TL;DR:

My dad is an un-diagnosed very likely covert narcissist and at the last counseling meeting, he declared that he felt that everyone made him the instant scapegoat. (which isnt't true, because from my perspective, it's self-inflicted). How do I respond to that statement, and let him know that I have no intention of truly harming him?

Background:

As mentioned before, my dad's behaviors reflect that of an covert narcissist. Disclaimer: I am not diagnosing him, he fits the description very well.

Ever since the divorce 8 years ago, the relationship between us has not been pretty. Many mean words were exchanged, and I considered going no-contact (cutting him out of my life) many times.

  • He feels everyone is not listening to him enough, but in my perspective, everyone's had enough listening to him.
  • He has been wanting counseling for a long time, but left things up to me as if I needed more help. This has been discouraging, and not at all supportive of my mental well-being.
  • He continually states that he suggested counseling first, even though I've been going all those 8 years and he has gone for maybe half that or less. I do not know for sure.

What has been tried.

During the meeting, I directly told him that it was a big, big assumption of his that everyone has this sort of negative feeling against him. He talked around that and basically didn't really respond to it. He really can talk himself out of these kinds of situations, narcissists in general are very smooth talkers. I suggested he go to counseling, he said he doesn't understand what to work on until I tell him in family counseling. (Saying he will not go to individual counseling because he's learned all he could about himself) He's manipulating the situation to fit what he desires.

  • During the counseling, the counselor only acted as a mediator, not as a family counselor. This was previously agreed on.

Question

How do I respond in disagreement to his statement of "Everyone makes me the instant scapegoat!"? My goal is to assert that I am not trying to make him a scapegoat for my issues.

(everyone, including myself, while I am in front of him) I would rather remain cool, calm, and collected, and civil, while directly stating my belief. I want to assert that I am not automatically making him the scapegoat of my issues, but also recognizing that he needs to continue to own his mistakes and accept responsibility. It seems like this is a method of his to avoid responsibility.

Notes and clarifications

  • I am a 25 year old female that is married and not living with my dad
  • My parents divorced 8 years ago, my mother has remarried (happily) and my dad is still dating.
  • Family drama history is extensive, my dad has started spats and he is isolated from his family (siblings, my mom's family, etc), because not many people want to talk with him
  • Last but not least: I care about him still, and want a healthy relationship.

I will not accept answers that tell me more about narcissists, how they behave, why they behave, whether to cut him out of my life or not (that's not the question), and anything that is not explaining how to respond to the statement the next time he tells me in front of a counselor.

Any suggestions and edits needed, let me know and I will edit accordingly.

  • I'm sure there are different schools of thought around mediation, but what you are asking for seems to be in the purview of the role of a mediator: to impartially facilitate communication between parties towards resolution of some particular problem. To that end, it's not clear to me what the goal of your counselling session is. For this one piece of it, does "respond in disagreement" mean that you want to make your father not feel like he is being the scapegoat? Or to assert that you are not trying to treat him as a scapegoat? – Bryan Krause Oct 19 at 22:37
  • Thank you! I want to be asserting that I am not automatically making him the scapegoat of my issues, but also recognizing that he needs to continue to own his mistakes and accept responsibility. it seems like this is a method of his to avoid responsibility. – ElizB Oct 19 at 22:40
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    For how many times you state that you're not diagnosing him, your question sure reads as though you have absolutely concluded that he is a narcissist. This is kind of an important point to leave unclear, as you might get very different advice for dealing with someone with a clinically-defined psychological condition versus someone who does not. While appreciating that you are not offering a formal diagnosis, is your effective conclusion that he is a covert narcissist? – Upper_Case Oct 20 at 0:13
  • @Upper_Case My effective conclusion is that he is very likely to be a covert narcissist, if he ever goes and gets diagnosed formally, but how hard is that gonna be? pretty much near impossible. What edit is suggested here? Take out one or more of these statements? – ElizB Oct 20 at 0:42
  • @ElizB I don't know that much of an edit is needed. The bits about definitely not diagnosing him seem repetitive and not very impactful, given that understanding the question as intended seems to require that answerers make that assupmtion. – Upper_Case Oct 21 at 2:51
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Q. How do I respond to a person narcissist that says they are everyone's scapegoat?

If you were talking about answering this question in a one-to-one conversation with your dad, my answer would be:

A. You don't. Narcissists are constantly playing a game where everything they say is an attempt to manipulate you and the conversation to reach a goal they want. The only way to stop that is not to play the game by refusing to answer the question as asked. I don't mean ignore them - but do not answer any questions directly because you are feeding the behaviour.

But you say that you are going to counselling with him and he is going to raise this question to you in front of the counsellor. That makes this more complex.

You said you don't want to hear more about narcissism, so, I won't attempt to tell you anything about the behaviour as such, but do consider this - even if your dad does have this (and you can't say that with certainty, it is an opinion not a diagnosis) it is still a learned behaviour and many psychologists believe that someone displaying narcissistic behaviour can change. Your refusal to comply with any such behaviour may go towards helping him "unlearn" it.

It sounds like he has selected this kind of counselling session with you as a way of saying what he wants to say in an environment where you are less likely to interrupt. He may feel that he can more easily manipulate you in a counselling session because it is a "controlled environment", even though he technically isn't the one controlling it. As you say, he definitely needs personal counselling to try and help fix his own behaviour. But in the meantime, if you want to get your relationship with your dad back, for now, you are going to have to answer his question.

You said that you feel he needs to "own his mistakes and accept responsibility". He is using the term "scapegoat" because it implies blame. The shift of language is a classic projection technique - blame is something negative, and he is turning around your request for him to admit to his mistakes and projecting that back as a negative motive (blaming) onto you.

Whatever it is you want him to accept responsibility for, you've probably already forgiven. You just need to hear him admit to it so that you can respect him and move forward. If he admits to certain behaviours, it is the leverage you need to convince him to get personal counselling that he clearly needs.

So, say all of that. If he interrupts you, turn to the counsellor to moderate and make sure you are allowed to finish. The controlled environment of the counselling session should give you the opportunity to clearly separate these two things and cut off his attempt to turn it back on you.

I would suggest you reply to his question with something like:

A scapegoat is someone to take the blame. I'm not looking to blame anyone for anything. I'm asking you to admit to past mistakes and behaviour because I'm ready and willing to forgive them and move on. I also want you to admit to certain behaviours so that you can get help to change them. If you won't do that, there is no blame for anything - it just means we cannot move forward.

I really hope this helps, and that whatever method or words you choose, you are able to resolve your relationship with your dad.

  • 1
    This answer is freaking fantastic. "it is still a learned behaviour and many psychologists believe that someone displaying narcissistic behaviour can change. I hope your dad can change, and your refusal to comply with any such behaviour may go towards helping him "unlearn" it." This is exactly what I want to do with him. I want him to at least have the opportunity to un-learn this behavior, because the little, insecure guy behind the big facade is hurting, and he has to process all of what happened over the last 30-plus years of his life. This is really, really, well thought out. – ElizB Oct 23 at 21:13
  • @ElizB Thank you, I'm a divorced dad myself, so despite everything I really feel for your dad in this scenario. He is lucky to have you. – Astralbee Oct 29 at 9:15
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    It's still really hard because as a narcissist, he knows exactly what pushes my buttons. – ElizB Oct 29 at 11:55

Don't answer, ask him questions instead. Your goal is to understand him and his reasons for feeling like a scapegoat and only then make him understand you.

Can you tell me of an instance where you felt like being the scapegoat?

None of you is an all-knowing being, so don't state things objectively. Put them into a subjective and personal perspective by saying "you felt like" instead of "you were" or "we made you". If he evades the question by answering "always" or with too many examples, concentrate on the most recent event.

Ok, let's concentrate on the most recent event when you felt like I/we made you the scapegoat. I don't do it intentionally, so you have to explain it to me.

Don't stop digging and don't let him evade or change the topic. You want to understand why he feels blamed by things you don't mean to put blame on him. Be like a hound persuing a scent trail.

I was trying to understand "scapegoat event" and I still don't understand why you felt like I made you a scapegoat. I'm trying really hard to see how you felt at that time, but you need to tell me.

Only when you (hopefully) get him to concentrate on this one event, you can start explaining yourself. Again, put it into a subjective and personal perspective by saying "I didn't mean it that way" instead of "that's not true".

What I/we said at that time was meant like X, not putting the blame on you. I'm sorry you felt bad at the time, but it was not my/our intention.

If he has too many other situations swirling around in his head, your explanatation will have less of an impact. "Maybe you didn't mean it at that time, but you meant it then and then and then..."

If you both concentrate on one event, you listen to how he felt and then you tell him how you felt, the impact is much bigger.

Resist the temptation to talk too much. Your goal is to fill 90% of your speaking time with questions and only 10% with answers. Get him to talk and explain himself and listen to him without putting the focus back on you.

Stating things from a personal perspective makes it easier for him to accept that he misunderstood. If he feels blamed and you say "that's not true", he might feel blamed again for feeling blamed. If you say instead "I didn't mean to blame you" it's much easier to accept, because in a subtle way you take the blame on you and let him adjust his view without the feeling of being wrong.

Disclaimer: I have never been in a comparable situation and explaining where my experience came from would be too long and unrelated to the question, but have a look at this TED Talk by Brian Fretwell (trigger warning for mentions of drug abuse among young people) to see how asking question in contrast to giving answers can change your interaction with a person.

You do not need to respond to or refute this statement. Without reading all the rest of your material and why you're diagnosing your father as a narcissist, you can surely see that "everyone is doing x to me all the time" is a very self-centered statement, making it all about him.

I would probably respond something like

Everyone feels they're being scapegoated when things are put on them. You have a share of responsibility for [single thing being discussed right now] and that doesn't disappear just because you are blamed for some other things too. I want to talk about [single thing being discussed right now], not about you feeling bad when you realize you're partially responsible for it.

So if you're talking about, say, not being able to see both parents on Christmas because they live hundreds of miles apart, and he's the one who moved, and he's all "you are all making me the scapegoat for everything! I had no choice, I had to move, it's not my fault" you can calmly keep the conversation on how you're going to manage Christmas given that traveling between the homes isn't possible. Not every outburst (and especially not every "poor me" outburst) needs a response. Not every situation that a family works to solve needs to establish whose fault it is before solving it.

It might help, given you want a healthy relationship with a selfish person, to focus on your own goals and the things you want to achieve. Set aside whose fault it is, who caused it, and the like. (This is not the same as setting aside who needs to change, of course. If someone is hitting you, and your goal is not to be hit, one way to get that is for the person to stop hitting you.) If you want a new X and can't afford it, don't get wrapped up in who broke your old x. Solve your problem as a family.

A healthy relationship with a narcissist is not a realistic goal. A lower conflict relationship might be possible.

Have you heard the phrase "don't JADE"? JADE expands to Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain. These are things that you shouldn't do with certain people, including narcissists. (And the "argue" part doesn't mean that you should agree--you go right on disagreeing, you just refuse to argue about it.)

JADEing gives the problematic person attention. It gives them the impression that you agree that your decisions are open for approval or disapproval by them. It lets them trap you in the endless cycle of trying to make them understand, rather than moving on to the point where you are going to set boundaries whether they understand or not.

Yes, you want him to understand. But understanding requires that HE want to understand, and as long as you keep JADEing, he's getting plenty of entertainment; he's not motivated to understand. If you stop JADEing, you stop rewarding his refusal to understand. You put the responsibility for his understanding on him--where it belongs.

A link on the concept:

http://perfectlyawfulusa.blogspot.com/2011/05/jade-good-for-jewelry-bad-for.html

You can't change his view. Any effort to change it is doomed to failure.

But if you refuse to reward him for his complaint, the complaint may be less rewarding for him, and he may seek to cause conflict in a different way, perhaps a way that you find less upsetting.

"Everyone makes me the instant scapegoat!"

  • "It's unfortunate that you feel that way, Dad."

  • "That feeling must be upsetting."

  • "Well, part of why we're here is to help you to overcome feelings like that."

  • "I don't agree with your interpretation. Therefore, a conversation would not be productive."

  • "I have no desire to make you a scapegoat. Therefore, a discussion of your belief that I do would not be productive."

  • "I don't believe that the peple around you are making you a scapegoat. Therefore, a discussion of your belief that they do would not be productive."

  • "This is not a productive discussion. Is there something else that you'd like to discuss?"

  • "Dad, I expressed my unwillingness to discuss this. Shall we move on?"

  • "Dad, I remain unwilling to discuss this."

  • Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. I'd also advise taking a look at How do I write a good answer?. – Arwen Undómiel Oct 23 at 14:07
  • To expand on this answer, I'd suggest the book "Emotional Blackmail". It describes how people like OP's father use techniques to create fear, obligation and guilt and how to break the pattern. That book provides a very complete rationale and additional resources for following thru with this answer. – DaveG Oct 23 at 14:12
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    To expand with what Arwen already said, could you provide a link (or other kinds of reference) to the JADE technic? – Noon Oct 23 at 14:28

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