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Family Scapegoat Signs – Take This 10 Question Quiz (Trauma Informed)

scapegoat-quiz family scapegoat self test

It would be nice to believe that when scapegoated children become adults they are somehow magically released from the ‘family scapegoat’ role. However, this is not at all the case.

In fact, as my research on scapegoating in families revealed, many individuals who are scapegoated within their family-of-origin suffer from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) due to covertly or overtly abusive family dynamics that have resulted in them feeling psycho-emotionally paralyzed and worthless – even suicidal.

This is why it is critical that adult survivors of FSA begin to understand what happened to them in their families and become clear on what they are needing to heal and recover from.

What Is Family Scapegoating Abuse? 

Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) is a term I coined during the course of my original Family Systems research to describe a type of ‘invisible’ (psycho-emotional) systemic abuse associated with being in the ‘family scapegoat’ role in one’s family-of-origin – abuse that often results in the development of complex trauma symptoms.

FSA occurs when your primary caregivers or other important ‘power holders’ in the family (grandparents, dominant siblings or extended family members) single you out as being defective and repeatedly give you the message that you are bad, different, or not good enough.

What is actually happening is that you are being subjected to pathological projective identification processes which are often fueled by generations of trauma and/or the individual pathology of a personality disordered parent (etc.), including Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). You can read my article on scapegoating and the pathological Projective Identification Process here.

Below is a brief (and informal) trauma-informed self-test. How many of these ten FSA signs, symptoms, and experiences do you relate to?


  1. Did you grow up hearing a ‘story’ about yourself (what I call the ‘scapegoat narrative’), including via ‘smear campaigns’ or subtle forms of ‘reality distortion’ (aka ‘gaslighting’), in which you were made out to be somehow bad, different, worthless, ‘less than’, or defective?
  2. Were you the ‘problem child’ or ‘identified patient’ in your family-of-origin (you may even still be struggling to escape these stifling roles today)? 
  3. Do you suffer from complex trauma symptoms?
  4. Have family members insinuated that you were (or are) mentally ill, emotionally unstable, or that you are ‘bad’, ‘wrong’, or a ‘liar’ for speaking your mind and/or contradicting accepted family narratives?
  5. Do you find it difficult to develop healthy, mutually respectful relationships with one or more siblings?
  6. Do you struggle with addiction or codependency (codependency may in actuality be the trauma response of ‘fawn/submit’ and conditioned enmeshment)?
  7. Do you have difficulty identifying your own wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings?
  8. Have you struggled as an adult with forming mutually respectful, trusting relationships in your personal and professional life due to low self-esteem and/or somehow ending up in relationships with people who do not treat you well? 
  9. Do you feel chronically anxious, depressed, and/or wrestle with severe self doubt, including ‘impostor syndrome’? 
  10. Have you chosen to reduce or limit contact with one or more family members because of their effect on your mental, emotional, physical, and/or spiritual health?

If you answered yes to three or more of the questions above, OR if you answered yes to questions 1, 2, and 4, it is possible that you are the scapegoat (aka ‘identified patient’) in your family-of-origin.

Abuse of Power is Abuse!

One of the most important things that I share with scapegoated individuals who reach out to me for help is that their unique life narrative has been co-opted, twisted, and distorted via unbalanced power dynamics associated with FSA within their dysfunctional or narcissistic family system.

I explain to my clients that their personal narrative – their unique life story which each of us as human beings has a right to author for ourselves – has been taken from them and they have been given another negative, ‘shaming and blaming’ story in its place – a story that benefits the family power holder(s).

Being subjected to family scapegoating abuse is a dehumanizing process of ‘othering’. This is why it qualifies as a form of psycho-emotional abuse. Healing and recovering from FSA is not easy – but it is possible to feel better as you begin to understand how you were impacted and take the necessary steps to protect yourself from further abuse while learning to take care of your body and your nervous system, as discussed in my introductory book on FSA, Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed: Help and Hope for Adults in the Family Scapegoat Role.

If you feel you may have been impacted by scapegoating dynamics in your family, you can also check out this list of resources I put together for FSA adult survivors.

16 thoughts on “Family Scapegoat Signs – Take This 10 Question Quiz (Trauma Informed)”

  1. I’ve read this insightfull article/quiz carefully. It almost all fits my situation.
    There’s only one concept I don’t agree with in this context and that’s the concept of ‘co-dependency’. For in this context of FSA there is no co-dependency issue but only a created over-dependency by- and on the abusers.

    The abusers are not dependent on their victims at all on a personal level. Their victims are just replacable objects to them. Usefull pawns as long they serve their abusers well enough. If the victim stops serving the abuser for any reason (by choice or by accident, i.e. getting seriously ill or other problems) the ‘dependency’ of the abuser vanishes faster than melting snow.

    So there is no co-dependency issue here. Only a created (by the abusers) over-dependency issue. They made you think/believe you could not survive without them and had to keep serving them to survive.
    That’s were their power-tactics are all about; keeping you serving.
    If you stop serving them, as usual, you’ll always see them retracting their attention towards you very soon or instantly. Your supply of attention and energy has run dry. So they write you off like a broken car and look to buy another one that serves them better.

    The only ‘dependency’ they feel about you is how usefull you are to them as a serving object. The rest (your feelings and wishes) is not important.
    So, there is no co-dependency here on a emotional, spiritual level.
    The typical Narcissistic abuser sees everyone and everything just as objects and means, to satisfy his/her extreme egocentric needs.
    You as a person with feelings and own needs doesn’t count at all.
    So they don’t depend on you at all as the spiritual person you are. They don’t care a bit about that. Your serving/loving qualities is what makes them stay around only.
    If those stop for whatever reason they’ll be gone in no time looking for better supply..

    No, there is no co-dependency involved only a created (by the abuser) over-dependency. Which is caused by gradually (or fast) devaluating and gaslighting the victim to take control over them by destroying their intuitive resistance and doubts.

    1. Rebecca C. Mandeville, MA

      Thank you for pointing this out. I go into detail in my book (Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed), videos, etc, that what is called codependency may actually be the trauma response of fawn/submit; conditioned enmeshment, etc, as revealed by my original Family Systems research on what I ended up naming ‘family scapegoating abuse’ (FSA). I have now amended this article to make that clear in the quiz.

  2. andrew

    Dear Rebecca, I have been signed up for a long time now thank you. I can’t wait to receive your book as work on this subject is sparse and understanding the dynamics and effects of family scapegoating abuse is so crucial to recovery. I am based in the Far East so there is a 1 month delay for free delivery from The book Depository so i am waiting patiently. My wife is trauma informed psychotherapist who often guides her clients to your articles and website depending on appropriateness. She is also looking forward to reading your work which will help her better understand and support her scapegoated and cptsd clients.
    Thanks again.

  3. L72

    Wow! I can’t believe how much your quiz covers a lot of what’s going on with my situation. Reading it was validation. I just found you today. I have a lot of reading to do!
    Thank you for putting in the work (your research, your published work) all of your efforts will help those in the muck.

    Not sure what you intended for getting the word out there, but a sure fire way of doing it is an AMA (ask me anything) on the site Reddit. It can connect you to communities in much need of your work.

    Thank you again!

  4. Andrew L

    Another excellent and insightful article Rebecca. Thank you so much for bringing this subject out of the darkness. As a recovered family scapegoat who reads a lot on cptsd and codependency, I can honestly say that you are the most spot on commentator on this aspect of familial abuse. Your every sentence has me nodding in agreement and feeling gratitude and validation from your words. You manage to compress complex and disparate feelings into succinct statements that hit the nail right on the head. Please don’t be discouraged by lack of comments as it takes time for your website to start ranking well on the Google results pages and for word to get around about your specialty in this field. I certainly recommend your pages on the Quora groups I interact with, and I am sure other blog subscribers will do the same.
    Your articles have been key in helping me to understand the mechanics and effects of family scapegoating abuse, as well as helping me to consolidate the ‘real’ reality of what was going on in my family, along with my own inner experience of it. Thank you again, and please do continue to enlighten us with your laser-like vision on the subject.

    1. Rebecca C. Mandeville, MFT

      What a lovely, thoughtful, and heartwarming comment, Andrew. Nice to meet you here, and I am so pleased that you find my writings helpful. I’m guessing you know about my book on what I named Family Scapegoating Abuse (FSA) – Rejected, Shamed, and Blamed – and I hope you found this informative as well. Wishing you the very best in your recovery journey!

      1. andrew

        Dear Rebecca, I have your book on order and it is on it’s way. I know it will be a very welcome addition to the body of knowledge already out there and contain a treasure trove of your distilled insight.

        Thank you again for the fantastic work you are doing.

    2. Joanna

      This is by far the best book I have read about family scapegoating. I was scapegoated as a child and it’s still going on and I’m 58 yrs old. I grew tired of the abuse and tried to defend or just explain the injustice only to be told. It’s all about you. The best one is, to keep the peace I would apologize to my mother and sister after blowing up from being mistreated only to be told, it’s your bi-polar disorder.

      1. Rebecca C. Mandeville, LMFT

        Thank you, Joanna. I’m glad you found my book helpful. They say to “write about what you know,” so… You likely now know that you were acting out the trauma-based ‘fawn/submit’ response by “keeping the peace” via apologizing. The blowing up (explosive anger) is the trauma-based ‘fight’ response. These were (are?) survival responses and served you as they were meant to – meaning, they helped you survive the environment you found yourself in. However, as adults, these responses become maladaptive. If we become healthy and stop fawning/submitting or begin speaking our truth minus the explosive blow-up, a dysfunctional family system will have difficulty tolerating the “new” you, due to the fact that such systems communicate in a side-ways manner, and only the family power-holder is ‘allowed’ to be direct in their communications. Thus, many FSA adult survivors get to a point where they limit or end contact to protect their own mental and emotional health. Who can blame them, really? (Although they will indeed be blamed…)

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