The Scapegoat Child and the Malignant Narcissist Parent – Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) Education (2022)

For the child victim of family scapegoating abuse (FSA), the ‘scapegoat story’ created by one or both parents (which the entire family invariably adapts and accepts unquestioningly) can negatively impact their mental and emotional health. When a parent is a malignant narcissist, the abuse the child experiences can be extreme, resulting in complex trauma (C-PTSD) symptoms secondary to grave psycho-emotional distress.

Awareness of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) has grown in popular culture, yet it is my observation that the term is often misused or misunderstood within the self-help field, including via books and forums. This is because one can be self-centered and selfish and lack empathy without clinically meeting the criteria of NPD.

You may or may not have heard the term ‘malignant narcissist‘ in association with NPD. A malignant narcissist is capable of inflicting extreme harm (with attendant suffering) upon their child, particularly if that child is in the role of ‘family scapegoat’.

What Is a Malignant Narcissist?

Malignant narcissism is a form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder that is recognized as being extremely abusive. The malignant narcissist has sadistic traits in that they actually enjoy hurting others. They also will not think twice about manipulating and using people for their own gain.

Although rarely credited, it was Dr. Sam Vaknin (a self-admitted malignant narcissist) who popularized the term ‘malignant narcissist’ many years ago via his free written offerings online. He eventually published a book entitled, Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, which some refer to as the ‘Bible’ in regard to understanding malignant narcissism and narcissistic abuse.

More recently, there have been attempts to determine whether malignant narcissism is a real diagnosis. For example, a2022 paper sought to develop a scoring inventory for malignant narcissism. A2019 paperemphasizes that malignant narcissism is a judgment based on beliefs about a person’s thoughts, rather than an actual diagnosis.

(Video) Adult Children Narcissists - The Scapegoat

A person with malignant narcissism goes far beyond the clinical scope of narcissistic personality disorder. Specifically, they may harm others to gain attention, feed their sense of superiority, and get what they want. For this reason, a person may also have traits of antisocial personality disorder. These include:

  • disregard for or hostility toward the rights of others
  • aggression and violence
  • lack of remorse for harming others
  • a tendency to lie
  • breaking the law
  • chronic irresponsibility
  • impulsive or reckless behavior

— Source: Medical News Today

When a Scapegoating Parent Is a Malignant Narcissist

Clients entering my Psychotherapy or FSA Coaching practices will at times share horrific stories of being systematically humiliated, degraded, and devalued by one or both parents. The parent appears to delight in behaving sadistically toward their own child, but will be careful to keep the abuse private and contained within the family home.

To make matters worse, the child is made to believe that they deserve to be treated badly due to some defect on their part. Suffice it to say that the parent who is a malignant narcissist is unlikely to ever take responsibility for the damage they have done to their child / adult child’s mental and emotional health.Instead, they will take on a self-righteous stance, justifying or denying their deliberate attitude of cruelty toward their child.

For example, I once had a client in my psychotherapy practice deny that she had experienced any sort of abuse growing up. Several months later, I learned that one of her parents had ‘shunned’ her (not spoken to her) for an entire year because she came home an hour late from a date when she was seventeen years old. My client was still living at home with this parent during this year-long period of shunning! And yet, she could not recognize her parent’s shunning of her as abuse, as she felt that she had “deserved” it as she had come home late.

The scapegoated child of a malignant narcissist parent will be further distressed and confused by the tendency of the parent to present themselves entirely differently to the outside world. For example, the parent will be very charming toward others outside the home, which further discredits the experiences or reports of the abused, scapegoated child / adult child. The creation of this ‘double reality’ constitutes gaslighting, something that can also be severely damaging to the child in that they are not able to trust and validate their own perceptions and experiences.

(Video) The scapegoated child in the narcissistic family: Why?

The Consequences of Being Scapegoated by a Malignant Narcissist Parent

Chronic mistreatment by a malignant narcissist parent can bring extra misery and suffering to the scapegoated child and adult child, and the consequences to their well-being are genuinely incalcuable. For examples of the types of abuses a malignant narcissist parent can carry out, I suggest you read my article Narcissistic Parents and the Martyl Parent Ploy (co-written with a colleague who grew up with a malignant narcissist parent).

To say that the adult survivor of a scapegoating, malignant narcissist parent will face challenges in regard to their recovery would be an understatement. Trauma bonding (an emotional attachment formed by a cycle of abuse and manipulation that isn’t always life threatening) may occur with the malignant narcissist parent, causing the child / adult child to be blind to the fact of their own abuse. Unrecognized betrayal trauma and complex trauma symptoms will also develop in response to their being chronically and systemically scapegoated; they may also develop a fear of intimacy and an inability to trust others, along with experiencing difficulty establishing satisfying relationships.

Given the likelihood that the malignant narcissist parent presents a completely different face to the outside world (some may even be highly respected in their communities, working as ministers, psychologists, social workers, etc), the scapegoated child / adult child is likely to be disbelieved and labelled “emotionally ill,” “difficult,” angry or even “crazy” if they attempt to tell others about their parent’s maltreatment of them. This can result in their avoiding reaching out for help, including from Mental Health professionals.

In such situations, a generalized feeling of helplessness and despair can develop, as it can seem as if the abusive parent has “won” via their ability to deceive others by presenting publicly as a concerned and loving parent. But this need not be so.

Recovering From a Malignant Narcissist Parent

If you have a parent who presents as a malignant narcissist, it is unlikely that you will ever be able to “work things out” with them, including helping them to see how they have been mistreating or abusing you. If you choose to remain in contact with such a parent, know that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for you to recover from the harms done to you, including the resulting symptoms of complex trauma.

You may have no choice but to face the reality that you will need to end contact with your malignant narcissist parent if you are serious about your healing. Whether you phase out of your abusive parent’s life quickly or slowly, there will come a point that you realize that you are better off without them in your life.

(Video) Does Your Family KNOW They Are SCAPEGOATING YOU? Scapegoating Abuse and Family Projection

What this means in your specific situation (e.g., walking away from a large inheritance; having to end contact with others who are supportive of your malignant narcissist parent) is something that should be reviewed carefully, ideally with a competent professional and/or those in your life whose opinions you value and trust.

Read my article on the Narcissistic Family System to learn more about the narcissistic parent and family scapegoating abuse (FSA).

I enjoy connecting with my readers via the comment section. If you related to this article, I’d love to hear from you – What you share may help others! You might also consider sharing this article via the social media icons below.

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(Video) When narcissists lose their scapegoat

The Scapegoat Child and the Malignant Narcissist Parent – Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) Education (5)

Rebecca C. Mandeville, LMFT, CCTP

Rebecca C.Mandeville, LMFT, CCTP, is an internationally recognized expert in family systems. She is a psychotherapist, certified complex trauma professional, researcher, author, and media contributor on child psycho-emotional abuse and its effects on adult survivors. She specializes in helping victims of ‘invisible’ family abuse reclaim their life narrative and so that they can live freely and joyously as their true self. Rebecca is the author of Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed – the first research-based book on what she named family scapegoating abuse (FSA).

(Video) Lessons for anyone who was scapegoated by a narcissist (Narcissistic Family Roles)

Related

FAQs

What happens to the scapegoat in a narcissistic family? ›

Key points. Children scapegoated in a narcissistic family are often targeted with negative projections and burdened with adult responsibilities. Family scapegoats can adopt a variety of coping patterns, each with its own strengths and drawbacks.

What happens to scapegoat in adulthood? ›

More specifically: Scapegoated adults often feel debilitated by self-doubt and 'imposter syndrome' in their relationships and in the work-place, and blame themselves for their difficulties. They often will develop 'fawning' behaviors, whereby they seek to please others and avoid conflict at any cost.

How narcissistic parents scapegoat their children? ›

The narcissistic parent wants the scapegoated child to believe they are as horrible as they are being told. If the child shows a sense of self-worth or self-possession the narcissistic parent will take this as an affront to their authority. In essence “How dare my child not think he's as bad as I say he is!

What is the family scapegoat syndrome? ›

In family units where a parent or caregiver has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), there's typically a family “scapegoat” — a person the family blames for their problems as a means of deflecting attention from real conflict.

How does a narcissist abuse a survivor? ›

As a narcissistic abuse survivor, you will likely have symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Your brain will be on high alert, looking out for danger. This is because the traumatic events triggered a fight or flight response within you. As a result, anything associated with those memories can trigger an anxiety attack.

What happens to a toxic family when the scapegoat leaves? ›

When a scapegoat leaves their family of origin they are going to experience a lot of invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, and chaos that is designed to manipulate them back into the abuse cycle and remain a repository for the family's negative emotions.

What happens when scapegoat walks away? ›

If the scapegoat leaves, the discord in the remainder of the family often increases without the scapegoat there to buffer the friction. The other family members may turn on one another as the tension increases or someone else will be assigned the role.

How do scapegoats heal? ›

How to recover from being the family scapegoat
  1. The scapegoat's role. ...
  2. Set boundaries with your family. ...
  3. Give up the idea they will change. ...
  4. Transform your inner critic. ...
  5. Reparent yourself. ...
  6. Forgive.
29 Mar 2021

What happens when the family scapegoat fights back? ›

In families with one or more narcissistic members, the dynamics are inherently dysfunctional. Children often grow up feeling confused, insecure, and afraid. They may not know who to trust, and they usually blame themselves for the problems occurring at home.

How do you tell if you are a scapegoat? ›

Signs You Are The Family Scapegoat
  1. Feeling ignored. ...
  2. Believing you are not praised often. ...
  3. You Are Portrayed In A Negative Light To Others. ...
  4. You Are Isolated From Others. ...
  5. The Flaws Of Others Are Projected Unto You. ...
  6. What's Happening Here? ...
  7. You Are The Family Punching Bag. ...
  8. Know The Truth About Yourself.

How do narcissists treat their children? ›

A narcissistic parent will often abuse the normal parental role of guiding their children and being the primary decision maker in the child's life, becoming overly possessive and controlling. This possessiveness and excessive control disempowers the child; the parent sees the child simply as an extension of themselves.

What are some examples of scapegoating? ›

Examples of Scapegoating

A person who blames his or her partner for a burglary because he or she left the door unlocked or left a valuable possession visible is scapegoating. Some scapegoating campaigns, however, have been so extensive that they have had disastrous sociopolitical and human rights consequences.

What kind of children do narcissistic parents raise? ›

The children of a narcissist are often children who grow up to be codependent, people-pleasers, and have low self-esteem. They are children who never feel good enough for their parents or themselves.

What disorders do children of narcissistic parents have? ›

Narcissists have an excessive need for praise and validation and have little regard for the feelings and needs of others. As parents, they are often emotionally unavailable, neglectful, and abusive. Their children often struggle with self-esteem issues, anxiety, depression, and unhealthy relationships.

What kind of parenting causes narcissism? ›

To summarize, overparenting, lack of warmth, leniency, overvaluation and childhood maltreatment have all been associated with higher levels of narcissism. However, these parenting behaviours have often been examined in isolation or in different combinations, with mixed findings.

What is PTSD from narcissistic abuse? ›

Symptoms of Complex PTSD in Narcissistic Abuse include:

* Having nightmares or flashbacks. * High level of hyperarousal; anxiety, nervousness, feeling jumpy, obsessive thinking, racing thoughts, feeling scared, agitated, stressed, overwhelmed, emotional, etc. * Difficulties controlling emotions.

How narcissists use death? ›

Death is a joke on them

A narcissist will perceive their loved one's death as a form of a cosmic joke being played on them. They generally fail to see death as anything other than a trick the universe is playing on them to punish them in some way.

Can you get PTSD from narcissistic abuse? ›

The emotional/psychological manipulation and abuse that are characteristic of Narcissistic Abuse can lead to the development of PTSD among survivors of this type of trauma (sometimes specified as post traumatic relationship syndrome).

What do people gain from scapegoating? ›

For individuals, scapegoating is a psychological defense mechanism of denial through projecting responsibility and blame on others. [2] It allows the perpetrator to eliminate negative feelings about him or herself and provides a sense of gratification.

What happens when you grew up in a toxic family? ›

Growing up in an unhealthy or toxic family can contribute to a number of emotional, interpersonal, and mental health challenges that benefit from treatment. For example, being controlled or manipulated could affect your ability to make your own decisions. You might feel fearful or anxious when you do make a decision.

How is the scapegoat chosen? ›

A narcissist will decide who their scapegoat is based on their own fears, feelings of jealousy, sense of inadequacy and insecurities. From a narcissist's perspective, a scapegoat is someone who somehow triggers their fears, feelings of jealousy, sense of inadequacy and insecurities.

What does the Bible say about the scapegoat? ›

In the Bible, a scapegoat is one of a pair of kid goats that is released into the wilderness, taking with it all sins and impurities, while the other is sacrificed. The concept first appears in the Book of Leviticus, in which a goat is designated to be cast into the desert to carry away the sins of the community.

What happens when the family scapegoat goes no contact? ›

By choosing 'No Contact', scapegoats are saying 'No' to making themselves available to be abused. They are escaping the repetitive nightmare of never being allowed to be seen as loveable or worthy members of a family that frames them as the bad guy. They step off the path of false blame for family dysfunction.

How does the golden child treat the scapegoat? ›

Expectedly, the scapegoat oftentimes feels very jealous of the golden child. And the golden child is usually so enmeshed with their parent that they can't see anything wrong with the parent-child relationship they're in. They'll jump in to defend their parent and might even think they have the best parent in the world.

How do narcissists prey? ›

Narcissists often look for victims who struggle with insecurity and low self-esteem. People who think less of themselves and struggle with the “I am not enough” mindset tend to attract toxic partners. People with self-esteem issues tend to think of themselves as imperfect or unlovable.

What eventually happens to an aging narcissist? ›

According to Julie L. Hall, author of “The Narcissist in Your Life: Recognizing the Patterns and Learning to Break Free,” narcissists become more extreme versions of their worst selves as they age, which includes becoming more desperate, deluded, paranoid, angry, abusive, and isolated.

Is the narcissist jealous of the scapegoat? ›

The narcissist charms everyone around them. They manipulate others to support their distorted version of reality. All the while, they enjoy the feeling of power they get from making the scapegoat suffer. The narcissist is driven by envy, jealousy and a lack of empathy.

What happens to the golden child of a narcissist? ›

Golden children cannot explore their identities because they spend all their time obeying their narcissistic parents. Since narcissists can only provide conditional love, golden children feel a severe amount of pressure to please their parents to be accepted and loved.

What happens to the narcissistic family when the scapegoat goes no contact? ›

Without the common chaos of “dealing with the scapegoat,” the narcissist's partner may decide that enough is enough. In other words, a scapegoat going no-contact tends induce chaos. The family has become so used to pinpointing issues onto one person that they now feel completely off-guard.

What happens to the family scapegoat? ›

Effects of Being a Scapegoat

Trauma: Being deprived of a family's love, singled out as the “bad one” in the household, and having one's positive attributes overlooked can set up a child for a lifetime of emotional and psychological distress, where they struggle believing they are good, worthy, competent, or likable.

How does the scapegoat heal? ›

Many times, healing the scapegoat role on a personal level is about deep healing of trauma, empowerment, and a place to process emotion and find safety in relationship. Healing the scapegoat role in community means learning how to forge new relationships of repair and effective emotional communication.

How does the narcissist choose the scapegoat? ›

A narcissist will decide who their scapegoat is based on their own fears, feelings of jealousy, sense of inadequacy and insecurities. From a narcissist's perspective, a scapegoat is someone who somehow triggers their fears, feelings of jealousy, sense of inadequacy and insecurities.

What happens when scapegoat walks away? ›

If the scapegoat leaves, the discord in the remainder of the family often increases without the scapegoat there to buffer the friction. The other family members may turn on one another as the tension increases or someone else will be assigned the role.

What happens when the family scapegoat fights back? ›

The Family Scapegoat: When The Scapegoat Fights Back - YouTube

Who has it worse golden child or scapegoat? ›

Indoctrinated into the worldview of the damaged parent, the chosen one absorbs emotional damage alongside the attention. Despite what most scapegoats will tell you, golden children are usually the more severely traumatised in narcissistic families.

What happens when you grew up in a toxic family? ›

Growing up in an unhealthy or toxic family can contribute to a number of emotional, interpersonal, and mental health challenges that benefit from treatment. For example, being controlled or manipulated could affect your ability to make your own decisions. You might feel fearful or anxious when you do make a decision.

What happens when you grow up in a toxic family? ›

Many children who grow up in a toxic environment are diagnosed with anxiety disorders. This comes from a lack of security, an unstable environment, or mental and physical mistreatment. Some signs your family is toxic include feeling worried, tense, irritable, or restless.

How does a narcissist react when they can't control you? ›

Narcissists also gaslight or practice master manipulation, weakening and destabilizing their victims; finally, they utilize positive and negative emotions or moments to trick others. When a narcissist can't control you, they'll likely feel threatened, react with anger, and they might even start threatening you.

What does the Bible say about the scapegoat? ›

In the Bible, a scapegoat is one of a pair of kid goats that is released into the wilderness, taking with it all sins and impurities, while the other is sacrificed. The concept first appears in the Book of Leviticus, in which a goat is designated to be cast into the desert to carry away the sins of the community.

What happens to the golden child when the scapegoat leaves? ›

The golden child will either start abusing the other, weaker parent or other siblings and or they will become the next scapegoat. Like the scapegoat they also will not escape unscathed.

Videos

1. The inner life of the scapegoated child in the narcissistic family
(Jay Reid - Recovery from Bad Childhoods)
2. How a narcissistic family gets a child to become the scapegoat
(Jay Reid - Recovery from Bad Childhoods)
3. The scapegoated child in the narcissistic family: Who?
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4. Scapegoating is Child #Abuse: A word on #Narcissistic Parents that Scapegoat their Children #npd
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6. Going From Scapegoat Role to Living Authentic After Narcissistic Relationships
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