The scapegoated child – set up

The narcissistic family system is a sick family system which operates with a survival of the fittest mentality. More often than not, the most empathetic child in the family dynamic is plucked out of the coop to be the family scapegoat. The more empathetic, or caring a child is; the more distressed about the situation they are, or the more they remind the narcissist of themselves than the more likely it is that the child will be scapegoated.

Scapegoated children don’t like abusive behaviour – plain and simple. They are black and white in the way they feel about abusive behaviour. In the mind of the scapegoat, a mud pie isn’t a sandwich, and psychologically abusive behaviour cannot be reframed into a mistake that can be forgiven.

The scapegoat is the child who does the unthinkable and disagrees with the narcissist’s opinion – a big no-no in the narcissistic family system. This is the child that will speak up against the ill-treatment of the other siblings, defend the underdog, and will jump in front of the more vulnerable children to keep them safe from verbal or physical abuse. They are justice seekers and fairness warriors.

The scapegoat as a faulty appliance

The narcissist will take great offence to this act of defiance – because in their mind, people are merely appliances and extensions of themselves. Just like a toaster makes toast, (without complaining) the human appliances function is to hold the narcissist in high esteem, relinquish their ability to think freely, as well any hopes for autonomy, want for nothing, and to learn to function robotically without disagreement. The golden child most often operates as the perfect appliance (until of course they decide they will no longer be controlled), whereas the scapegoat does not. The scapegoat is a faulty appliance, and this fault must be fixed.

Conditioned human being appliances are easily programmed, and manipulated – whereas the scapegoat has a mind of their own, and they won’t enable dysfunction.The scapegoat has needs, different opinions from the narcissist – lives from a democratic perspective, and engages the narcissist in discussions about how they would like to be treated, or how they believe others should be treated. The scapegoat, (a small child or innocent teenager) doesn’t realise that by pulling the narcissist up on their vile behaviour, they are actually invoking numerous narcissistic rages within the narcissist. The narcissist is so sensitive, that any slight, no matter how small, will ignite their shame and re-engage them with their true- self; a very broken, ashamed little child.

Instead of being appreciated for being the assertive child that they are, they are instead viewed by the narcissist as an attacker. This child refuses to tell the narcissist what they want to hear. So, the narcissist smashes the mirror and smashes this child’s confidence and self-esteem apart. They are smeared and shamed to the point of no return. After what can sometimes be decades of abuse, the scapegoated child’s reputation is often completely ruined in this family unit, and they never get it back.

What happens if you become upset with the narcissist’s false self?

Narcissists’ cannot tolerate any criticism, do not want to change, and will try and bring down anybody who asks them to make changes. Narcissists cannot change, because they are in fact controlled by a false self (the true self’s damaged inner child’s protector from pain, harm and humiliation). In the mind of the false self, it is you who should change. The false self is not a real person. It refuses to be accountable, refuses to apologise, can’t love truly or deeply, and must have total control over every aspect of every human being within their environment. If anybody upsets, or challenges the false self, (which the scapegoated child does repeatedly) then they become a threat to the narcissist’s delusions. All narcissist’s fear exposure. In my opinion, I believe this is the number one reason why the scapegoat is so abused. Just like the narcissist knows they are a fake, so does the scapegoat child.

A totalitarian cult-like family system

This is a totalitarian cult-like family system. Children who challenge the cult leader’s beliefs will be emotionally pummelled. In this family system, children are not allowed to grow into autonomous, authentic human beings. Their childhood is instead spent keeping the narcissist happy, feeling grand, wonderful, and omnipotent. The child working towards appropriate boundary function within an extremely malignant narcissistic family system will be denounced and viewed as a critical, troubled child.

It becomes a case of the canary in the coal mine syndrome. The scapegoat just will not stop challenging the narcissist’s control, and trying to alert everybody to the façade being accepted by the narcissist’s enablers. This is actually normal behaviour in any healthy family. However, the scapegoat’s tenacity creates major conflict between the narcissist and the scapegoat.

The other children know that it is best to just be quiet. They know that standing up will lead to them being scapegoated – so they very rarely do it. Whereas the scapegoat won’t be quiet about the chronic disrespect that they or the other children receive from the narcissist.

The scapegoat child’s assertiveness

In a healthy family, the scapegoated child’s assertive nature would be encouraged, valued and nurtured. However, in the narcissistic family set up, assertiveness is viewed as a criticism to the narcissist. The narcissistic family set up is not about what is best for the child’s emotional growth. It is instead about what is best for the narcissist’s fragile ego – which is to protect their true self from continuous narcissistic injuries. To do this, the narcissist must have complete control over the appliances in the room. All appliances must relinquish their right to their own sense of self, and become completely enmeshed with the narcissist.

How does the narcissist view the scapegoated child’s continued correction?

The older the scapegoat child becomes, the more autonomous they become. This becomes very problematic for the narcissist, and it is the undoing of the scapegoated child. What the scapegoated child doesn’t realise is that their quest for autonomy is taking place in an environment where human rights and autonomy are not welcome. They don’t know this; they’re just a child.

By the time the scapegoat becomes a teenager, they know are who they are. They are a truth teller, they want their needs met, they care about the people the narcissist is hurting, and they absolutely cannot stand the narcissist’s abusive behaviour. The scapegoated child often unintentionally overcorrects the narcissist on the unfair treatment dished out to them and other family members. They pull the narcissist up on lots of different issues within the family and call a spade a spade. They openly suggest that there is something wrong with the family unit.

As a payback, and to divert from their own behaviour, the narcissist hones in on the scapegoat child’s faults. They critique their every move and excessively judges the scapegoat’s behaviour. They particularly focus on any normal, but negative emotional reactions by the scapegoat. Any healthy anger or discontent shown by the scapegoat is used against them. In overly focusing on the scapegoat, the narcissist shifts the families focus over to the scapegoat.  In doing so, the narcissist destroys their teenage child’s reputation and turns the other family members against them.

‘If I can brainwash you, and everybody around you into believing you are bad, you will work even harder to please me; and I will have complete control over you.’

The consequences of asking for accountability 

The narcissist is never wrong, and you are at fault for their behaviour towards you. The person questioning the narcissist’s authority is indeed wrong, crazy, neurotic, mad, unhinged for reacting to the narcissist’s abuse, and mentally unwell because they dared expose the narcissist’s floors.

In healthy families, a parent with good self-esteem would be able to apologise and accept wrongdoing. In the narcissistic family, the scapegoat is smeared, and brainwashed into believing they are the problem.

Reactions to the narcissist’s abuse from the scapegoat will be used by the narcissist as an excuse to play the victim, to garner sympathy by the narcissist from onlookers, and to gain excessive amounts of narcissistic supply.

”Oh, look at me, I have such bad children.’

Everything is the scapegoat’s fault

Once the narcissist establishes that the scapegoated child is a threat, the narcissist will begin to blame the scapegoat for all of the problems in the family unit. Not only is the scapegoat blamed for the narcissist’s bad behaviour, but they are also blamed for the other siblings’ bad behaviour. This redirects and deflects blame from the narcissist, or an angry entitled narcissistic golden child, and back onto the scapegoat.

If one child becomes angry about something, this is ok in the narcissist’s eyes. However, if the scapegoat is upset about something – the narcissist will claim that this child has emotional regulation issues, or that they’re like crazy aunty Betty who abused all of her children. There are now two sets of rules, and two sets of standards in the narcissistic household. If the golden child smacks the scapegoat, the narcissist will deem that as acceptable behaviour, and warranted because the scapegoat deserved it. If the scapegoat does the same thing to the golden child in retaliation, they’re crazy, bad, and punished way too harshly.

The children learn from an early age that they can peck at the scapegoat as much as they like, and the narcissist will support them in their relentless behaviour. The narcissist will never intervene and stop the pecking. Instead, when the scapegoat stands up for themselves or asks for validation from the narcissist, they will be told that they are just as much to blame for the abuse hurled upon them.

The other children begin to realise rather quickly that the scapegoat is the fall guy in the family. This paves the way for family mobbing and scapegoating, which often endures well into adulthood, until the day the scapegoat decides to go no contact.

The scapegoat as crazy

Perpetrators always paint a potential threat as crazy. Its how they manipulate the situation in order to deflect and divert from their terrible behaviour. The narcissist is the master of deflection, and blame shifting. From a young age, the scapegoat is trained to look internally at their every fault, to over-correct their own behaviour, to accept that in every given situation they are wrong, crazy, deranged and dysfunctional. This use of mind control and deflection takes the heat off the narcissist, who now has the scapegoat over analysing themselves, and wondering if they truly are crazy.

Scapegoats are trained to believe they are at fault for every single thing that goes wrong in their family. They often live their lives blaming themselves for all of the problems in their interpersonal relationships – and by doing so, allow other people to get away with murder. Hence, why they often end up in abusive relationships and look towards their own reactions to abuse as the problem, not the abuser’s behaviour.

Their ability to assert themselves in adulthood has been crushed in childhood. They no longer have the confidence to assert their rights. Their self-esteem is destroyed, they must not make waves, and they simply lose strength. This perception that they, the scapegoat is crazy and should not ever defend their rights, may sit deeply within themselves for their entire life; or at least until they leave the narcissistic family. They eventually become voiceless in this family unit, and in many other areas of their lives.

However, despite the fact that they are seen by their family as the crazy one, the scapegoat never loses their truth-telling capacity, and when push comes to shove they will fight back.

What I find most interesting about the scapegoat’s role, is the role the other family members play in supporting the narcissist’s lie. It amazes how easily corrupted this family is by the narcissist’s manipulations. All it takes is one person to convey the scapegoat in a bad light, before all of the family members happily get on the bandwagon, take on the narcissist’s perception of the scapegoated child, and make it their own. Scapegoating another human being is the ultimate deflection and distraction from another person’s shortcomings.

The scapegoat: set up to react

In normal households, emotional reactions by a very distressed child to nasty behaviour from an annoying sibling are not deemed as the actions of a crazy person. Instead, healthy parents speak to the provoking sibling about their tendency to provoke and inform them of the consequences of being a stirrer.

The narcissistic family system is topsy-turvy. Provoking behaviour is not seen as the problematic crazy-making behaviour that it truly is – whereas standing up for yourself, or becoming distressed by the narcissist’s crazy making behaviour, is viewed as the behaviour of a troubled person who can’t let things go.

In the narcissistic family, poking at the scapegoat until they explode is a team sport, aided and abetted by the narcissist. The narcissist wants the child to explode. It is a set up to keep them under control, and seen in a poor light as an over-reactive child, with emotional regulation problems. When the child gets upset, the narcissistic parent may tell the child they’re crazy, that they remind the narcissist of a mentally ill family member, or that they need help. The terribly sad reality here is that the child has no idea they are being baited for reactions by the narcissist, all for one reason and one reason only; to enhance the families’ negative perception of the scapegoat.

This behaviour often puts the scapegoat in a position where they feel as though they are constantly in fight mode or even flight mode.

When the scapegoat is doing well and succeeding, the narcissistic parent ups the anti, and antagonises the scapegoat into reacting hysterically even more. This negative fuel that the scapegoat provides the narcissist with, provides all the evidence the family needs to prove that the scapegoat is again, crazy. This doesn’t stop in childhood. The rest of the children cotton on to the reality that they too can rile up the scapegoat, and will often taunt the scapegoat well into adulthood.

In adulthood, family mobbing will prevail, and it is often a narcissistic golden child and narcissistic parent who will encourage the other siblings to reject and ostracise the scapegoat on the premise that they are apparently too volatile.

The narcissistic parent and a narcissistic golden child will continually provoke and provoke and provoke the scapegoat into exploding. Scapegoated children are often told that they are bad, evil, will end up in gaol, and are like terrible inhumane people that the narcissist knows. The whole idea here is to get a reaction out of the scapegoat. The scapegoat reacts with anger and hysteria because they aren’t the person that they are being told they are. However, these reactions to the abuse enhance the other family members negative perception of the scapegoat, and cement in their minds that the scapegoat is unstable.

It amazes me how many enabling parent’s and siblings just go along with, believe in the lie, and have unrealistic expectations of somebody who is being prodded and prodded and prodded to react.

The narcissist uses mind control to brainwash the scapegoat, and all of the scapegoat’s family members into believing that the scapegoat is a highly reactive, mentally deranged, dysfunctional, bad human being. When, in actual fact, the narcissist has set the scapegoat up to fail. This sense of failure continues well into the scapegoat’s adult life when they naturally gravitate towards narcissistic partner’s and friends, who use the same techniques that the narcissistic parent did to scapegoat the family scapegoat.

Where the narcissist goes wrong

The narcissist actually makes a very big mistake in deeming the scapegoat crazy. In the narcissist’s mind they believe that if they shame the scapegoat enough, the scapegoat will stop trying to reach a place of accountability, and accept the scapegoat role given to them (that they are bad). This doesn’t work with all scapegoats.

Usually, the scapegoat is the first family member to enter therapy. This is when the scapegoat will put two and two together, and then the narcissist will begin to unravel. Eventually, the scapegoat sees straight through the abuse, realises that they aren’t the crazy one and that they have been the victim of serious psychological abuse.

The narcissist doesn’t really think through the unconscious decision to scapegoat this child. If you think about logically, it doesn’t make sense to scapegoat a highly empathetic child with a penchant for the truth. One would think that excessively psychologically abusing somebody would eventually lead to the exposure of a narcissist.

The narcissist’s psychological abuse of the scapegoat and the ruining of the scapegoat’s reputation will more often than not lead the scapegoat to expose them. The scapegoat may expose numerous abuses to an enabling parent, the department of community services, the extended family, or the police. Some scapegoats’ expose the abuse to redeem their reputation and to warn others about the danger of the narcissist.

However, once the scapegoat exposes the abuse, the bullying from the narcissist worsens. This is often when family mobbing eventuates. This often results in the scapegoat leaving their entire family behind them and finding a new one, filled with beautiful, emotionally healthy, supportive friends.










  1. Sam | 28th Nov 17

    Thank you.

  2. Moira | 20th Feb 18

    Excellent, very true.

  3. kmoon50 | 21st Feb 18

    Excellent. Thank you . I sent this to my brother, who is carrying on the dynamic set up by N father ( even long dead!).. It helped me tremendously to read the insightful, accurate, and true, analysis / picture described. And… it will mean only: more reason to call me crazy.. when my brother reads it. This is the Hell I have lived in. But…. not the one I have to live in, forever.

    • Parenting Exposed | 3rd Mar 18

      Yes, kmoon50, exactly why I wouldn’t share my articles with my family, or they’d call me crazy too. Thankyou for your lovely comments. I wish you all the best on your healing journey.

  4. Karen M | 3rd Mar 18

    My family has recently endured the incarceration of my elder brother,and the recent death of my sister Lisa- who was 51.February 18.2018 .I was not invited to memorialize her.I went to see my mother( narcissist) who simply pushed me away immediately( I was not in her presence for more than 5 minutes).Tonight I looked up ” scapegoat” for the first time in 53 years..As that is my age .I appreciated your shortened narrative on this real matter.I can only thank God for the moments of clarity He has granted me throughout my familial experiences; this essay being one such moment.Stay blessed and remain a blessing.

    • Parenting Exposed | 3rd Mar 18

      Sorry to hear of your losses Karen. I am very glad that this article has given you a moment of clarity. Blessings to you also. Billie

  5. Thankful | 3rd Mar 18

    Seriously thank you. Until we came across your articles by accident we didn’t know what to call this. My spouse was abused this way and scapegoated their entire life and has gone ‘no contact’ (or trying anyway! N & GC can’t stop!) We find it so hard to accurately relate what their family is like – we had never heard of family mobbing. Your articles have done so much to show us that we’re not crazy and that there’s ways to understand and heal -. Thank you!

  6. Gabby | 11th Mar 18

    Thank you, this helped my partner understand my dysfunctional family more.

    • Parenting Exposed | 12th Mar 18

      Glad this article has helped you Gabby.

  7. Naulia Sanusi | 12th Mar 18

    Thank you so much for making this article,, I found out that my mom is npd right a months after my dad passed away.
    I’ve been through depression bcs of her. She physically and emotionally abuse me since I was kid….
    Until now my sisters, brothers and my friends still doesn’t get it what’s the struggle I’ve been through as a scapegoat

    • Parenting Exposed | 12th Mar 18

      Anytime Naulia. I am so glad this article has validated you. Blessings, Billie.

  8. Heidi | 13th Mar 18

    On the money, sad to say. I identified with every letter. Thanks. You pulled no punches. It’s that bad.

  9. rich | 14th Mar 18

    how do you stand up for yourself when the smear campaign was in effect for so long behind your back while you concentrated on your career that when it finally hit you and the hit came in the form of violent attack how can I ever get the people who should believe me but not because they can’t see the truth to open their eyes

  10. Lee | 14th Mar 18

    I’m in my 40’s now. My older brother emotionally/ verbally abused me entire childhood and still today. Just cruel. My parent would tell him to stop but nothing more and if they’d let him babysit me too. My dad is dead now but my mother agrees and so does my brother that he was very mean to me. My mother’s excuses their lack of doing anything on the times– that people didn’t know about the impact or she didn’t know how to handle it or my brother’s moods. I however feel she favored my brother. That he was her golden child. To the outside world my brother appeared like Mr. Wonderful (smart, charming good-looking, successful). However, I do not think either of my parents are/were narcissists however, I do believe they saw him as the golden child and he saw me as scapegoat. is that possible? Just last week my brother called me up screaming calling me every horrible name in the world. The “c” word, said he’s rip off my face, kill me, wished me cancer… all because I asked him to stop texting my friend that wasn’t interested in him. He never met her but saw me in a picture with her on facebook and reached to her over fb messenger. I think my mother should tell him he is not allowed over at Easter until he apologies. She thinks this is between him and I…while she disagrees with his abuse — she will not tell one of her children they are uninvited.

  11. Peace | 24th Mar 18

    Thank you for such a powerful explanation of these terrible dynamics. I am now 57 and have been working on healing these issues since I was in my late teens. Thank God for the internet and for You Tube videos and blogs like your own. Thirty years ago people gave me alot of grief for going no contact with my family of origin and many said I was being the ‘bad one.’ Times have changed !

    Reading and listening to so many good people talking about these issues helps me to connect my early life in a deeply disturbed childhood environment where I was made to be the scapegoat for just the exact same reasons you write about, and now as an adult – seeing some similar behaviors in a person I was almost involved with. I am so glad the relationship never went anywhere, but I still experienced terrible abuse at this person’s hands and from his ‘friends.’

    Whether it’s a family of origin or a new relationship, these same dynamics repeat themselves over and over. Abusers never change their behavior. The disordered personality, the enablers or ‘flying monkeys,’ and the overly empathetic person chosen to be the scapegoat. Succumb to their destructive attention or be destroyed by their angry smear campaigns.

    Healing these early wounds and learning about the dynamics goes a long way. Self love and self care are the antidote, and forgiving ourselves with compassion set us back on a healthy path. Plus ! unhealthy people don’t like being around self-loving people who have a good self image. Reason enough to take good and loving care of ourselves first.

  12. Jeffrey Bruce Fisher | 25th Mar 18

    Billie this is the most accurate and concise article on the dynamic between Narcs and their scapegoated children I have yet read. Thank you. I was scapegoated in exactly this way, and even today with my 85 year old father still am. Your insight into the false self protecting the damaged child is spot on. In allowing myself to remain engaged with him, i have met his wounded child and have nurtured him, knowing of course i had to keep my boundaries clear with his false self who attempts to use me. I went over a year no contact, and during that time searched for insight into what had happened, and what was still happening. It helped to emotionally disconnect and see my part in being scapegoated. I recreated this in my past marriage as well so at one time was getting attacked on two fronts, my father and wife. Yet it did not destroy me, and now am recovering, much wiser in not being used by narcissist personalities. I do see this is a lifelong struggle the more empathic a person is, and whether one chooses to both forgive and establish boundaries. Keep writing, your own journey is helping others who must learn to be self responsible in living to their greatest potential. Do you have a way to be contacted?

    • Parenting Exposed | 26th Mar 18

      Yes Jeffery, thankyou for your lovely comments. Recovery from scapegoating is a work in progress. Definitely a lifelong struggle. I do have a contact page that you can contact me on. I don’t have a facebook page. However, I am considering it, and may do this at some point.

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