The Scapegoat Child’s Strengths Are Not the Product of Narcissistic Abuse

the scapegoat child’s strengths are not the product of narcissistic abuse

Do you see the way you are as a result of how you had to cope with a parent’s narcissistic abuse?

Do you attribute your strengths to what a narcissistic parent required of you?

When people see your strengths as part of who you are does it seem like they don’t “really” know you?

It can be confusing for a scapegoat survivor to know who they are apart from how they coped with a parent’s narcissistic abuse. For example, survivors who are empathic may see this as a result of having to take care of their parent’s emotional demands. Now this quality becomes a reminder of how they were exploited. In the midst of this reasoning the survivor can lose sight of the fact that being empathic is a character strength all their own. The survivor’s personality – as they see it – becomes a product of how their narcissistic parent mistreated them.

In today’s post, I explain why the scapegoat child’s strengths are not the product of narcissistic abuse. There are three reasons why the scapegoat survivor may think this in the first place. They had to adopt the belief that they are defective. They were deprived of the feedback needed to know who they independently are in the world. And they were treated as though they are an extension of their parent. This all makes it really hard to know oneself in a standalone way. Last, I offer an anonymized case example to illustrate these ideas.

My name is Jay Reid and I am a licensed psychotherapist in California. I specialize in recovery from narcissistic abuse. In my professional and personal experience I have worked to identify the fundamentals to the process of recovery. This has led me to what I call the three Pillars of Recovery. Pillar # 1: Making sense of what happened, Pillar # 2 Moving away from narcissistic abusers and towards safe people, and Pillar # 3: living in defiance of the narcissist’s rules. It is also essential to find and participate in communities of people who can get, validate, and support you on this path. I have seen and experienced large improvements in quality of life after applying these pillars.

I also want to mention that I am offering a new free ebook called ‘4 Ways to Heal for Adult Scapegoat Survivors’. In it, I offer four strategies to:

  • Reclaim your authentic self from the fake and painful scapegoat identity
  • Learn & apply the science behind gaining distance from narcissistic abusers
  • Know the ‘secret’ to reducing social anxiety for scapegoat survivors
  • Accept yourself as the fallible AND valuable person you are

You can find the link to the book in the description below or by clicking here.

3 Reasons Why the Scapegoat Survivor Sees Their Traits as a Reflection of Their Narcissistic Parent

Scapegoat survivors engaged in the first pillar of recovery – making sense of what happened – may see themselves as a product of how their parent treated them. There are three reasons for this.

Reason #1: Having to Believe You Are Defective

Without doubt the scapegoat child has to live through an abusive situation. Instead of being appreciated encouraged and understood by a parent they are deprived, devalued and controlled. This kind of life can make fear and anxiety a near constant companion. They are trying to do well by their parent yet so often told they are wrong and flawed. This is one of the most stressful situations we can face: fearing an outcome yet having no control over whether it happens.

The scapegoat child finds a way to manage the stress of being devalued when they want to be valued by their parent. Although they cannot control how their parent treats them they can adjust how they experience it. When they see themselves as deserving of their parent’s love then they feel more shock and emotional pain when their parent treats them poorly. When they see themselves as defective, however, their parent’s abuse is no longer a surprise. Now the child does not expect to be treated well by the parent. There is no longer a bad outcome happening that is out of their control. Their parent is simply treating them as the defective person they are. None of this feels good but the stress over when their parent will turn on them is lessened.

If the scapegoat survivor has to believe they are defective then their personal strengths will be obscured. They may see their personality to be a byproduct of the abuse they suffered. This can be a subtle way of denying themselves credit for their positive attributes. By seeing their strengths as something developed to cope with their narcissistic parent they take no ownership in them. Their belief that they are defective once helped them survive but is now making it hard to see themselves as they actually are.

Reason #2: Lack of Accurate Mirroring

Remember the saying: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”. That applies to children trying to build a sense of their identity in the world. In order to gain a solid sense of themselves they need an interested, curious and loving parent to “hear” and reflect back the sounds they make. This lets the child know that what comes from them has an impact on the other and generates a corresponding response. As this process happens over and over the specific ways the child acts upon their environment and gets responded to form the basis of their identity. This kind of response from a parent is called mirroring.

The scapegoat child is not regarded as an independent person who deserves certain responses from their parent to develop. The parent is too consumed with maintaining their own inflated yet fragile self-worth. They do not think to listen for and accurately reflect back the “sounds” made by their child. The child is deprived of seeing the reverberation of their character in their relationship with their parent. Instead they are psychologically left on their own to piece together who they are.

If the narcissistic parent does “hear” the child they may do so in a self-serving and distorted way. By definition the parent will see the scapegoat child as worthless then coerce them to think of themselves this way. They can do this by negatively reflecting back the child’s impact on them. For example, a narcissistic mother feels her own sense of emptiness upon seeing her young daughter’s passion for drawing. Instead of showing interest in her daughter’s efforts and reflecting back what the child might be to express in a drawing she says, “You spend too much time inside drawing. It’s not healthy. You should go outside more and play with kids your age.” Now her daughter’s artistic ability seems and feels like a problem to her.

Due to the lack of needed adequate mirroring from their narcissistic parent, the scapegoat survivor may chalk their strengths up to how they coped with their parent’s abuse. They do not have information about who they are to argue otherwise. They can see their psychological strengths as something they were forced to exercise by their parent. It is harder to see their attributes as their own and a way they coped with their parent.

Reason #3: Treated As An Extension of the Narcissistic Parent

Someone who is pathologically narcissistic can see their environment as reflections of whether they are superior or worthless. It can be an ongoing and tumultuous experience. Children of such parents are familiar with their parent’s inner tumult. They may have to cope by allowing their parent to use them to manage their volatile self-worth. This can mean being in the center of the parent’s attention for better and worse. Now the parent can see themselves as problem-free while their child has problems that need fixing. Or successes that reflect well on the parent. Either way their treatment of the child is more about them. The child is acutely – even if not consciously – aware of this.

Put another way, the narcissistic parent sees their child as an extension of themselves. The child may be intelligent and capable in school, for example. But the way the parent gushes over the child’s report card and brags to their friends about how smart they are makes the child uncomfortable. The child knows deep down that this praise is more about the parent than the child. As a result, the qualities that the parent reflects back do not feel real to the child.

The scapegoat survivor who sees their strengths as a product of the abuse they suffered may subtly be acting as an extension of their parent. Their strengths, in this case, are not independent of their parent. Instead their positive attributes are an extension of how their parent treated them.

Keri grew up with a narcissistic mother who was extremely abusive towards her. This woman would monitor Keri for the slightest signs of happiness so she could destroy it. As an adolescent, Keri knew to keep her voice down if she had friends over. Otherwise her mother would make up a reason for her friends to be sent home and skewer Keri afterwards. She would claim that Keri was not respecting her house rules by bring such “boisterous” friends home. This would end with Keri being grounded for at least a month.

Her father excused himself from being involved in Keri’s life. He worked late during the week and occupied himself with household chores on the weekends. Keri’s mother’s authority went unchecked. Nobody was there to recognize Keri for her kindness, empathy, and honest nature.

In her twenties she found job interviews particularly difficult. The interviewers would ask her to reflect on herself and emphasize her strengths. Keri had to will herself to find strengths that seemed true but she was not sure.

In therapy, Keri explained how difficult it was for her to believe she had any strengths of her own.

Her therapist asked her if she knew how empathic she was. Keri responded, “Oh yeah, well, that’s just because I had to always figure out what my mother was feeling. Otherwise I would’ve gotten it even worse.”

Her therapist said, “I’m sure you’re right. At the same time, I don’t think you could have used empathy in this way if you did not possess it as a strength.”

This session began several years of work leading to Keri feeling safe enough in and out of the therapy to notice and identify her strengths as her own. 

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. I offer an introduction online course on the nature and impacts of narcissistic abuse. I also offer an advanced online course offering 8 powerful strategies for scapegoat survivors to reclaim the quality of life they deserve.

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *