Adult poverty and scapegoat-hood: a connection?


I’m copying and pasting this from the comment section under another post, because I think it’s an important issue that needs a lot more awareness and research than it currently has.

I always felt like an outsider in the world because I’m one of those rare people who came from an upper middle class family but fell into a lower class financial lifestyle. I thought I must be horribly defective for that to have happened. From everything I’d ever read until recently, it was believed the only people who would fall so far down the social ladder into poverty (who weren’t born into it) were those who were mentally challenged, drug-addicted, or insane (and even then, their wealthy families would continue to help them financially, if not support them). As a person with a high IQ, I found the theory that “people who become poor are dumb and lazy” incredibly insulting.  I’ve worked hard my entire adult life and I’m far from stupid.  I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, and I don’t have the type of mental illness that keeps a person from being able to take care of themselves. I knew my poverty had everything to do with my dismally low self esteem and wondered why this wasn’t ever considered a cause of poverty in adulthood.

It wasn’t until I found the ACON community that I realized I wasn’t alone: this seems to be a phenomenon almost exclusively limited to adults who became the designated scapegoats of narcissistic families. It’s as if we were not only isolated from the rest of the family by our narcissists; we were also kept from being able to take our rightful places in the functioning world. Whether we’re male or female, we were castrated and crippled, then we were blamed for it. We were told we were “losers” or “stupid” or “lazy.” But we never had a chance.  To make matters even worse, once poverty befalls us, we are further isolated and rejected because we “embarrass” the family.

So many of us became poor but didn’t grow up that way. Obviously something’s significant is going on here. I think studies need to be done on family scapegoats/black sheep and poverty and find what the correlations and causes are. I would suspect the lack of normal familial support systems, isolation from others, and emotional coping tools due to horrible self esteem are the culprits. Awareness needs to be increased.

Right now, a number of ACON bloggers are writing about their own experiences with it, so it’s starting there, at the grass roots level. Hopefully, in time this very real social issue becomes more noticed and addressed in the general realm. I hope in the future there’s more empathy and tolerance toward the poor in general, who don’t all fit in the same box. We aren’t all lazy slackers and we weren’t all born poor. In fact, many of us are intelligent and college educated. We just don’t know how to navigate the practical side of life as well as others, and we lack the social support networks others have, because of what was done to our self esteem by our narcissistic families.

Further reading:

Why Family Scapegoats Become Lifelong Victims

Outcasts, Scapegoats and Black Sheep of the Dysfunctional Family

Scapegoating in Families: What We Need to Know


34 thoughts on “Adult poverty and scapegoat-hood: a connection?

  1. Family scapegoat can be a label that hides the fact that selective emotional/physical abuse can be directed at one child only. I’d never heard of ACON before reading your post but I’d say I can identify. My mother was a narcissist. She abused me emotionally, mentally, physically and would have sexually except for the fact that I was a painfully shy child who escaped into books… And one of the books I had finished reading was about a girl who had gone through incest… So I had a new word. When she attempted to escalate her bedroom behavior with my brother and I, my new word flew out of my mouth. “That’s incest! What you want is incest!” Never again did she attempt anything else, but the emotional and physical abuse continued.

    It took me years to recover and heal from the damage she inflicted, but I learned that we can all heal. It takes time and work. It’s doable. It’s not easy. It’s gut wrenching… But the freedom from the negativity is incredible! I just love it!

    Keep writing and sharing your message! It’s important for people to know that we all have the inner power to heal and grow… If someone doesn’t believe it it’s because they’re still under ‘the old evil spell’ which was part of their indoctrination! For a narcissist to be able to go through life, they can’t accept responsibility for their own actions so they project their own negative side onto others. That’s the role of the scapegoat… It accepts the sins of people so they can be blameless… But for a child who has been selected for this (usually a gentle spirit who would not harm anyone, and who the narcissist is jealous of because they know in their heart of hearts they could never be that good) the child’s spirit must be broken so they can bear the burden of the sins the narcissist carries. Breaking a child’s spirit so they then willingly accept their role as the “loser” becomes a lifelong weight around that person’s neck… The mental tapes are that powerful.

    It’s possible to change those tapes! It’s possible to heal! It’s possible to become the people who we are deep inside that was suppressed and made to feel less than! It’s doable! I’ve written about the healing and have my first companion workbook published which is all about Love… The three types: healthy, unhealthy and toxic. Narcissistic people offer toxic love… The chances of toxic “love” improving is slim to none since most of the perpetrators don’t see themselves as doing anything wrong!!

    So, we can’t change them! We can only change ourselves and our responses to them… Even if that response is to leave! Leaving is so difficult though, since their web of lies has taught us that we’re responsible for their wellbeing! Pssst: we’re not! They’re adults and capable of taking care of themselves!

    The most important work we can do isn’t about helping them, changing them or saving them! It’s about doing all that for ourselves! And we can! And we DESERVE it!!

    Peace to you all!

    Liked by 7 people

    • Tamara, thank you for your insightful comments. I hope you didn’t think that I was suggesting we can never heal and are stuck in this sorry state of affairs! Iwas told by a therapist once that he wouldn’t treat me because “borderlines can’t heal.” I say, BULLSHIT! I have a wonderful, empathetic trauma therapist right now who is reparenting me. I’ve been seeing him for about 4 months and I’m already getting better. That’s why I’ve been thinking so much about my early childhood, my abusive family and attachment/abandonment issues. I used to avoid thinking about it and focused mostly on my abusive ex. He damaged me too, but I would not have been with him at all were it not for being pre-programmed to be drawn to someone like him (a narcissistic abuser). Anyway, over the last week I’ve been thinking a LOT about my family of origin, and circling closer to the original trauma, whatever it is. I can feel it, I’m stepping into the void (which I also wrote about today).
      Blogging and using DBT brought me to a point where I was ready to do this kind of insight work. Its not easy. I have a long way to go. It’s going to get painful (it hasn’t really been painful yet).
      I’ve heard someone compare healing a Cluster B disorder with performng a skeleton transplant–probably not possible, but if so, then excruciating! I’ll go with excruciating, possibly….but impossible? No. Not if the willingness is there. I think a person with NPD is much less easily healed because they are unlikely to have the insight into themselves or the willingness. But even there, there could be a few exceptions. Even the narcs became that way because they were abused. That doesn’t give them the right to do what they do….but I must look at it that way because to think of them as victims too…well, somehow that makes them seem less powerful and frightening…like paper tigers. But that doesn’t mean we should have anything to do with them! I’m no contact with my mother and my ex…and so much better off than I was before. I’m finally getting to know Me and take care of Me, and that feels great.
      Thanks again for your comments 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re very welcome! I never once thought that you’d be implying that one can’t heal from such abuse! I do mention that we all have the inner ability to heal frequently in my writing… I became aware of the need to do so a few years ago when I was talking to a woman and sharing what I had learned. She was amazed to hear that healing is possible! She urged me to write a book. Then soon after, I had travelled to Finland to meet with my publisher (of an illustrated children’s book) and he urged me to write down my “philosophical thoughts”… That led me to take writing seriously and spend the next few years writing my Lemonade book! So now I’ve learned that when I write a comment, it’s not just between us, but for others too… People need to know that healing is possible and that they don’t need to suffer silently inside!

        I think it’s wonderful that you have found a counselor who will guide you through and support you through this process! Bravo!

        If I could offer a little suggestion? Include some art making into your process! Making art, even for the non-artist, in a healing process will help to open up channels in the brain to make those inner connections and to serve as an outlet for those emotions… Far more than writing alone can do!

        I wish you well on your healing journey! It sounds as though you have some good groundwork set in place!


        Liked by 2 people

        • Thank you. It’s very encouraging and I feel very lucky to have found a therapist I have been able to connect with and who I feel truly cares about me. he appreciates all the work I’ve already done on myself prior to seeing him, and told me “you make my job easy” lol. In some ways, my having so much knowledge about the therapy process, etc. probably makes his job more challenging! But anyway….thanks for your suggestion about making art. I love making art but haven’t been doing much of it lately. I do make suncatchers but I think I might like to try painting or cartooning, which I used to do a lot of when I was younger. I think creativity is second only to spirituality, and helps tap into a part of ourselves that’s usually not accessable. It’s also a good way to escape the painful realities of living when you often feel so alone and helpless in a world that sometimes seems so cold and uncaring.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well, *smile* the art making I’m talking about is a bit more akin to art therapy! I made my “pretty” art for years, but when I started using it as an outlet for my emotions and to help express what I was feeling, I started having greater insights and deeper levels healing. Some of my pieces were downright scary, but that was the garbage I was pulling out! I also found it so beneficial to rip up those pieces and burn them (in a paper bag in a barbecue) and pray to the Creator while watching the flames consume my work, that he take my pain away. (I’m not a religious person, rather the opposite, but that’s a whole other story!) I visualized the pain and anger I had poured out in the art- onto which I had written words and phrases which encapsulated my thoughts- to be wafting upward, riding the plume of smoke, leaving my universe and leaving me!) That kind of art making/writing is cathartic! Very powerful!

            Liked by 1 person

            • That sounds so cool! I’ve read a little about art therapy and might like to try it. I can see why art-making can be cathartic and release a lot of negative emotion. My son uses dance–he dances when he’s angry or stressed, and his dancing is even better then, more emotion goes into it. And he says he always feels both more relaxed and infused with energy after cathartic dancing. I write poetry too and that can also be cathartic. I think of it like painting with words.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello,

    THIS is a very interesting thing to read.
    I don’t know people in my situation personally due to the fact I don’t have friends. I can only tell by my own situation ( I am the scapegoat of the familiy ) that this might be true. But intetestingly-my three other siblings, a brother ( two years younger ) , my sister (nine years younger, I thought she was the golden child ) and my half-sister ( twelve years younger) have the same problem. My “full” sister even studied, is very selfconfident, almost narcissistic and was always extremely eager, chose kids over carreer.
    We all grew up in very different situations in my family due to age differences, my brother lived with my brutal narc father for some time and later came back to my mother and my sisters. He and I were the only ones who experienced my father from a horrible and , to us, even dangerous side. He freaked out over little things without any warning. So- I never thought about it, but now as you brought up this topic, I’ve come to realize something very interesting: Some moths ago I found the very interesting website, “The womb of Light”. It explaines why women who were raised by a narcissistic mother are afraid of being succesful when the mother herself wasn’t. And that’s how it was in my family. My brother didn’t live with us for some years, suffered a lot with my father but came back later and was raised by my mother, my “golden child” sister was the only one who was spoiled by my father but also lived with my mother all the time, same with my half-sister. I’ve come to the conclusion thinking about this, that it’s probably not only the situation of the scapegoat child, but how their parents or one of the parents is/ behaved. My mother always loved her victim role, my father was rich, payed loads of custody but it was never enough for her. Her second husband also earned a lot so she had loads of money she never spent on us but mainly for herself. When she got divorced from my stepfather and payments from my father ended, she fell very low because she never bothered to work through all those years when she’s had enough money. Since then she does cleaning jobs, which I also do for many years now since I had to raise my kids alone, although I can say that I’m not “unintelligent” or even “stupid”, I have always somehow litterally ruined any attempt to get out of my situation due to what I thought was fear of failing but now see as a deeper lying manipulation of myself due to a bad conscience towards my mother. Guilty feelings is one of the main reason for many psycholocical issues such as early childhood personality disorders.
    My mother not only told us all these years that men are pigs, which has ruined all of us four siblings a lot, but, until a fee years ago , she still complained about my father doing cleaning jobs while my father is rich. She really did this for 40!!!! unbelievably long decades.
    So I suppose, it’s not per se because of being the scape goat child but how children, boys and girls, felt one way or the other that they may not be any “better”, “richer”, or more successful than the “suffering” parent. Or maybe in other cases also, that they may not or can not “compete” with them, as in the case of my father, who always gave my brother the feeling that he himself is the best and noone can or may ever be better than him. Hope I expressed myself well enough to understand, english isn’t my first language.
    So- what do tou think?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Your theory about a scapegoat child not wanting to compete with the narcissistic parent or “outshine” them is an interesting one (but I would guess that applies to the golden child as well, because no child is allowed to outshine a narcissist parent, so that could explain why your siblings aren’t successful either). I don’t know if not wanting to outshine is only the case if the narc parent doesn’t become successful. My mother was fairly successful in her career once her and my dad divorced, not rich or anything, but she did fairly well. However, as a teen, I felt like she put her career ahead of me. This was also in the 70s, when women, at least those in urban areas, were discouraged from putting too much importance on the family in order not to be seen as throwbacks to the 1950s. I was a latchkey kid, cooking my own dinners, often spending nights alone. I didn’t actually mind this (because it meant I was free of her for the night lol) . But I still felt neglected, I guess. When she was home she was drunk and mean. We fought constantly.

      I actually thought about this recently, that maybe because my mother was a narcissist, I was afraid on some subconscious level, to “outshine” her in the career arena, so I never really developed one and hence, my earning ability suffered. I was also not good around people, because people scared me in general, so making the right contacts and networking was always very hard for me to do. I also tired of jobs quickly or due to my BPD, some drama would eventually ensue so I had to quit or got fired. I had trouble sticking to anything or following it through. I’m a lot better now, but it’s still a problem.

      If I lost a job through no fault of my own though, my mother always blamed me, saying I must have done something wrong because of my “terrible personality.” I had no confidence and all I really cared about was finding the right man and recreating a family that could be “perfect” because mine certainly wasn’t. Well, lol, THAT was an excercise in futility, although I’m happy I had my 2 kids. But your theory is interesting and you might be onto something. I always somehow sabotaged any chances I did have, without even knowing what I was doing, but due to my lack of friends and connections (and money), I never had a lot of opportunities anyway.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Another very profound point to ponder… It rings true for me too! It took me a very, very long time to believe that I too deserve good things to happen to me in life! (I started out with self affirmations, which seemed empty and hollow! As I slowly started to heal and change how I perceived the world and my role in it, I slowly started to gain more confidence as I saw my tiny successes build up!)

        A huge, big thought for me, as the designated person to accept the negativity, was “I have suffered enough!” This was huge! When we go through life having been programmed to perceive that we deserved to suffer, this was a big and scary thought to think! After all, once we decide that we have suffered enough, who are we when we shuck off the old labels??

        Well, personally I’ve discovered that I’m “me” and I very much like who I’ve helped myself to become!! It takes baby steps sometimes to reach this point, but it is possible!

        Liked by 2 people

        • It’s funny, once you shed that self perception as a “victim who deserves to suffer” you feel empty at first, before there is anything to fill it with. As someone with BPD, I have an empty void inside, my true self, like someone with NPD, is not always accessible to me, but sometimes it is. It’s a weird and dissociative kind of feeling, a little scary, like you don’t exist.
          But slowly, I’m learning to listen to the little child within, who is still there, peeking out from the shadows and letting me know what she wants. And now, I listen to her…because all that noise of my brain telling me I deserve nothing is no longer there, at least not as much as it was. And I’m trying to give her some of the love I never got from my own family.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Your post is so powerful and your story so compelling. I’m not the scapegoat child but my husband was. It was a 30-year struggle and for people who haven’t lived through this experience it’s hard to understand how challenging that role is. We are lucky to have come out the other end perhaps stronger than we would otherwise have been but I can’t say I’d have chosen this life if I had the choice. You have the chance to heal, though and to overcome the crap thrown your way. Your writing is a wonderful tool and you do it very well. Good luck in your continuing efforts to live more fully and happily.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. It hasn’t been easy, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but I think if you come through it alive, it can make you stronger, if you frame it the right way. That’s why mindfulness is so important for someone like me.
      Oh, I’m nowhere near healed yet! But I am healing, and doing the work I need to do to heal, which includes writing posts like this WITHOUT FEAR. For many months I didn’t dare write a post like that but you know what? I no longer care what my family thinks.
      And this might sound a little arrogant, but I feel like I’m doing God’s work by being out in the open about this kind of abuse so others who have been through it know it’s a real problem and they are not alone.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I can’t believe you wrote about this.

    I feel EXACTLY this way.

    I don’t even know what to look up to learn about how to overcome this: “Personal finance for grown-ups who are emotionally two years old”? “How to survive on less than a living wage”?

    I am gonna read this again (and again, and probably yet again) and think about it and the issue it represents, and I’ll probably write about it in my diary, too, and then I might even have more to say here.

    I literally have NO IDEA how normal people always have enough money to OMG buy a winter coat or a new bra or renew their license or a million other things a zillion other people NEVER THINK ABOUT.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad I finally had the courage to talk about this publicly. I was always so afraid to because of potential “disapproval” from my narcissistic family 🙄 WHYYYYYYY?????

      Oh geez, I sure wish there was some advice out there on financial survival for emotional two year olds making poverty wages! But I’m glad some bloggers are finally addressing this serious, soul-killing issue, one so common among adults who were their family’s scapegoats.

      I’m always so mystified by how other people always seem to have DISPOSABLE INCOME. What’s THAT? How do they DO it?????
      I’m so sick of living paycheck to paycheck. 😦

      Here’s a great blog by someone else who struggles on slave wages and gets more into the socio-political aspects of this problem:

      Liked by 1 person

      • Because, just as with that story about the scorpion, That’s What They Do!

        One benefit of being both literally friendless AND entirely estranged from one’s family is having none of any such individuals’ expectations or opinions to consider.

        I, too, am SICK TO PIECES of ALWAYS being The One With No Money. I’m tired of hearing MYSELF say it.

        It is a HUGE relief to learn that this, too, is part of my emotional legacy; now I know it’s something I can address and fix, and I might even learn MORE than how to — Get Ready! — Manage My Money!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Although I didn’t suffer as “the scapegoat” from narc. parents, I was sexually abused by my father and crippled emotionally by this a dissociative disorder for years. This was better recognized and I was treated and though it took over 5 years, I consider myself 95% healed. Good luck in your own personal healing journey.;

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Susan! I’m sorry that happened to you. Sexual abuse is devastating no matter what role in the family you played. That’s great that you’re almost healed from your dissociative disorder.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Reblogged this on HarsH ReaLiTy and commented:
    The Luckyotter runs a great blog dealing with narcissism and abuse. She generates lively conversation on the topics and this post is no exception. Give her site a visit! -OM
    Note: Comments disabled here. Please visit their blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is a very interesting piece on a phenomenon that I believe is very common in many families.
    You are articulate, know your way around a sentence, and speak from your heart. An excellent combination to shed some light on scapegoating and poverty within the familial structure. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reading through the comments and the post itself, one thing came to mind that didn’t seem to be addressed. If it was and I’m just a blind buttinski, I apologize.

    But the victims of abuse who survive (scarred though they may be) often come out encased in a form of armor and with the desire to do better. To perform well, to work themselves (to death, if necessary), to avoid criminal and amoral behavior at any cost (often escalating their sense of what would be considered criminal or amoral) and to defer any praise or reward such behavior brings (either out of fear it will make that behavior appear selfish and thus just like their abuser(s) or due to feeling unworthy of it). It puts those people in prime position to be taken advantage of again and again… and, to an outside observer, makes the scapegoated individual either appear to be “fine” and not needing help (due to that bizarrely fragile armor and stiff upper lip they put on to escape and protect themselves form the abuse as much as possible, or from the grim determination that they will survive this as they have everything else). When that shell cracks and they finally do raise their voice, they often get branded as whiners or attention-seeking, because of their previous silence, which just feeds the self-defeating behavior.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, manipulators, abusers, criminals and generally unpleasant individuals who have behaved that way most of their lives are often given labels and excuses by society. They’re given hundreds of chances and allowed to continue because society seems to insist that the more visibly broken an individual is, the more we need to save them. Ironically, it just seems to encourage their deviancy (while screwing over the ones who actually need help but are trying to soldier along without sounding like a squeaky wheel).

    There’s problems here a lot deeper than a lack of recognition about cause-and-effect and victims of esteem-shattering at the hands of psychopaths, and while making more people aware of the problem might help, I don’t think it’ll go anywhere until society stops aiding and abetting the perpetrators by excusing their behavior and organizing programs to “help” them.

    But that’s just my two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s very interesting. I think you’re onto something. I think those of us who were abused become codependent people pleasers, and when we do speak up, we are more likely to be labeled whiners and complainers for exactly the reason you have said–our “role” is to never complain, so when we do, it’s OMG how DARE you complain! Know your place, lowly servant!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. There is a study by the Center for Disease Control, called the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE) documenting serious health problems in adult life associated with childhood abuse. Things like heart disease and physical ailments are much more common among those that have been abused. There are some protective factors, for example, an adult that believes in a child. I absolutely believe there is a correlation between maltreatment and poverty. Because there is a very strongly proven case that poor health results from abuse.
    In my case, I was told by my mother repeatedly as far back as my memory goes “you’ve been nothing but a disappointment from birth” My brother has repeatedly stated this to me as well. Yet, I’ve never been in trouble with the law, taken drugs, partied, and have been very spiritually minded as a hard working and kind person. Hear that often enough you don’t believe you are employable or will amount to anything.
    Neither my brother or sister have had a fraction of the health problems I’ve had. Neither of them were the scapegoat, the abuse was reserved for me, and they joined in with my mother when she rewarded them for doing so. I had one goal in my life after finally getting free of a battering husband. My goal was to get an education, and get a good job and prove to them all that I wasn’t a disappointment ( I needed to believe I wasn’t myself) I got the education with extremely hard work overcoming a great deal of the programming “you are too stupid to go to college” from my mother.
    My parents paid for college and childcare for my sister even though she had a husband making 6 figures, me, nothng. Zero, they weren’t going to waste money for college on someone too stupid to go. But I found my own way and I got my masters degree which infuriated my sister. It defied their image of me

    I got the masters, I got a really good job after a few years of lousy ones and then I got hit with a rare catastrophic disease that shut down my career. I took some years trying to recover and rebuild, and got hit with cancer and a surgery that left me with more physical disabilities that made getting a job even harder. I no longer looked healthy and I was getting older as the years passed trying to get health recovered. I got a poor paying job that required no education with a bullying Narcissistic boss that tormented me until I had a literal heart attack and required some heart surgery. My health is totaled, my brother and sister, ski, climb mountains, travel the world, have several houses each and I’m living in a trailer park barely keeping food on the table.

    They grew up in the abusive home, but they weren’t impacted the way I was because they weren’t the specific targets of it. I worked harder then they did, but it was as if good luck followed them and bad luck followed me. Do I think poverty and being the scapegoat are tied? Absolutely….

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is so horrible. I’m so sorry that happened to you Katie. The more I read about this kind of abuse and what it does to someone’s soul, the more angry I get. Yes, the anger and rage is coming back, but something else too. I want to cry. For years and years I coudn’t. Recently I put aside my rage, I didn’t want to think about it. I think that’s good, old hurts are coming to the surface and I can handle those with my therapist and God.

      And then you know what? To make matters even worse, we now hear all over Faux news, the internet, the Tea Party etc etc. how WE are at fault, how we DESERVE to be poor, how we are NOTHING! We are told we CHOSE poverty and bad health! Those messages just repeat the same negative messages that were drummed into our brains growing up, like taunting–to REMIND US HOW WORTHLESS WE ARE! Confirming our family’s assessment of us! It’s pure evil. UGHHHH!
      But I’m not giving up. I may be in my mid 50s but it’s not too late for me. I can write. I have talents. God does have a plan for me. I’m working toward that, and to overcome all the obstacles put up against me over all these years. It doesn’t help to be such a shy person who fears others, but I’m working on that too.
      Although I’m sorry others have had to put up with this shit too, at least we know we aren’t alone.
      I’m going to Google more about that research project. Fortunately my physical health is fairly good, but I know for many it isn’t. My mental health though is in the toilet.

      You and I deserve to be happy. I’m not going to die the loser and failure they think I am. I’m not going to “show” them because I don’t care what they think, but I must find a way to do it for myself. So should you. There is a way. Blogging, prayer and therapy are helping me to get there.

      Liked by 1 person

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