The family setting is an interesting arena that is rife with a gamut of emotions, trials and tribulations
Sometimes relationships can get strained and individual family members can be singled out to bear the brunt of the family strain.
Scapegoating is something that happens in any setting, group, gender, age, or race however, for the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on the nature of scapegoating in the family setting and family system.
In some respects one child in the family may be picking up on the stresses and challenges within the family system, and perhaps more than their siblings. As such, that child may act up or act out in response to their perception of the stressor or in reaction to feelings, and in different ways, depending on their age.
Often times children are not able to explain or understand what they are experiencing, nor able to manage these feelings, hence their behavior of acting up or acting out in an attempt to do so or to “shake off” the feelings.
Acting out may consequently make them the target of scapegoating. The other children in the family may become aware of certain challenges or tensions in the family but may be in denial of their existence and inadvertently displace this awareness or problem onto the sibling that is acting out on what they perceive or feel. The other children in essence behave as “model” well-behaved children and generally appear to be happy and content with life. The flipside of this experience is that these siblings might be encouraged by the parents to taunt or bully the sibling who is scapegoated.
Another key aspect for scapegoating to become effective is the parents own denial of the family situation or their blame mentality of the true situation within the family system as a whole. Additionally, this could include the parents own insecurities about managing the situation effectively, or insecurities about qualities and characteristics that they themselves lack but which they perceive in the child that is acting out.
The child who is aware that the family setting is not right consequently is blamed and made the scapegoat for generally anything that goes wrong in the family, including the parents relationship. Children invariably internalise these problems as their fault.
Other reasons that a particular child could be selected by a parent(s) for scapegoating could be that the child reminds the parent in some way of a person he or she doesn’t like, such as their own parents, ex partner or an abuser. It could also be that the child has similar characteristics and traits to the parent, which the parent has not yet accepted within themselves, or the child is just simply different in many aspects from the other siblings.
However, the motivating factor that drives the parent to mistreat and scapegoat their child, further displacing and transferring their responsibility from themselves onto the child, is likely to be at an unconscious level, but this is not always the case. Some parents may be well aware of their reasons for mistreating or enabling one of their children to become a scapegoat for all the familly’s ‘ills’ but may not be able to effectively control or manage their actions due to the underlying drivers and motivators. The parents’ denial additionally aids in maintaining that status quo.
That said, the whole family is affected in some way by the scapegoating process, including the ‘model’ children in the family, signs of which may become more apparent in their adult years.
Different ways that children can be made scapegoats:
- abuse in a variety of ways including neglect, sexual abuse, physical abuse
- or even death itself
If that child leaves the home environment as a young adult or is removed from the home at an early age, the family challenge still remains, and another sibling is then likely to be the target of the parent’s scapegoating, in order to fill the gap or void that has been created. Unless the parent(s) deal with their need to abdicate responsibility for their actions, the transference will continue to be a cycle of oppression within the family setting in particular.