The second role in this discussion is the rebel, discussed in some detail here. But there is another point of view about the role of this troubled child and that is that they play the scapegoat for the family.
From this perspective, this child takes on the family’s problems and acts them out, to ensure that the family secret is held tightly within the family. Obviously this is not a situation of a parent working too much, but it might be the case of troubled families where any of these, among many others, exist:
- Mental illness
- Sexual addiction
- Poverty that is held in secret for some reason
- Domestic violence,
- Child abuse
This child protects the truth of the home situation from coming to the attention of anyone
outside the family. Outsiders look to the behavior of this child and focus on that, rather than the family as a system.
Ironically if a therapist or counselor tries to look at the child in the context of the family system, the entire family will walk away, willingly sacrificing the child to save the larger organism.
Behavior symptoms of the scapegoated child are, ironically the same as that of the rebel. It always centers around self hate, rage and self harm, whether that’s by drugs or alcohol, promiscuity or actual self harm like cutting.
The child is lonely, afraid, frustrated, hurt, hopeless and riddled with feelings of inadequacy and self hate. There is some thought that they act out in relation to the depth of these feelings. This child is unaware of any emotion other than rage, lacks the ability to genuinely connect with others, refuses opportunities, and ignores success and accomplishments.
Although often very bright, not much is expected of this child and they are happy to live down to those expectations. Even as adults, they are often under-employed, usually making failures of even these simple opportunities. Everyone knows they could succeed if they would just apply themselves. Unfortunately, they’ve bought the family belief that they’re the problem, the failure. And as a result they’re stymied unless there is a drastic change in the family system.
What kind of change in the family system could cause the rebel or scapegoat to move from their role to a different place in life? Ironically, it is not uncommon for this adult to take over the role of the hero, if something happens to the sibling in that role. Whenever you hear of a death of a child in a family, watch and see if the ‘problem child’ comes around and straightens up. There will be lots of reasons for this dramatic change but it’s as if the breadth of the success of the hero draws in the rebel, as if in a vacuum, if the hero can no longer fill that role.
To be successful in this new role or to recover from the childhood beliefs and values he or she learned the rebel/scapegoat will have to move through their anger to the hurt it
covers. The hurt of the abandoned child who took on their role to give the family a focus other than the main problem presented by their parents.
As they move from anger to hurt, they will also have to learn to negotiate rather than rebel. To communicate, not react. To listen rather than talk.
The role of the rebel/scapegoat provides, in the midst of the acting out, a tangible service to the family, who is willing to sacrifice one of the children to keep the secret of their dysfunction.
Remember these roles only solidify in families where one parent is emotionally absent and the other is focused on him or her. Not every acting out child is filling this role, but for the sake of the child, it’s always worth asking about the family system.
Have you met people in this role? Can you recognize the symptoms in co-workers or your town? Have you met anyone who had an amazing turn-around in their life? Any thoughts about what prompted the change?
As always, it’s best not to diagnose our families of origin or our current family. But your comments are always appreciated. and if there’s something personal you’d like to share, feel free to contact me directly.