Are You The Family Scapegoat? How To Cope




A few months back I wrote about how to love (and preferably, leave) a sociopath.

Recently I also discussed ways that one could love and support an addicted individualand one with anger issues.

Who loves and supports the family scapegoat?

What is a family scapegoat?

A very deep and complex question.

It’s not the family member who is lovingly teased, tickled mercilessly, guilted into washing and drying dishes more than sibling counterparts at family get-togethers.

It’s not exactly the black sheep of the family, either – the member who has a history of destructive drunkenness at holiday time,  a consistently foul mouth, or an aggressive temper – the family member other family members would prefer not to associate with.

Family scapegoating is much more serious. More disturbing.

Family scapegoating occurs when a specific family member has been delegated The Chosen One – the one blamed ‘on behalf of the family,’ for acknowledged, family-wide secrets, disturbing behaviours, and serious family dysfunction.

Other family members know ‘the truth’ of this extensive dysfunction and into which categories it falls, they probably know who is responsible. But they don’t cope with or face it. Instead, they choose to ‘scapegoat’ a family member.

In effect, consciously blaming one family member for the family dysfunction that exists.

What happens to someone who is scapegoated?

The scapegoat faces family abandonment, ostracization, rejection, alienation,  blame,  shame and guilt. And much more.

What makes this syndrome more sinister, according to experts, is that, typically, the person scapegoated is not to blame for family problems.

Think of politics, where the scapegoat phenomenon can thrive. Politicians effortlessly blame innocent others for their own predicaments. Heads of governments blame otherwise trusted colleagues. Others in power hurl blame on those caught in the crossfire.

Politicians use the scapegoat game to deflect responsibility, keep their bloated egos alive, their careers and reputations intact. That’s the game of politics: to survive.

This is the case with the family scapegoat syndrome too.

A family inflicts blame upon another family member – to survive.

‘Politics’ is often considered a game. There should be no such games in healthy families.

Certified counselling therapist Glynis Sherwood, who specializes in family scapegoating, calls scapegoating “a painful experience of betrayal and cruelty” for the victim.

The victim often comes to believe that he or she is to blame for all that has gone wrong in the family. Why? Because they are told so, by other family members, in words or actions that are destructive, subtle, manipulative and callous.

“In fact,” says Sherwood, “many scapegoats come to believe the family myth that they’re the ‘bad guy,’ rather than understanding that they are being abused.”


Yes, say the experts. People who profess to love you, who turn against you, who decide to give you a good swift kick of blame are abusing you. They decide you’re responsible for family secrets and serious dysfunction, when you’re not. You’re left holding the toxic bag and branded the bad guy. Left all alone.

That’s bullying. That’s abuse. That’s the innocent, lonely kid in a school playground, pointed at and taunted, day in, day out, for no valid reason.

Sherwood says scapegoating represents the difference between being part a healthy family that resolves its issues lovingly and supportively, and one that does not.

“Healthy families take responsibility for difficulties as they occur,” says Sherwood, “and they take steps to try and resolve challenges constructively. This does not occur in families who ‘scapegoat’ another family member. ”

Those scapegoated can be the vulnerable, loving, sensitive, quiet ones who ‘behaved’ in the family system, played mute and looked the other way, And, or – they were whistle blowers when they could no longer tolerate the serious family dysfunction, hypocrisy, favouritism, lies.

No matter how it manifests, family scapegoating represents a cruel condemnation of a human being. It results in a crushing realization: a core group of influential people who supposedly loved and cared about you – that you loved and cared about – perhaps don’t love you, maybe never did. Their aim is, always was, to save themselves – at your expense. Their survival is the only thing that matters.

How does the scapegoated individual cope?

Through a epiphany, experts say, realizing that what happened in your family of origin is not your fault. You were part of a family system that, instead of choosing to comfort, support and care for members fairly and evenly, and working out problems lovingly, instead developed alliances, perpetuated lies, gossiped among themselves in order to judge and alienate other family members, and perpetuated a very unhealthy family system.

Certain members haven chosen to bully the victim (the scapegoat) with cruel words, threats, guilt, shame and blame –  to spare themselves, keep the family reputation clean. And sully yours.

None of this is normal, nor healthy.

Glynis Sherwood offers victims of scapegoating comfort, and a healthy dose of reality.

Her post “12 Steps to Breaking Free from Being the Family Scapegoat”  and a secondary post on the subject “Scapegoating: When You Get Stuck Trying to Outrun Someone Else’s Shadow” explain how victims can view this treatment for what it is. And then try to heal from it.

One of Sherwood’s most difficult suggestions is the most important: “Stop trying to win the favour of abusive and uncaring family members…Anyone who engages in this type of inappropriate behaviour has personality problems, especially [true of]  a parent who did not love their child.”

For: bullying is bullying. Abuse is abuse. The truth is the truth.

If you choose to cling to people who scapegoat you, you’re condemned to a life where you have no voice, no power, no freedom to be yourself, and, a promise of very low sense of self-esteem and worth. You won’t change or grow. You’ll continue to buy into a family “system” that is static, where members are not equal, where cruel games have been played, continue to be played. This is not good for you.

But make no mistake.

Other people do and will love you, will celebrate you, will honour you: your friends, neighbours, work colleagues. Lean on other people for their goodness, integrity, caring. Bask in their kindness. It’s out there.

Remind yourself that you are loveable, valuable and worthy. Repeat this to yourself, many times, every single day. Or check out my previous post about affirmation meditations, to settle yourself comfortably and safely into a warm, self-affirming cocoon, so that you can begin, slowly, to change your way of thinking about yourself, one meditation, one day at a time.

Seek out a therapist who specializes in family scapegoating, or read about this syndrome – there’s a great deal of helpful (no bull) information available about it online. Above all, make sure you get help and direction to liberate yourself from the intense pain and suffering that this betrayal delivers.

And learn to love yourself.

In this situation, in all situations.

Scapegoated individuals may never have felt loved or valued due to serious family dysfunction that was never properly addressed, never resolved.

Loving yourself is your birthright. If you know this, if you can learn this, you will move forward. It will take time. But the experts insist: it is possible.

It may at first seem impossible to undo the damage that’s been done,  feeling the intense, deep wounds inflicted upon your soul – willingly – by those who you trusted. The rejection, abandonment and shockingly cruel words may resonate in some place in your heart forever. This treatment is not easily forgotten. Some days the pain will sear, like a thousand cuts. But once you recover your voice, your belief in the truth, your knowledge that scapegoating truly isn’t about you, but about others, you will carry on. Then suddenly, and blissfully, you will realize that you need not accept the struggle and pain as yours to carry anymore. You can pass it back to those who gave it to you. And free yourself.


Many thanks to Glynis Sherwood for her frank insight into this serious and destructive family syndrome. For  more information on family scapegoating, see the following excellent resources:, and,


This entry was posted on Friday, November 29th, 2013 at 2:00 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.



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  1. December 12th, 2013 | D. Callahan says:

    Do you have a subscription service? I want to subscribe! Thanks.

  2. January 17th, 2014 | abby says:

    Hi: A subscription service is coming soon, many thanks for your interest.

  3. December 12th, 2013 | Perry S. says:

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  5. December 14th, 2013 | Graig says:

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  6. April 6th, 2014 | G. Tivey says:

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  7. April 10th, 2014 | W. P. says:


  8. April 11th, 2014 | A. H. says:


  9. April 13th, 2014 | Blair K. says:

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  10. April 22nd, 2014 | N. Garrido says:

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  11. April 23rd, 2014 | Deidre F. says:

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  12. April 27th, 2014 | M. Tangille says:

    Your style is amazing, keep doing what you’re doing.

  13. April 28th, 2014 | Michael says:

    Great, difficult and important topic.

  14. April 28th, 2014 | Juliane says:

    Wonderful site you have here.

  15. May 1st, 2014 | K. McLaren says:

    After looking at a number of the blog articles on your web site, I truly like your way of blogging.

  16. November 6th, 2014 | Susan says:

    Thank you.

  17. December 9th, 2014 | abby says:

    Hi Susan: I sincerely hope that this post in some small way helped you.

  18. December 13th, 2014 | C. Toussaint says:

    I am sure this post has touched a lot of people…

  19. December 16th, 2014 | Anastasia says:

    Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it’s truly informative.
    Lots of people will benefit from your writing. Cheers!

  20. December 16th, 2014 | abby says:

    Anastasia, especially as it concerns scapegoating, I hope that many people will benefit. It is a situation to learn from and hopefully, escape from, too…

  21. December 29th, 2014 | K. Reath says:

    Great information. Really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it.

  22. January 2nd, 2015 | S. Juan says:

    Wow, this piece of writing is very enlightening, I want to share it with others..

  23. January 3rd, 2015 | Olivia says:

    Quality content is crucial to interest readers, and that’s what you offer, this is a very sad post but it helped me and I know it will help other people.

  24. January 3rd, 2015 | Daniella says:

    Just…thank you for bringing this subject out in the open.

  25. January 3rd, 2015 | M. Sancho says:

    Very helpful.

  26. January 4th, 2015 | Juliana says:

    Hello, I visit your blog on a regular basis. Your writing style is often witty, but you also cover tough issues, like in this post. You do both well.

  27. January 6th, 2015 | abby says:

    Thank you, Juliana!

  28. January 5th, 2015 | A. Ledger says:

    Very important subject, helped me to read it.

  29. January 5th, 2015 | Jaclyn N. says:

    Your writing style is awesome and informative, even when the subject is tough. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  30. January 7th, 2015 | G. C. says:

    Can I simply say what a comfort it is to find somebody that actually understands
    what they’re discussing on the internet. You definitely understand how
    to bring an issue like this to light and make it important. A lot more people have to check
    this out and understand this side of the story. You surely possess ‘the

  31. January 7th, 2015 | abby says:

    Thank you. 🙂

  32. January 9th, 2015 | B. Walkom says:

    The perfect post for anybody who wants to understand this topic.

  33. January 19th, 2015 | JOYCE HILL says:


  34. March 6th, 2015 | Angela says:

    Excellent post on scapegoating! You know your stuff!
    You should be proud of yourself for speaking up for us scapegoats everywhere! Thank you for the informative, well-written article!

  35. March 6th, 2015 | abby says:

    Thank you Angela!

  36. March 9th, 2015 | Ian Boggs says:

    Dear Abby and All,

    I was quite surprised and pleased to read this part of this post: “you will realize that you need not accept the struggle and pain as yours to carry anymore. You can pass it back to those who gave it to you. And free yourself.”

    Here’s why:

    Some years ago I ceased contact with my younger of two sisters for behaving like her parents and later, with the parents for behaving the way they do and demonstrating that it would continue getting worse when I protest it.

    I had one younger sister whom I thought was half reasonable, perhaps understood me and perhaps might help make things better. Instead of that, she did her mother’s bidding by declaring her mother’s lies the truth whilst visiting me in my own home. I let it go at the time so as not to upset her son, my nephew. A year later, I pointed out to her what she had done even though her mother is dead. She replied by behaving like her parents of her own accord.

    I sent a farewell letter. Here is a short quote from that:

    “I do not have to tell any of you (or anyone else) to go to hell. It is simply not necessary. You have a perfectly good home made one. I know this because I grew up in it. I am sure you will all find it very cozy.”

    I sure did give it back. No insults; no lies, no exaggeration; no blame shifting; just the unvarnished truth.

    I did leave a window of opportunity for her to admit wrongdoing via a third party but somehow, I don’t think that will be happening. It kinda makes sense that she won’t; why would she admit any wrong doing when she can blame me for it? That’s what those and their kind do.

    Anyway, it was lovely to see here in writing that what I did was okay, not that I ever doubted it.

    Okay! So now I have all this freedom. I quite literally have no idea how to use it or what to do with it which is creating a stress bubble all of it’s own. Interestingly, it’s a much smaller bubble than previous ones. I have come this far. I does seem likely that I will think of something useful, hopefully sooner rather than later.

    Thanks a truckload for this concise, informative and most helpful post. I will be looking for more of the same.

    Fuzzy regards,


  37. March 17th, 2015 | abby says:

    Hi Ian: Wow, thank you for your very difficult story. Sounds like you have a lot of courage. I think we always doubt taking a stand and potentially hurting other people, don’t you? But what choice to we have when other people are not afraid to hurt us? The only thing to do is to respond…with bravery and self-esteem. Taking crap from others is a sign of low self-esteem, and is not productive at all. So good for you. 🙂

  38. September 17th, 2015 | Laurie says:

    I am so glad I found this blog. I have been struggling so much since July when I went home to Montana for my dads funeral. Because of a decision I made for myself and my daughter that wasn’t in agreement with the rest of the family the first night I was home, the whole family alienated both of us for the entire two days we were there. I was acused of “creating drama” which they would have none of, and all 5 of my siblings and most all of my extended family totally ignored us. No one spoke to us, no hugs of support or anything throughout the rosary and funural. I came back to WA from this experience a changed person. I am fighting so hard to get back to the positive uplifiting happy person I was before but it hurts so much because they have continued it on facebooking unfriending and blocking my by the dozens. I could deal with most of them not being a part of my life but they have brainwashed my 87 year old mom, who I had become quite close to since she started on Facebook a year ago into believing all their bullshit and lies. My own mom won’t even communicate with me or even try to understand where I am coming from on this. The sister that started it all is in charge of my mom’s assisted living care and I feel like I have no chance of ever having any kind of communication on a healthy level with my mom again. I am not even sure they would tell me if and when she dies. I have come quite a ways in restoring my faith and belief in my goodness but things happen that trigger it all and I fall apart about it all over again. Any suggestions on how to deal with this are greatly welcomed. Every one wants me to “let it go and move on” Admit I was wrong and such it up. Yet that is exactly what that sister wants to go on and act like nothing ever was wrong. Her attempts to apologize where letters of justifying her actions and saying if she had to she would do it all the same all over again.


  39. September 30th, 2015 | abby says:

    Hi Laurie: I’m not a professional doctor or counsellor, and as such I do not give out advice. I can can offer what I’ve learned from my own experience…”Family” is a highly complicated unit. It’s important that you objectively view all sides of your story. There are situations where blame is obvious. In others, it’s not obvious at all. In healthy families, communication is open and honest and members protect each other. They don’t want to lose each other, after all. Conversely, in unhealthy families, cruel tactics are often employed to ostracize a member who speaks out or has differences of opinion. When people use cruel tactics to manipulate or scapegoat a family member rather than work out the problem, lovingly, the family is not “functioning.” When something is not working properly, we fix it, or we have to part with it.

  40. October 5th, 2015 | Emma says:

    Precisely what I needed to know in the exact words I needed to hear. Amen and hallelujah. A million thanks to you.

  41. October 5th, 2015 | abby says:

    Hi Emma:

    You are so welcome. Having ‘been there,’ I’m more than glad my post helped. Even a little. Never ever forget that you are special, that you deserve love and respect – always. xo

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While I don't publish all comments, I welcome and appreciate your feedback and participation. If you'd prefer to keep your comment 'private,' please use my contact form (located on my website menu) and indicate this. I will happily respond to all comments and questions.


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