In Toxic Families, How the Scapegoated Child Gets Chosen

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  • Scapegoating is a widespread type of verbal harassment by parents.
  • According to research, scapegoating helps a parent to imagine their household as happier than it really is.
  • Scapegoating allows an adult to deflect blame and justify unfavorable consequences, giving them a greater sense of power.
  • The scapegoat task can be rotated or it can be assigned to a single boy.

The topic of scapegoating comes up often in interviews for my upcoming book on verbal violence; among the types of verbal abuse used by parents, scapegoating continues to have go-to status.

In a family led by a dominant, combative, or narcissistic adult, scapegoating is a powerful mechanism for maintaining dominance over not only family relationships and activities, but also the family narrative.

According to researcher Gary Gemmill, scapegoating allows a parent to imagine his or her household as happier and more functional than it really is; if it weren’t for the one person—yes, the scapegoat—the family would be fine, and everything would be perfect. This is significant because it allows the parent to curate the family story in a very precise manner.

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