Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, May 13, 2022

Suggested Read - "Scapegoats: The Gospel Through the Eyes of Victims"

Scapegoats are innocent victims who have experienced blame and violence at the hands of society. René Girard proposes that the Gospels present Jesus as a scapegoat whose innocent death exposes how humans have always created scapegoats. This revelation should have cured societal scapegoating, yet those who claim to live by the Gospels have missed that message. They continue to scapegoat and remain blind to the suffering of scapegoats in modern life.

Christians today tend to read the New Testament as victors, not as victims. The teachings and actions of Jesus thus lose much of their subversive significance. The Gospels become one harmonized story about individual salvation rather than distinct representations of Jesus's revolutionary work on behalf of victims. Scapegoats revisits the Gospel narratives with the understanding that they tell scapegoats' stories, and that through those stories the kingdom of God is revealed. Bashaw goes beyond Girard's arguments to show that Jesus's whole public ministry (not only his death) combats the marginalization of victims. These scapegoat stories work together to illuminate an essential truth of the Gospels--that Jesus modeled a reality in which victims become survivors and the marginalized become central to the kingdom.

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The Effects of Scapegoating

This second blog about scapegoating in families looks at the effects of scapegoating. Within a family, one member becomes the target of accusations, blame, criticism or ostracism. While it’s happening, family members are often unaware of what they are doing and would deny it if confronted with their behaviour. Becoming the scapegoat can be a temporary role (and family members may rotate in and out of it) or a permanent one. Often, scapegoating begins in childhood and continues into and throughout adulthood.

Hiding dark secrets

 Scapegoating is often a way for families to hide problems that they cannot face. Where there is a family history of abuse (usually emotional) by one or both parents,  scapegoating can become a way for adult children to hide the dark family history by blaming everything on one vulnerable member who becomes the repository of everything that is wrong in the family.

It’s not me, it’s you

It allows all the other members of the family (parents plus siblings and sometimes even wider family) to think of themselves as emotionally healthier and more stable than they actually are, since they’re not required to take responsibility for their behaviours or actions. The one thorn in the family’s side (so they maintain) is the presence of the scapegoat, and if he or she could be “made to act better,” then life would be perfect.

So scapegoats grow up to be the black sheep of the family. What efforts they make to try to dislodge the family mythologies will be met with vehement denial and reprisal and what often happens is a hardening and solidification of the party line (“She was always difficult/mad/over-sensitive, even as a child”)

The effects of scapegoating on an individual

It is common for them to believe, for many years, at least, what the family tells them so that they accept all of the blame and finger pointing at them despite the fact that it’s untrue.There’s no question that significant emotional and psychological wounds are sustained.Being robbed of a sense of belonging in their family of origin leaves a real mark, and may affect them deeply right into adulthood. 

As with all forms of bullying, the effects of scapegoating can be deeply traumatic for an individual and they can suffer all the effects of post traumatic stress. Some are able to put up impenetrable walls around themselves and can become high achievers, on the one hand, actively working to disprove their family’s vision of them. Others may have so internalised the negative messages about themselves that they set their sights low, avoid failure at all costs, and have problems both setting and accomplishing their own goals. 

Plenty of hope

However, in my own experience of working with people affected by this, there is also a lot of hope:  in many cases it is the scapegoated child who is more likely to come to terms with and recognise the toxic family patterns. He or she is more likely to seek help healing from these patterns and their effects than other family members who have bought into the family story, lock, stock, and barrel. With support and help, these individuals will often ultimately thrive, firmly rooted in a life of their own making.

Cutting ties

Sadly it seems that strategies used by the scapegoat to address what is happening with members of their family, usually end in failure.  They simply refuse to engage in rational and reasonable discussion or go to family therapy. Even worse the individual can find themselves further blamed and persecuted. In many cases, the individual who is scapegoated has to step back, set strong boundaries and keep contact to a minimum. In some cases they have to completely cut contact with some or all family members. This is not a decision that is easily made but the effects of scapegoating can be so severe that only way to preserve one’s emotional health is to cut ties.

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Scapegoating is the practice of singling out a person or group for unmerited blame and consequent negative treatment. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals (e.g. "he did it, not me!"), individuals against groups (e.g., "I couldn't see anything because of all the tall people"), groups against individuals (e.g., "He was the reason our team didn't win"), and groups against groups.

scapegoat may be an adult, child, sibling, employee, peer, ethnic, political or religious group, or country. A whipping boyidentified patient, or "fall guy" are forms of scapegoat.

At the individual level

A medical definition of scapegoating is:[1]

Process in which the mechanisms of projection or displacement are used in focusing feelings of aggressionhostilityfrustration, etc., upon another individual or group; the amount of blame being unwarranted. Scapegoating is a hostile tactic often employed to characterize an entire group of individuals according to the unethical or immoral conduct of a small number of individuals belonging to that group. Scapegoating relates to guilt by association and stereotyping.

Scapegoated groups throughout history have included almost every imaginable group of people: genders, religions, people of different races, nations, or sexual orientations, people with different political beliefs, or people differing in behaviour from the majority. However, scapegoating may also be applied to organizations, such as governments, corporations, or various political groups.

Its archetype

Jungian analyst Sylvia Brinton Perera situates its mythology of shadow and guilt.[2] Individuals experience it at the archetypal level. As an ancient social process to rid a community of its past evil deeds and reconnect it to the sacred realm, the scapegoat appeared in a biblical rite,[3] which involved two goats and the pre-Judaic, chthonic god Azazel.[4] In the modern scapegoat complex, however, "the energy field has been radically broken apart" and the libido "split off from consciousness". Azazel's role is deformed into an accuser of the scapegoated victim.[5]

Blame for breaking a perfectionist moral code, for instance, might be measured out by aggressive scapegoaters. Themselves often wounded, the scapegoaters can be sadistic, superego accusers with brittle personas, who have driven their own shadows underground from where such are projected onto the victim. The scapegoated victim may then live in a hell of felt unworthiness, retreating from consciousness, burdened by shadow and transpersonal guilt,[6] and hiding from the pain of self-understanding. Therapy includes modeling self-protective skills for the victim's battered ego, and guidance in the search for inner integrity, to find the victim's own voice.[7]


Unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another who becomes a scapegoat for one's own problems. This concept can be extended to projection by groups. In this case the chosen individual, or group, becomes the scapegoat for the group's problems. "Political agitation in all countries is full of such projections, just as much as the backyard gossip of little groups and individuals."[8] Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung considered indeed that "there must be some people who behave in the wrong way; they act as scapegoats and objects of interest for the normal ones".[9]

Scapegoat theory of intergroup conflict

The scapegoat theory of intergroup conflict provides an explanation for the correlation between times of relative economic despair and increases in prejudice and violence toward outgroups.[10] Studies of anti-black violence (racist violence) in the southern United States between 1882 and 1930 show a correlation between poor economic conditions and outbreaks of violence (e.g., lynchings) against blacks. The correlation between the price of cotton (the principal product of the area at that time) and the number of lynchings of black men by whites ranged from −0.63 to −0.72, suggesting that a poor economy induced white people to take out their frustrations by attacking an outgroup.[11]

Scapegoating as a group necessitates that ingroup members settle on one specific target to blame for their problems.[12] Scapegoating is also more likely to appear when a group has experienced difficult, prolonged negative experiences (as opposed to minor annoyances). When negative conditions frustrate a group's attempts at successful acquisition of its most essential needs (e.g., food, shelter), groups develop a compelling, shared ideology that – when combined with social and political pressures – may lead to the most extreme form of scapegoating: genocide.

Scapegoating can also cause oppressed groups to lash out at other oppressed groups.[citation needed] Even when injustices are committed against a minority group by the majority group, minorities sometimes lash out against a different minority group in lieu of confronting the more powerful majority.[citation needed]

Scapegoating has been noted after terrorist attacks and political assassinations; such as Anti-Arabism backlash against Arabs in America after September 11th, 2001, or the retaliations against the Sikhs in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi in India.

In management, scapegoating is a known practice in which a lower staff employee is blamed for the mistakes of senior executives. This is often due to lack of accountability in upper management.[13]

Scapegoat mechanism

Literary critic and philosopher Kenneth Burke first coined and described the expression scapegoat mechanism in his books Permanence and Change (1935),[14] and A Grammar of Motives (1945).[15] These works influenced some philosophical anthropologists, such as Ernest Becker and René Girard.

Girard developed the concept much more extensively as an interpretation of human culture. In Girard's view, it is humankind, not God, who has need for various forms of atoning violence. Humans are driven by desire for that which another has or wants (mimetic desire). This causes a triangulation of desire and results in conflict between the desiring parties. This mimetic contagion increases to a point where society is at risk; it is at this point that the scapegoat mechanism[16] is triggered. This is the point where one person is singled out as the cause of the trouble and is expelled or killed by the group. This person is the scapegoat. Social order is restored as people are contented that they have solved the cause of their problems by removing the scapegoated individual, and the cycle begins again. The keyword here is "content".

Scapegoating serves as a psychological relief for a group of people. Girard contends that this is what happened in the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure in Christianity. The difference between the scapegoating of Jesus and others, Girard believes, is that in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, he is shown to be an innocent victim; humanity is thus made aware of its violent tendencies and the cycle is broken. Thus Girard's work is significant as a reconstruction of the Christus Victor atonement theory.

See also


  1. ^ "scapegoating – Definition". Mondofacto.com. 1998-12-12. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  2. ^ Perera, The Scapegoat Complex (1986).
  3. ^ Book of Leviticus, Chapter 16, per the holy day of Yom Kippur.
  4. ^ Perera (1986), p.17: the Hebrews "later considered Azazel a fallen angel". Perera at p.112 n.28, citing to Louis Ginzberg.
  5. ^ Perera (1986), p.18 (two quotes re modern secular culture, Azazel's role debased).
  6. ^ Cf. C. G. Jung, "A psychological view of conscience" in his Collected Works (Princeton: Bollingen 1953–1979), vol. 10, cited by Perera (1986), re pp. 11–12 n.8, 14 n.21, 33 n.45.
  7. ^ Perera (1986): archetype (pp. 9–10, 16, 18, 48–49, 73, 77, 83, 98); ancient rite (pp. 8, 11–25, two goats 16–17, 88–97); modern complex (18–29, 30, 98, quotes at 18); accusers (9, 18–21, blames victim 20, superego 21, 28–29, 30–33, shadow 30, projected 31, also wounded 32, 55); victims (11–12, 15–16, hiding 24, 26–28, hell 26, ego 28, 33, 34–35, 43–72, burden 98); within families (30–33, 35, 53–54, 73, 76, 99); therapy (18, 22, 24–25, 26–29, voice 29, 33, 41–43, 47, 69–72, 86–97).
  8. ^ M.-L. von Franz, in C. G. Jung, Man and his Symbols (London 1964) p. 181
  9. ^ C. G Jung, Analytical Psychology (London 1976) p. 108
  10. ^ Poppe, Edwin (2001). "Effects of changes in GNP and perceived group characteristics on national and ethnic stereotypes in central and eastern Europe". Journal of Applied Social Psychology31 (8): 1689–1708. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2001.tb02746.x.
  11. ^ Hovland, C. I.; Sears, R. R. (1940). "Minor studies of aggression: VI. Correlation of lynchings with economic indices". Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied9 (2): 301–310. doi:10.1080/00223980.1940.9917696.
  12. ^ Glick, Peter (2005). "Choice of Scapegoats". In Dovidio, John F.; Glick, Peter; Rudman, Laurie (eds.). On the Nature of Prejudice: Fifty Years after Allport. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 244–261. doi:10.1002/9780470773963.ch15ISBN 9780470773963.
  13. ^ The Art of Scapegoating in IT Projects PM Hut, 15 October 2009
  14. ^ "Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose – 1935 by Kenneth Burke. 99056219".[dead link]
  15. ^ "A Grammar of Motives – 1945, Page iii by Kenneth Burke".
  16. ^ Mimesis – The Scapegoat Model, Jean-Baptiste Dumont

Further reading


  • Colman, A.D. Up from Scapegoating: Awakening Consciousness in Groups (1995)
  • Douglas, Tom Scapegoats: Transferring Blame (1995)
  • Dyckman, JM & Cutler JA Scapegoats at Work: Taking the Bull's-Eye Off Your Back (2003)
  • Girard, RenéViolence and the Sacred (1972)
  • Girard, René: The Scapegoat (1986)
  • Jasinski, James: "Sourcebook on Rhetoric" (2001)
  • Perera, Sylvia BrintonThe Scapegoat Complex: Toward a Mythology of Shadow and Guilt (Toronto: Inner City 1986), Studies in Jungian Psychology By Jungian Analysts
  • Pillari V Scapegoating in Families: Intergenerational Patterns of Physical and Emotional Abuse (1991)
  • Quarmby K Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People (2011)
  • Wilcox C.W. Scapegoat: Targeted for Blame (2009)
  • Zemel, Joel: Scapegoat, the extraordinary legal proceedings following the 1917 Halifax Explosion (2012)

Academic articles

Reference books

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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 abuseThis 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 abuseThey recount how their caregivers criticized, humiliated, hurt, degraded and derided them at every opportunityWhat’s made this suffering most destructive is the abuser’s conviction that it was what the child deservedThere is no sense of recrimination, accountability, nor guilt for what they put this child throughRather 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 doorsAll 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 selectedThe 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 familyUsually, 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 herShe uses any means necessary to coerce the enabler parent and the scapegoat’s siblings into agreementThese other parties are enticed by having the favor of the narcissistic parent and deterred by the wrath that will follow if they dissent.
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 womanMeanwhile she would select one student in each of her classes to harass, control, and undermineAt one point her principal brought her up on disciplinary charges for “mistreating” one of her studentsShe transferred to a different school district and was able to continue her clandestine cruelty against new studentsIn relationships, she ensnared men into taking care of her monetarily and emotionally while complaining that they never appreciated all that she does for themShe 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 himIn 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 trashChet remembered feeling enfuriated at her entitlement to his servitude and knew he had to protest but in a delicate wayHis 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’.  This process is covered in more depth in the online course on freeing yourself from narcissistic abuse.
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 lossThus, 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 didHer 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 qualitiesThe child must hide his own appreciation of who he is lest he lose whatever connection is available or get abused even worseThe narcissistic parent wants the scapegoated child to believe they are as horrible as they are being toldIf 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 selfAn 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 doMaking this shift can afford the scapegoated child enough psychological breathing space to go on functioningThe 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 failureNo 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 objectionableIn this system the child may redouble her efforts to ‘succeed’ rather than surrender to the horrible reality they faceAs adults they may feel ill-at-ease when not doing some activity to ‘better themselves’ in some way or anotherStretches 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 howThe 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.”
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 themselvesSimilarly, 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 fateScapegoated 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 expulsionThe 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 anotherA 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 disagreeingPeople who were scapegoated have the misfortune to believe that others will think hateful things about them for disagreeingI 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 miserableHe 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 strengthsOver time – sometimes significant lengths of time – such clients can come to question their critical view of themselvesThey gradually shift the focus of their inner torment from themselves to their families of originAs 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.

In addition to therapy, I’ve developed an online self-study course designed to help the scapegoat survivor of narcissistic abuse accomplish these three steps in his or her recovery:

1) make sense of what happened
2) put distance between oneself and one’s narcissistic abuser
3) live in defiance of the kinds of beliefs discussed in this article.
*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.