Excellent article by www.lightshouse.org
Narcissists are master projectors. No-one is better at looking
directly at a person and seeing not who that person is, but who they wish for them to be. When a narcissistic
mother looks at her child, she is capable of seeing many things: a source of narcissistic supply, an impediment to
her lust for power, the inconvenience of a child’s feelings and needs, a string of intolerable annoyances, unwanted
limitations, and a myriad of other possibilities. But never the actual child.
In a narcissist’s family, dysfunctional roles are the norm, and
narcissistic mothers are always the producers, directors, and casting agents for the entire production. Children
are assigned roles to play long before they are old enough to resist them, and grow up within the confines of these
limitations, knowing nothing different exists anywhere. It is typical of parents with personality disorders to
select at least one “Golden Child”, who can do no wrong, and at least one Scapegoat, who can do no
When deciding (unconsciously) what child will play each role, the
narcissistic mother weighs her options on a deep, intuitive level. Which child is the most sensitive? Which child
reminds her of a hated parent, or the ex-spouse who stood up to her, or something within herself she cannot accept?
Which one asks more of her, either intentionally, or by way of circumstance? Which child expresses unhappiness more
often about the unbearable situations the narcissistic mother creates? Which one is more vulnerable, or more
outspoken? In short, which child bothers her the most?
This child will be made her Scapegoat.
This Scapegoat will ultimately be made to carry the lion’s share of
the family’s blame, shame, anger, and rejection so the rest can more easily retain their patterns of dysfunction.
This child will always and forever be the one who is not good enough, even when she excels at something – indeed,
especially when she excels. This child will endure more put-downs, sideways remarks and behind-the-back betrayals
than the rest of the family put together. This child will endure the wear and tear of the family’s dysfunction in a
way that will enable the others to continue looking good despite the family’s toxicity.
Because the narcissist cannot accept her faults, she spends her days
trying to convince herself that everything she does is perfect. When her personality disorder causes distress
within her family, and her children’s issues begin to reflect this, the narcissistic mother is forced to make a
choice. She must either acknowledge that she is making mistakes that are affecting her children negatively, or she
must try to convince herself and others that the problems are coming not from her, but another source. And the
latter is the option the narcissist always and unfailingly selects. In her mind, by blaming another, she absolves
herself of any wrongdoing, and she can continue to believe - and strive to convince others - that she is in fact,
perfect. But she must first have someone to blame.
Enter the Scapegoat…
The Scapegoat is the one who assuages the narcissistic mother’s (and
ultimately, the whole family’s) guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy. The Scapegoat is the shock absorber, the
buffer against the harsh reality that there is something wrong with the family picture altogether – the trash bin
into which all unwanted matter is cast. The Scapegoat role facilitates the existence of family denial. The
narcissistic mother teaches her non-scapegoat children to accept and support the scapegoating of a given child by
affirming and rewarding those children’s perceptions that whenever anything is wrong, it is to be the Scapegoat’s
fault. Children adapt quickly to these roles, and learn readily that if they do not want to be responsible for
something, they need only turn to the Scapegoat, whose case will never be sufficiently or properly heard, and whose
“guilt” is so readily welcomed. Once the other family members have mastered this approach, they are much freer to
do otherwise objectionable things without suffering negative consequences.
For a defenceless child made to play scapegoat, the burdens of being
labeled “bad” no matter what she does are heavy. She soon learns she cannot win; there is no sense struggling to
improve her family’s opinion of her, because that simply cannot be allowed to occur. (This is the point of
hopelessness at which some Scapegoats begin playing the role of “bad seed”, because her failures will be rewarded,
whether consciously or unconsciously.) In fact, commonly, the more the Scapegoat behaves and performs well, the
more severely she is oppressed, because doing well threatens the mother’s labelling of the child as bad. This
causes the narcissistic mother psychological distress, because it suggests that her belief is wrong, and for a
narcissist, the thought of entertaining this possibility is completely intolerable.
In a desperate attempt to reduce her mother’s active oppression and
derision, the Scapegoat succumbs to the roles of underachiever, troubled one, loser, black sheep or troublemaker.
This presents the mother with exactly what her mental illness is making her feel she must have – an external object
upon which to place blame - so that she can continue the reassuring fantasy that there is nothing wrong with her
self or her family on the whole.
For the Scapegoat, there will be disregard and/or punishment for
doing well and a “reward” of a little less overt abuse or even occasional expressions of support if she fails to
thrive and accepts her role. Many Scapegoats have reported that the only time they felt their mother supported them
(if at all) was when the supportive act fostered and reinforced the scapegoats’ inferiority, dysfunction or
weakness. In an effort to alleviate to some degree the distress of her narcissistic mother’s wrath, the Scapegoat
eventually gives in and agrees with the family’s assessment of her as inferior and worthy of blame. She
internalises the belief that she is inherently bad, worthless, and defective, and believes that everyone she
contacts can clearly see this and will reject her as completely her family does. She will bring the telltale signs
of deep inferiority with her to the playground, to school, to the workplace, and into her community and
Commonly, because the Scapegoat’s psyche is weighed down with the
burden of an overwhelming sense of immutable inferiority, her early behaviour, mannerisms, habits, speech, and even
her posture will bear the unmistakable mark of a bedraggled victim, crippled with shame and guilt. She is the one
who cannot speak up, and this is immediately obvious to everyone with whom she comes into contact. Having plenty of
experience in the role of scapegoat, she is the perfect target for abusive behaviour. She is the one others
intuitively know will not fight back. She is the easy target – the pushover - the dupe. She will be become the
outcast, the bullied one, the marginalised loner, the routinely punished trouble-maker or the
The Scapegoat is accustomed to accepting blame for interpersonal
problems, and she has been diligently conditioned to believe that if only SHE could do better, the challenges
facing relationships in which she takes part would dissolve. Despite the fact that this is an unattainable state,
she has only her family patterns to use as a template for her adult relationships, and she easily tolerates
partners who are emotionally irresponsible and expect her to bear too many obligations or who give her the message
that any difficulties are inordinately her fault.
It is not uncommon for a Scapegoat to play a similar role in the
workplace as well. Just as children can detect who among them is a vulnerable target for blame and ostracism,
adults do the same. The Scapegoat may find herself underpaid and overworked more than her co-workers, left out of
the picture during office functions, blamed for departmental failures, and overlooked for deserved promotions and
commendations. Though the quality of her work may often be far superior to her co-workers’, she is not likely to be
chosen to participate in the big presentation or serve as a team leader, and her employee evaluations will reflect
supervisors’ willingness to criticize her more harshly than others. She will be overlooked at best, fired at
While children, some Scapegoats respond to the no-win situations
they’ve been handed by developing destructive, defiant or offensive behaviour patterns. This can create serious
difficulties at school and work, as well as the community overall. Scapegoats trapped in the “bad seed” role may
find themselves experiencing repeated reprimands and firings from places of employment. If a Scapegoat has
developed a habit of getting herself into trouble, her difficulties with work and relationships are more likely to
take the form of conflicts and offences related to issues such as rebelliousness and unproductive or destructive
Despite some variations in the way role manifests, the Scapegoat
never fits in comfortably, and is largely looked down upon or rejected, no matter the vehicle or reasons given
(real or imagined) for such marginalisation.
Scapegoats typically seek far more psychotherapy than any other
family member. A Scapegoat is deeply accustomed to thinking that things would be fine if only she weren’t
inherently defective and unworthy, and this often leads her to a therapist’s office. (By contrast, narcissists can
be defined almost solely by their unwillingness to seek genuine therapy.)
The Scapegoat typically considers her failings to be the central
reasons her partner has been insensitive, her boss has cheated her out of a raise, and her siblings talk down to
her. She is uncomfortable at school, at work, and in social situations, because she believes she is inferior. Much
of this thinking invites scenarios of self-fulfilling prophecies, making it more difficult for her to see that she
can reverse the patterns of mistreatment resulting from her observable insecurities and sense of inferiority. She
blames herself, as she has been taught to. This often leads her into therapy, where she may discover the real
reason for her mistreatment in adulthood. After all, it is not her supposed inferiority that leads her into
situations where she is denigrated, reinforcing her feelings of inadequacy, but the palpable bearing of her
family’s shame and rejection. She has not been overlooked and mistreated because she truly is inferior to others.
This has happened because she has believed the lie that she is lacking, and she has behaved accordingly, which
makes her an all-too easy target.
Until the scapegoat is able to extricate herself from the lie that
she is inherently bad, guilty and wrong, she will struggle. She will attract the wrong people, she will fail to
reach her potential, and she will be her own worst enemy. The degree to which she is able to realize that she is
mistreated not because she is inherently inferior, but because she is sending messages of vulnerability, is the
degree to which she will determine the quality of her future.