It is true that there is no family that is 100% either functional or dysfunctional. Each family experiences some level of both functionality and dysfunctionality from time to time. When we talk about dysfunctional families, we are talking about those families that are dysfunctional more times they are functional. This normally happens because at least one parent is unhealthy maybe due to untreated mental illness, substance use problems or some other circumstances that would require interventions but that has either not happened or is not effective.
When children are raised in a dysfunctional family, they take up certain roles that make the family feel more comfortable, peaceful and as such, the family looks functional. While the family looks better and seems to have improved, these children grow up to become dysfunctional people. Most of these roles are difficult to change until a person acknowledges that they are unhealthy and need to change or gets professionally helped. Today I will speak about one of those roles and that is the scapegoat.
The Scapegoat is the child considered the troublemaker of a family. This family member always seems defiant, hostile and angry. The scapegoat is considered the ‘black sheep’ in the family because they are different from the others. They are defiant and act out the dysfunctions in the family. This is the child who will have trouble at school, begins to abuse drugs and alcohol and even joins adolescent gangs.
The scapegoat is an attention seeker but does it negatively. This kind of a child may be a good leader, even an influencer only that they will seem more comfortable leading unhealthy groups. They may present as the weak sickly child or the angry rebellious child. When growing up, they are picked upon as problematic to the family and everything that goes wrong in a family is assigned to them.
The scapegoat grows up with both physical and emotional abuse. They are punished for everything wrong and rarely appreciated for any good that happens in the family. The more the punishment, the more the rebellion and hence, damage. They suffer much with no one to turn to, to express their emotions. They develop a very low self-esteem because no one sees anything good in them.
As adults, the scapegoat may abscond duties, be fired from jobs, get involved in fraudulent deals, have unexplained loans, be very secretive, have sexual problems etc.
The scapegoat is glad at the opportunity to leave the family and oftentimes, they do not desire to return. They may and often take too long to visit their families.
HOW DOES SCAPEGOAT BEHAVE AS A SPOUSE?
At dating and courtship, the scapegoat is very loving, giving all the attention possible such that the person they are dating feels like they’ve got everything and therefore fully embracing them. For the first time, the scapegoat feels like finally, someone appreciates them for the good people they are, loves them genuinely and is there to meet their hitherto elusive need for love and connection. Occasionally, they bend towards wanting to own you which to them they interpret as love. They become uncomfortable anytime the person they are dating receives attention from anyone. At this point, only a healthy individual can tell that they are dealing with a ‘black sheep’.
In marriage, the scapegoat is controlling, manipulative and a liar. They continue in their rebellion and negatively acting out thereby hurting their spouses and children. They thrive in causing fear (that makes them feel powerful). They may be involved in fraudulent deals, drugs & substance abuse, and open extramarital affairs.
They are in groups that have no interest in family. Therefore, by and by, scapegoats neglect their families. When they feel their spouses are blaming them or when they interpret their spouses’ words as criticism (for they have not known love in their growing up), they turn abusive and may end up being violent. Since they have never known emotional connection, they easily become emotionally abusive.
THE IN LAWS
From the scapegoats’ family, the spouse is criticized for not being a good spouse. He/she is blamed for their sons’ or daughters’ behavior- alcoholism, extramarital affairs, job loss etc. It is because the spouse is not attentive, is causing stress in the relationship, is not a good husband/wife, etc. The spouse is taxed with the responsibility of fixing the scapegoat.
In other setups, in-laws love the scapegoat’s spouse with all they have and will do everything to retain him or her. They educate the children, pay all bills etc. while the scapegoat goes on with their irresponsibility. Taking over responsibilities of the scapegoat’s family helps win the scapegoats spouse so that he/she does not think of leaving the scapegoat.
The scapegoat’s parents/family congratulate the scapegoat’s spouse for doing their best. To such parents, this spouse cannot leave because s/he is managing “trouble” for them. The parents give the scapegoats spouse the love, protection and connection they lack from their partner. Most times, what people call ‘Narcissists’ are scapegoats.
THE SCAPEGOAT’S CHILDREN
To their children, scapegoats inflict emotional abandonment. In such circumstances, children learn the habits of manipulating and controlling to get their way. Sometimes, scapegoats enjoy taking with them their children everywhere they go including clubs, where the children enjoy their soft drinks while the scapegoat and their friends do hard drinks.
The scapegoat at this point feels they are being a good dad or mum for being present for the children. They feel their children are the only individuals who love them. Unfortunately, even with children accompanying the scapegoat, they still feel uncared for and unloved because the scapegoat parent is not able to offer emotional connection. The scapegoat is present yet far away. Scapegoats do not understand nurturing because they do not know how to love. Children feel spoiled with goodies, yet without no love.
By Joan Kirera-Family therapist