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Overcoming the Scapegoat Role

by Karen Kleinschmidt, studioD

Living as the scapegoat in your family often means your life is run by your own internal, endless supply of guilt, according to Andrea Mathews, L.P.C., in her article, "The Scapegoat Identity," published on Psychology Today website. As children, scapegoats are often empathic or sensitive, and are sometimes blamed for things that go wrong within the family. Many take on emotional responsibility that does not belong to them. Children naturally seek connection and approval from their parents and family members. As adults, they carry guilt and take the distorted family dynamic into their relationships.

Recognize the Pattern

Before you can change anything, you must take notice of your part in continuing to allow your family to make you the scapegoat. As an adult, you have the power to make changes to how you interact with people. The role of a scapegoat is likely painful, and although being cast in that role as a child was hurtful, it centers around the way your family coped with tension and anxiety, according to Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar, author of "Black Sheep, Scapegoats and Family System Therapy (Part 1)," published on the Psych Central website.

Break the Pattern

Adults who find themselves entangled in the family web may need to break away from family members temporarily. After some time apart, slowly begin to re-establish relationships with them on an individual basis to avoid slipping into old patterns, says Gawne-Kelnar. Focus your interactions with your family by speaking to them using "I" statements and sharing your thoughts, feelings and reactions, rather than speaking in terms of "you" or "they," which may be counter-productive if they feel blamed.

Change Yourself

Slowly, begin to stick up for yourself in areas you feel you may fall into the role of the scapegoat. For example, you may find yourself continuously picking up the phone every time your best friend calls and lending your ear for hours at a time. Not only does this leave you feeling depleted and exhausted, she rarely returns the favor. You have attempted to talk to her about this, only to find you feel guilty for bringing it up. Realize there is a strong possibility you are taking on her guilt and playing out the learned role of scapegoat. Be assertive when communicating what you need from her. Being direct and respectful when you deliver the message. This will give you the best chance of successfully getting your point across, according to the Mayo Clinic.


You may find that your attempts to break out of your scapegoat role within the family system are unsuccessful. Perhaps you are emotionally vulnerable and could use the advice of a mental health professional before attempting to communicate with your family regarding how you are feeling. Maybe, you have managed to change the way you relate out in the world but unable to shake the role in your family. If the latter is true, it may be necessary to break off contact with abusive family members if they are unwilling or unable to change.

About the Author

Karen Kleinschmidt has been writing since 2007. Her short stories and articles have appeared in "Grandma's Choice," "Treasure Box" and "Simple Joy." She has worked with children with ADHD, sensory issues and behavioral problems, as well as adults with chronic mental illness. Kleinschmidt holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Montclair State University.

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