Family scapegoating abuse (FSA) is common in toxic families. Scapegoats are children blamed for all of the problems in dysfunctional households. The family scapegoat might be bullied, neglected, insulted, or abused. When children are assigned this role, they may struggle with their mental health and emotional well-being for a lifetime. 


How The Scapegoat is Chosen

The family scapegoat may be chosen for a variety of reasons, but it is never the child’s fault. For example, a parent with narcissistic personality traits might prefer the child who brings the most glory to the family, while scapegoating the child who does not boost the family’s public image. Other factors can be arbitrary, such as:

  • Birth order
  • Gender
  • Looks/Appearance
  • Intellect
  • Skin color
  • Sexual orientation and/or gender identity


Scapegoating is a Form of Projection

In many cases, a scapegoat may be chosen simply because they resemble or remind the parent of themselves or an ex-partner. Additionally, a child might only occupy the space of a scapegoat sometimes, while other times they are perceived as the golden child. Parents who scapegoat their children were likely raised by dysfunctional or emotionally detached parents themselves. Furthermore, they might have a personality disorder, or some mental health issue as well. Unfortunately, children lack the life experience to recognize that parents who scapegoat are the ones with the problem. These parents externalize their issues to their children rather than work on them.


Effects of Family Scapegoating Abuse

Family scapegoating abuse can show up in a variety of ways. Some of those include:

  • Complex PTSD: Deprivision of a family’s love, or singled out as ‘the bad one’ undermines self-esteem, and causes emotional and psychological distress.
  • Toxic Relationships: Friendships, romantic relationships, or working relationships start from a stunted position, in which they are more likely to be taken advantage of.
  • Normalize Dysfunctional Behavior: Failure to recognize a behavior is toxic or harmful. In some cases, the person may become trauma bonded to their abuser.
  • Difficulty With Boundaries: Gaslighting is common in dysfunctional families, making it hard to set boundaries. A personal who refuses t accountability for their actions is impossible to draw boundaries with.
  • Self-Sabtagage or Self-Harm: Either sabotaging work or personal relationships, hurting oneself through drug or alcohol abuse, or other forms of self-harm.


Healing from Family Scapegoating Abuse

Because family scapegoating abuse is a form of complex trauma, the process of working through this issue is also complex. Many people start with talk therapy and might determine that medication is needed. In addition to these options, there is both internal family systems therapy and therapy specifically for childhood trauma.


Internal Family Systems Therapy

Internal Family Systems Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that identified and address multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system. These sub-personalities are the wounded inner child that suffers painful emotions like anger and shame. The sub-personalities conflict with one’s core self and need mediation to become whole. This is best demonstrated in the Disney movie Inside Out. A therapist who is trained in IFS will work to untangle which parts of your sub-personalities are dysregulated and identify a solution.


Childhood Trauma Therapy

Another option is Childhood Trauma Therapy, which might use a range of techniques to help you work through childhood trauma. The goal is to determine in what way your inner child has been wounded, and what you need to heal this wound. Many therapists use methods such as cognitive behavior therapy, talk therapy, or even group therapy. 


Family scapegoating abuse is not only insidious but can be very difficult to recognize. Scapegoats are children blamed for all of the problems in dysfunctional households. The reason someone is chosen as a scapegoat will depend on the family and might come down to something arbitrary such as appearance, gender, or sexual orientation. Regardless of why the scapegoat is chosen, it is important to note that it is not the child’s fault. Most often, scapegoating is done by parents who are projecting their issues onto someone else. Someone seeking to heal from FSA can look into both talk therapy and medication. Other options include Inner Family Systems Therapy or working with a counselor specifically trained in Childhood Trauma Therapy.


Family Strategies Counseling and Mediation is a child and family therapy office located in Homewood, IL. We offer mental health counseling, couples counseling, anger management, and child therapy. See our about page to see which of our therapists are currently booking in-person and online appointments. Call (708) 798-5433 or email us at for booking information.