In a family structure a scapegoat is the person who is blamed, ridiculed, mocked, and punished for the shortcomings of the other abusive family members. The abuse that a scapegoat endures often leaves them with many mental health issues that can follow them around for their entire life which raises the question, what would happen if the scapegoat were to leave the abusive family structure? 

When a scapegoat leaves a family, the family that they left will try to manipulate them back into the family structure so they can continue to use them as a repository for their negative emotions and the scapegoat will experience a ton of confusing negative emotions about leaving.

After leaving their family of origin, there are a lot of obstacles that scapegoats are going to have to overcome to obtain the happy, healthy, and secure life that they deserve. This article is going to guide you through those obstacles, starting with a short video we made about the characteristics of a scapegoat to give you a better understanding of the challenges that scapegoats face on a daily basis.

A Short Video About the Characteristics of a Scapegoat

The Scapegoat’s Family Will Try to Manipulate Them Back Into the Abuse Cycle

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. 

It’s for this reason that going no contact or having as little contact as possible with their family of origin is really important for the scapegoat to consider because after years of invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, and chaos, their abuser’s condescending voice could manipulate them back into the abuse cycle through something as simple as a text, phone call, or passive-aggressive side comment. 

If the scapegoat is able to set and maintain firm boundaries with their family of origin after leaving, like going no contact or having very little contact, it’s very common for their abusers to try to isolate them through a smear campaign. 

A scapegoat setting and maintaining firm boundaries

A smear campaign is simply a plan to discredit, devalue, invalidate, and oppress a specific group or individual through lies and gossip. When it comes to a scapegoat’s departure from their family of origin, a smear campaign will often manifest in the form of triangulation.

Triangulation is when an abuser will make one-on-one conversations, disagreements, feudes, and arguments into two or more-on-one conversations, disagreements, feudes, and arguments. 

You can read our articles What Does Triangulation Look Like and 6 Insightful Examples of Triangulation In Narcissistic Relationships for more context but triangulation can be very subtle like the main abuser posting passive aggressive content on social media about the scapegoat or it can be very bold like the main abuser sending flying monkeys to harass the scapegoat. 

The smear campaign, and all of the narcissistic behavior patterns embedded within it, is designed to push past the healthy boundaries that the scapegoat has set so that the abuser can continue to use them as a repository for their suppressed negative emotions even though they aren’t able to manipulate the scapegoat into returning to the abusive environment.

The Scapegoat Will Experience a Ton of Confusing Emotions

It’s important to remember that just because the abuser has singled out the scapegoat who left as their main target, it doesn’t mean that they have any sense of loyalty towards the other family members who enabled or participated in their abusive behavior.

Once the abuser realizes that they no longer have power and control over the scapegoat who left, they are going to search for a new scapegoat to regulate their suppressed negative emotions and fulfill their insecure need for power and control. 

This can be incredibly traumatizing for the scapegoat who left because if they have contact with their family of origin they are going to see people that they care about experience the same horrific levels of abuse that they worked so hard to escape. 

It’s possible for the main abuser to manipulate the remaining family members into believing that the abuse they are now experiencing is because the scapegoat left, which is a form of triangulation. 

A narcissist triangulating the scapegoat

Under these circumstances it is common for scapegoats who leave their family of origin to feel a tremendous amount of guilt and shame for leaving because they see how it has affected everyone else.

As hard as it may be, it is really important for the scapegoat to refuse to give into the main abuser’s coercive tactics because the punishment they’ll receive for leaving the family and returning is far greater than what anyone could ever imagine. 

Yet another obstacle that scapegoats are going to overcome after leaving their family of origin is the abuser’s tendency to victimize themselves. We covered this in our article Why Are Trauma Bonds So Hard to Break but it is very common for abusers to victimize themselves when their scapegoat leaves.

The reason being that a majority of abusers are so emotionally inadequate that they can’t regulate their own emotions even if they tried to. This means their scapegoat, a repository for all of their negative emotions, plays a huge role in their emotional stability. 

When the scapegoat leaves their family of origin, the abuser doesn’t have anyone to project all of their suppressed negative emotions onto. Instead, they’re forced to deal with them on their own which is quite literally impossible for them. 

It is very common to see the life of abusers who don’t have a suitable scapegoat begin to fall apart as their emotional stability deteriorates. Like a covert narcissist, an abuser without a scapegoat will become very vulnerable, needy, socially inadequate, anxious, irritable, resentful, hostile, and depressed. 

It can be a really confusing and destabilizing experience for a scapegoat who left their family of origin to see someone who has had so much power and control over them in such a fragile state.

This can lead to the scapegoat gaslighting themselves back into the role as a scapegoat in their family of origin simply because their abuser’s ability to victimize themselves has triggered an overwhelming amount of self-doubt and self-blame within the psyche of the scapegoat. 

Why Does the Scapegoat Experience So Much Abuse?

In our article What Causes Scapegoating In Families we dive into this aspect of scapegoating much more thoroughly but to truly understand what happens when a scapegoat leaves a family it is important to be aware of how one becomes a scapegoat and the effect scapegoating has on a family structure. 

Generally speaking, scapegoats are often perceived as a threat by the main abuser of the household, like an abusive parent, simply because certain aspects of their identity trigger the abuser’s suppressed vulnerabilities and insecurities. 

A simple example of this would be an abusive father using a somewhat fragile son as a scapegoat because the father had an upbringing in an environment where he was ridiculed, mocked, and punished for being “weak” by his parents. 

The emotional and/or physical fragility of this father’s son serves as a constant reminder of the fear that the father has of being “weak” so he uses his son as a scapegoat to indirectly attack aspects of his own identity that he despises. 

A narcissistic father screaming at the scapegoat

Sadly, this fear and hatred that abusers have towards their scapegoats is infectious. The other family members see how badly the abuser treats the scapegoat and are forced to choose between siding with the abuser and staying relatively safe or defending the scapegoat and risk becoming the target of the abuser’s wrath themselves. 

What ends up happening is that the entire family ends up mobbing the scapegoat simply because the main abuser is so intense and terrifying that it throws the rest of the family into survival mode. This means that the scapegoat plays a crucial role in the emotional regulation of the abusive family so when they leave it causes a tremendous amount of chaos, confusion, and fear within the family structure. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

The importance of scapegoats who’ve escaped their family of origin seeking the guidance of a qualified professional is immeasurable. In our article What Are the Characteristics of a Scapegoat we cover this much more thoroughly but abusers decimate the mental health of their scapegoat. 

A very anxious vicim of abuse

The effect that scapegoating has on the cognitive development of victims of abuse is unfathomable. Family scapegoats could find themselves in abusive environments for the rest of their lives or even become abusers themselves if they don’t address the trauma that their abusive upbringing created.  An upbringing in an unhealthy/abusive environment will corrupt the victim’s definition of love and healthy relationships. 

Seeking out the guidance of a qualified professional is by far the best and most reliable approach a victim of abuse can have when trying to shake the condescending voice of their abuser, reconstruct their identity and self-esteem, develop healthy trauma responses, and reshape their cognitive development so that they can live the happy, healthy, and secure life that they deserve. 

About the Author

Hey, I’m Elijah.

I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years. 

I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.

Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.

About This Article

We used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create parts of this article to enhance its accuracy and readability. It underwent a strict human editorial process before being published. See additional information.


Rivka Yahav, Shlomo A. Sharlin, Blame and family conflict: symptomatic children as
scapegoats. Child & Family Social Work 7(2):91 – 98, 2002.

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