Child roles in dysfunctional families.

Credit: Artist unknown.


Wikipedia has an excellent, detailed article about dysfunctional family dynamics. Here I am just going to talk about the roles various family members play, and the kinds of families that become dysfunctional. If you’d like to read the whole article, click on this link:

Dysfunctional families are usually of two types:

1. One or more of the parents are active alcoholics or addicted to drugs.
2. One or more of the parents have a Cluster B disorder, usually Narcissistic Personality Disorder but sometimes Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, or Histrionic Personality Disorder (or a combination of any of these).

The Cluster B Connection.

Outside of alcoholics and drug addicts, dysfunctional family dynamics are most prevalent when one or both of the partners suffer from a Cluster B disorder, especially Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Malignant Narcissism.    After NPD, BPD is the most common disorder seen in the head of a dysfunctional family, though because it’s more common in women and Borderlines have more empathy than narcissists, BPD is most often seen in the codependent, passive partner.

ASPD (psychopathy or sociopathy) rarely appears by itself in dysfunctional families, as antisocial people and psychopaths tend to not be raising children at all (either because they’re incarcerated, their children have already been removed from the home, or they simply have no interest in raising children,) but a parent could have Malignant Narcissism, which is a combination of NPD and ASPD.   Also, people with pure ASPD, though more likely to be criminals or involved in illegal activities, tend to be less emotionally abusive than people with NPD or even BPD. They are merely selfish and lack empathy, and they are manipulative to get what they want, but they don’t care about getting emotional supply from others so they don’t engage in mind games like gaslighting, triangulating, projecting, and scapegoating (unless there is a material reward involved or they are trying to avoid culpability). However, some people with ASPD are sadistic and enjoy tormenting family members for fun.

Of all the Cluster B disorders, HPD is probably the least toxic (Histrionics are shallow, attention seeking, and dramatic, but not usually that abusive), but HPD is usually comorbid with another Cluster B disorder, such as NPD.


In some cases, a non-Cluster B mental illness (such as Bipolar disorder) that causes abusive acting-out behavior may be the culprit, but it’s less common because most other mental disorders are less easily hidden from others and the person appears “crazier.” Non-Cluster B disorders are also more easily treated with drugs or therapy, and except for psychotic disorders such as Schizophrenia, the afflicted person knows they have a problem and are more likely to seek help.

Cluster B and addictive disorders. 

Parents of dysfunctional families can also be both mentally ill and addicted to drugs or alcohol. The two often go together. In fact, alcoholism and drug addiction are extremely common in people with Cluster B disorders. Alcohol and drugs are their attempt to fill the emptiness they feel inside themselves.

Even if an alcoholic or drug addict doesn’t have an underlying Cluster B disorder, the behavior of an active addict/alcoholic is very similar to someone who has NPD. The only difference in the behavior of a narcissist and someone with active alcoholism is that for the narcissist, the “fix” is emotional; for the alcoholic, it’s chemical. A non-Cluster B active addict or alcoholic can be every bit as emotionally abusive, self-centered, and manipulative as someone with NPD. Only getting their next fix is important. (As an aside, it’s interesting to me that the 12 steps of AA and other 12-step programs almost all address the problem of narcissism by encouraging humility, responsibility, and amend-making. A person on a so-called “dry drunk” is basically a sober person acting out in narcissistic ways, which may be their nature).

The Codependent Partner.

Sometimes only one partner has a mental disorder or addiction, but the non-afflicted parent is always going to be codependent to them. The codependent parent, whether they have a disorder or not, almost always suffers from PTSD or Complex PTSD. If both parents have a Cluster B disorder (which I think is usually the case), the one who has NPD or Malignant Narcissism is almost always going to call all the shots and dominate the other family members. If a Borderline is paired up with a Narcissist, the Borderline is almost always going to be codependent to the Narcissist, colluding in the abuse but also being abused themselves. Similarly, if a Covert Narcissist is paired up with an Overt Narcissist, the Covert one is going to be codependent to them and possibly abused. Such a scenario can lead to the Borderline or Covert Narcissist developing Stockholm Syndrome (identifying with and colluding with their abuser). Non-Cluster B codependents can also develop Stockholm Syndrome, because it’s a complication of C-PTSD. The codependent parent often (but not always) has a high degree of empathy, which is what drew them to the narcissist in the first place, in a misguided belief that they could “fix” them or they were led to believe that the narcissist could “rescue” them.

The Roles of the Children.

In the ACON community, there’s a lot of talk about Scapegoats and Golden Children, but there are other roles children can play in a family that are rarely addressed. In a two child family, most likely there will be a scapegoat and a golden child, but in larger families, there can also be a Lost Child, a Clown, and a Rescuer (codependent). It’s unhealthy for a child to be in any of these roles, but the Scapegoat and Golden Child role are probably the most dangerous to a child’s mental and emotional health, for different reasons. Even in a two-child family, the roles can shift back and forth (according to the Wikipedia article, families in which the children’s roles change and shift are called Balkanized families–this alludes to the constantly shifting loyalties and borders of the Balkan countries in Eastern Europe).

1. The Scapegoat.


Both this and the Golden Child role are the soul-killing roles, but for different reasons. The Scapegoat is the child who is targeted by the narcissistic (or alcoholic) parent. The parent often is able to get the rest of the family to serve as flying monkeys and gang up on that child, projecting anything they don’t want to “own” onto them. Like the sacrificial goats described in the Bible who were banished to the wilderness and tormented by villagers, the Scapegoated child carries all the shame the rest of the family doesn’t want to confront or deal with. All the unwanted emotions and bad qualities are unloaded and projected onto them, so the abusers don’t have to confront or deal with these problems in themselves.

Usually it’s the most sensitive child of the family who becomes the Scapegoat, because that child tends to be the Truth Teller, the only family member who can see the dysfunction and may even react against it. The most sensitive child, being the child who shows the most emotion, is also a threat to the narcissists in the family because emotional expression is such a frightening thing to them. In many, if not most dysfunctional families, the expression of emotion is not allowed. So the most emotional or sensitive child becomes the scapegoat, especially if they rebel against the dysfunction or criticize it.

The Scapegoat may be assigned the role of Bad Child, the Loser, the Stupid One, the Ugly One, the Crazy One, the Weak One, or any combination of these. No matter what they do, they cannot please the parents (or the siblings who have been turned against them). Scapegoat Children usually develop severe C-PTSD or possibly another mental disorder, and having been trained to be victims and never given the emotional, financial or other tools to succeed in life, tend to fulfill their families’ predictions of being “losers,” so then their families can say to others, “See? This child really is worthless.”

Scapegoated children also tend to attract other abusers throughout their lives and are at risk for being targeted for bullying even as adults and for entering into abusive relationships. If the adult child doesn’t go No Contact, the abuse continues, usually through some form of isolation, silent treatment, or exclusion. Scapegoated adults are talked badly about by the family and not invited to family functions. They are given no emotional or financial support, even though other members of the family are given these things. It’s not unusual for a scapegoated adult child to be living in poverty, even if their families are wealthy–not only because they were denied financial support when they needed it, but also because their self esteem took such a terrible beating that they have no confidence at all and never take any risks that could improve their lives. Severe C-PTSD can also cause a person to have an inability to focus or concentrate or set realistic goals.

A Scapegoat isn’t always a child. It can also be a parent, in which the children are turned against that parent by the abusive one.

2. The Golden Child.

girl with a gold medal and cups.

The Golden Child, often (but not always) the eldest child, is the parent’s trophy, pride and joy. The parents may seem to love that child, but being incapable of real love, their “love” is conditional and is based on their fantasy of what they want that child to be, not on who the child really is. The child is assigned to be a Mini Me of the narcissistic parent.

The Golden Child, basking in constant approval, showered with toys and gifts, never held accountable for any wrongdoing (which may be projected onto the Scapegoat), and often recruited as a co-abuser in the abuse of the Scapegoat, grows up entitled, grandiose, and spoiled. Because their Real Self has never been appropriately mirrored and their less than perfect traits are ignored or projected onto someone else, and because they were rewarded for playing a the role of the Perfect One, a Golden Child in a family is the most likely to develop NPD and become a clone of the abusive parent. In this way their souls are destroyed even more than the Scapegoat’s. To continue to be the parent’s favorite, they had to play a role which became internalized. This becomes their False Self. After awhile, they are no longer able to access their Real Self at all. Golden Children who have become narcissistic continue their entitled, bullying, manipulative, grandiose behavior into adulthood and are likely to head dysfunctional families themselves, continuing the cycle.

A non-Golden Child, even a Scapegoat, can become a narcissist too (usually the covert form of NPD), for self-protection, but Golden Children tend to develop the grandiose, malignant form of narcissism and as such, are the least likely to ever seek help for their disorder or admit they have become abusers themselves.

3. The Lost Child.


In larger families (three or more children), one child is likely to be ignored and treated as if they don’t exist. This isn’t a form of silent treatment; it’s as if the parents don’t notice the child is there at all. The Lost Child isn’t victimized like the Scapegoat, but they aren’t spoiled either. They may or may not be recruited to assist in the abuse of the Scapegoat, but they won’t necessarily be punished if they don’t cooperate; they will simply be ignored. The Lost Child tends to be quiet and shy, and not make any waves. They are probably aware of the family dysfunction and may sympathize with the scapegoat (but don’t let anyone know this). As they grow older, they may crave attention or develop addictions, or they may remain shy and retiring throughout their lives. They tend to avoid confrontation and drama, and may become extremely introverted.

4. The Clown/Mascot.


The Clown/Mascot attempts to divert attention away from the family dysfunction (and also get attention for themselves) by making light of everything. Everything becomes a joke to them, and they even use their own families as sources for humor. Clowns can be disruptive in class as children, to get attention, but because of their ability to see the humor in things, they tend to be outgoing and develop a large circle of friends during adolescence and adulthood (even if they are never taken very seriously). Family Mascots are almost never scapegoated, because they entertain everyone and take the focus off the family problems.

David Sedaris, a writer and humorist, is a good example of this dynamic at play.  Several writers in the ACON community (and even outside that community) were outraged by Sedaris’ callous essay (“Now We Are Five,” which appeared in the New Yorker after his younger sister, Tiffany, committed suicide).   Tiffany was clearly the family scapegoat and had evidently gone No Contact with the rest of the family. At the time of her death, she was living in poverty and only had, as her father put it, “two lousy boxes” of belongings. I don’t know all the details, but it seems as if she was offered no support, either emotionally or financially, in spite of the family’s wealth and Sedaris’ success as a writer. She was probably mentally ill, but her mental illness may have been due to being the family reject.

In a candid interview Sedaris gave for Vice, he describes Tiffany and her relationship with the rest of the family. His words are very telling.

Even as a child I looked at my sister and wondered what that would be like, not to feel the warmth of my mother’s love. Tiffany didn’t. There was always a nervous quality about her, a tentativeness, a desperate urge to be in your good graces. While the rest of us had eyes in the front of our heads, she had eyes on the sides, like a rabbit or a deer, like prey, always on the lookout for danger. Even when there wasn’t any danger. You’d see her trembling and think, You want danger? I’ll give you some danger

It’s been suggested that David Sedaris is himself a narcissist (possibly the golden child) and that could certainly be true, but I also suspect he served a secondary role as the family Clown/Mascot. His callousness toward Tiffany in his famous essay (and grandiosity about how great the rest of the Sedaris family was–it’s very common for narcissists who were golden children to hold their dysfunctional families up as paragons of perfection) seemed to be drawn both from narcissism and from a need to hide his anger and pain behind a wall of humor. Here’s a link to his essay (it’s heartbreaking and may be triggering):

Now We Are Five

The accompanying photo is interesting. Tiffany, the second to youngest child in a family of six children, sits in the bottom right hand corner. Her hair is cut short and unkempt, and she looks very unhappy. David, wearing the glasses, stands above her. Actually, none of the kids look very happy. Not a smile in the bunch.  Something’s definitely not right about this family.  It’s common to see family portraits where no one is smiling in the 18th or 19th centuries,  but not in the late 1960s, when this photo was taken.   Here’s another photo, from the Vice interview, where only Tiffany (again in the bottom right hand spot) looks desperately unhappy and disconnected from her siblings.

Credit: / Left to right: Amy, David, Gretchen, Paul, Lisa, and Tiffany

I used to enjoy Sedaris’ writings and looked forward to his books and essays, but after this essay, I just can’t read him anymore. (Augusten Burroughs is a better alternative and doesn’t seem to be a narcissist).

In spite of their raucous and jovial manner, Clowns are likely to be depressed because they have never learned to confront or deal with their true feelings.  They hide behind a wall of laughter.  Their sense of humor is really just a cover for their pain. Many Clowns become addicted to drugs or alcohol, and a few become suicidal. Many of our great comedians served the Clown role in their families. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many of them had drug issues or killed themselves.

5. The Rescuer.


This is the codependent child who attempts to “fix” the family dysfunction by being obedient, always good, non-confrontational, overly generous, and self-sacrificing. The Rescuer may be highly empathic. The Rescuer tries to serve all the needs of the narcissistic/addicted parent, which of course is not possible. They will never argue with or criticize the narcissistic parent, and are always trying to get everyone to get along, which also is not possible. They may be the only family member who doesn’t abuse the Scapegoat, but they might if they feel like it’s required. However, even if they do collude in the Scapegoat’s abuse, they will be less abusive than the other family members, tending to take a back seat or even sympathize with the Scapegoat in private. In trying to please everyone, they please no one, and grow up feeling impotent and helpless. It’s a no-win situation.

When Rescuers become adults, they tend to unconsciously look for other abusers to “rescue,” having failed to do so in their families of origin. Like Scapegoats, Rescuers are likely to become abused themselves as adults, but it’s hard for them to leave an abuser because of their high level of empathy which keeps them tied to the abuser in their attempt to want to “help” them. They also tend to fall for an abuser’s promises to change and are easily “hoovered” back into a codependent relationship.

Shifting Roles.

In Balkanized families, the child roles can shift. The most common situation is a Golden Child becoming a Scapegoat, often upon reaching adulthood, if they fail to fulfill the unrealistic expectations put on them. (“You were such a disappointment to me!”) If a Scapegoat goes No Contact or leaves the family for some other reason, another child, possibly the Lost Child, becomes the new Scapegoat. Someone has to carry all the family shame.  If the family only has two children, the Golden Child may find themselves suddenly scapegoated or serving both roles.

Children who serve as both Scapegoats and Golden Children (very common in only children)  often develop Borderline Personality Disorder as well as severe C-PTSD and possibly other mental disorders like Dissociative Identity Disorder (almost always the result of severe emotional abuse).

Serving as both a Scapegoat and Golden Child is the ultimate mindf*ck because there isn’t even any consistency. The child never knows if they will be punished or rewarded from one minute to the next. Their only advantage (if they are an only child) is that they don’t have siblings who have been turned into flying monkeys who collude in the abuse.

If the family ever develops a need for a new Scapegoat (if the Scapegoat goes No Contact, dies, or disappears), the Lost Child is usually picked as a replacement, due to their non-confrontational, malleable temperament and lack of any real pre-existing role in the family.


22 thoughts on “Child roles in dysfunctional families.

  1. Ever see the movie, Shattered Spirits? It’s a really good look at the classic (alcoholic) dysfunctional family, with all the roles represented (the Hero, the Scapegoat (or rebel), the Lost Child, oh, no Mascot). I think the Hero and the Enabler is usually the same person. Anyway, this movie showed the most perfect intervention one can imagine. If an intervention could be handled in the most exemplary fashion, this was it. Worth seeing. I think it’s a made-for-TV movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Cluster B | CLUSTER B

  3. Wow , such a an utterly thorough and well explained post Luckyotter. For my family, it would be rule 2 , narcissistic mother with a co dependent enabling father. No drug or alcohol addictions or other forms of mental illness present.
    A two child family, my twin sister a nd myself. I feel I was both golden child and scapegoat. My mum touted me as the smart one and the one where all expectation and disappointment fell upon. She had no expectation on my sister, so very little blame either. I excelled in school and Was expected to do so. In situations where my sister and I would fight, I was always blamed as my sister would manipulate my mother to believe her. I was at fault some times, but not as often as I was punished for. My mother would have my father always mete out the punishment to me, even though he was often not present at such times to witness anything.

    This is quite disturbing that I assumed so many of theses roles as child and adult really. I was the scapegoat as well, the sensitive child, the truth teller, the one where blame would fall. I was the one who saw through my mothers behaviours and questioned her and her authority.
    I was the golden child, but mostly In the sense of bragging rights to others and to use against me when my mother felt I didn’t perform up to snuff.

    I was also the rescuer, I tried to show my father even as a child that my mothers treatment forwards him was wrong and he deserved better than the should I not be the one to punish me for something she deemed punishable. I loved my other , up until her death. I always knew from childhood that something was not right with who and related to who won childhood disconnections. I grew up to be like my dad, co dependent , fixer, enabler, attracting abusive relationships, working in a field that I help others that often are voiceless in society.

    I was. Always trying to heal or fix everyone, while avoiding my own needs, even as a child. I never hated my mother, nor did I hate my abusive boyfriends or partners. I tried to amend their behaviour and when I couldn’t do so I blamed myself and deemed myself yet again, unlovable. Yet always open to love, never seeking it, it always finding me. I have always sought understanding, acceptance and answers to the dynamics of self and others behaviour. I used to joke and say I must be. Magnet for certain types of men, I didn’t understand about co dependency and how that attracts certain types to us. I still do not really understand it for myself. I am.
    Now In the last six months trying to heal from a narcissistic relationship and learning about myself, him and others.
    I will try to read more past articles in your blog. I overused and see much that would be beneficial to me. This was a fantastic read, thank you.
    I am not BPD, but emotionally I could qualify as such, just not in the other criteria for the disorder. I do suffer from fear and emotional abandonment, have issues around being ignored, not being heard, I tend to ruminate and over think and I question everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, I’m glad you found my blog and found this article resonated. I think it’s entirely possible that a child, even in a one or two child family, can serve several roles at once. Your sister sounds like she was a lost child but tried to make herself the golden child by manipulating your mother to believe her. When the roles are less clear, I think siblings fight over who gets to be the golden child, obviously the most desirable position in the family (although just as damaging in the long run and probably more so).

      In my family, I was raised as the only child of that marriage (my mother’s and father’s second marriage). My mother is a somatic narcissist, overt and probably malignant, extremely domineering and image conscious. My father, who died a little over a month ago, was probably a covert narcissist, or a borderline (I can’t tell which–he might have been both) , very codependent to the narcissistic women in his life (I think his third wife is a cerebral narcissist and also very domineering). Both my parents were also active alcoholics when I was growing up. Living with them was like living in hell.

      I suffer from BPD (my therapist thinks I no longer have it but I’m not so sure) and severe C-PTSD, also Avoidant PD. It’s a wonder I’m alive at all, or have any shred of sanity at all after living in such a crazymaking environment, serving as dual scapegoat and golden child and then being cruelly rejected as an adult, isolated from other family members. Now I’m just a scapegoat, excluded from almost the entire family, but it makes No Contact easier, I suppose. I know the things said about me are negative. No contact or not, you never get over the pain of their rejection. I’ve always felt unloveable and have struggled with dismally low self esteem issues and poverty due to those issues and the lack of early support my entire adult life. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. But I have learned many things and feel like now I’m in a position to be of help to others who have had similar experiences with emotionally abusive parents. So there’s a silver lining.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hi, Luckyotter…you gave a wonderful blog, insightful, humorous and informative and ….honest.
        Highly self honest, which many of us aspire to be.
        I always find find I am self honest I get accused of being contradictory or vascilating, when I am simply trying to figure it and myself and it all out.
        Your childhood. Sounds terribly damaging form so many directions, to be who and how you are today is truly a feat of courage and blessing to yourself, no one else.
        I am sorry for the loss of father recently and that your family has essentially abandoned you in yet another form, again.
        Perhaps more being separated for. Such toxicity is best for your own well being. Although it does not Diminsh the hurt you feel.
        Your assessment on my sister sounds probable. I am not sure classics fiction on my mum, perhaps victim N, she had many Heath issues and sued them to explain a way her abusive behaviour and moods. There was no nod I g connection at all, she made it clear when I wa Schindler, she did not want children and blamed my father for that and blamed us all for her subsequent illness form having children.
        She was Un loving, critical a nd demanding. My dad was the opposite, other then admits strewing punishment set forth by mum, he took us shopping, made us breakfast, room is to school, played outside with us, red and sang to us….he counters any negative memories form my childhood. Mind you I have blocked much. There was no sexual abuse, to be Clear, only verbal abuse, physical and emotional abandonment and withholding of affection.
        I chose from childhood on to be aware of how my mothers behaviour was wrong, my fathers I deemed correct and no doubt co dependent pesos lite was born, the helper, the fixer, the rescuer.
        I chose also to maintain contact with my mum, to forgive her and accept her as she was. I also was able as adult to stand up to her criticism, albeit she would shut be out after such times, once citing that my father disowns me for how I spoke to her. She always made dad to assume the blame, I knew better, mind you he allowed her to do so, I guess to keep the peace for himself , as well.
        My sister chose to distance herself other then special family occassions. So I assumed the caretaker role again, when mum became ill again and support for my dad. My mum passed away suddenly in 2012. I sought closure before she passed, she denied me any. I think that occurring has had a negative emotional effect on me ever since. I have seen a change in myself. It was months following her death, the CN I am recently disengaged from. Ensnared me. I truly did think he was my saviour and the ONE. He made me believe he was. I wanted to believe.
        Yes, you are turning your own pain into guide nice for others in pain. Knowledge is power. You are infusing empowerment to others. That is a magnificent ability.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. This was such a good article and informative and triggering too. The exclusion throughout life into late adulthood is one of the more painful aspects of being a scapegoat. I think one becomes habituated to being not included and no longer knows how to be part of a group. I struggle with that, you lose confidence that you know how to be a friend or have friends and sometimes quit trying with friendship at all.

    As I read this piece I thought of the meta-narrative too, the cultural scapegoats, those groups of people targeted and bullied by a sick dominant culture.. A heart breaking film that I think lays out what it is like for a whole people group to be targeted as the scapegoat.. if you can stand the pain of this film it is also deeply moving. I’ve known survivors of Indian boarding schools one that was forcibly sterilized because that was what they did to impart they message of hate and exclusion. Can one race be sociopathic narcissists to another? I believe history bears it out.
    The film is called Where the Spirit LIves

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree with you that if you’re a scapegoat, you lose all your confidence in having friends, and you forget (or never learned) how to be part of a group. For many years I thought I had Aspergers, because I was so socially awkward and uncomfortable around people. But now I know that was part of what they took from me, the ability to know how to be myself and not be criticized,ostracized or excluded.

      Scapegoated kids tend to grow up being bullied or excluded by others far into adulthood. It’s like we have a neon sign saying we’re not to be treated the same as others because we’re shit. Right now I’m feeling so angry about this. I’ve always found it hard to make friends and I always seem to be the one passed over in job situations for promotions, etc. But I’m reading more and more about this, and we are far from alone. Many others suffer with this too. At least now I know why. It’s not because we’re unworthy people, it’s because we were sabotaged and never given any tools to make it in the real world as adults. We were not only not given tools, we were effectively isolated from others, by being instilled with such dismal self esteem that others stay away, or made so shy by our abusers we can’t reach out to others in friendship because of the fear we’ll be rejected yet again. We had no support system, and going into the world as adults, we find we have been so emotionally crippled we have no idea how to build our own support systems. They really did a number on us, isolated from our own families, and then trained to isolate ourselves from others too(and invite further isolation) with no idea how to overcome that early programming. No wonder people like Tiffany Sedaris commit suicide. It’s so tragic. BTW, Tiffany Sedaris was an artist with a great deal of talent. But she was never able to make a living from it and her family didn’t seem to appreciate or value her artistic talent. My feeling is she was scapegoated because she had an artistic, sensitive temperament and was able to see through the narcissism in her family of witty intellectuals.

      I definitely think there are cultural scapegoats. Racism and snobbery in general prove this. Right now, it’s the poor who have been turned into scapegoats, blamed for all of society’s ills and for the poor economy, when the reality is it’s corporate greed and corporate welfare that are at fault. The poor have been projected onto by the narcissists in society, just as scapegoats are blamed for everything in a family. They would just let the poor die if they could. Certain racial groups are scapegoated too, and have been throughout history. I’ll watch this film later…thanks.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I just had an interesting thought. I was sort of the “scapegoat” and my sister the “good girl” in my family growing up. But our mother wasn’t a narc so it wasn’t as toxic as it has been for many of you. I really called myself the “black sheep” rather than “scapegoat.” Means practically the same thing but the emphasis was more on my own behavior rather than on how I was treated. I always thought of myself as “bad.” But also thought my “badness” was only an expression of greater integrity than my kiss-ass sister.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think you are right. I always think of black sheep as more of a choice–an independent, maybe rebellious child who refuses to kiss butt or “fit in” with the status quo. I call myself a black sheep a lot, because even though i was a scapegoat I was also a black sheep. I was rebellious and always different from the rest of them. They could not accept that I was different. It sounds more empowering to call yourself a black sheep.

          Liked by 2 people

      • This is just so perfectly and brilliantly said regarding the lifelong aftermath of being the family scapegoat. I’m actually thinking of going to the Catholic healing ceremony in August in my town to get prayer for the brokenness that remains.
        It bothers me too that those siblings that became mommie dearest’s flying monkeys when at last they really knew the truth, kept it up. They wanted my good will, my empathy and compassion and all that I brought while continuing to enjoy the benefits momster gave them. Financial benefits, emotional benefits and I was expected to give out compassion and understanding and empathy when they had any struggle while I never received it from them.

        When I became absolutely numb from it all, I then “lacked empathy” and was beaten up for it, but, they wanted endless strokes given out of my poverty. That part bothers me the most and why it is such a great thing to be no contact with siblings that used their children, the nieces and nephews I wanted to love, to stick it to me too. How much suffering is enough to inflict upon a scapegoat by golden children narcs? Apparently “just a little bit more”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Amazing article, intricately detailed 🙂

    Made me realize I really need to get the hell away from my dysfunctional family asap lol

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: How to Network Your Blog: 7/19/16 | DREAM BIG DREAM OFTEN

  7. I couldn’t bring myself to read this entire article because after just browsing through it I started to think that maybe I subjected my kids to being raised in a dysfunctional family. Spouse is recovered alcoholic and I may be a recovered BPD, assuming there is such a thing, and I started to see the way I think about my kids in some of the roles you described. Or, on the other hand, maybe I’m feeling just a little bit of Jewish guilt acquired by this Golden Child of a borderline NPD mother? I also didn’t want to dig any deeper here to see if possibly my Dad fit one of the other descriptions of a parent in a dysfunctional family. I’m also pretty sure that Mom’s family would be dysfunctional per this description. Thanks but no thanks for this enlightenment from Wikipedia, which is also where I do a lot of my research, though we know what’s in there is not necessarily current, complete and/or accurate.


    • Don’t beat yourself up. I too subjected my kids to more dysfunction than they should have been. Those of us with PSTD who are not healed or in treatment do unknowingly subject our kids to some of these dynamics, but the difference is, we actually love our kids and want what’s best for them–we just didn’t know better at the time, especially if we were copendents to an abuser. Ask yourself:
      –do your kids seem emotionally healthy?
      –do you have a good relationship with them today?
      Even if they’re already grown, you can talk to them about the role you think you played and ask them for feedback on it. Listen to what they have to say.

      You also said, you may be a recovered BPD. All Cluster B disorders are highly stigmatized, as you know, some more deservedly than others, but all are caused by trauma. Some people believe it’s a choice but it is not. No child chooses to become a Borderline, or even a Narcissist. If you have BPD (or hell, even NPD) as long as you are aware of it and are in treatment of some kind and sincerely want to change behaviors, then I have no problem with that, nor should anyone else. After all, these are mental illnesses, caused through no fault of the person’s own. Why should there be so much stigma if a person is repentant over past behaviors and attitudes and is in recovery?


  8. That was a great and well-ordered amount of information in that post.

    That poor girl Tiffany in that New Yorker article. I grated at the author’s “our family is fundamentally better than everyone else” attitude. People in healthy families don’t publish such strange statements. I would have cringed if it wasn’t so enraging, given the story in which he’s sharing that sentiment is about his estranged sister’s suicide. SMH

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always liked his writings, and was shocked at the lack of empathy he showed toward his sister, even after her death. I realize he’s a humorist, and makes his living writing sometimes bitingly sarcastic essays, but this was just too much, and from what I’ve read, it seems the entire Sedaris family seemed to have it in for her. I won’t get into all that here, as others already have, but just type “Tiffany Sedaris” in your browser and see all the articles that come up. There’s a lot more to her story than I describe here.

      The photo I used haunts me. Remember Sedaris’ remark about how Tiffany looked like prey, while the rest of the family had eyes in the front of their heads (as predators–narcissists?) Well, I look at that photo and Tiffany’s eyes look like they’ve seen way too much and felt way too much pain for such a small girl. Even though she’s one of the youngest kids, she still seems too small and lost in that photo.


  9. Pingback: Child roles in dysfunctional families. – NarcMagNet69x96

Comments are closed.