Family Scapegoat Syndrome

Family Scapegoat Syndrome

The family scapegoat syndrome is a version of the scapegoat mechanism that operates within a family system of desire.

From the excellent article “How Narcissistic Parents Scapegoat Their Children” in Psychology Today:

The rotating scapegoat role can become institutionalized in a family with a controlling mother. This mother leaves little to chance; she’s a perfectionist who believes that there’s a “right” and a “wrong” way of doing things, and she wants everything “just so.” When things don’t go as planned or as she imagined them taking place, she both needs a reason for what she considers a disaster and a person to blame it on, other than herself.

Nov 01, 2017

One book that deals extensively with narcissistic parents, which deals heavily with the family scapegoat mechanism, is “The Drama of the Gifted Child” by Alice Miller. While Miller does not use the word scapegoat explicitly, she described the dynamic above in which parents work out their unresolved issues at the expense of their children.

The family scapegoat syndrome does not always take place with a child as a victim, though. Siblings, extended family, and even parents and friend groups can find their catharsis through the singling out of an individual to blame their problems on—one who can’t fight back, and who is able to bring about peace through the diffusion of mimetic tension in the family.

The family is, in some sense, the very first ground where mimetic desire is learned and cultivated. Families train children to have the scapegoats as the parents (for instance, whichever political party is the enemy of the family); likewise, children can scapegoat their parents for everything that they believe is wrong in the world. Because a family is such a tight-knit, closed system (in most cases), mimetic rivalry operates in a particularly insidious manner and easily creates mimetic crises that are all too often resolved through violence done to one member of the family. This violence is usually psychological rather than physical, but the effect is just as devastating.