Letters to Dr Scapegoat Answered

Small goatDear Dr. Scapegoat:

My question has to do with children. My child’s mother and my family have singled me out as being the problem in the family and cut me out. I have joint custody so my son is with me half the time. My family will only interact with my child with his mother. How will a child understand this.  — Concerned Father

Dear Concerned Father:

In order to fully answer your question, I would need to know more personal details, especially how old and what sex your child is and what the alleged reasons are for your own family cutting you out.

Fathers still often bear the brunt of scapegoating dynamics in the American family, although in most communities, this state of affairs has improved in the last few decades. But the stereotype of the derelict, abusive, or disappearing father is still very much alive. Many men are still falsely accused of sexual abuse in order to prevent them from gaining any child custody at all. I am assuming you are a decent man and good father, and I’m glad for the advances that make joint custody the fall-back position in most divorce proceedings.

Fathers still often bear the brunt of scapegoating dynamics in the American family

While many threatened and angry mothers have kept their vendetta’s around divorce alive far too long, and unfairly use  the child for “revenge,” it is  less usual  for the dad’s own family to  support that state of affairs. Your relationship with your own family is critical, and I’m sure it has a long and difficult history to play out through a grandchild.

Divorce is hard enough for children and certainly aggravated by trying to grow and develop in the middle of the feud you describe. As children get older ,they can see the qualities of their parents and relatives for themselves and make their own decisions about the people and issues. But younger children, say under 8, have little ability to make judgments of this kind. For their psychological health, now and in the future, they should be supported to feel comfortable and secure with both sides of the family.

How can  knowledge of scapegoating dynamics, of the kind I offer on my web page, help in this situation?  Two thoughts:

  1. You must speak to the issues in a way that doesn’t alienate anyone in the group, but makes your opinions on matters ,like the welfare of your child, well known.
  2. You should try to form alliances with someone in the family group and develop  your own base of power, which often leads to a change in the behavior in the whole system.

You need to have a strategy, be canny, and feel the rightness of what you want for your child and yourself. Not easy, but doable. Your child needs  to respect you but also to not have to identify with your anger. Even if it doesn’t feel that way, I would guess you have more leverage within your own family than your using.


Dr. Scapegoat

Dear Dr. Scapegoat:

Is there a suggested means for confronting the scapegoating of one adult daughter who prosecuted her husband’s violence? I tried mightily to enlist three different pastors to seek a sit down with my parents and siblings and no one, despite seeing what this scapegoating and my family’s enabling of the batterer have done and continue doing to me and my children, is at all willing to “get involved.” I am sick of these cowards, refusing to care and am growing concerned that since the batterer’s campaign is NEVER going to end, I am going to be subject to abject terrorism my entire life. Thanks for any suggestions.

I have cut ties and ignored them all as much as possible to gain a measure of peace, but the Batterer triangulates, bringing my children around my family to soak up attention and sympathy for himself which, as you can expect, is EXTREMELY damaging to my children. I am toying with the idea of printing a mock obituary for myself in the paper, citing cause of death: character assassination and scapegoating by the sick family mob. I think if they are shamed publicly to feel what it is like to have people know my side and have the malevolence of their concerted campaign laid bare, it may stop–to bully them back with my wit, humor and writing. Alternatively, I have toyed with going to all my parents’ neighbors and friends and doing to them, but with truth and facts, what they have done to me with blame, projection and falsehood. Do you have any ideas to share?

Thanks so much — Patricia

Dear Patricia:

You describe trying many ways that husband-victimized woman have available to them in ordinary social commerce. Pastors and family are a first step, and it is sad that they are not helping you and are using the excuse of not getting involved to support a continuing problem. As you describe, families often close ranks around what they view as airing dirty laundry. They feel shamed by opening up difficulties of the kind you describe, especially in a legal setting. But the consequences of such rationalizations are far worse than letting a little air into what already is a destructive world.

Your ideas all will have repercussions

What can you do? You have many fantasies, most of which fall into the category of fighting back and getting revenge. Your ideas all will have repercussions, which may cause your situation to get worse before it gets better. It will require even more courageous action to mount the kind of campaigns you are considering. Are you ready for more struggle? Often it is best to walk away from situations like this, if that is possible. You didn’t say if you are still married and/or if you can get away from the worst scapegoaters. Probably you feel you can’t, that problems will follow you, that you will miss people, that you shouldn’t sacrifice so much. But you may be wrong. Here is a place that therapy for yourself can help. Abused people have wounds that undermine self-esteem.

I used the word revenge because I can feel it in what you have written. We all feel the need for vengeance when we are hurt and feel helpless. If you like novels, you might look at the Revenge Inc. psychological thrillers I am writing. Books like Cloud of Terns and Revenge of the Scapegoat may give you some idea about what you’re going through.


Dr. Scapegoat


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on scapegoated.

  2. Dear Dr. Scapegoat,
    Is there a book for a child who is a family scapegoat?
    How does a child stop the scapegoating behaviour ?

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