Born into Scapegoat Role
I feel like I was born as the scapegoat in my family. I don’t know if that is an accurate memory. But if there is one thing that I have realized is that my intuition is usually accurate. Whether it is a real account, it is how I felt at that time. I believe that I was born into my role as a scapegoat because I can’t recall a time that I didn’t feel that there was something wrong with me simply for my very existence.
That feeling that there was something wrong with me was not overt at first. It was like an undertone of hatred that was just below the surface. And it all started with something that was way beyond my ability to control; my conception. My ability to affect that even did not seem to matter. My mother blamed me for existing. If what my mother told me is true about the act that caused my conception. My conception was not the loving consummation between husband and wife, but a dark and sinister power play.
The result of that? Me, of course. And that is one reason I believe that it most certainly was there once I was born. The older I became, and the more I made my presence known by being a kid, the harder it became to ignore me. The harder it was also to ignore the manner of my conception. It’s hard to ignore something that is in front of you all of the time, reminding you of assault, especially when that thing is a child who needs a mother’s love and caring to grow and develop.
Follow the Leader
I think that is the beginning of how I became the scapegoat in my family. Kids pick up on so much more than anyone ever gives them credit for. The rest of my family is no exception. They sensed that disturbance, that underlying vibe that was all about me. They emulated what they saw without understanding what they are doing. How could they? They were kids.
“They need to punish the scapegoat for provoking by her very existence the discomfort family members feel that is actually a result of their own unresolved issues.” 1
That quote sums it up so completely. I was a reminder of so many unresolved issues. Much unlike the historical scapegoat, I was quite literally the embodiment of unresolved issues and guilt. It was not my mother’s fault, but she owned it and carried that anger and guilt. It certainly wasn’t my fault, but that is where the scapegoat comes in handy. I was there so that she could place that anger and guilt on me, and it would ease her pain and feeling of powerlessness.
Once the rest of my family realized that I would or could be the burden of their sins, my role as the scapegoat was in full swing. As I was reading about the scapegoat’s role, it was like reading a day in my life growing up. I thought there was something wrong with me. I always blamed the family for everything, even if I had nothing to do with it. I was always the problem child; there was not much that I could do right; if I showed emotion, it was too much; if I didn’t show any, someone would tell me that I was insensitive or unfeeling. Those around me taught me that I was going to no matter what I did. And I had no idea why.
The Strength of the Scapegoat
Scapegoating is all about power or more the preservation of that power. The people in power don’t feel that they have any power internally (which was definitely my mother). I read someone in power in the family unit that scapegoating through money, status, control, humiliation, favoritism, etc.2 Scapegoating using money, status, control, etc., doesn’t only happen in families. Using one’s position to blame others occurs in companies, government, and pretty much anywhere that people like that exist.
How does a person who feels that they don’t have any power to maintain that power? By picking on the strongest one in their world. The scapegoat is usually selected because that person shows some kind of inner strength or power. At least that is what I noticed within my world growing up. I was the one that started to fight back against the dysfunctional dynamic. Because I fought back, it reminded my mother that she had not fought back. And so, she had to take me out, to make me feel small because that is how she felt.
I don’t know if knowing that I was strong, and that was why my mother picked me for the scapegoat role is helpful to me now. I don’t think it would have been beneficial to either. Part of the scapegoater’s insidiousness is that they convince you that it really is you that has the problems. They are so good at blaming you and gaslighting you into thinking that really is you. That the real you is horribly flawed, and it has nothing to do with them. I still feel that something is very wrong with me even though I know that there isn’t. That is just another falsehood planted in my brain that I get to dismantle to get to a better emotional and psychological state of being.2
History of the Scapegoat
I am intrigued by the history of actions, phrases, and beliefs. To understand ourselves on a deeper level, we need to know where we have been—our account of where these things, ideas, thoughts, etc., originate. The term ‘scapegoat’ has a history too. It all started with an actual goat. Well, it started with people who were feeling the weight of their guilt, shame, sin, whatever you want to call it, and needed something to carry their burdens.
So they selected a goat. It is a biblical narrative to symbolically place people’s sins on a goat and then send that goat out into the wild. Basically, carrying the sins away with it. The strongest goat was selected to be the bearer of the evils. I suppose the townspeople would have felt bad, sending a weak goat out into the wild. The townspeople believed that only the strongest goat would be able to carry all of their sins.3 And thus begins the age-old ritual of blaming others for your actions.
I have encountered and engaged in similar symbolic rituals. When I lived in Albuquerque, NM, there was an annual event in Santa Fe called The Burning of Zozobra (Old Man Gloom). Zozobra a fifty-foot effigy that represents evil. The idea was that the townspeople gather together to call forth the fire sprite who burns Zozobra. When he burns, evil is with him. The townspeople have again defeated evil.
I remember standing there, yelling to ‘burn him,’ along with the rest of the crowd. I was watching that fifty-foot effigy of Zozobra burn that evening years ago. At the time, I was not thinking about the symbolism of my own fight against darkness. I had fought and escaped a fight that was against something like Zozobra. A threat to my desire to live a life in the light, not the angry darkness. Merely knowing that light will defeat darkness was enough at that time.
- Sarah Swenson, MA, LMHC. (January 30, 2017) The Blameless Burden: Scapegoating in Dysfunctional Families. org. Retrieved November 10, 2020. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/blameless-burden-scapegoating-in-dysfunctional-families-0130174
- Meredith Resnick, L.C.S.W. (August 6, 2018) Why Do Parents Scapegoat Their Children-Even the Grown-ups. com Retrieved November 11, 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/more-caregiving/201808/why-do-parents-scapegoat-their-children-even-the-grown-ups
- Goodtherapy.org PsychoPedia. Retrieved November 13, 2020. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/scapegoat