narcissistic family scapegoat

The narcissistic family’s scapegoat: Survival and Recovery

Today’s blog post describes why a malignantly narcissistic parent has to scapegoat a child, why certain children get picked as the scapegoat, the impact of getting scapegoated and how to use therapy to recover from this especially pernicious form of abuse. This article extends recent posts on the roles played in families dominated by a narcissistic caregiver.

Sometimes a client comes into therapy telling horrific stories of the chronic and systematic abuse. They recount how their caregivers criticized, humiliated, hurt, degraded and derided them at every opportunity. What’s made this suffering most destructive is the abuser’s conviction that it was what the child deserved. There is no sense of recrimination, accountability, nor guilt for what they put this child through. Rather there is an inscrutable self-righteousness in their cruel attitudes and behavior towards the victim. Without fail, there is also a concerted effort to keep this abuse private from the world at large. The adult child recalls seeing the abusive caregiver charm people outside the home and keep their demonic cruelty behind closed doors. All the better to discredit the victim’s credibility if they ever come forward to report the abuse.  Welcome to the world of the narcissistic family’s scapegoat.  

Why does a narcissistic family scapegoat a child?

When a family is dominated by a malignantly narcissistic parent a tremendous strain is put upon the family system. A malignant narcissist needs a victim. They are only satiated when they feel superior to and in control over someone else. That makes anyone close to such a person a potential target. In a family system, the collective strain of the malignant narcissist’s need for a victim gets relieved when a single person is selected. The other members can breathe a sigh of relief – psychologically speaking – and join the malignant narcissist in blaming the selected child for all the family’s unhappiness.
If the malignant narcissist has chosen their enabling spouse correctly, then they enjoy unchecked authority in the family. Usually, a child cannot be scapegoated without the implicit permission of an enabler parent. The ringleader of abuse in the family requires that everyone sees things how she sees them. If she sees the scapegoat as the abomination then her partner and other children better agree with her. She uses any means necessary to coerce the enabler parent and the scapegoat’s siblings into agreement. These other parties are enticed by having the favor of the narcissistic parent and deterred by the wrath that will follow if they dissent.
A malignant narcissist loves the sense of power in making others suffer. In other words, they harbor sadistic intentions. They are exquisitely envious of those who do not put them first. Envy is an emotion that drives one to want to spoil the good they see because they do not have it. Lastly, they lack empathy for others. They do not see the fact that their child is suffering as a reason to stop their behaviors.
Chet* was a therapy client. His mother, Nancy, seemed to have cruelty in her heart from an early age. She told her classmates in fourth grade that she had cancer “to get attention”. Her younger brother one time accidentally broke a ceramic doll of hers and was bleeding profusely. Her face turned to a snarl and she screamed at him for breaking it. She became a special education teacher after college and curated an image of a nurturing, patient and kind woman. Meanwhile she would select one student in each of her classes to harass, control, and undermine. At one point her principal brought her up on disciplinary charges for “mistreating” one of her students. She transferred to a different school district and was able to continue her clandestine cruelty against new students. In relationships, she ensnared men into taking care of her monetarily and emotionally while complaining that they never appreciated all that she does for them. She married a man who was passive in their relationship and quickly set about triangulating with her ex-boyfriend. She would yell at her husband nightly that he was not communicating enough with her. His response was to grow more accomodating and ingratiating to her. She decided that she wanted to be a mother and gave birth to a son. Her son – Chet – was willful, loving, good-hearted, playful and tough. She hated him for these qualities. Three years later she gave birth to a daughter – Nathalie – who was much more compliant and admiring towards Nancy.
The arrival of Chet’s younger sister signalled a ratcheting up of Nancy’s scapegoating of him. In therapy, Chet recalled his mother criticizing him incessantly for eating too fast, picking his nose, not using correct table manners, leaving his toys out, and so on. Anything to keep him off-balance within himself. She bossed him around to do chores for as long as he could remember. He recalled one episode at age 5 when he went to MacDonald’s with his mother and sister. After they finished eating their happy meals his mother curtly told him “Throw this away” referring to the whole table’s trash. Chet remembered feeling enfuriated at her entitlement to his servitude and knew he had to protest but in a delicate way. His sharp mind thought he’d fashioned the right response so when he got back to their table he said, “I can’t wait til I grow up and can boss people around.” Nancy responded by snarling and squinting her eyes with a black look of murderousness. She bit off these words in a low barking tone: “How dare you say that I boss you around?! After all that I do for you and this is how you thank me? You are a selfish, mean little brat. Come on Nathalie, we’re going to the car. Chet you sit there.” Chet recalled feeling a searing jolt of shame and wanting to crawl out of his skin. He learned from that moment onward not to speak back – on his own behalf – to Nancy because her retaliations felt unsurvivable.
Scapegoating a child goes against the grain (thankfully!) of most of our schemas of parenting and even humanity. For a parent to go out of their way to blame his or her child at every turn, to revel in the sense of (false) superiority they derive, and to show no remorse is antithetical to the meaning of ‘parent’.
The latin root of the word ‘parent’ is ‘bringing forth’. We can think of parents as responsible for helping their children bring themselves forth into the world. They can do this in a lot of ways. They may notice and celebrate qualities of their child, take delight in the child’s displays of happiness, be available for support as needed, and show interest in what the child thinks, feels, and believes. That names just a few of how a child’s self can be ‘parented’ into the world.
A child who is scapegoated by a malignantly narcissistic parent actually has no ‘parent’ in the true sense of the word. He faces an adversary where biology tells him to expect an ally. More insidiously, a child is prone to believe their parent’s cruelty is their fault. So, the child earmarked for scapegoating faces one of the most unfair of fights. He must cope with the loss of an adult to help him bring himself forth and face the searing psychological torment of thinking he’s at fault for the loss. Thus, a malignant narcissist gets to land her ’emotional punches’ on the child with impunity and great effect.

What makes a “good” Scapegoat?

In my personal and professional experience, children selected as scapegoats – like Chet – usually stand out. They possess a presence that is palpable to others. They often have a keen sense of fairness and instinctively protest injustice. They are perceptive and can see bad character when it’s present. They are often very empathic and care about others’ feelings. They are often protective of people they care about. They can be very intelligent. Most of all, they are tough. The malignant narcissist only chooses a child as a scapegoat who can take it. The former wants to see the child suffer but not so much that they cannot keep hurting them habitually.
Chet recalls one noble act that likely sealed his fate as the child to be scapegoated. Despite his younger sister’s alliance with his mother, Chet felt protective of her at a young age. On Nancy’s birthday, Chet and Nathalie at ages 6 and 3 respectively, made Nancy dinner as a present. In the course of making meatballs, Chet recalls they decided to crunch up some graham crackers and put it in the mixture. As they sat down to eat this precociously prepared meal for a couple of kids, they giggled with each other. Nathalie asked her mother if she tasted anything different. When Nancy said she did not, Chet and Nathalie laughed harder. Nathalie told her mother: “We put graham cracker crust in them!”. Nancy stopped chewing, slammed her fork on the plate, and looked with rage at her daughter. Chet saw this and forcefully exclaimed: “Hey! Stop it! Don’t treat her like that. It was just a joke. Why are you so upset?”. Nancy looked at Chet and seemed to realize she could not continue her planned tirade against Nathalie. Chet felt good that he could stop her abuse of his sister even though nobody stood up for him when he was Nancy’s target.
The courage and protectiveness that Chet displayed, likely made Nancy aware of how much more he possessed than she did. Her systematic abuse of him seemed driven by her hatred of him for being more decent than she could ever be as a human being. She knew that she was governed by the need to be cruel while he was driven by the need to love and protect.

The hellish life of the scapegoated child

A scapegoated child knows depths of private suffering that can only be described as ‘hellish’. They are born with the biological need for care from people who hate them. It is like being thirsty and the only person who has water instead gives you sand – then mockingly laughs. A scapegoated child is attacked for some trumped-up charge, mercilessly punished and then denied appeal. They are constantly invalidated in their perspective. The family’s goal is to convince the scapegoated child that he or she is the sole reason for the family’s unhappiness. The child may come to believe that life is only worth living if he can figure out how to not be who he is.
When a child is cast as the enemy in his own family there is tremendous pressure to turn against himself. The adage – tragically – can apply: “If you can’t beat ’em join ’em”. Except that the scapegoated child has to join in the collective hatred of his existence. As discussed elsewhere, the child fears loss of attachment worse than abuse. At least getting mistreated involves contact.
People who make it through childhood as a scapegoat often have to stow away their awareness of their good qualities. The child must hide his own appreciation of who he is lest he lose whatever connection is available or get abused even worse. The narcissistic parent wants the scapegoated child to believe they are as horrible as they are being told. If the child shows a sense of self-worth or self-possession the narcissistic parent will take this as an affront to their authority. In essence “How dare my child not think he’s as bad as I say he is! He must not respect me. I will make him pay.” To avoid this outcome, scapegoated children develop a set of self-defeating beliefs about themselves. These beliefs keep the narcissistic parent from attacking even harder.

Common beliefs of adults scapegoated as children

Belief #1: “I am physically disgusting.”
Sometimes scapegoated children are more physically attractive than their narcissistic parent. Through no fault of their own, this simple fact about them can roil the parent. As the child meets positive receptions for his or her looks outside the home, he or she may feel a deep sense of fear and confusion. “Why are people saying I’m pretty (or handsome)?”. The child may be particularly wary of the malignant narcissist catching wind of this. He likely knows that something bad happens when others tell him he is handsome etc.
One way to undo the threat posed by his or her good looks is to – unconsciously – distort one’s perception of the bodily self. An otherwise good-looking kid may decide that he or she is fat, has a big nose, too many pimples, has ugly hair, etc. If the threat of reprisal is great enough from the narcissistic parent, the scapegoated child can simply take such distortions as brute facts of his or her existence. It’s not that she thinks she’s fat, ugly, etc. It’s that she just is this way. As uncomfortable as such perceptions are to live with, they are preferable to the cruelty that would ensue by the narcissitic parent who feels shown up. The psychology profession calls this phenomena Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD. Not everyone with BDD was scapegoated in their families of origin, but I do believe it can lead to this condition.
Belief #2: “If I am not being productive, I am worthless.”
Scapegoated children can find the narcissistic parent’s hatred too violent to withstand. One way to cope with the horrific fact that your parent hates you for who you are is to substitute the idea that they hate you for what you do. Making this shift can afford the scapegoated child enough psychological breathing space to go on functioning. The reason is that this strategy offers hope that the parent might have a change of heart if the child can just “do right”. Things do not feel as unfixable.
The drawback to this survival strategy is that the scapegoated child is thrust in to an endless loop of trying in the face of failure. No matter what the scapegoated child tries: do his chores perfectly, buy the narcissistic parent a gift, get good grades, etc., the parent will ultimately find them to be objectionable. In this system the child may redouble her efforts to ‘succeed’ rather than surrender to the horrible reality they face. As adults they may feel ill-at-ease when not doing some activity to ‘better themselves’ in some way or another. Stretches of free time can feel foreboding because the privilege of enjoying their own company was one their parent actively worked to forbid them.
Belief #3:”I am always one mistake away from complete ruin.”
Scapegoated children often feel like their existence hangs in the balance of each moment. Something final, awful and dreadful could happen if they make the ‘wrong move’. A narcissistic parent who has scapegoated the child is already going to find them to be in the wrong. The ensuing onslaught of yelling, beating, or worse is how they terrorize the child. Somewhere in themselves, the scapegoated child knows that their fate is going to be awful: the narcissistic parent is going to thrash them, it’s just a question of when and how. The child must find a way to manage the monumental anxiety they experience in the face of such ongoing threat. One way to do this is to boil down their existence to each moment. No looking forward. No looking backward. Just what’s here right now. The looming dread of what could happen but it exists more in the shadows. The payoff to this strategy – again – is the ability to go on functioning in the face of chronic efforts to destroy their quality of life.
It’s important to note that boiling everything down to the present moment is different from being “in the now”. One can only be mindful when they feel sufficiently safe to do so. A scapegoated child is not afforded the necessary goodwill and space to be present in the mindful kind of way. This is more like taking a snapshot instead of a video. To only look at this moment rather than how they are being treated over time. To do the latter would bring to awareness how hopelessly mistreated they have been and the lack of any viable escape routes.
Belief #4:”I am defective.”
A malignantly narcissistic parent wants to drill into the scapegoat the notion that he or she is inherently defective. If a child is scapegoated from an early age, he or she may feel a deep sense that there is something wrong with them. Objectively, there is so much right with such children and so much wrong with the narcissistic parent but that is not what gets internalized for the child. The child may have natural social grace or a good sense of humor but fear social interactions. They may shy away from making friends and later relationship partners out of compliance with what feels like a fundamental truth about themselves. Similarly, they may be athletically gifted but feel overmatched in competitive situations and unable to utilize their potential.
Belief #5:”I have no skills or talents.”
Scapegoated children are forbidden to know what they are good at. To do so would be to defy the narcissist’s contention that they are good-for-nothing. As stated above, the narcissist would take the child’s possession of their skills or talents as an affront to their authority. Such children grow to know this. This belief protects them from the narcissist’s envious attack. It also protects the child from having something of value – like self-esteem or pride – and getting it ripped away by the parent. Managing such losses is a high priority for the scapegoated child. He or she can only bear so many. A low-level ongoing sense of diminishment is much preferable to the traumatic loss of a cherished sense of themselves.
Belief #6:”If I disagree, I will be hated and exiled.”
This belief is a simple observation for the scapegoated child. They know that if they defy the malignant narcissist’s claims that the child is the source of unhappiness that they will suffer an even worse fate. Scapegoated children are often threatened with exile from the family – and to great unfortunate effect. Despite how torturous the child is treated in the family, the threat of being exiled can feel even worse. Such children learn to present a compliant and agreeable persona to the family members to avoid their hatred and expulsion. The child must police his impulses, reactions, and perceptions to suppress any expression that would be taken as disagreement.
As adults, scapegoated children may find themselves paralyzed with fear when they consider dissenting in work environments or with their partners. Disagreeing with someone brings oneself into the forefront. The act delineates the self in stark relief. It is what allows for ‘dialogue’ in the true sense of the word. Martin Buber would refer to this as the “I-thou” kind of relationship where two subjectivities are brought into authentic contact with one another. A person can feel safe to disagree when they can expect to be received with curiosity, non-defensiveness, and responsiveness. Scapegoated children were not afforded such receptions. Instead they had to hide themselves at all times. The bringing forth of themselves that an act of disagreement requires was simply too dangerous.
This coping strategy can (wrongly) lead the scapegoated child to conclude that he or she cares too much about what other people think. In fact, I hear this a lot from adults who were scapegoated as children. Importantly, we all care what others think about us when we disagree. Some people have had the fortune to believe that others will think good things about them for disagreeing. People who were scapegoated have the misfortune to believe that others will think hateful things about them for disagreeing. I believe that any human being who expects to be hated and exiled by those he needs most would avoid disagreeing. In therapy, the task is not to to shed the concern of what others think of them. Rather, the task is to consider how people today probably think quite well of them when they disagree. So, still care about what others think but find a way to pay attention to the good news that people outside of their family will welcome their perspective even when it expresses disagreement.

Therapy to recover from being scapegoated

Chet was a twenty-something single successful software engineer when he came to therapy. He reported that although he is able to get done what needs getting done at work and has some friends, inside he felt miserable. He felt anxiety and dread at what others thought of him, difficulty knowing what to do in his free time, and a chronic sense of dis-ease in his own skin.
At first, Chet said he grew up in a supportive family. As a therapist, I have found that suffering at the level that Chet experienced usually does not spring from a rosy upbringing. And here went our exchange:
Me: How might your mother react when angry at you?
Chet: Well she would scream at me and slam things down. She’d call me selfish, inconsiderate, and that I don’t care about the family at all. But, I mean, she was right. She wouldn’t have yelled if I wasn’t such a bad kid.”
Me: Chet, there is no way you were bad enough to warrant that kind of abuse.
And so began Chet’s path to recovery from his malignantly narcissistic mother’s scapegoating of him. For individuals who have survived a childhood of being targetedly and chronically undermined in their development, the task of therapy is to bust the myths about themselves they were forced to believe and find it safe to know the truth about themselves – that they are a good and deserving person.
Therapy may begin with client’s identifying ways they are flawed. “I care too much about what others think”, “I can’t stay self-disciplined”, “I am not a good communicator”, and so on. It can be important to acknowledge these concerns while also challenging them. Scapegoated children have no trouble taking responsibility for their shortcomings – the problem lies in taking credit for their strengths. Over time – sometimes significant lengths of time – such clients can come to question their critical view of themselves. They gradually shift the focus of their inner torment from themselves to their families of origin. As this shift takes hold, the client will dare to find less wrong with themselves and look for the source of what feels wrong in their scapegoating family. Often clients who have been scapegoated are very empathic with everyone but themselves. As the legacy of scapegoating gets identified and challenged, clients can direct some of that empathy towards themselves. A massive achievement comes when clients are able to regard their own needs to be as important as others.
In essence, therapy helps client feel emotionally and psychologically safe to do, feel, and be the things that their malignantly narcissistic parent and enabling family members would have seen as an affront to their authority.
*All references to clients are amalgamations of people, papers, books, life that do not directly refer to any specific person.  
Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC).  If you are considering therapy to recover from narcissistic abuse please contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Comments 33

  1. Hi Jay
    I’m in the U.K., currently having therapy with a wonderful practitioner who diagnosed my (thankfully now dead) mother as having a borderline personality disorder- which I had not previously heard of.
    My mother accused me of being responsible for my Father’s death (I was 9 when he died in an air crash.) She revelled in my achievements- hijacking them for herself -whilst simultaneously demeaning me. She made out that she was such a victim that there was no space for me – either as a child or later as an adult – to have any feelings or needs of my own.
    I am interested in the narcissistic aspects of her behaviour- I believe she herself must have been hugely damaged to have become such a monster. If you could throw any light on how such narcissism develops I’d be really grateful to hear from you. Meanwhile, my appreciation for your informative posts.

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      Hi Ann,

      Thank you for taking the time to share what you have gone through. It sounds like you possess a tremendous amount of capacities and resilience to have endured the chronic and (what sounds like) systematic abusive undermining that you’re mother waged against you. Her taking on the ‘victim position’ is a common tactic of such people because it gives them license to be cruel. They call it ‘offending from the victim position’ in this business.

      As to the development of the kinds of psychologies of your mother’s, I will certainly consider writing a post on this. I have intentionally focused on the consequences of such narcissistic behavior – rather than its origins in the abuser – because as victims of this kind of treatment there can often be an instinctual need to want to understand what made this person turn into such an abusive one. In my personal and professional experience, I have found there to be important benefits to not paying too much attention to what made the abuser this way and focus on the horribleness of what they did to those they were supposed to protect and care for. With that being said, there is a book that I think gets at your question. It’s called ‘People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil’.

      Take good care,

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        1. This is me exactly. Scapegoat . I have one question I’ve always been curious about. Are these narcissistic parents aware they are scapegoating you or is it subconscious and they believe the scapegoat deserves it?

  2. Hi Jay,

    Thank you for writing these articles. After ages of searching, these are some of the most validating.

    Do you have any insight on the exile process and effects? The complete exiling by my narcissist father and two brothers has been the most traumatizing part. I was met with legal threats to suppress any signs of my existence. I haven’t been able to find any information regarding this part.


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      I’m so glad you have found these articles helpful. Thank you for raising the process and effects of exiling by the Narcissist and his/her allies. So much is talked about along the lines of the victim going no-contact but often the abusers seek to be done with victim as you describe. What comes to mind is the ‘Discard’ phase in the cycle of abuse (idealization–>Devalue –>Discard) where the perpetrators seek to commit the final wound of complete and utter rejection. The message is meant to be something like this to the victim: “You’re not worth enough to even keep around for the purpose of further abuse.” It sounds like you have a real strength of character/mind to be able to avoid falling prey to this tactic despite its brutality. I wish you continued strength and support as you recover from this undeserved abuse.


  3. Hi Jay,
    Thank you for the explanations. I have been scapegoated for so long that I don’t know which end is up anymore.
    I am the oldest of 3 daughters and my parents came from Europe. They didn’t speak English, so when I learned to speak I was the one taking care of things. So I have been an adult for too long and I am tired. I was the troublemaker and the pain kid. My younger sister was my mom’s favorite (GC). My baby sister was my dad’s favorite. I knew this, I was not an idiot. My mother died last year and I was the executor of her trust. Not much mind you. I did was I was supposed to do, I was starting to live my life like I wanted FINALLY. Well my sisters didn’t like that and they attacked me and told me that I was changing and I would end up like our mother, alone and bitter. I was taken by surprise. I was changing? What was that about? I was going to concerts, vacations, and just enjoying myself and my family. They both loved it when I did everything for our NARC mother. Dr. appointments, which were many, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, and being her doormat. They liked it because I did things for them as well. I took care of my nephew, free of charge for 4 years, NOT even a kiss my rear. My family was on hold while we took care of the little guy. I love him as my own. I still did things for my parents too. The other sister, I did all sorts of things for her too. I did not expect anything in return. I just wanted to keep the peace and make everyone happy. Well, now I have been going to therapy for myself. I was so scared that I am a NARC, like my mother. I now know that I am NOT. I was the SG for my whole life and that my parents made is so that my sisters abused my in the same way. I am finally standing up for myself and the two of them told me I was full of it. To grow up and get over it. How am I to get over it? My mother abused me and I am NOT ok with it. I was there to take all the abuse and I shielded them from it. I guess I was a strong kid but now I am tired and I see that I deserve to be happy. Sorry for the rant I just needed to vent. I have been journaling and it has helped me tremendously, but sometimes I just need to vent more.
    Thank you again.

  4. Lee, I wish you happiness.

    I have survived a similar past. Your mom targeted you, but the whole family knowingly benefited. I am not sure which is worse, the person who hurt you or the many who allowed you to pay the price for them.

    When you speak up and say “no more” you are ruffling the feathers of a toxic family dynamic. You are supposed to keep their secret.

    May you have the strength to live your life without letting the others keep you in your role of scapegoat.

    I recently escaped a toxic family where I was the scapegoat. I am learning that I shouldn’t feel guilty for being happy. I find peace in knowing that going no contact means Peace.

  5. Hello Jay,
    Thank you so much for this article. I was the scapegoat in my family for over 5 decades. My mother is a covert narcissist. My life until about 3 years ago was getting so unmanageable due to my denial and flat out not believing that she didn’t and couldn’t love me. I finally went completely no contact with her. For years she belittled me, lied on and to me, betrayed my trust so many times i cant count. I no longer could keep trying it was literally killing me. I have health issues such as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, I’ve also had Thyroid Cancer, fibromyalgia, etc… This has not been easy at all especially because now that I’ve gone No contact with her she has turned my adult children against me by playing the victim . Its incredibly hard to watch her manipulate my children. As i am healing, i need to know how to respond to the “forgiveness” questions and the “You know she wont be here forever” announcement. Or should i accept that they probably just wont understand and place my energy into myself?
    Thanks in advance for letting me rant. I really needed to.
    Renee M

  6. Hi Jay,
    Thanks so munch of your sharing in this blog. I am just now recovering from a narcissistic father attachment…I am 42. Could you recommend me some book in order to I can reach a deep healing on this. Thanks in advance.

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      Hi Albert,

      Thank you for the feedback. I am glad you found the post helpful. I can recommend ‘Psychopath Free’ as a book that details the process of recovering from some of the abusive tactics employed in narcissistic abuse. The title may seem like it’s not relevant, but I believe that the process of recovery the author describes is very applicable to narcissists too. Best of luck in your process.


  7. Hi just wanted to ask why would the narcissistic parent actively work to forbid the child of enjoying their own company? Interesting article, scary but makes sense.


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      This is how I would understand why the parent would actively interfere with the child’s connection to himself. Good question, too. A narcissistic person feels very vulnerable to envy and humiliation. They may only able to function when convinced themselves those closest to them are not worthy of their envy. They look at the world and relationships as a question of ‘how much do I have and can I get (relative to everyone else)?’. If such a person sees their child enjoying his own company and seemingly not vulnerable to the same kind of envy and scrambling to feel worthwhile as the narcissist feels, then the parent’s envy can get evoked. Once this happens they may try to pollute the child’s experience of themselves so that they do not have to feel envious of him or her.

      1. Hi Jayreid,
        After spending my life so far to become worthy of my mother’s and sister’s (Narcissist and gc respectively) if not love then just respect, at 37, I feel betrayed by the Trojan horse as I call it – the worst kind of betrayal coming from my own family. Having felt the severity of this betrayal, most things in my life have lost their meaning for a while now. It’s for my toddler son that I wish to pull my self together and not let him down but it’s proving very difficult.
        Do you have any advice on where to make a start?

  8. This article checks all the boxes in terms of describing my family dynamic around me.
    Both of my parents were complicit in maintaining this dynamic. And, my feckless siblings cowerd to her demands, lest they trade place with me. I was a vibrant, creative, social, popular and talented kid. I was blamed for everything. . . even things I had nothing to do with. I’ve heard the saying, “only the healthy ones get out,” and I think that’s absolutley true.
    It’s been many years since I have had any contact with my entire family. It was the ONLY way I could find to “detox” (yes it is a form of detox), help myself get on the road to health, both mental and physicial. As a mother, I also saw that my narc mother was also beginning to ply her maglinant behavior toward my daugher (first grandchild), which I would NOT allow in any way. That really set the beginning of the end as my mother felt it her right to keep the cycle of harming going. While my kids grew up without grandparents, I would not subject them to this toxic and very demented dysfunction. I was determined not to repeat the cycle, nor let my mother do so either.

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      Thank you for sharing your story. I think the metaphor of detox in recovery from the scapegoat role is right on the money. You seem to have shown tremendous strength and will to protect yourself and your child from this vicious cycle of abuse.

    2. Hi Debra! Your post was spit on with my experience with my mil. My husband realized her bad behavior would affect our children negatively and put down firm boundaries that she found very offensive. 20 years later I am so glad he did. She had me convinced he was unjustly targeting her because he wanted to get revenge on her because his childhood wasn’t “the best.” Lol. Anyway a malignant narcissistic doesn’t change and when the seldom times she was around our kids alone (mind you this was very rare) she would begin triangulating them and trying to cause a division among them (3 girls 1 boy). It’s so disgusting to know a person is such a person, but this lady just could not help herself. My kids detest her thank god! She tried to emotionally steal our oldest from us when she was young, so I can only praise your instincts to keep your kids away!!!

  9. This was validating. I lived my entire childhood with a dangerous malignant narcissistic mother and a narcissistic father, they were both “only children” that coupled, and had four kids. I was the “middle child”, I’m surprised you didn’t mention that dynamic. My evil Mother was the only child of a possible narcissist, she was an only child, and her Mother didn’t give her an inch of love. Her Mother however, adored me. I always figured that’s why I was the target of her hatred. I was everything her Mother wanted in a Daughter. My Mother hated that. She beat me all my life, every chance she got, out of anger. She told me she hated me and wished I’d never been born. Any time I had an upset as a child, she asked me what had I done to cause it?
    She never touched my siblings, or said an angry word to any of them. They don’t remember her treating me differently, they don’t acknowledge my existence. When I turned 18 she came into my bedroom in a rage and started beating me with her fists. I grabbed her wrists and looked her in the eye, and told her if she ever hit me again, I would hit her back.
    She never hit me with her fists again.
    I didn’t have kids because of her, I was too afraid I might be like her. Now it’s too late.

    1. Your parents sound strikingly similar to mine. Both were dangerous narcissists and there are some indications that one or both parents came close to “accidentally” allowing something deadly to happen to me. For example, balancing me on the railing of a two-story-high ship under full speed, whereupon the captain got on the bullhorn and screamed at them to “Get that child off the railing!” The only reason I knew about this incident is because Mommy Dearest would tell that “funny” story to me at times, along with other horrific “funny” stories.

      I was the firstborn to two adult “babies of the family”, born SEVEN years into their marriage, to FIX it. When my birth temporarily broke it up, she blocked a safe, loving and stable aunt and uncle from adopting me, so she could use me to force my thieving, abusive father back into the marriage. BOTH of them scapegoated me from that point on.

      Here’s what I’ve been able to figure out about the origins of my viciously malignant mother’s narcissism.

      She was the (literally) golden-haired, blue-eyed child and at one point went to an Indian reservation school. I suspect the white teachers fawned over her to the detriment of the Native American students, and undoubtedly she was flaunting her supposed “superiority” as a white child, Her father was her mother’s second husband; there was an older girl from the first marriage who caught Mommie Dearest’s father’s eye.

      The filthy monster raped the older girl on a regular basis, according to a confession Mommie Dearest FINALLY made decades after she’d sent me to live with the monster every summer vacation from when I was 6 years old. It appears that the older girl even had to have a back-alley abortion, likely performed by her rapist (my grandfather), as the older girl could never have children once she’d grown up.

      I was born looking like the older girl – the one who’d taken Mommie Dearest’s daddy’s affections. Both parents were extraordinarily infantile, demanding that first I and then my younger brother and I effectively parent THEM by doing most of the household chores (I was vacuuming the house and doing the laundry when I was 10 and my brother was doing all of the yardwork by around the same age, later on). They showed astounding levels of self-centered dishonesty, like dad sitting in one of his sister-in-law’s brand new car and demanding that HE get the car or he wouldn’t get out of the car after he’d been demobbed after WWII. He wasn’t in a combat position. Apparently the military spotted his selfish, childish behaviors early on.

      Then when the idiot decided to sell his ranch because it was making him “depressed”, after a few years of working for someone else, he went to the guy who’d bought the ranch and INSISTED the guy GIVE it back. Not pay for it. Not buy it back. No, the freaking imbecile insisted the guy GIVE the ranch back, because it was his “Christian duty” or some insanity like that.

      In BOTH cases the vicious narcissist parents were NOT the scapegoated children. They were the preferred children, pampered and viewed as more valuable by being “the baby”, the “golden-haired girl”, and as the babies they weren’t expected to work as hard as the older children. They both came from dysfunctional families (Daddio’s parents were always fighting), but were somewhat sheltered from the abuses being heaped upon the older children. So that’s the source of those two narcissistic monstrosities. Not that being the “baby” of the family predisposes people to become narcissistic. It appears that it is the favored child in an abusive family that is most likely to become a viciously narcissistic monstrosity, later on.

  10. I met my Fiancé 2 years ago. My Fiancé’s Mother is a narcissist and she’s sadistic. I’m not throwing those words around. She is evil! His sister is the Golden Child. He was also molested by his Dad when he was a young boy. His Mom tells him he’s horrible, selfish, and like his Dad. His Mom tried to physically come after me when I took up for him one time. My fiancé stood in front of her and told her to sit down and to leave me alone. His sister won’t have anything to do with him anymore, and it is very difficult for him. He wants her validation, even more than he wants his Moms validation.

    My Fiancé is the most honorable man I have ever met. He is completely opposite of the horrible things his family says about him. When I first met him he would ask why I wanted to be with a monster like him. I would tell him he’s not a monster at all. It breaks my heart to see what his family does to him. I tell him how great he is! He’s such a good man and he’s great with my kids.
    I can’t say enough about his heart and love. I accept him just like he is, and he accepts me for who I am.

    He’s tells me he’s ready to. walk away from his family and have no contact with them. I support him and believe he should go no contact. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how I can be supportive of him. I think I might make things worse or make him feel bad sometimes. I never say a negative word about him. He knows I love and accept him unconditionally. I’m cautious about saying anything. Do you have any suggestions about what I should do and say? How can I make him feel better and let him know he’s not who his Mom says he is?

  11. So I’m very glad to have found your post. I’ve read so many but it’s like you were there detailing everything wrong in my childhood. The abuser was my mom with flying monkeys added to the mix. I’d tell you everything but you pretty much summed up a lot of it in the post. Recently I’ve found that whenever I entertain the idea of thinking about what I went through I shed a psychological layer of allowing disrespect from others, I feeling at peace and understanding myself more. Almost like I’m being cured by reliving it in my mind and not letting it affect me currently. But I know it won’t be as good as a professional helping me. After all these years I finally feel I’m ready to talk to a professional about it. I used to not want to wallow in self pity but I’m not going to care if others think that’s what I’m doing, I’m not going around just telling people, but I suspect some people I know may think I’m feeling sorry for myself but I don’t care, I have to look after myself. I believe I deserve to feel sorry for myself/my inner child for a while, to not be ignorant to my suffering with the aim to try to move on. People talk about forgiveness and letting go as if it’s easy, it’s really not. But first I know I need to go through the process and feel the pain with a professional who will help me heal afterwards. Thank you for reading this

  12. Thank you so much for this. For years I suffered terribly at the hands of my narcissistic mother (and bullying, tyrannical father who we later found out was leading a secret double life). I was the oldest of three girls, and the scapegoat child. My mother undermined me in every way she could throughout my childhood, teenage and early adult years. She loathed my (wonderful) husband, the only person who has ever championed and supported me, and did everything she could to stop our wedding. It took me until my late twenties to recognise her behaviour, and my thirties to walk away. Sadly by then, she has developed a relationship with my very young children. She has showered them with adoration and gifts (as they are still young enough to be pliable and deferential to her bidding) – my husband was uncomfortable with this from the beginning but it took me longer to realise this was not the typical generosity of a ‘normal’ grandmother, it was manipulation and love bombing at the highest level. I have finally managed to walk away from my toxic family – although my mother continues to send me manipulative letters and ‘I love grandma’ t shirts to my kids – which I hide away with no idea what to do with them. My question is – how do I explain to my children – particularly my oldest who is 5 but had my mother in her life for the first 4 years of her life – what has happened? I don’t want to traumatise her or ruin her faith in people or ability to trust. I’ve tried to be as upfront as I can in an appropriate way but these are huge, complex issues for such a small child. I don’t know what to do. She asks almost daily to see her grandmother – and while I have never felt happier for finally escaping my narcissistic mother’s clutches – I’m at my wits end knowing how to explain this situation to my daughter.

    1. Give the shirts away. Put them in a red cross bin.

      Tell your children that grandma hurts Mommy and Daddy, and that she is not a nice person. She hates Mommy and you need to keep them safe from mean people.

      Don’t feel guilty about breaking the bond. When guilt comes around, just remember any one of multiple assaults against you.

      Tell them the truth, in ways that they will understand. Kids aren’t as stupid as people think they are.

      It gets easier.

  13. JAY, thanks for your insightfulness, which is helping me in the long journey ahead out of the scapegoat role. Added to your expertly honed descriptions, my parents are “born-again” Christians. Their pernicious tendrils have sucked the life out of me for 59 years. I want my 60th year to be one of freedom from their malignancy. Thanks again for all your posts.

    1. I had a similar experience, having been raised by a covert narcissist who is also a ‘born again’ Christian. Her religious extremism was used all of my life as a basis for scapegoating me, the child she considered inherently evil, sinful, morally wrong, disobedient to her parent, and certainly ‘condemned to burn in hell’ because I didn’t believe exactly the way she did. Constant fear mongering about the ‘end times’ being right around the corner and the urgent need to ‘get right with Jesus’ (meaning adapting her belief system) is still a big part of her attempts at communication with me. After 50 years I simply won’t tolerate it anymore, which she of course views as a rejection of not only her, but of everything right and good and worthwhile in this world. It’s so twisted and sickening! She is 70 years old now, and with each passing year her ideas just harden and her fear and hatred of the world grow stronger. I’m still learning to protect myself and heal, an ongoing process. Thank you for mentioning the religious side of this problem that can manifest into another bludgeon to attack the scapegoat child with.

  14. Hi Jay,

    My mother is a narcissist, malignant I think. For years I have doubted myself but there has definitely been a pattern of upset and normal, and it is this pattern that tells me that I shouldn’t doubt myself. I have also learnt, better late than never not to share any joy/achievement with my mother because it has resulted in my spirit being broken quite badly.
    She has always criticised every little thing I have done to the point where now I will totally disregard anything she says even though it may be useful for the fact that I don’t want to lose my sense of self. Seriously there are soo many examples of the criticisms, it is unbelievable, yes there are a few compliments but I think these are just thrown in to throw me off guard. Honestly looking back there have been so many criticisms I am surprised it has taken me this long to notice the pattern of criticisms. There are also times when I think you have never been there for me when I have needed you, so why should I take your offerings of help now? When I ring my mum she answers in this proper disapproving tone that implies get it over with! Or what?! that makes my heart sink a little, yet she will at times ring me joyfully and want to know what me and my daughter are up to?There is an expression that you can read a face and there are times when I have been scared by this face. How can I heal myself and recover, I am based in the UK, do you offer a telephone consultation?
    Also the disagreement belief holds very true to me, the other day I asked a colleague something by implying something and when she disagreed it sort of hit me hard. On the way home I kept thinking it over and over in my head if I had done something wrong by her disagreeing with me, would she laugh at me,/think badly of me/laugh at me etc, I eventually told myself that we are free to say what we wish, but I think it was more about the fact that I have always agreed with people (outsiders) and when I said something and somebody disagreed I think it was a shock! How can I improve my way of thinking here?
    I can’t go completely no contact but have decided to limit contact, if I limit contact will my life still improve compared to no contact.
    I have decided to set some boundaries and I really do hope to stick to them!
    Also is there anyone out there who has positive stories of how they have come out the other side?
    Sorry Jay and others if I have rambled on a bit in this lengthy post!

  15. The worst part is that people don’t understand. The full damage of the malignant narcissist mother to the scapegoat daughter is inexplicable to anyone who has not experienced it.
    There was being beaten up regularly for no reason and various highly traumatic incidents, but also mom’s psychological abuse which I cannot describe because it will just sound like I am badmouthing my own mother. She kept it up day after day, insults, humiliations, slander, manipulation, hurting me deeply, without my two brothers noticing, and changed into a sweet angel in front of friends and family. Now I am 60 and my mom’s entire family believes all sorts of ghastly lies about me. I fled mom and her family 20 years ago, but the rare necessary contact has been abusive from all of them. They do not acknowledge anything strange about mom, not even the most bizarre things. My older brother, golden child and also a narcissist who joined in the abuse during my childhood, has a view of her which is complete fiction. He has been completely brainwashed.
    I try to forget about all of them, but it makes me so unhappy to think so many people think I am a monster, including ex friends and colleagues whom mom had literally contacted to slander me.
    My daughter says I keep people at arm’s length, and I know I am scared of finding myself trapped in an abusive relationship again.
    The damage never stops, long after the narcissist has passed away.
    I can honestly say I never hated her, I just felt resentment and revulsion, and four years after her death I started feeling sorry for her. I believe she could have been in a lot of emotional pain.

  16. The intellectually evident double standards which apply to the narcissist and the victim can be obvious now, but so not at the time in which they were perpetrated.
    When I was about 9 or 10 my father was studying to get his FLA, and he had to submit some historic lithography, done by hand, and which he made a great show of. I at that time in primary school was entered for three handwriting competitions run by the three major chocolate manufacturers in the UK, in about ’58 to ’59. I came first out of the whole of the country, twice, and probably the third time, that is a little vague.
    On hearing this, my father was dismissive of my achievement whilst he he failed his FLA three times.
    I came first at primary school in three successive end of year reports, and my father, who had just inherited from his dead Mother, said;
    “I’ve saved up some money for your schooling and sports equipment, but your such a worthless little bastard that I am going to buy a car with it”
    As a librarian at the Police College he would with my Mother, attend “Guest Nights” on Thursday evenings, in which senior policemen and important people, such as the Duke of Edinbrough would meet in the main hall with a meal, drinks and band, celebrating, really as part of the British empire, I remember Land of Hope and Glory being played. Often after these my parents would invite members of the ‘directing staff’ to come back to our flat for ‘cocktails’, in our lounge which was the other side of the kitchen from my bedroom. I used to sneak into the kitchen to get crisps to eat whilst reading comics in the evening , and on one occasion my Mother appeared in the kitchen from the lounge. She glanced at me and said; “Oh you, come in to the lounge”, which I did, to see about ten senior people in evening dress. She then said;
    “We tried to get rid of you with gin baths, mustard baths and knitting needles, but somehow you still came through. I replied: “So you tried to kill me mummy?”, she exclaimed; “Yes”.
    This is very hurtful for a child and lowers a sense of self esteem and self worth.

    1. “…on one occasion my Mother appeared in the kitchen from the lounge. She glanced at me and said; “Oh you, come in to the lounge”, which I did, to see about ten senior people in evening dress. She then said;
      “We tried to get rid of you with gin baths, mustard baths and knitting needles, but somehow you still came through. I replied: “So you tried to kill me mummy?”, she exclaimed; “Yes”.”

      Wow. That would be a gut punch to a fully-grown adult. What sort of monstrous fool would say that to her own child?

      This is an excellent demonstration of how the extraordinarily destructive behaviors of narcissists turns back onto themselves. It was astoundingly cruel, and she was dense and truly self-destructive in addition to her terrible treatment of you.

      She hissed that at you, in front of other adults? Did she actually believe they would approve of her monstrous behaviors? I suspect that many dropped her from their social circles as a direct result of that night. I know I would have immediately dropped her, and would have warned others about her astounding attitude towards her own child.

  17. Thank you so much for this! I think this is a perfect depiction of what it is like to be a scapegoated child.

    My only disagreement would be your statement that scapegoating goes against the grain of humanity. It seems to me that it is built in to all societies to varying degrees, and between societies as well. Men scapegoat women, whites scapegoat blacks, rich people scapegoat poor people, leaders scapegoat other nations, children scapegoat other children, managers scapegoat employees…the world is full of bullying. I certainly wish that more people recoiled from it, but it seems like the majority think that that is just the way things are, rather than the way people choose to make them.

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