For a child of a narcissistic or similarly dysfunctional mother, the scapegoating starts with the first breath. The narcissistic mother expects the child to be a certain way without making the effort it usually requires to raise a child. She is too lazy, ignorant and disinterested to engage in much positive parenting and rather assumes that the child will inherently behave and perform just the way she thinks he or she should.

But the child keeps failing her mother’s expectations and is then faced with her disapproval, rage, silent treatment and shaming. The child essentially raises herself under the constant pressure exerted by the narcissistic mother. The child desperately seeks her approval, wants to please her. But she constantly keeps falling short. There is no support, no nurturing. Just walking on egg-shells.

Yet, the mother, instead of looking at her parenting skills, or lack thereof, blames and pressures the child, projecting her own shadow onto her.

How the shadow of the scapegoat forms

This is when the tragedy starts. The child, unable to discern that the mother, indeed, is uncaring and toxic, accepts the blame that is being piled on her. She accepts the mother’s narrative—I am bad, I am not good enough, I am a problem. The child internalises the mother’s projection. What the mother is projecting onto the child is her shadow and that becomes the child’s identity.

For every scapegoat, it is a tale of two people—the person that the scapegoat really is (the eager to please, eager to prove herself, eager to be loved and desperately lonely being), and the person the narcissistic parent claims the child is (the difficult, unmanagable, ungrateful troublemaker).

The child, under this extreme pressure, starts to crack. She starts acting out in ways that further reinforce the false narrative. That leads to further victimisation, since most people in the society, rather than looking at the family dynamic and acknowledging the lack of nurturing and support, the outright neglect and abuse that is happening, would rather accept the parent’s story and further shame and blame the child.

Many, similarly toxic individuals, would eagerly jump on the band-wagon and offload their own shadow onto the scapegoat. These people feel triggered by the scapegoat’s attempt to speak the truth and have to silence him or her with more abuse.

The child is now becoming a carrier of the collective shadow.

The child begins to see herself as a problem, a source of all her or his struggles, and accepts the story that she indeed, deserves the harsh treatment he or she is getting. She accepts responsibility for the toxic behaviour of others and would even blame herself for having negative emotions when subject to such treatment. It’s not them, it’s me would be the main belief.

Once the scapegoat reaches adulthood, his or her only chance to achieve mental health is by separating herself or himself from the false narrative created by the narcissistic parent, which has been reinforced by society.

When shadow is light

Counterintuitively to everything the scapegoat has been led to believe and contrary to most ‘new age wisdom’, the scapegoat’s major breakthrough is ‘it’s not me, it’s them.’

The journey of encountering his or her shadow is logically very different for the scapegoat from how it’s being understood in the Jungian sense. The scapegoat is discovering her own goodness and light. She gets to understand that she is, indeed, better than those who have been shaming and blaming her, since she, indeed, always owns her sins and feels utterly ashamed of her misbehaviours. She even takes responsibility for the behaviour of her abusers. That’s how she’s been trained. It’s a struggle for her, in fact, to stop accepting responsibility for the behaviour of her abusers and her attempts to force the abuser to be accountable result in a horrifying push back from the abuser. The scapegoat has two options – return to her old ways of accepting the abuser’s narrative, or completely remove herself from the abuser’s orbit. An awakening scapegoat does the latter, but it’s not without repercussions since she is further abused, blamed and shamed by the brainwashed minions of the abuser, who, in fact, are abusers themselves. The scapegoat frees herself from the false story but the false story doesn’t die. It’s further perpetuated by the abusers and thus the abuse continues.

But the scapegoat discovers that her capacity for empathy, her caring, is superior to that of those around, largely due to her lifelong experience of emotional suffering, loneliness and lack of support. Only those who have experienced pain know how pain feels. Only those who experienced misfortune know how misfortune feels.

Owning your victimhood

We live in a society that discourages people from being victims. It’s not cool to blame others, right? It’s better to think that those who have encountered some deeply unfortunate circumstances brought it onto themselves while those fortunate somehow deserved their fortunes because they are somehow better. Yet, these sentiments only lead to perpetrators constantly getting off the hook and shifting the blame and shame onto the victim.

That’s why it might be difficult for the scapegoat to get in touch with her deep and profound victimhood. It’s easier to think “I deserved being told to die by my own father, I deserved to be shamed and put down”. The aforementioned belief gives the scapegoat a false sense of control. If I do the right thing, they will treat me well. Life will treat me well.

What lays dormant in the scapegoat’s shadow is the realisation that she has done nothing wrong, she simply was born to the wrong people. Into the wrong circumstances.

That’s not to say that the victim is a saint. She had surely behaved in troublesome ways, overreacted on her triggers, saw danger where there was none, but that’s only normal for a mindfucked victim of emotional abuse.

The scapegoat’s journey of encountering her shadow is discovering and acknowledging the darkness of the world, her victimhood and her own light and goodness.

Accepting your resentment

Accepting one’s victimhood is tough. It means coming to terms with the fact that something very bad was going on that the scapegoat did not deserve and had no control over. She was just unlucky to climb into the world from the wrong vagina. All the rest was a consequence of this one misfortune. The scapegoat has to mourn the person she could have been if only she was given parental love, the one thing so many take for granted. She has to mourn the loss of the healthy thriving self that wasn’t meant to be.

There is a lot of anger and resentment the scapegoat has to allow herself to feel. The pockets of pain and fear the scapegoat encounters along the way are deep. Once the denial and compartmentalisation is pierced, the emotions flood the scapegoat like a tsunami. It may take days to regain emotional balance.

There is a lot of suicidal ideation that comes in the process. The self-destructive wish of the unloved child. If I am not wanted, why should I be here? If there is no place for me here, why should I be here? Life is not a gift, it’s a burden. I’ll never be heard, I’ll never be seen. The only thing I get if I speak up is more invalidation, more shaming, more blaming, more abuse.

Part of the scapegoat’s shadow is the resentment not only towards the primary narcissist but towards the entire society, which let the scapegoat down. It’s not easy to own the fact that you feel resentment and hatred towards society. It’s not easy to own that you feel resentment and hatred at all. In the current world, there is this predominant and deeply misguided belief that if someone feels resentment towards someone, it’s the fault of the person feeling the emotion. It’s not because the person actually did something wrong to the person feeling that emotion.

That’s not to say that people don’t, too, feel resentment that is misplaced. In fact, that’s in the core of the narcissist’s behaviour.

The scapegoat has to burst through this unwillingness to feel her resentment and own it. Yes, I do feel resentment towards the society, which failed to recognise that I was being treated poorly. I feel resentment towards all those people who further shamed me and blamed me and ridiculed me. And you know what? I am OK with it.

It’s this resentment that leads some scapegoats to carry out crimes against society – think about Charles Manson or Aileen Wuornos, two people terribly betrayed by society who then turned their hatred and resentment against the society in a symbolic and tragic way. There is a limit to how much one person can handle. One has to ask how many such crimes could be prevented if society was willing to own its part in letting these people down. If the society understood the psychology of scapegoating, neglect and emotional abuse, and offered these people support and validation instead of further blaming and shaming, many lives could be saved.