The Perks of Being The Scapegoat Child

When it comes to family dynamics, it can be hard to know exactly who’s who in the line up.

Often times, people don’t realize their role until much later in life when they, themselves, are starting relationships or a family.

One role that has a lot of buzz, is the scapegoat. It can be defined as the person in the family who received unfair, unjust, and undue blame for the family’s problems. More than likely, the person in the family doing the blaming is a narcissistic parent. And the one receiving the blame, is usually one of the children in the family.

This brings up the opposite role of the golden child. This is the child that can literally do no wrong, they are revered by their family and held to a set of standards that are not placed on the rest of the family members (usually, they are held to the least amount of standards or expectations).

Although these are vastly different roles within a family system, there are some key similarities.

Both have a disproportionate amount of attention on them and their actions.

Both end up with some sort of complex that will need to be addressed in therapy one day.

Both have perks!

The perks of being the golden child seem obvious, when you’re a kid — you get to do whatever you want, you get more praise than the rest of the family, you get less punishment or consequences for misbehaving, and you may even get the bigger bedroom or the nicest toys. As an adult though, it can create some pretty unhealthy inflation of that ego. But we aren’t here to talk about them! They get enough attention!

This may seem like a wild idea, but I do believe that the role of the scapegoat child does comes with benefits. These aren’t usually seen until adulthood. It is well-known that many narcissistic parents target the strongest child as the scapegoat simply because of that: they are strong and can handle it.

If we take a moment and can move past the anxious attachment style, people pleasing tendencies, and inappropriate guilt for even being alive — classic traits of an unhealed scapegoat — there are some really interesting skills that come with this role.

I want to preface this list with the disclaimer that these perks appear when the scapegoated child accepts that this was a role they were placed in and have found ways to enforce boundaries on unhealthy family members.

Let’s explore them…

  1. They are able to take corrective feedback at a job. A child who was the scapegoat is used to hearing criticism from someone in an authoritative role. In the workplace, this allows them to be evaluated and able to make adjustments to perform more efficiently. These are likely the people in jobs who stay the longest, feel content in their roles, and have a great work-life balance.
  2. They are attuned to others’ needs, thus making them great partners. The scapegoated child is great at deciphering what a person really needs and can respond to those needs intuitively. They know how to read the room, body language, and between the lines. They are great socializers and can adapt to almost any social setting… seamlessly.
  3. They can be empathetic towards anyone. Because of their attention to others’ needs, they can provide validation and empathy to the emotional experiences of others. This can be really helpful in tense situations. I’d imagine there are a lot of people in helping professions who were (or are) the scapegoat in their family.
  4. They can understand how and when to apologize. Verbalizing an apology can be hard to do no matter who you are or how old you are, but these folks know exactly the words to say to both accept their consequences and be able to make amends in a thoughtful, caring way. They won’t make the same mistake twice!
  5. They are disciplined and hold themselves accountable. These individuals know how to make a plan and stick to it. Some would call them workaholics, or obsessed with being busy, but I personally think it is just because they take pride in being productive. That’s not to say that they don’t take relaxing seriously either! They often have really well thought out self-care plans too.
  6. They are often resilient, ambitious, and successful. Much like the animal associated with their namesake, they know how to KEEP MOVING. Regardless of the struggles weighing them down, they find a way to climb out of it and rise to the top of whatever mountain they are on. They don’t do it for the accolades — no — rather, they do it because they know they can.
  7. They are good problem-solvers and critical thinkers. Because of all the negative feedback they have received growing up, and having to constantly readjust and reframe based on the emotional needs of the narcissistic parent, they know how to quickly solve problems. They can tune out of their own feelings, assess the situation rationally, and be able to come up with game plan on the spot.
  8. They have heightened emotional intelligence. This is a skill mastered by the scapegoated child. They know how to manage their own emotions, have created effective coping skills for their feelings, and know how to read the emotions of others. They can analyze and process why a person may be feeling that way and have a deep sense of insight into their own emotional experiences.
  9. They are capable of debating complex topics. Due to being empathetic, emotionally intelligent, and critical thinkers, they make excellent conversationalists! They master the ability to look at both sides of an issue without internalizing either side. They are able to depersonalize themselves from the topic as well and see things from a global perspective.
  10. They can recognize when someone is toxic, and can disengage immediately. Because they know what it feels like to be in the position they were as a child, they have high standards for how they want to be treated by others as adults. They know and can see when someone is manipulating them or unjustly blaming them for something and have developed sharp reflexes to know when to step away.

If you believe that you were this kid (pun intended) in the family, then fret not… harnessing these powers comes with time and patience.

Soon you will feel less like the sacrificial goat, and more like the Greatest Of All Time!

by JennAngel1

My name is Jenn (she/her/hers) and I am 37 years old born, raised, and living in Massachusetts. I've worked in the mental health field since 2009; currently I am the owner of my own private practice, Triplicity Empowerment Coaching where I provide mental health services to people of all ages and additionally provide parent coaching, college coaching, and sibling support. In addition to this, I am also a freelance trainer/ facility for the Life is Good Playmaker Project - it is the not for profit arm of Life is Good (apparel store) that supports folks in early education, child care, behavioral health and child life specialists. In the last 7 years, I have been doing a lot of volunteer work with an international organization that helps and gives hope to patients and families impacted by heart disease and congenital heart defects (The Mended Hearts Inc.), which is a demographic I belong too as well! I had open heart surgery when I was 6 months old for Tetralogy of Fallot. I currently run a monthly support group for other young adults with CHD. I have really found my niche in helping families who have been impacted by congenital heart defects, and see many pediatric and adult cardiac patients in my business. My love for the heart community does not stop there! I've recently connected with a Berkshire, MA based summer camp JUST for kids with heart defects.

When I am not working, I enjoy anything and everything creative - writing, painting, photography, calligraphy, dance, music, movies etc. I have danced my entire life everything from ballroom to ballet! I have two cats (Sonny and Mo) and have a deep love for my family. I am a very proud auntie to MANY nieces and nephews, I am obsessed with them. I additionally love my wonderful partner, he is my rock and I know what love really means because of him.

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