In Family Systems, scapegoat


Are you the reason for the world’s problems? Do you feel the finger of blame always pointed at you? Would your family be much better of if you could get your Sh*t together? Well, I’ve got some good news for you; none of this is your fault.

Perhaps you know this, perhaps you have felt this, or perhaps you cannot believe any part of that.

But here is the thing: no one person can be responsible for the downfall of everyone. That is a lot of power given to one person, and, frankly, just ridiculous.

Family Systems:

Let’s look at family systems and, more specifically, dysfunctional family systems because it will hopefully shed light on why you have been put in the role of the Scapegoat, and why it is a necessary role to the family.

Dysfunction in a family essentially happens when basic needs of a family member are going unmet. What is a basic need, you may ask? Lists may vary, however here are some universal needs:

*Physical wellbeing         *meaning            *connection           *play & fun

*honesty                           *autonomy                    *peace

I hope you can see that it is easy for dysfunction to begin, as we are human and fallible. Now, there is a continuum of dysfunction, and I think every family has a little dysfunction. Some families are a little dysfunctional, some are moderately dysfunctional, and some are very dysfunctions—which can be gauged by the deficits in needs being met, and the rigidity of roles.

Family Roles:

Roles! What roles?!

In every family there are roles. Roles exist to keep balance in a system. A family is a finely tuned system (even if dysfunctional). I see it as a solar system of sorts.

In the center of the family is someone who tends to keep the temperature of the family—they are the center of the dysfunction. Perhaps it is someone who is an addict or alcoholic, someone who is controlling, maybe a work-a-holic or rage-a-holic—whatever they are they often dictate the mood of the family.

The next closest “planet”/role is the Enabler. We’ve all heard this word before. The enabler helps keep the center of the dysfunction going by sweeping things under the rug, minimizing issues, or making excuses.

Next up is the Hero role. In terms of children, it is often the “perfect” or “golden” child. The person who tends to be the overachiever. Then there is the Scapegoat. The scapegoat is the “black sheep” of the family. The most visible of the family. The “center” of chaos (but we know this is not true because the center is really the “sun” and the chaos is the family). There are a few other roles, but they are not the focus of this blog (Stay tuned).

Hero & Scapegoat:

The hero and the scapegoat exist for two very specific and opposite reasons. The hero exists to deflect from the dysfunction because if that person is doing so well, and is so accomplished there is no way that there is anything wrong in the family. The scapegoat then exists to deflect from the dysfunction because the scapegoat is the only reason there are any issues in the family. If the scapegoat could just get their act together everything would be perfect.

Consequences of Being the Black Sheep:

As you can imagine the Scapegoat can often end up with a variety of therapeutic issues: distrust for authority, poor self-esteem, anger at self and others, poor ability to express feelings/need appropriately, and often have legal issues or addictions.

I think to myself how terrible it must be to carry the burden of the family on your shoulders. Growing up I tended to be more of the hero, so there are different consequences there (I will write on this later). But, I have met too many a scapegoat who have carried this anger with them.

So if you’re a Scapegoat remember these few points:

  • You are never totally responsible.
  • It’s okay to be angry—let’s just find healthy ways to express yourself.
  • You are whole and good.

If you resonate with this role you can rebuild your life by acknowledging the impact that has come from the dysfunction.  You can find peace of mind and emotional safety. If you want to begin this journey reach out to Jolene Feeney at Mindful Wellness Counseling at (360) 818-4573.