I recently thought about the metaphor of a business conference for what happens when a narcissistic family puts a child in the role of scapegoat. In a business conference the attendees are required to wear nametags and there’s usually a conference agenda that lists out who’s doing what and when. The most revered member of the conference usually gives the kickoff or keynote speech. Then there are other high status members who give presentations. It’s a useful and harmless arrangement in the regular world.
But the narcissistic family’s conference goes a little differently. Here, the narcissistic parent is always giving the keynote address and the enabling family members often get to give their own presentations. But in the conference agenda of the narcissistic family there are explicit instructions for the members to treat one specific attendee very poorly. It could read like, “If you ever see __________ in the hallways or at one of the talks be sure to put them down verbally, react like what they think and feel is crazy, talk unkindly about them to other conference attendees, roll your eyes whenever they start to speak, gang up on them with other conference attendees. You will be able to identify this person because they will have ‘SG’ on their nametag.”
In today’s post, I want to show how the narcissistic family artificially designates a child as the scapegoat and how the scapegoat survivor can begin to see through this artificiality. Metaphor can be a powerful tool for encapsulating a false reality that has been imposed while mapping out what might be possible. I’m going to use the metaphor of the conference and what happens when the scapegoat leaves the conference as a way to understand and envision the process of recovery.
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. My online course on Recovery from Narcissistic Abuse offers a strategy that corresponds to these 3 pillars and provides a community within which to do it via an accompanying private facebook group. You can check it out by clicking here. Today’s post 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.
The narcissistic family conference
If you were born into a family with a narcissistic parent and got the designation of scapegoat then your experience might conform to what I just described. When you walked into your house, it was likely apparent and even second nature to be told to put on the scapegoat nametag and be ready to be mistreated in the ways the conference agenda or brochure specified. In fact, the narcissistic parent was akin to the person at the front of the conference where you must go to sign in and be given a nametag. The scapegoat nametag was already lying there on the table and had to be given to somebody. You happen to be the person who got it. There’s a real arbitrariness to what makes the child get the scapegoat nametag. It’s more than the nametag exists and must be assigned than having anything to do with who the child actually is. Of course, in the confines of the conference, arbitrariness is not acknowledged. The child wearing the scapegoat nametag is assumed to deserve the designation. It’s not the result of the conference organizer’s psychopathology.
Leaving the conference
For the scapegoat child and later adolescent and adult life can take them in directions that depart from the narcissistic family’s conference. When the scapegoat survivor goes in these other directions they may start to notice how the scapegoat nametag only applied at the conference. At school and/or with friends they might notice being reacted to in many different ways. They may have felt respected and not singled out in the way they routinely were at the conference. As this kind of experience accrues and the scapegoat survivor grows to experience a different world outside of the conference they begin to question the rules and regulations of their family’s conference. The survivor may even seek frames of reference with other non-conference goers to get perspective on how wrong and corrupted the family conference structure actually was. As this new – and accurate – understanding gets solidified, the scapegoat survivor grows to realize the supposed identity they had at the conference was just a nametag. It was not who they actually were. At this point, the scapegoat survivor may decide never to set foot in that conference again. This is how it is useful to cultivate distance from the narcissistic family’s conference. Distance prevents you from having to wear the scapegoat nametag and/or having it slapped onto you by another conferencegoer.
Ripping off the scapegoat nametag
As the scapegoat survivor gets distance from the narcissistic family conference they may look down and notice the nametag on their shirt. I think an important time in recovery comes when another family member metaphorically encounters the scapegoat survivor outside of the conference. That family member may try to pick up where they left off and treat the survivor like they are different, crazy, or destructive in one way or another. At this point, the survivor may look down and realize that this family member still thinks the conference rules apply when the survivor knows they don’t. The survivor looks down and pulls the nametag off of them and looks at the family member and just says very firmly but the matter of factly that this is not how things are going to go anymore. In these moments it’s the survivor’s recognition that they are not who they used to have to be that is most powerful. The survivor already possesses themselves and the power of that knowledge and is simply relaying that to the family member who still has the wrong impression about the survivor.
This encounter can even happen in the scapegoat survivor’s own mind and when it happens there may be a quiet peace and sense of coming to one’s real self that may accompany it.
I hope the metaphor of the conference and the nametags can be useful to you in your own process of recovery from narcissistic abuse as the scapegoat survivor.
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.