Narcissists need both a scapegoat and a golden child to validate their distorted view of the world. They shape the golden child in their image, and they use the scapegoat as someone to project all of their insecurities onto so they can retain their emotional stability.
Both the scapegoat and the golden child suffer as a result. The scapegoat, however, is far more likely to fight back, and if they can successfully escape the abuse, they can begin a long healing journey.
There are different perspectives regarding what happens when a scapegoat fights back. The narcissist tries to suck them back into the drama before smearing them mercilessly. The family experiences chaos and may also gaslight and hoover the scapegoat, who is going through their own confusion.
I was my narcissistic mother’s scapegoat, and it was a horribly abusive experience. I know that when I finally began to fight back, there was a lot of chaos and confusion. It was a very difficult time, but I slowly began to find my way toward healing.
There were a lot of bumps in the road, but if you stick it out, you can heal the emotional wounds your narcissistic abuser inflicted. If you can understand what happens to the narcissist, your other family members, and yourself, you can better navigate the changes that will come.
What Happens from the Narcissist’s Perspective?
The narcissist needs a scapegoat because they are full of insecurity and fear. They have buried their true self deep in their psyche and constructed a false self in its place.
They infused that false self-image with imagined ideals that every child aspires to be. These are concepts like omniscience and omnipotence. Of course, they’re unrealistic, but because the narcissist believes themselves to be hopelessly flawed, they want to believe they are those ideals.
Those ideals, however, don’t allow for mistakes. That’s why the narcissist needs a scapegoat. They need someone they can blame for anything that goes wrong in their life, and they are merciless in their blame-shifting.
The scapegoat is usually someone who triggers the narcissist’s insecurities and fears, and that’s why they feel justified in dumping on them. So what happens for the narcissist when the scapegoat finally starts fighting back? Here are a few common responses.
There is an Initial Narcissistic Rage Eruption
Initially, the narcissist erupts in a rage, a typical response, as you can in the video below. They scream and yell at the scapegoat and assure them that they will live to regret this decision.
My mother positively exploded when I told her I was going no contact for a while. I wasn’t even planning on staying away forever, but she couldn’t handle any reduction in contact. She said some hateful things as well.
|Common Things Narcissists Say When a Scapegoat Leaves|
You need to take anything the narcissist says with a grain of salt, however, since they will likely want you back in their life. Most narcissists cycle through people in their life because they come to realize that people tire of them easily.
They will try to come back into your life even after years. What’s more, anything they say in a rage is something that comes from a place of insecurity, fear, and mistrust. Still, be prepared to lose them, but you’re not really losing a caring, reciprocal relationship.
Next Up is Gaslighting
Next up on the narcissist’s agenda of reactions when a scapegoat fights back is gaslighting. They will tell you that what you think happened is all in your imagination. They will even outright lie about the events that you recount to them.
Narcissists are masters at manipulating the truth. Part of the reason they can be so effective is their absolute devotion to viewing the world through their distorted, dysfunctional lens.
They are able to convince themselves of their own lies. They feel justified in distorting the truth because they cannot face the real truth. So be prepared for them to tell any number of gaslighting lies to try to dissuade you from leaving, including the following:
- You’re crazy if you believe that.
- You made that up.
- That never happened.
- Do you really believe that’s what happened?
- Don’t you remember that I said…?
When the other tactics fail, the narcissist next turns to attempting to hoover you back into their drama. They turn on the charm to do this. It’s something called love bombing.
Love-bombing is distinctive in that it involves praise that is overboard. It is almost sickly sweet, and of course, the end goal is to get you to do what they want.
According to Oxford Languages, love-bombing is the action or practice of lavishing someone with attention or affection, especially in order to influence or manipulate them.
Many victims of narcissists often report thinking they met their soulmate when they first met the narcissist. The narcissist really turns on the charm initially and can seem like they understand everything you need and desire.
During the love-bombing stage, they learn all about how to manipulate you. Even if you are the child of a narcissist, your relationship with your parent goes through this stage. It usually occurs, however, when you are too young to remember it.
They know you so well, however, that when they start love-bombing anew, it can be very effective.
The Narcissist Uses Triangulation to Manipulate and Control
Another technique the narcissist employs to manage damage control is to use triangulation to disrupt any relationships you might have with your family, friends, or coworkers. They will tell one person one thing and someone else something completely different.
If you’re in the loop, they will tell you something that is designed to sabotage your relationship with these people and undermine any future contact. They purposefully want to destroy your relationships.
They will approach trusted friends, romantic partners, and coworkers to try and manipulate them into believing what the narcissist wants them to believe. This is all in an attempt to regain control.
You’ve taken their control away from them, and they are desperate to get it back. If they can’t manipulate you into coming back into the fold, they will turn their destructive tactics on other people in your life.
The Next Step is a Smear Campaign
After employing triangulation to disrupt your relationships, they begin to smear you so that no one will believe anything you say. They know you’re a loose end that they have to tie up and to do that, they will make it seem like you’re the problem, not them.
They will tell the other people in your life any lie to make them believe you’re the one who’s delusional, dangerous, or vindictive. If you worked with the narcissist, they will claim you’re a disgruntled employee.
If you’re part of their family, they will label you as the black sheep of the family and claim that all of the family’s problems are because of your bad behavior. Friends will gossip about you to all of your other friends.
Romantic partners will even go to the extreme of trying to smear you to your closest family members. They don’t want anyone to believe you, and they don’t want you to have any supporters. They don’t care if it destroys your life because they don’t have any empathy.
What Happens in the Scapegoat’s Family or Among Coworkers?
The narcissist and the scapegoat aren’t the only ones affected when the scapegoat fights back. Other family members, coworkers, or friends are affected by the changes that result too. Because the scapegoat bore the brunt of the narcissist’s abuse, the family or team dynamic is disrupted by that loss.
There are several things that can happen as a result. All of these possible outcomes are rooted in the fear the narcissist inspires among the group. No one wants the scapegoat to leave because no one wants to ultimately take the scapegoat’s place.
As researchers in universities in both China and the US contend, when people feel they have no control over their lives, they use various “scapegoating responses to re-assert a sense of control.” Though this study was conducted in the context of a medical illness, the same holds true for the family of a scapegoat.
The loss of the scapegoat creates a void in the family, and each member is thrown into chaos. They all experience a loss of control because they don’t know what the narcissist will do next. The scapegoat bore the brunt of their abuse, and the family senses that someone will have to take that person’s place.
Often, the golden child becomes a substitute scapegoat, at least initially. Someone else may ultimately fill that role, but no one is safe. The narcissist simply can’t accept responsibility for their own actions, and that means there has to be a scapegoat.
The Family Also Hoovers
Because of the fact that each family member fears becoming the new scapegoat, the family will also turn to hoovering to try and convince the scapegoat to return. They tell them they are being too hard on the narcissist.
You might see them saying something like, “Yes, your (narcissistic) father has his faults, but he really loves you.” They make excuses for and minimize the narcissist’s abuse. They also don’t seem to acknowledge the damage done to the scapegoat.
“A family scapegoat is burdened with criticism, toxic shame, and blame for something they have not done. The wrongdoings of others are projected onto them. You were a convenient receptacle for your insecure family members who were incapable or unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions, words, and behaviors.”
― Dana Arcuri, Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and author
The family dynamics of a scapegoat involve dysfunctional roles in which there is the golden child or hero, the caretaker, the clown, the lost child, and the scapegoat or black sheep. When the scapegoat leaves the family, it disrupts each of the roles, and that disruption must be resolved to reestablish stability.
If the family can convince you to come back, no one will have to fear becoming the new family scapegoat. It’s not a matter of caring about what happens to you; it’s a matter of self-preservation.
Gaslighting and Attempts to Control
Like the narcissist, the family will also turn to gaslighting in an attempt to control the scapegoat. They, too, don’t want to lose the member of their family that takes the heat off of the others.
It would be funny if it weren’t so sick. The dynamic of such a family is exactly the opposite of what we associate with the word family. There is nothing loving or safe about it.
Of course, the scapegoat has been immersed in toxicity for so long that they don’t realize just how dysfunctional their family dynamic is. It can be very difficult for the scapegoat to resist the family’s attempts to control them with gaslighting.
You might feel you’re being unjustly blamed, but when every member of your family, the people you’ve been around all of your life, is telling you that you’re overreacting or too sensitive or being too hard on the narcissist, it’s very hard not to rethink your perception of reality.
The Golden Child Suffers
The golden child is often the member of the family who suffers the most. They are the narcissist’s protege, and as such, they have been molded in the narcissist’s image.
Until the scapegoat leaves, they have been showered with praise. They have been told they are superior too, and they have never had to do anything for themselves. Their responsibilities often fell to the scapegoat.
When the scapegoat is gone, however, the narcissist becomes desperate and will turn to the person with whom they are closest to find a replacement. That’s often the golden child.
This creates even more psychological damage since the golden child is ill-equipped to shoulder the blame. The scapegoat has been carrying that burden, and as a result, they usually develop a tough skin. The golden child has no such coping mechanism, however, and the withering criticism of a narcissist can further destroy their sense of identity.
A New Scapegoat is Appointed
If the scapegoat refuses all attempts to get them to return, the narcissist will find someone to take their place. That may be the golden child in the family, or it may be someone else.
They will require a scapegoat, however, and so someone will have to take their place. Scapegoats are often individuals who somehow threaten the narcissist’s sense of security. The narcissist may be jealous of them or fearful.
When one scapegoat escapes, another must be found, however, because the narcissist cannot admit to making any mistakes. They need someone they can blame and someone onto whom they can misdirect unwanted attention. If the scapegoat they initially used to fill that role is gone, another one will be found.
What Happens to the Scapegoat?
You might be surprised at what happens to the scapegoat when they go no contact. You might think that everything will be wonderful now that they’ve escaped an abusive narcissist. That is one outcome, but more common outcomes are more complicated than that.
Scapegoats, particularly those who have been subjected to a lifetime of abuse, internalize toxic shame and repeat behavior patterns that keep them in the company of toxic abusers even after they have left home. Let’s take a look at some of the common emotions and behaviors they experience.
Confusion at First
The first thing an escaped scapegoat typically experiences is confusion. They have been living with a high level of stress for so long that when they are relieved of that burden, they don’t know how to feel.
They also experience confusion associated with the loss of their role as a scapegoat. They often internalized that role in the family. They saw themselves as the rebel child and even may have taken a certain amount of pride in that role.
In a certain sense, members of a dysfunctional family are participating in a ‘consensual trance‘, i.e., a ‘survival trance’ supported by false narratives, toxic shame, anxiety, and egoic defense mechanisms, such as denial and projection.”
― Rebecca C. Mandeville, Therapist, and author
When they suddenly find themselves without anyone to rebel against, it can be confusing. They don’t know what to do with themselves initially. If they don’t seek out ways to heal, they can easily fall back into familiar patterns.
They Can Gaslight Themselves
While you might never have thought about it, you can gaslight yourself, and this is a common response among scapegoats who have fled their abuser. They will tell themselves that they are to blame.
They may also come to believe they somehow deserved the abuse they endured or that they really are too sensitive as their abuser claimed. They may question if they are, in fact, the cause behind the bad things they were accused of doing.
|Common Self-Gaslighting Phrases|
There may be legitimate reasons to express some of these sentiments, but often it’s the result of internalizing your scapegoat role and gaslighting yourself.
The Scapegoat May Find a Replacement Narcissist
Abuse begets abuse, and when a scapegoat has experienced narcissistic abuse as a child, they often repeat those patterns in their adult relationships. It makes sense when you consider that the only model a child really has for relationships is usually what they see at home.
Statistics reported by the UK Office of National Statistics indicate that over half (51%) of adults who have experienced domestic abuse were also abused as children.
Children who are exposed to abuse from an early age don’t know that it’s not normal. It’s the only reality they have ever known. How would they know that not everyone has the same experience?
I didn’t know until a childhood friend of mine was shocked by something my mother said. I thought everyone’s mother was just like mine, and it wasn’t until she was shocked that I understood my mother was different.
When a child doesn’t know any better, they look for familiar patterns of behavior as adults. They often seek out adult partners who will scapegoat them just like their narcissistic parent(s) did.
They May Seek Solace in Addictive Substances
Another common trend among scapegoats is that of addiction. They have internalized so much toxic shame that they feel a constant sense of pain.
They seek to numb that pain by turning to substances that help them simply not think about it. Scapegoats have to live with the label of ‘black sheep’ of the family, and they often live up to it by engaging in self-destructive behaviors.
They may even have come to believe that they don’t deserve to live or be happy in life. They have swallowed the Kool-Aid, as it were, that their toxic, narcissistic abuser was feeding them.
Healing is Possible
Despite all of these possible outcomes, healing is also one outcome. I know because I have done a lot of personal growth work toward that end.
Healing is a difficult process because it requires that you face your internal demons. But I can tell you from personal experience that there is no more worthwhile process in the whole world.
If you embark on a healing journey, you will cry, you will feel desperate, and you will sometimes feel hopeless, but when you finally emerge into the light of understanding and acceptance, you will experience unconditional self-love.
You can give your own inner child the unfailing love that your narcissistic abuser was simply not capable of expressing. This video gives you some tips on how to heal your inner child. You can be your own hero, and when that happens, you can face any challenge that comes your way.
There are few things more toxic than narcissistic scapegoating. It leaves the scapegoat with emotional wounds that can be used to manipulate and control them for the rest of their life. They are filled with toxic shame, and it’s easy for them to fall victim to other abusers and self-destructive behaviors as well.
Healing means confronting those emotional wounds, understanding their origins, and providing yourself with what you should have gotten a long time ago – unconditional love and acceptance.
I have created a 5-Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers that can help you take those difficult first steps toward healing your old wounds. This handy guide can help you identify, defuse, and heal emotional wounds so that no one can use them to hurt you ever again. If you would like a free copy of this guide, just click on this link, and I’ll send it directly to your inbox.
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