1.33 Narcissistic Mother: The Scapegoat Child

Back on One Broken Mom is Michelle Piper. Michelle is a Marriage and Family Therapist based out of San Diego. She has both a personal and professional interest in the adult children of narcissistic mothers. And has a website www.narcissisticmother.com where she provides valuable resources for survivors of narcissistic abuse. 

We’ve talked about the Narcissistic Mother as a type of Broken Mom and then drilled down into the different family roles the children end up being forced into, starting the Golden/Hero, then the Lost Child, The Mascot and now we’re at the last one – the Scapegoat.

Which I think fits nicely because I feel the personality of this child is little like “Screw you everyone, I’m outta here!” and so it feels like a suitable conclusion in many ways! 

Scapegoated Child

"Nothing you did was ever good enough. What may have satisfied your narcissistic mother one day could disappoint her the next.

If you expressed you felt your mother treated you unfairly, she might have led you to believe that you were crazy and ungrateful.  The “love” and “thoughtfulness” she gave you through her constant criticism was to be treasured.

If you did something of value and worth, you may have been cut down and made to believe that your accomplishments had no meaning in your narcissistic mother’s eyes.   Or, you could have been elevated and bragged about to the point of objectification.  (See Chosen, Hero or Golden child below.)

Why do we talk about this in detail? Because we are wired to idealize our parents and in particular our “Mom

Not only does a narcissistic mother neglect to nurture her child as a healthy mother would, but sadly her abuse turns you against yourself — often without you even realizing it initially.

To recover from narcissistic abuse, you need to be aware of what has happened to you and what is likely to happen to you as a result of having a narcissistic mother."

Topics Covered in This Episode

  • Becoming addicted to negative intensity

  • The different types of Scapegoats in a family 

  • The emotional & intellectual abuse that results

  • Knowing the difference between self-esteem and self-blame

  • The vulnerabilities Scapegoats develop as a result of their survival mechanisms

  • The strengths of the Scapegoat

  •  How to manage the best way to approach confrontation when you have become addicted to intensity

  • Understanding the role of anger and anxiety

UPDATE: Since this episode was recorded and published, Michelle Piper has since retired from the field and all links have been removed.


*Transcripts may contain some grammatical errors.

Amee: 00:48 Okay, today everybody, I am back on with one broken mom in Michelle Piper. And remember Michelle is a marriage and family therapists based out of San Diego and she has both the personal and professional interest in working. Uh, I wouldn't say exclusively, but probably pretty heavily with the adult children of narcissistic mothers and survivors of narcissistic abuse. So welcome back, Michelle.

Michelle Piper: 01:09 Thank you. It's good to be back. And I'm always so happy to work with you because you have a compassionate view of what it's like to be a mother and also what it's like to deal with a narcissistic mom in the family system. So I appreciate that compassionate viewpoint.

Amee: 01:25 Oh, awesome. You know, and I tell lots of people and thank you for that because we all had parents, um, all of us listening and the other pieces, I've never really wanted this to be a blame game and finger pointing saying, because at the end of the day, the big key message here is that what we're talking about and sharing is not common knowledge. It's not taught, you know, on a regular basis to anybody growing up. You know, how we learn to parent is by the models that we have. And we've all been shown different things through different experiences and it's just, it really is hard to be very judgmental against people that, you know, may have behaved in ways that left us feeling badly and may, you know, are leaving some of us going through therapy to repair some of that. But I don't know. I think it's the rare, rare person who ever intended to go out and have kids and hurt them.

Amee: 02:17 You know, it's, it's, you know, any of that injury has ever come is usually been out of just not knowing. And so coming together to talk about it in a way. Um, I, I just did an interview earlier before you and I talked and we were talking at the end of the interview and about, you know, mom feeling guilty, you know, I wish I could've done something better. And I thought, you know, what's a great gift is to give our parents who are feeling like if we're having these conversations with them, is the gift of them knowing that it's not permanent. You know, that. And I don't think that people, and that's part of this is this change in this, talking about it, this digging in and reflecting on it and understanding it means that we can actually, some of the things that maybe our parents actually do feel guilty about and feel like, well, I didn't know any better.

Amee: 03:04 I didn't mean to do that to you. I acknowledge that something's not right right now. And I wish I could change it. And the reality is they can't, but we can't. And we can, we can do that for them. And so if that helps with a compassionate conversation with your parents about this kind of stuff is like, Hey, I'm just going to take up this now, this, this work, I'm going to do it and you no longer need to feel guilty that what you did to me was a permanently affected my life in any way, shape or form. So for anybody that has that and I'm one of them, you know, how's that kind of uncomfortable, you know, elements with family dynamics of digging into trauma. You know, maybe that's a way for you to think about it. Um, it's, um, you know, you can liberate yourself and liberate them at the same time, you know, from that.

Michelle Piper: 03:42 And I think, you know, a major way that that has always done is through boundaries. Boundaries are compassionate and you know, so many people feel that if they have boundaries with a narcissist then, especially in narcissistic parent or grandparent, that they are then somehow standing in judgment. But what you're standing in is in compassion because you're not letting that person continue to do something that for most of them is not at their core values anyway. They wouldn't want to have this result. And they are incapable perhaps of seeing what their actions to, um, to create that result. And so there are times where, how hard boundaries may feel as if you're being a judge or judging, but actually what you're doing is protecting, they knew and them from repeating a painful history. Yeah. It's room for potential for a positive, a more positive relationship.

Amee: 04:37 Yeah. I agree. And you've talked about that before a lot that when you've grown up with narcissistic abuse or a narcissistic dynamic apparent that may not be, you know, a hundred percent narcissist but behaved narcissistically a times that as a child and that that household boundaries are violated on a regular basis. And learning how to set boundaries is super awkward and uncomfortable and foreign, you know, to be able to do that. But as I've learned and developed it definitely, oh my gosh, it feels so much better to hold them. And then, you know, high five yourself when you've been able to do that. And it does make a lot of difference in your wellbeing, you know, I mean you don't get as violated anymore and you realize, um, you know, you kind of gain your own sense of power, you know, that you didn't grow up with or didn't or had taken an, you know from you and stuff. So I appreciate that. Now we, we talked about for five months we were doing the math here and actually for everybody that's listening to this and the shell and are actually looking at each other for the first time in five months, we've been doing a lot of phone conversations. Um, but we got the video going today, which is great because Michelle does do coaching worldwide. So she can look at you too if you need some,

Michelle Piper: 05:49 not be in the shadows.

Amee: 05:51 She's a real person. Um, but in the five months that we've talked about it, we introduced the concept of the mother as a type of broken mom. And then we've been drilling down into the different family roles that the children in this family end up either drifting in themselves, are being forced into. Um, we started with the, the Golden, he wrote chosen child. We moved to the lost child cause we didn't want that one to be the last one and forgotten about. Then we went to the mascot. And now we're here at the final role, which is the scapegoat. And I think this, this fits nicely because for me, my experience was scapegoats is I kind of feel like this is the personality of the child that just basically said, screw you everyone. I'm Outta here. And so it kind of feels like a conclusion. Now we're at that. I'm like, I'm done. Yeah. So, um, so tell us what's the scape goat and why are we, why are we going to talk about that, that child finally today,

Michelle Piper: 06:47 the scapegoat is someone who, uh, off and on the forums. When you get online, you'll see a lot of people saying that they were scapegoated. Uh, that's often someone who is quite vocal because they were in the role of truth teller in their family system. Often they're the ones standing up saying, no, this isn't right, or this feels weird. Or trying to set boundaries or champion being the champion for another sibling to try to protect an underdog. A lot of times they'd fall on their sword, you know, they'd be somebody who was trying to rescue someone in the family. They get set up as rescuer and then they get pointed at as the problem. And so often with scapegoats, uh, you will hear that term probably the most, um, talked about that role, talked about and what I really enjoy about, uh, scapegoats is there so Sassy and they're fun and they tend to be contrarian.

Michelle Piper: 07:47 They like to kind of look at things from the outside and always question what's going on. Tend to be very creative people. Um, and the price they pay is that sometimes their instincts have been undermined by the narcissistic parent. The narcissistic mom Ha may have gas lit you, you know, gaslighting is a process of saying to you what you observe is not real. So I'm a classic gaslighting example is you could have a glass of water next to you and say, Oh, I'm so glad I have this water. And then the other person can say, there's the water there. And that's the same with, oh, I don't like the way you've treated me. I didn't do anything wrong or I, I didn't appreciate that you were teasing my younger brother, you know, or, uh, that you were talking about the neighbor that way. I'm not talking about the neighbor in any, you know, so there's a lot of denial and, um, then because if you've, if you confront a narcissist off and they're going to confront you, um, the scapegoat ends up having to do a lot of swordplay with a narcissistic parent.

Michelle Piper: 08:51 And that can be great for the other siblings because then they can get away with murder while the scape goat is fighting with the parents. So a lot of times the siblings, you know, we're just, miners were just children. Forgive yourself if you did this to your siblings, but they will serve up the sibling, you know, the scapegoat, you'll be like, well, I have, all I have to do is get scape goat going and then I can get away with you know, anything I want because everybody else has distracted with that behavior. And sometimes then the, the scapegoat gets a little addicted to negative intensity because they feel at least alive, noticed and powerful, um, at times in that role. So you can see where that could lead to other difficulties in situations where there's authority or groups and how to not carry the old behaviors from the family into those groups is something to be aware of, especially when an work environment, when you're trying to navigate group dynamics and work politics.

Amee: 09:53 [inaudible] and this is where listening to this piece of it, because you and I have talked about this as well many times, so for anybody that hasn't listened to the other episodes is that we in certain family dynamics can drift from these roles, you know, or, and as we age or the, the kind of the landscape of the family changes a little bit. Your role kind of shifts with that. And I know that, um, I've spoken about this before, especially in the work environment piece of it is, um, the w you can get triggered really easily by somebody contradicting you or your authority or like you said, if you're sensing something that feels like you're being gaslighted by like your boss or a coworker. I know Elaine. Oh, it does. And that was like my, like a heel, my achilles heel, you know, was being in places with authority people. And it's not like I was a troublemaker or anything like that, but you know, because of my own like, oh my addiction to that personality that, you know, guided me into business partnerships and personal relationships naturally, you know, if you have that scapegoat piece of you in there, it's like if you hit that trigger, it was just like, oh, like instant, you know, fight back and defend and stuff. And that doesn't work in business. Yeah.

Michelle Piper: 11:08 Yeah. Like if you're in a group situation, even like a group, um, work, uh, assignment in a academic setting, there can be times where you perceive something as unfair in the group and the group will sense, oh, we can get that person to confront the bully or whatever because they, uh, they have this tendency to do it anyway. So all they need is a little nudge, this little scapegoat, you know, you can see this poor little sixth grader championing the good role, you know, the good rule and you know, taking on a bully when they don't need to

Amee: 11:45 [inaudible]. So That's interesting because if anybody's listened to the other episodes and we talked about the hero and the golden child, you know what, what kind of pins in my head is sometimes scapegoat feels a little heroic. Is that, is that a shared, you know, is that a shared trait or possibly one in the same person at times.

Michelle Piper: 12:05 At times. So sometimes it's the golden that feels heroic and other times it's a scapegoat that feels heroic. And both of these heroic roles have their costs. Because whenever you are becoming a hero, you're in a triangle. Well and that triangle, when it's relational, you've got the villain, the victim and the rescuer. And that's a slippery triangle. So if you come in to rescue someone, you will almost into an evitable. He be pointed to as also the villain. Eventually, like somehow you messed it up. And so scapegoats can often get blamed for marital problems, financial problems, stress, my family health issues. So your father wouldn't have his heart problem if it wasn't for you always arguing, you know, these kinds of statements are made or the marriage will be so much better when you're off to college or you've moved out. Um, sometimes the scapegoat is asked to move out for the sake of some other sibling and that sets then them not getting along with a sibling because it's framed as you are the cause of the problem. So we had to remove you to save this other one. And then scapegoats feels like, okay, I'm not as valued double as the other one, or I'm in competition with this other sibling. Or sometimes it's the stepfather or stepmother. However, the choice was made.

Amee: 13:31 So it's, it's interesting when I listening to about this. So with the scape goat having such a, uh, a confrontational personality to it, is there, is there ever a scape goat who, and I asked this question, I'm gonna ask you this question. Like, is there ever a scapegoat? But I think I know an answer to this where the scape goat is just a victim. They're just blamed. They aren't a truth teller. They're not going to stand up and stay, you know, and stick up for justice. They are just at the pile that everybody dumps all the garbage on top of and uh, and, and just may not be as heroic or may not be his outbreak.

Michelle Piper: 14:11 Yeah. So you have some scape goats that are fighters and they take on the shrapnel of life rather early and a lot of times they actually are by their 20s have worked out a great deal of stuff because they've fought through it. Others are what you're talking about where they kind of collapse inward. They doubt themselves. Um, the gas lighting has caused them to question their self esteem. So all that, um, instead of having self esteem, they have self blame. And so once the piling on starts to happen, especially if more than the narcissistic parent gangs up on this person, but um, that narcissistic parent also has engaged in getting the siblings or the Co Parent Co caregiver to see this person that way starts to handle a PR and the extended family or community as us, this is just my difficult child or well watch out for that one. And you know, that's a terrible thing to do to uh, a kid. It's a, an imbalance of power to have an adult declare that a child has some negative trait. It's, it's incredibly emotionally and intellectually abusive.

Amee: 15:23 Yeah. When you, when you describe that, what pops into my head is when we experience bullies in the grade schools, you know, and even in high schools and stuff like that. And it sounds like what you are really kind of walking through is what home life for those types of kids might in fact actually be like, and I, you know, I've said this to before with people like I really, if there's anything that I, I, I despise it is watching adults bully children. And you're describing the way that you know, a way in which that actually happens with them being just blamed at home for everything. And of course you know that that kid reacts, you know, in a negative way. Right.

Michelle Piper: 16:00 And I think many of us can recall being at a, you know, a family table where you're the visitor and you just see like why do they keep going at the one kid for everything. You see this other kid doing similar things but the one child is getting common in a on corrected and it's there's gaslighting right there, you know, on person. The reality is is that there's a, the behavior is not single to that person yet they're being treated as if it is, right? Because everything they did is their fault.

Amee: 16:31 Um, and so you, you talked about talking about that self blame versus self esteem. Like what's the difference between self blaming feelings and just having low self esteem? Because I wrote low self esteem in my notes, but I think that your, what you, maybe you're describing something a little bit deeper than that.

Michelle Piper: 16:46 Yeah. What's scary about getting blamed and being falsely empowered with all these negative traits like you've ruined our marriage or you cause us financial problems, you know, to say to the a child to say that to a child when you're an adult, uh, falsely empowers them, makes them feel like they have more control over the situation than they do. And then that means they can blame themselves more for what's going on and they can blame themselves for the broken down car or the gas that ran out, you know, the propane that ran out for the home heat or whatever because somehow it has to do with them. And that feeds into the way that we grow up and develop as adults anyway. When we go through child hood and especially adolescence, we are egocentric. And one of the things is that, um, that helps us with is to break away and think that we know everything.

Michelle Piper: 17:39 You know, the big joke is I knew everything at 16 and then by 30 and you nothing, you know, that's, that's that healthy egocentrism that needs to be guided out. But it can also flip into self blame. And self loathing because if your environment isn't right and you're egocentric, you can start easily to turn that in on yourself and blame yourself. So if you have a parent adding to that Ra, a significant, um, mentor caregiver, then you can see where the soft blame can, um, really pile up and self blame always eats as self esteem and self worth. Self esteem and self worth are built by following your values and knowing that you're operating consistent with what you believe are the best actions for you. Kind of like if you're following your own standard operating procedures every day, then your slate is clean. Things might have not have gone perfectly, but you still refer back to these values and say, but I'm a good person. Whereas with self blame, it's, you know, it's, I'm, I'm bad that from a steak happens, I'm bad. It's not about the mistake happened, it's I'm the mistake. Mm. And so that's where you see that dynamic happening between self esteem and self blame being a, so such a downward spiral and the two of those start to get eaten up by each other.

Amee: 19:05 Yeah. Now we talk about that are, you know, we are wired as humans to idolize our parents and in particular like our primary caregiver because at idealization is what's necessary for us to be receptive and follow everything they do because we're learning as we go. And I had seen something out there were, um, a comment about the fact that because of that idolization and that just innate, we love our parents despite everything. Then when they, they are abusive to us or neglectful or do things like this, we don't reflect it, but we don't turn around and recognize it as abuse to them. We just, we still continue to love them. We just stopped loving ourselves. You know, that process

Michelle Piper: 19:46 that at the time is a coping mechanism that's necessary. You know, you can imagine as we evolve this, you know, we're coming out of the caves with our families and you know, that's seven. You disagree with the parents and just stop off into your pasture. So when you are younger you do differ, you know, if they say this has been bad or I've, I've done this, sadly you tend to go, Yep, that's me, that's my fault. Or if the atmospherics feels wrong in a room or in a place, you kind of think, hmm, this must have to do with me. There's that egocentricity again. And then as we grow up, we are lucky enough to find mentors that and caregivers that help us see, no, this is where you end and the world begins and you can control this piece, which you can't control everything.

Michelle Piper: 20:40 Um, recently I was counseling, uh, uh, very high achieving teenager anxiety and um, we had to go over the fact that part of, uh, being an adult and growing up is that you will disappoint people. You know, you can't say yes to every opportunity and every date and you know, there has to be no also. And so living with the fact that she really cannot satisfy everybody all at all times and that you do have healthy limitations is a part of that developmental piece. Now escape scapegoat person has been scapegoated, can get trapped in always trying to compensate for me being made to feel like things were their fault. And so they go through life, always trying to overachieve to prove to that initial family system. See, I'm fine, I'm good. I can do this. And that can put you in at a disadvantage in the work environment.

Michelle Piper: 21:40 If you start to see everybody as competition to prove to the authority figure I needed to prove I'm the best you can be accused of not being a team player. If you're constantly competing to prove you're the best. And so it really, as a goat, um, you're usually a very strong person because you've had to be independent from the system that you grew up with. But at the same time you have a longing to be in a system and feel that sense of community too. So you have to watch when you're older not to get kind of entrapped and trying to regain that feeling, you know, that elusive long lean that you'd never got, um, satisfied when you were growing up.

Amee: 22:27 Yeah. It sounds like too, like the um, possibilities, I'm making an assumption here, but you know, if you're have that sense of longing, love addiction might stem from something like that or co dependencies. Yeah,

Michelle Piper: 22:42 yeah, yeah. And so, you know, love addiction is always being attracted to kind of love walking away, you know? So if you think of heart energy coming from the front of the person that's always kind of longing at that back, walking away from you and that person who's walking towards you with the heart, you're kind of like, oh good, I got that check. And then you're always looking over it. That one that's kind of walking away. And that of course can affect your partner and how soon you make a commitment to a life partner, if at all. And how you'll end up co-parenting. And then of course, if you have children then how can you stand to have them individually weights. So individuation is, um, you know, somebody naturally starting to pull away from everything that the parent thinks is good and somebody who has more of a wounding that way is going to have a real hard time allowing, uh, and believing their child. Um, as an individual they're going to be more protective and under that protectiveness and fear of abandonment, they're going to want that person to be more of an extension of themselves then just out there individuating in an appropriate way.

Amee: 23:58 Oh, interesting. Huh. So cause I can see what the escape goats, you know, whether the truth tellers, um, that there's, you know, fighting for a sense of justice falling on the sword. Like you said, you know, kind of sticking up for what they think is right in there. But then there's that tricky balance of also realizing that when you do it, sometimes it alienates you and an alien from the people that you love. And that there's a, I mean, I can just see and feel that back and forth of the pendulum of like, but I can't stand watching something wrong happened. But at the same time, how am I supposed to stick up for myself and not lose everybody around me that I care about and love and swing back and, or, you know, so how does a scapegoat, um, how does, how does scapegoats kind of deal and compensate? What are kind of some of the shrouds and protections they put on themselves when that that's what they're kind of living in and that, that swinging back?

Michelle Piper: 24:49 Yeah. So first of all, they have to realize that they are vulnerable to the bidding for attention. But you know, just like they're narcissistic parent, they do bid for attention. And it's really important to not try to establish your worth every day, every minute of your life. That's it. There's a, you have to trust that there's a certain worthiness inherent in you, regardless of how much attention you get from someone, how valuable you are to someone. And scapegoat is often trying to prove that they are valuable and it's so painful because it's like you're only as valuable as your last action. So that can certainly lead to codependency.

Amee: 25:31 Mm. So help me, um, I, we, we talked about this between the, again, the hero scapegoat last child. Is there, are there some similarities between lost and scapegoats? We get lost scapegoats out there. Yeah.

Michelle Piper: 25:47 Scapegoats sometimes need to hide because they can't sometimes stop themselves from trying to rescue a stickup for until the truth. And sometimes they have to distance themselves from the family because they just can't seem to be there without being a lightening rod and all that energy. And even sitting in a extended family, you know, just for like a Christmas situation or Hanukkah or a wedding, you know, these situations can feel so uncomfortable, a scapegoat when they aren't getting the negative attention because they're waiting for it to happen or they feel like somehow they haven't shown up or that they don't exist. And there's a feeling of feeling extremely anxious until there's some sort of intensity. So you can imagine how it, especially at a family events where there could be alcohol available or overeating available. People have happened. And so it's no wonder that in January I ended up with all these people calling after their holiday visits and you know, there may be relapsed does on diets or sobriety because those drivers are very strong in situations like that when you involve the family system and you have these old wounds that you may not be aware of yet.

Amee: 27:04 Yeah. Yeah. And definitely I can imagine when you're in scapegoat mode, that intensities just always there. Otherwise there's, you're not getting any attention if it's not some dramatic thing that's going on, whether you're getting and you know, do scapegoats, uh, as children tend to be the, the more extroverted trouble for the parent or the family? I mean, do they evolve into the, um, just the low expectation that they're ever going to behave, they're always going to be misbehaving. Is that a real statement?

Michelle Piper: 27:35 What's ironic is that you have that and then you also have the most quote unquote normal kid getting scapegoated too. So refer the Addams family. I think maybe that's one of the reasons it appealed to so many people is that the one normal girl, this was seen as the Weirdo because then right, people don't have limbs or they're just not a normal kind of seen as like, Oh, poor thing. How she ever going to blend in the world. And so there are times when that scapegoat is actually going to be the Valedictorian at school, the one that's always doing it well. Um, so in the school setting they may be exceptional, but then at home they're always seen as, you know, the person just who can't listen, who just never just take an order and do it or just do it mom's way or do it dad's way.

Michelle Piper: 28:27 Why do you always have to fight? Why you always have to bring it up, you know? And yet this, the siblings and sometimes the coparent is fueling that scape goat up with some injustice, you know? Well, don't tell mom, but you know, it's been really hard day with her. If you could just not act up while you're home or whatever. And you know, that's perhaps dad unfairly dumping energy on the scapegoat and then the scapegoat actually gets charged up to want to say something like, why do you always have to talk to dad like that or whatever. And then there they are back in the role.

Amee: 29:01 Yeah. I, um, I, the reason why I said at the beginning of the episode here that I felt like the scape goat is the, you know, mic drop, I'm out of here type of a person. It comes from, you know, some personal experience in here of, you know, the evolution through life. But finally, you know, hitting 18 years old. And that was where I was at. It was like, I, you know, I can't change the system, so I'm just getting the hell out of the system and I'm, you know, moving on, I'm going to go to school and I'm to move away and stuff and, and go. So, you know, like they said,

Michelle Piper: 29:30 great is the exact landscape, like you said, the shifting landscapes. So there you are in the scape goat and then when you finally can leave, you're gone for a good long while. Yeah. The extended family, it's like we haven't seen her in six years. You know, since college you're suddenly, you don't like reappear until there's lot of wedding. Yeah. Um, so there's a lot of people that handle it that way because they could not win in that system and they were smart enough to know it. They didn't know why. Um, and of course when you're young news, you constantly question if it's yourself, you go from totally blaming the outside of totally blaming yourself, that pendulum. And so that's where things like cognitive behavioral therapy are helpful with that black and white thinking. Um, it helps you with the thinking distortions so you can kind of pull those things apart and look at, you know, it really is rarely all your fault or all somebody else's fault. And so what's one small piece you can take when you're feeling totally blaming of somebody else and also, um, when you're totally lending yourself, what's one small thing that you didn't have control over?