As in any family, individuals in the narcissist family are as unique as their finger prints, but their roles are remarkably similar across class, race, and any other measure of human “difference.”
My Narcissist Family
In the narcissist family, as a means of survival everyone rotates around the narcissist, who is usually Mom or Dad. Sometimes both parents are narcissistic. In my family, my father was the overt Narcissist Personality Disorder (NPD) type, and my mother enabled his abuse while also having her own covert narcissistic traits mixed with a higher order of being that sometimes allowed her to give affection, attention, and generosity. When it served my father’s needs, as is typical of NPDs, he bestowed approval, even idealized exaltation, to his “golden child,” my brother.
If you are familiar with the narcissist family cast of characters, you know that there is nearly always a “scapegoat,” and in my family that was me—the narcissist’s go-to projection screen for his abusive behavior and his trash receptacle for blame and rage.
Given that my father viciously mocked and terrorized me, my mother, and eventually my stepmother and stepsisters, I knew our family was unhealthy, but it took a long time for me to find the psychological profile that reflected our particular pathology. It took even longer for me to admit to what sadly clichéd extent we all fit the narcissist family mold.
The Biblical Scapegoat
The Old Testament‘s Leviticus 16 told of sacrificial “scapegoats” [see Ed Stetzer]. One goat was mortally sacrificed, while another was cast into the wilderness to carry away the “sins of man,” both to release humanity of its guilt, which is the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). William Tyndale is believed to have coined the term “escape goat” in his 1530 English translation of The Bible, from the Hebrew version.
The Scapegoat’s Strengths
The scapegoat feels the acute injustice of his/her role. It is painful, confusing, maddening, and it frequently carries with it emotional and physiological damage that lasts a lifetime. But family scapegoats also have both innate and learned power. They are not chosen at random. Rather, they are typically targeted because of their strengths.
The narcissist well knows who in his sphere is most manipulable and who is most independent-minded, and he targets his greatest threat with projection and punishment. The scapegoat is the one most likely to care about and fight for justice within the inherently unfair narcissist family system, defending herself and others often in direct opposition to the narcissist.
4. Internalizes blame
5. Emotionally reactive
6. Highly sensitive
7. Protective of others
8. Questions authority
10. “Different” in some way
Redemption for the Narcissist Family Scapegoat
Children of narcissists are trained to toe the family line at all costs. Challenging the family system is considered a sacrilege, and it calls for a courageous movement away from home into the “wilderness” of the world.
Although the strengths of the narcissist family scapegoat make her a target, they are also her salvation. Her ability to see and question along with her desire for justice enable her to escape the family tyranny while others cannot. And her capacity for empathy, so unlike that of the grandiose and compassionless narcissist, gives her the ability to form healthy and fulfilling relationships beyond her family of origin.
The (e)scapegoat’s redemption is breaking free.
Julie L. Hall is the author of the forthcoming memoir, Carry You, about life, and a few near deaths, in a narcissist family. Read excerpts.