Are You The Family Scapegoat? How To Know And What You Can Do About It

Updated April 3, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
“Being blamed for things that are not your fault can be unfair and possibly toxic if left unresolved. If you are suspecting this is happening to you, make sure to stand up for yourself to take care of your mental health. If you feel that support from a licensed therapist would help you, don’t hesitate to reach out for the support you deserve.” - Ryan Smith, LPC, NCC

According to the American Psychological Association, scapegoating is “the process of directing one’s anger, frustration, and aggression onto others and targeting them as the source of one’s problems and misfortunes.” The word's origin is an ancient Jewish tradition in which a goat was symbolically sent into the wilderness to atone for the people's sins. The damage caused by scapegoating could be severe when it occurs within the family unit, the first place where we learn to love and trust others.

Do you feel like the family scapegoat?

Signs you are the family scapegoat

Here are the signs that you might be the family scapegoat and some steps you can take to heal and communicate with your family about your feelings.

Signs you are the family scapegoat

Feeling ignored

If you're the family scapegoat, your family may not give you enough attention and may prefer to freeze you out. They can even go so far as to humiliate you in front of others and can have difficulty acknowledging and accepting your thoughts.

Believing you are not praised often

Family scapegoats may find their achievements are dismissed or belittled because the idea that you can be successful contradicts their theoretical narrative of your incompetence. As a child, you may realize that you do not receive praise or compliments from your family.

Over time, scapegoated children might give up trying to succeed if they accept the family's narrative of their flaws. A lifetime of discouragement can take its toll, leading to low self-esteem and crippling self-doubt.

You are portrayed in a negative light to others

Hearing insults and disparaging comments can be discouraging, and you may feel even more discouraged if your family has painted you as an unlikeable person to others. If you're the family scapegoat, your character may be publicly attacked at every opportunity. Your family may want to convince others that you are not worthy of respect, so they don’t have to own up to their part of the family’s dysfunction. They may not want to run the risk that outsiders might align themselves with you.

Getty/MoMo Productions

You are isolated from others

The people scapegoating you may not want you to receive support or encouragement from outside the family unit. They might isolate you from friends or separate you physically from your support system. Then, they could try to separate you emotionally by creating conflict and spreading rumors. They may attack the character of your friends or loved ones to make it less likely that you will seek out their support.

You are the family punching bag

The family scapegoat may bear the brunt of the family's pent-up frustration. You might feel singled out and made into the butt of every joke. It may not take long for outsiders or other relatives to follow your family's behavior because they may not be aware of what is happening.

Sometimes, you may feel like you're going through life with a warning label attached to you. New friends and potential in-laws might get a clear message about your flawed character as portrayed by your family's perspective. 

As adults, family scapegoats may seek out dysfunctional relationships similar to what they encountered as children. Growing up as a family scapegoat might affect your mental health; however, healing is possible.

Know the truth about yourself

The first step to recovery is rejecting the labels that your family has placed on you. You're not difficult, weird, crazy, or bad. Perhaps you sense problems more keenly than others or have a unique way of looking at the world. These differences do not make you wrong. Do not buy into the story that your family has created.

Recognize and forgive the flaws of your family 

As you reject the fabrications about you, you may also reject the feelings of guilt and shame that accompany them.

Learn to understand the reasons behind the scapegoating. Your parents might be struggling with many issues and insecurities. They may even have been scapegoats themselves. While this knowledge does not make the experience less painful, compassion can help you overcome destructive anger and talk with your family about deserving respect and fairness.

Learn to know and love your positive qualities

You may have been hearing about your negative traits for a lifetime. It can be overwhelming to break free of the image that's been built up for you over the years. But your feelings of low self-esteem can harm your future relationships. It's worth it to learn to love the good things about you.

Identify your attributes, character qualities, admirable actions, and beliefs that make you a person of value. Write down these positive attributes and look at them whenever you have negative thoughts about yourself.

Do you feel like the family scapegoat?

Treat yourself with kindness and love

It may feel awkward at first because you're not used to it, but you are just as deserving of love as anyone else. So treat yourself that way. Replace critical thoughts of yourself with language that shows compassion, kindness, and acceptance.

Part of self-love is giving yourself the time you need to heal. Change doesn't happen overnight. Forgive yourself for having a bad day or occasionally slipping into old habits. Your old habits are a part of who you are. You cannot simply remove them, but you can manage them. Learn from what you perceive as past mistakes, and look at tomorrow as another day to be better.

Let go of the need for validation from others

Although it is challenging, try to let go of the feeling that you need the opinions of others to become a better person. If you think there is a chance for your family to understand you, consider taking a risk and talking with them about how they unfairly made you a scapegoat. However, if you feel your family is unwilling to accept you for who you are, think about spending more time with those who care about you.

Many scapegoats find that the only way to move to a healthier future is by breaking off contact with the abuser. While it may be necessary, severing these ties will likely bring its own grieving process. But freeing yourself from these expectations means getting to know your true self without the scapegoat label.

Therapy can help

Growing up as the family scapegoat may leave you feeling like there's no hope. It can impact your future relationships and endeavors and may get passed down to other generations.

But it doesn't have to be that way. With a bit of help and guidance, you can break the cycle. You can overcome your past and press on to a better future. If you need some help or guidance, consider online therapy. 

With online therapy, you can attend sessions from the comfort of your home or anywhere you have an internet connection. When you sign up, you’re matched with an available therapist, so you can get started with treatment right away. Research shows that online therapy is effective, too. One review of 14 studies concluded no differences in effectiveness between the two and that there is “strong support for the adoption of online psychological interventions as a legitimate therapeutic activity.” If you’re ready to take the next step, contact Regain to get started.


Being the family scapegoat can affect you for the rest of your life. If you want to break free of the label, online therapy can help you get the support you need to love yourself and reject the labels your family has placed on you.

For Additional Help & Support With Your ConcernsThis website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.