Have you ever wondered what happens to a family when the scapegoat decides to walk away?

If so, you’re definitely not alone. One of our community members recently asked, “What happens when the scapegoat leaves the family dynamic?”

I went looking for answers. Here’s what I ended up with.

When the scapegoat leaves the family:

  • They might feel a sense of freedom and relief.
  • The family might increase attempts to re-engage them.
  • They may face challenges in building trust and relationships.
  • Another family member may become the new scapegoat.
  • They may discover personal strengths and resilience.
  • The family may initiate a smear campaign.
  • They might experience a journey of emotional healing.
  • There may be increased self-victimization within the family.

In this article, I’ll walk you through each of these possibilities to help you understand what happens when a scapegoat leaves the family.

If you have or currently are experiencing narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse for help.

1.) They Might Feel a Sense of Freedom and Relief

When the scapegoat leaves the family that was scapegoating them, one of the first things they can expect is a sense of freedom and relief. 

It’s like finally stepping out of a room that was too small and dark into an open space that’s full of light. 

For so long, they’ve been weighed down by blame and criticism, always feeling like they had to walk on eggshells. 

Leaving that environment behind means they no longer have to live under constant scrutiny or worry about being the target of unfair accusations.

They can start making decisions without fearing how their family will react. 

This newfound freedom allows them to explore who they are without the burden of the scapegoat label, opening up possibilities for growth and happiness that were previously unthinkable.

2.) The Family Might Increase Attempts to Re-engage Them

When a scapegoat decides to leave the family dynamic, one reaction they can expect from the family is an increase in attempts to re-engage them.

This could range from persistent messages and calls filled with pleas or demands to return to guilt-tripping tactics highlighting the supposed pain their departure has caused. 

A narcissist trying to guilt trip the scapegoat.

The family, suddenly missing the usual target for their issues, might try to pull the scapegoat back into the fold, not necessarily out of a desire for reconciliation but to restore the familiar dynamic. 

These efforts might be cloaked in concern or offers of improved relationships, but often, they serve the family’s need to maintain the status quo, where roles are clearly defined, and the scapegoat is easily blamed for family problems.

3.) They May Face Challenges in Building Trust and Relationships

Another thing scapegoats can expect when they leave their family is the challenge of building trust and forming healthy relationships. 

Having been conditioned to expect judgment and criticism, trusting others, and believing in the goodwill of people can be tough. 

It’s like learning to swim in deeper waters after only knowing the shallows; it requires courage and a willingness to face the fear of being hurt again. 

They might find themselves questioning the motives of those who are kind to them, worried that any moment of vulnerability could lead to pain. 

A scapegoat having a hard time trusting others.

However, this is also an opportunity for growth. 

With time and perhaps some guidance from friends, support groups, or professionals, they can learn to differentiate between the unhealthy dynamics they experienced and the healthier ways of relating and connecting. 

Gradually, they can build a support network that respects and values them for who they are, not who they were made to believe they had to be.

Suggested Reading: 10 Ways to Grow as a Person After Narcissistic Abuse

4.) Another Family Member May Become the New Scapegoat

Another significant reaction within the family following the departure of the scapegoat is the potential selection of a new scapegoat. 

With the original scapegoat gone, the family system, still dysfunctional, may require another outlet for blame and dissatisfaction. 

This shift can result in another family member, previously spared or less targeted, facing increased criticism and blame. 

It highlights the family’s inability to address the root causes of its issues, resorting instead to continuing a cycle of blame and avoidance. 

This situation underscores the systemic nature of scapegoating within families, where the issue is not with the individual scapegoats but with the family’s dynamics and communication patterns.

Suggested Reading: What Causes Scapegoating In Families?

If you need help with anything related to narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.

5.) They May Discover Personal Strengths and Resilience

Upon leaving the family dynamic, scapegoats can expect to discover personal strengths and resilience they may not have realized they had. 

Freed from the constant negativity and blame, they start to see themselves in a new light. 

This period of self-discovery can be empowering, as they recognize their ability to endure and overcome difficult situations. 

The very act of leaving and choosing a healthier path for themselves is a testament to their inner strength. 

They might find that they’re capable of facing challenges with a resilience honed by their experiences. 

This realization can be transformative, offering a sense of pride and confidence in their ability to independently navigate life’s ups and downs, reinforcing their sense of self-worth and capabilities.

6.) The Family May Initiate a Smear Campaign

After the scapegoat leaves, one potential reaction from the family is the initiation of a smear campaign. 

Feeling threatened by the scapegoat’s departure and the possibility of being exposed for their own dysfunctional behaviors, some family members might attempt to discredit the scapegoat to extended family, friends, or within the community. 

This can involve spreading false narratives, exaggerating situations, or twisting past events to portray the scapegoat in a negative light, all in an effort to maintain control over the family narrative. 

A narcissistic family scapegoating someone.

The goal of such a campaign is not only to undermine the scapegoat’s credibility but also to divert attention from the family’s issues by reinforcing the idea that the scapegoat was the problem all along. 

This tactic can be particularly damaging, as it attempts to isolate the scapegoat socially and emotionally, making their journey to independence and healing more challenging.

7.) They Might Experience a Journey of Emotional Healing

Leaving the scapegoat role behind also means embarking on a journey of emotional healing. 

This process can be both challenging and liberating. 

For years, the scapegoat may have internalized feelings of inadequacy and blame, which don’t just disappear overnight. 

They may need to work through layers of hurt, anger, and confusion. 

This healing process often involves learning to forgive themselves for things that were never their fault, understanding and processing their emotions, and perhaps seeking support from therapy or support groups. 

A support group for scapegoats.

As they heal, they can expect to gradually shed the weight of their past, making space for healthier emotions and relationships. 

This journey can lead to a deeper understanding of themselves and a more compassionate approach to their needs and vulnerabilities, ultimately fostering a stronger, more authentic sense of self.

8.) Increased Self-Victimization Within the Family

Another reaction to expect from the family after the scapegoat’s departure is an increase in self-victimization behaviors among the remaining members.

Without the scapegoat to blame, some individuals may adopt the victim role themselves, claiming that the scapegoat’s departure has caused them undue hardship or emotional distress. 

This self-victimization serves several purposes:

  • It seeks sympathy and support from those within and outside the family.
  • It deflects from the family’s own dysfunctional behaviors.
  • It attempts to manipulate the scapegoat into feeling guilty for leaving.

By portraying themselves as victims, these family members continue the cycle of avoidance, refusing to address the root causes of their dysfunctional dynamics and instead focusing on eliciting pity and maintaining the facade of innocence.

If you are ready to be more than a victim of narcissistic abuse, visit Unfilteredd’s Institute of Healing from Narcissistic Abuse today.


Thank you so much for reading; I hope it was helpful.

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

Have you ever experienced or observed the role of a scapegoat within a family or group? 

How did it affect the dynamics and relationships within that group?

What steps did you or someone you know take to heal and rebuild their life after leaving such a situation?

Or perhaps you’re looking for guidance on how to manage the complex emotions and challenges associated with leaving the scapegoat role behind.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.

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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.

Unfilteredd has strict sourcing guidelines and only uses high-quality sources to support the facts within our content. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, actionable, inclusive, and trustworthy by reading our editorial process.

“Scapegoating.” (2018). In APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/scapegoating

Jennifer Gerlach. (2024. January, 6). 5 Ways to Heal from Being the Family Scapegoat. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/beyond-mental-health/202401/how-to-rise-above-the-role-of-family-scapegoat

Charlotte Nickerson. (2023. October, 10). Definition Of Scapegoat, Scapegoating, And Scapegoat Theory. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/scapegoating.html

Nadra Nittle. (2022. August, 11). What Does It Mean to Be the Family Scapegoat? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-the-family-scapegoat-5187038

Poljak Lukek S, Pate T, Gostečnik C. “Physical Violence and Scapegoating Within the Family: An Exploration of Biblical Texts and Contemporary Psychology.” J Relig Health. 2023 Aug;62(4):2638-2655.

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