When the Scapegoat Escapes
Is Scapegoating a Real Thing?
Yes, and many adult child abuse survivors have experienced this very real form of abuse that attacks the self-worth of the inner child that needs healing and still yearns to be loved, accepted, and validated. It is to the survivors and those who love and want to understand them that I write this post.
Where did the term “scapegoat” come from?
The word was first coined by William Tyndale in 1530 when he wrote the first translation of the Hebrew Bible into English. He came across the escape goat, later shortened to scapegoat, in the Torah.
Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord, the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall bring the goat on which the Lord’s lot fell and offer it as a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot fell for the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement on it; it shall be sent into the wilderness as the scapegoat. Leviticus 16:8-10 (Amplified)
One goat was slaughtered/sacrificed/designated to the Lord. The other would have the sins of the community symbolically placed upon him and sent away; this brought atonement to the community.
While we no longer sacrifice animals to atone for our sins, thanks be to God for His Son, Jesus, who shed His own innocent blood on the cross as the perfect and final sacrifice for our sins, this does still serve to illustrate why dysfunctional families still appoint the role of scapegoat upon an innocent child.
There is no rhyme or reason how a scapegoat is chosen, but, certainly, it is NEVER the child’s fault, rather it is the deep-seated root in the dysfunctional family from the hands of the abusive parent(s).
The child’s worth and lovableness are ignored, and their basic need of acceptance, love, and protection is denied. The child is bullied, neglected, ridiculed, and abused, as their invalidation is sealed through blame for the family’s dysfunction.
“If it weren’t for you Daddy wouldn’t have left.”
“It’s your fault Daddy is mad.”
“If you were a good girl Mommy would love you.”
“Why can’t you be more like….?”
An insecure sadistic parent may choose to scapegoat the child who is sensitive, attractive, and smart because this child represents what the parent is not and is a threat to expose their lack. A narcissistic parent may choose to assign the role of the scapegoat who, in the parent’s sick mind, does not boost the public image of the family. Or the child may simply remind them of their shortcomings, or resemble an ex. Again, being the family scapegoat is NEVER the child’s fault, nor does it lessen their value as a human being.
It cannot be over-emphasized that in a dysfunctional family it is the parent(s) with the problem and NEVER the child’s fault. In a healthy family with loving and mature parents, the children are not divided and branded “all good” or “all bad.”
When the scapegoated child grows into adulthood, they are susceptible to enter (friendship/work/romantic) relationships that tend to be abusive and harmful. Even when they may intellectually know it is dysfunctional and/or dangerous, it feels normal/familiar to them because they have been conditioned and trained to accept abuse. This is why dysfunction and abuse are passed down through generations.
Scapegoating is Child Abuse!
An adult survivor of child abuse may struggle to remember their childhood and doubt what they do remember (disassociation) because their memories are invalidated by the family as being told they are too sensitive, overly emotional, or are gaslighted into believing it never happened “that way,” thus adding more insult to injury and creating prolonged harm to the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being of the survivor. This gaslighting forces the survivor to internalize their feelings and doubt or question their reality.
No matter the distance the survivor puts between them and the abuser (parent/family), the abuse still impacts their life, as it is pre-conditioned in childhood and is carried over and reactivated in familiar conditions.
The overshadowing of the abuse rears its ugly head through:
Inability to set or maintain long-term goals
Maintain position in job/career
Unhealthy relationship choices
It leads to cycles of failure, disappointment, failed relationships, depression, anger, anxiety, and fear.
The scapegoat who leaves the family can see the family for what it is; toxic, dysfunctional, and unhealthy. The survivor who has healed from the bondage of the past and broke the curse of the abuse can be a strong, empathetic, compassionate, beacon of hope for others.
Forgive and Forget?
Nowhere in the Bible is a verse that supports the all-too-familiar phrase, “Just forgive and forget,” or “Let bygones be bygones,” or “Just get over it.” Phrases such as these come from ignorance and lack of repentance of the abuser, or by well-meaning but clueless people, and cause more injury.
Forgiveness is a gift and the Holy Spirit can and will help the process. And while the Bible does command us to forgive, forgiveness is in no way an agreement to the abuse, nor does it imply it never happened, nor does it suggest any child deserved the abuse as it “was their lot to carry.” However, forgiveness does free you from the abuser, it helps you set healthy boundaries, and releases them to own and take responsibility for their problem (sin). Forgiveness allows you to walk in a relationship with God, who is your ultimate Healer.
“I am the Lord who heals you.” -Exodus 15:26
Unforgiveness and unresolved childhood injuries can surface through anxieties, feelings of tension, uneasiness, and a sense of approaching danger, even though at the moment of the triggered feelings it does not seem logical. Anxiety creates an internal fear that shows itself through restlessness, sleeplessness, and disturbing dreams.
There is no fear in love [dread does not exist]. But perfect (complete, full-grown) love drives out fear, because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment, so the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love [has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love]. -1 John 4:18 (Amplified)
You know you are perfectly loved by God, without fear, when you no longer accept the role of the family scapegoat, and you no longer carry the weight of responsibility of your parent(s) sin, and you trust and rest in God’s love for you. You are not to be moved or take the blame for what has happened to you as a child. You can (and must) set healthy boundaries.
By the grace of God, you may still have a relationship with your family, but because you have allowed the Holy Spirit to heal you, you can stay within the boundaries you have established and not carry the arrows of poison they throw into your heart. You do not have to accept or fall into the role of the scapegoated abused child, do not regress into fear and panic.
Or maybe you have to cut ties with your family, even if for a season. To forgive someone does not mean you should allow yourself to be a target for their toxicity, or minimize the abuse through denial. Sometimes a survivor may need to distance themselves from family members and get help to recover from the abuse.
No, it is not fair that a survivor must carry the burden of recovery from child abuse. You may never hear the words “I’m sorry I deprived you of growing up in a safe, stable, and loving home,” but in time, with God’s help, you can be healed. You can love and trust. You can experience real love, the unfailing love of your Father in heaven, who you can call Abba (Daddy), because Child, you are loved.
You have the power to end the generational cycle of abuse. You can draw the proverbial line in the sand and say, “No more!”
I am not saying it is easy. But I am saying it is possible.
Dear Reader, if what I wrote was for you, then I pray that you may find peace and wholeness in the arms of the Father (God) who loves you very much.
Be Free & Stay Free