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The Effect of Scapegoating a Family Member: Toxic Family Traits

Sometimes we don’t realize our family members are toxic until we’re out of the house. In other cases, it’s glaringly obvious you’re the odd one out or even the scapegoat from an early age. 

In any case, having toxic family members can make simple communication feel like an insurmountable challenge, and leave you feeling guilty, angry, or isolated. 

Psychiatric nurse practitioner Judy Vansiea, DNP, understands the difficulties of being the scapegoat of the family and knows how difficult it can be to maintain relationships within a toxic family.  

At Coping Nurse Practitioner in Psychiatry Services, PC, in Uniondale, New York, she provides individualized psychiatry services including adolescent mental health care, psychotherapy, and faith-based Christian counseling

As you navigate your own mental health, these services offer a lifeline and a better sense of understanding of the familial challenges you face. 

What is scapegoating?

Scapegoating in a family happens when one member is unfairly blamed and targeted for the family's problems, miscommunication, or dysfunction. This person becomes the "black sheep," and they’re held responsible for mistakes and conflicts that occur within the family. 


Scapegoating can take various forms, such as verbal abuse, emotional manipulation, or even physical harm.

Scapegoating: Why you feel how you feel

If you’re the scapegoat of your family, you most likely bear an emotional and psychological burden because of your familial relationships. You may experience:

Low self-esteem 

Being constantly blamed and criticized can chip away at your self-esteem. You might even start to believe some of the accusations your family makes even if you’re not at fault. 

Depression and anxiety

The stress of being the scapegoat can lead to diagnosed mental health issues like depression and anxiety. 

The constant pressure to conform to the family's expectations can be overwhelming. Fortunately, these conditions are treatable with individualized mental health care with psychotherapy and possible medications based on the severity of symptoms. 


Scapegoated family members often become isolated from the rest of the family. You might even spend more time on your own intentionally to avoid how your family makes you feel. Otherwise, your family might avoid interacting with you or inviting you to family activities.

Self-destructive behaviors or harm

You might turn to risky behaviors, such as substance abuse or self-harm, as a way to cope with the pain and stress of communicating with your family.

How scapegoating makes for a toxic family dynamic

Scapegoating doesn't just harm you even though you’re the target. The entire family dynamic suffers because of this trait. Here are some of the common toxic behaviors you might observe in your family:

Scapegoating can also become an issue across multiple generations as descendants learn from their parents and grandparents.

Protect your own well-being

If you see toxic traits in your own family, it’s time to take matters into your own hands. Remember, you don’t have to stay stuck in an unhealthy relationship. It’s good to care about your family but remember not at your own detriment because scapegoating is a serious problem no one needs to continue to bear. It’s important to know your self-worth and take the healthy necessary steps to protect your sanity. Everyone deserves to have a peace of mind with the family or without the family. Psychotherapy or counseling can help you better understand your family dynamic and learn to set healthy boundaries with your family. 

While you can’t force your family members into therapy if they’re not willing to go, you can learn coping mechanisms of your own through personalized psychiatric care. Remember that you don’t have control over others behavior but you do have control over the reaction to their behaviors and how you allow them to treat you. You are not stuck contrary to how you may feel and you can set yourself free. Take the next steps for your peace of mind.

To get started, call Coping Nurse Practitioner in Psychiatry Services, PC, or book an appointment online with Dr. Vansiea today.

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