In the narcissistic realm, a scapegoat is a person that a narcissist will direct a disproportionate level of abuse toward when compared to the other people they interact with. It is a horrifying aspect of narcissistic abuse because of how psychologically torturous it is. But when we take a closer look at the reason why a narcissist needs a scapegoat, it actually reveals a lot of information that can help victims of narcissistic abuse understand what they’re going through. 

A narcissist needs a scapegoat to regulate all of their suppressed negative emotions because their emotional inadequacy prohibits them from being able to regulate them through non-narcissistic methods like self-awareness, building healthy relationships, therapy, and self-reflection.

To grasp a comprehensive understanding of the role that a scapegoat has in a narcissist’s life would be to compare their relationship to the reaction soda has when it interacts with Mentos. If you were to drop a pack of Mentos into a bottle of Coca-Cola the Mentos would create an extraordinary amount of carbon dioxide bubbles and cause the soda to erupt out of the bottle.

This concept can be applied to those with narcissistic personalities and their suppressed negative emotions. What narcissists don’t want you to know about them is that they are some of the most self-loathing, insecure and vulnerable individuals on the planet. 

A narcissist hiding all of their insecurities and vulnerabilities behind a falsified identity.

They spend their entire lives fabricating a falsified identity to hide their true identity but much to their dismay, the negative emotions they have from willingly living a lie only get suppressed within their psyche, and don’t go away.

When a narcissist has all of these suppressed negative emotions without a scapegoat, it’s essentially like dropping a package of Mentos in a bottle of Coca-Cola and tightening the cap as hard as you can, it is going to explode and destroy the bottle. The only way to prevent the bottle from being destroyed would be for someone to remove the cap off of the Coca-Cola bottle.

Scapegoats are the hands that twist the bottle cap off the narcissist’s metaphorical Coca-Cola bottle. 

So, what ends up happening is that the narcissist takes all of the things that they hate about themselves, which happens to be their true identity, and projects it onto their scapegoat to avoid the intense negative emotions that come from the realization that they’re not as special, unique, important, liked, successful, attractive or valuable as they like to believe that they are.

Scapegoats are tools that narcissists use for the regulation of their suppressed negative emotions to avoid imploding on themselves.

The relationship that a narcissist has with their scapegoat is actually a form of projection. If you’re unfamiliar with this behavior pattern, check out our article Why Do Narcissists Use Projection for more information. 

The Origin of a Narcissist’s Need For a Scapegoat

The origin of a narcissist’s need for a scapegoat originates from their unhealthy/abusive upbringing. You see, there are many different theories about how one develops a narcissistic personality, however, each theory clearly depicts an unhealthy/abusive childhood and highlights how it correlates with a narcissist’s emotional immaturity and overwhelming sense of inadequacy.

Keep in mind that there is not a theory that is correct. In fact, I believe that each theory has the potential to cause different types of narcissistic personalities to develop within any given individual. With that being said, the theory I want to use to identify the origin of a narcissist’s need for a scapegoat comes from Otto Friedmann Kernberg.

He believes that narcissists are created by an upbringing with narcissistic primary caregivers. As we know, people with narcissistic personalities are horrifyingly bad at expressing emotions associated with healthy relationships. Meaning that in a relationship between a narcissistic primary caregiver and a child the primary caregiver would most likely be constantly unresponsive, unavailable, and inconsistent.

An unresponsive, unavailable, and inconsistent mother emotionally abusing her child

We also know that people with narcissistic personalities are desperately depending on narcissistic supply, the validation, admiration, reassurance and chaos their behavior patterns extract out of others. This means that every single relationship that they have is purely transactional, including the ones they have with their children.

Meaning if the child is not a sufficient source of narcissistic supply, the child will be neglected by their narcissistic primary caregivers. Over time this level of emotional instability will teach the child that the only way they can be loved, acknowledged, validated or reassured is by being a source of narcissistic supply.

Otto Friedmann Kernberg suggested that under these circumstances a child would devote all of their attention, ability and willpower to improving their external world, which includes materialistic things like achievements and awards, instead of their internal world which is their own emotional stability and healthy cognitive development.

In other words, the child will learn that their narcissistic primary caregivers are much more attentive if they are the star quarterback of the high school football team instead of the quiet, well-rounded, intelligent, and normal individual that they actually are. 

So, you can see how from a young age this child learns how to suppress their true identity by creating a falsified one. Something else that also happens under the circumstances is that the child would develop a deeply rooted hatred for their true identity because they believe that the characteristics of the true identity makes them unlovable and unworthy of other’s acceptance. 

As this confused child moves from childhood/adolescent hood to adulthood their focus on being accepted by the narcissistic primary caregivers shifts towards society. Unfortunately, because of the emotional immaturity they’ve developed from an upbringing of emotional deprivation, they’re unable to see past society’s superficial exterior. 

Individuals with narcissistic personalities honestly believe that what society values most are things like money, power, sex, appearances and social status so that is what they gravitate towards and compose their falsified identity of. 

How Does an Unhealthy/Abusive Upbringing Correlate With a Narcissist’s Need for a Scapegoat?

An upbringing where your external world is far more valuable than your internal world causes many children to develop an emotional immaturity that requires a medical professional to correct. 

If this level of emotional trauma is left neglected the child will carry their convoluted beliefs into adulthood and continue to build their self-esteem off of materialistic things like achievements and awards rather than focusing on their internal world.

As a result, the individual will continue to suppress their true identity and devote their existence to maintaining the falsified identity that they believe is much more likely to be accepted by others.

Their emotional immaturity will continue to prohibit them from regulating the intense negative emotions that they have suppressed deep within their psyche, so they’ll use scapegoats to regulate their emotions instead. 

A narcissistic father using his child as a scapegoat.

The combination of their hatred for their true identity and their emotional immaturity will cause them to lash out viciously at those who either intentionally or unintentionally remind them that they are living a lie. 

With that being said, it’s important to know that scapegoats are not randomly chosen. In fact, scapegoats often unknowingly antagonize the narcissist in a very specific way. Again, it’s a really important aspect of scapegoating that you have to understand so be sure to check out our article How Do Narcissists Choose a Scapegoat for more information.

What Should You Take Away From This Article? 

People with narcissistic personality need a scapegoat because they’re incapable of regulating their own suppressed negative emotions. Without a scapegoat their falsified reality would be contradicted which means they would be reminded that they’re living a lie. 

Their emotional immaturity prohibits them from being able to regulate the intense negative emotions that come from the realization that their core values, identity and reality is a figment of their imagination. 

A narcissist’s well-being is heavily dependent on their ability to regulate their suppressed negative emotions through their scapegoat.

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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Gemmill G. The Dynamics of Scapegoating in Small Groups. Small Group Behavior. 1989;20(4):406-418. doi:10.1177/104649648902000402.

Caplan, P. J., & Hall-McCorquodale, I. (1985). The scapegoating of mothers: A call for change. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55(4), 610–613. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1939-0025.1985.tb02711.x

Pillari, V. (1991). Scapegoating in families: Intergenerational patterns of physical and emotional abuse. Brunner/Mazel.

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