-or-psychically-die dilemma.
So that is why it is so necessary to play the part of scapegoat to the narcissistic parent when the child is put into this role. When the child identifies with the parent’s cast off feelings of worthlessness then the child may feel like an outcast in their own family deep inside. Although the child is known to a degree in the artificial devaluation from the narcissistic parent they’re forced to participate in – they are treated as though they are unwelcome and a burden to love. So, although the child gets to feel like they are somebody to someone they must shoulder the conclusion that they are not really wanted or liked in the family. That they are an outcast.
The importance of finding relationships where you feel welcome
I cannot overstate the importance of finding and participating in relationships where you feel a sense of welcome and belonging as part of the process of recovery from narcissistic abuse as the scapegoat. I want to emphasize that although blog posts like this are hopefully helpful, they are not a substitute for such relationships or psychotherapy. The reason is that in order to learn that the old rules for being somebody to someone no longer apply the survivor needs new actual experience in new actual relationships that lets them conclude they are known, cared for, and welcomed without having to believe they are worthless. There’s only so much we can accomplish with educational content like this. This type of content can definitely add to the process of new relationships but it cannot substitute for it.
With this being said, the question might emerge of how a scapegoat survivor can identify people who can offer such healing experience in relationships? I can point to two resources. I have mentioned the first and that is Module 4 (show thumbnail) in my online course on Recovery from Narcissistic abuse. Here I go into depth on the qualities of people that make them safe vs unsafe and provide a spreadsheet to help you identify the safe people in your own life so that you can cultivate more closeness with them. It also helps you identify who is less safe in this regard which can allow you to set boundaries with them.
The second resource is related to the online course and it is the membership to the private facebook group for people who have enrolled in the course (show thumbnail). In this community fellow survivors get to share their experiences in recovering from narcissistic abuse to people who really ‘get it’. I think this can be a good step in finding relationships that offer the needed new experience in virtual reality so that you get a sense of footing in finding the same IRL. Also, to protect confidentiality, members have the option of posting anonymously so that they do not feel too exposed by others knowing their identities. You can learn more about the course by clicking here.
Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). If you are considering therapy for overcoming a childhood with one or more narcissistic parents please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.