NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Role of the Family Scapegoat in Dysfunctional Families

The role of the child who is designated as the family scapegoat in dysfunctional families is to serve as the identified "problem" in the family.  Also known as the family's "black sheep," the child who is given this role tends to be the focus of the family.  

The Role of the Family Scapegoat in Dysfunctional Families

The family can point to the child who is placed in the role as the scapegoat and blame the family's problems on this child, which is the primary reason why families designate a particular child, usually the most vulnerable one, to be in this role.

When the Family Points to the Family Scapegoat,  They Divert Attention Away From More Serious Family Problems
More often than not, the family actually has more serious family problems than whatever problems the scapegoated child might have.  But by focusing on the child who is in the role of the scapegoat, the family is able to avoid looking at these more serious problems by pointing to this child as the source of their problems.

When young children are placed in this rigid role, they often believe that they're the source of the family's problems.  This is a heavy burden to place on a child and, aside from feeling overwhelmed by having this role imposed on him or her, the child often feels hurt, angry and shame.

Even if the child didn't have serious problems before, being burdened with this role can create its own problems.  It's not unusual for children who are in the role of the scapegoat to, then, develop emotional problems that affect them at home and at school.  This serves as further proof for the family that this child is the source of their problems.

Rigid Roles For Children Are Often Found in Dysfunctional and Alcoholic Families
Placing children in rigid roles often occurs in families where there is alcoholism.  Rather than deal with one or both parents' alcoholism, the family avoids dealing with it by saying that at least the scapegoated child is the "bad one" and is causing all the problems in the family.

If this family comes in for help, they usually point to the scapegoated child as the only problem because they want to avoid dealing with the alcoholism.  Sometimes, parents in these families go so far as to call  this child as "a loser,"which is a cruel and destructive way to describe any child.

Aside from placing one or more children in the rigid role of the "black sheep," these families often have other rigid roles, like designating another child as the "hero."  This is the child that the family points to with pride.  This child is pushed to be "the good one," and to get excellent grades and excel in other ways.

Even though it might seem preferable to be the "hero" than the scapegoated "black sheep," any kind of rigid role is destructive.  In the case of the "hero,"the child is expected to be perfect, which is another burdensome role to place on a child.  Also, parents often pit the "black sheep" and the "hero" against one another.

It's not unusual for adults, who were placed in this scapegoated role as children, to continue to feel like they're the "black sheep" in their adult lives.  Since they have internalized this role as children, they continue to believe it, sometimes for the rest of their lives, if they don't get help.  Internalizing this role can create feelings of low self worth, which can lead to problems with substance abuse, problems in relationships, and problems with the law.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you were considered the "black sheep" of your family when you were growing up, you don't need to continue to carry this burden as an adult.  You might not realize the toll that being designated as the family scapegoat can have on you throughout your life, especially if you believe it.

Psychotherapy can help you to overcome the emotional burden that was placed on you as a child so you no longer have to carry this burden as an adult.  You can work through this issue, free yourself from the destructive effects of your history, and lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.