The phrase “whipping boy” isn’t just a cliché. Nope! The whipping boy was a real person and he was really whipped.

Sometime after the turn of the 16th Century, the role of “whipping boy” was introduced to the court of Tudor England. While the Crown Prince was untouchable due to the so-called Divine Right of Kings, still his tutors need some way to punish him when he misbehaved. Enter the Whipping Boy.

But here’s the catch. Merely flailing away on some unknown character would’ve availed nothing. No, it was imperative that the Prince befriend and bond with his whipping boy, who could be either of noble birth or an unknown orphan. It was his empathy for his friend and wish for him not to be whipped that then resulted in the Prince’s good behavior. (Or not!)

Nowadays, we still use the term “whipping boy” although it has morphed over the centuries to mean “scapegoat” or “fall guy.” And the families of narcissists are extremely familiar with being their whipping boy.

The Narcissist’s Whipping Boy

Narcissists are never wrong. Narcissists never make mistakes. Narcissists never screw up.

Yet, things still go wrong and as I wrote last year, “Blame: It must be assigned.” And that’s where you and I come in. It’s always our fault, isn’t it? Somehow. By some tortured logic. With some twisting of facts. It is always our fault.

But unfortunately, they don’t have empathy.

It may be as humdrum as the narcissist misplacing their keys, wallet or boots. Every time my (future) father-in-law drunkenly misplaced his stuff, he would whip off his big belt and whip his son (my future husband.) It was always Michael’s fault. Michael stole ’em. Michael took ’em. Michael misplaced ’em. Michael lost ’em. Later on, Father-in-Law would find his stuff, of course…the stuff Michael never touched. But he never apologized to his son for the whipping.

That’s a graphic real-life illustration of the whipping boy dynamic. But it can be subtle too.

Whenever the towering volcano of my father’s rage would erupt in fire and brimstone, it was always my mother who took the brunt of it. Supposedly, it was she who cracked the dome, allowing the built-up lava to spew forth. It was she who scratched the scab. I remember one particular day. It was 1993 or thereabouts, the day they refinanced their mortgage. There was some confusion, some minor irritation about paying the parking lot attendant. Dad became enraged, canceled the scheduled restaurant dinner and played the victim all the way home, bemoaning how much he’d been looking forward to eating out, yada, yada, yada. Twenty years later it all made sense when I heard my mother sobbing, “I’m so tired of always being in the wrong.”

Or it can be played out on a national scale, as politicians lash out at their constituents, the media, specific genders and nationalities for the disappointing outcome of their campaign.

But it gets even more complicated!

The Narcissist’s Victim’s Whipping Boy

Narcissists aren’t the only ones who have whipping boys. The victim’s of narcissists also have whipping boys.

In their case, the dynamic is somewhat different. They aren’t necessarily projecting or taking out blame on their victim, but rather just pain. Irritation. Anger. False Guilt. Inferiority. Shame. But those feeling are caused by…guess who!?!

The narcissist.

I only recognized this dynamic at play in my own life quite recently. Casting my mind back over those times when my (usually) sweet mother got uncharacteristically upset with me (and I hadn’t actually misbehaved)…the narcissist was lurking just behind her. Perhaps not literally, but figuratively. Upsetting Mom…who then took it out on me. When I was seven, she pulled my hair. When I was five, she got very upset when a box of treats, quite unfortunately, exploded on me in the car. (Damned Tupperware!) When I was a teen, she got quite snippy because I’d done a slovenly job of putting on my lipstick. (Horrors!) What do all of those scenarios have in common? We were either going to see, were seeing or had just seen my narcissistic grandmother. And mom was hurting and angry, and more importantly, feeling terribly (false) guilty for being hurting and angry. She used me as her whipping girl.

I recognize this dynamic in myself to this day. Every time I feel like a failure, which is pretty often, I get crabby. Every time I feel false guilt, I get cranky. Every time I feel less-than, I get irritable. But I try not to lash out. Try to keep my feelings to myself. Try to figure out where it’s all coming from, instead of getting all curmudgeonly with my husband or snippy with the dogs.

Invariably, my pain can all be traced back to the narcissists. My father’s long ago message that I’m an (almost) failure.  My grandma’s long ago disapproval of those without a Hyacinth Bucketesque spotless “come anytime, no need to call first” house. Loads of false guilt. Piles of false failure. Mountains of criticism, disapproval, shame.

We Didn’t, Don’t and Won’t Deserve It

We didn’t deserve it, y’know. We didn’t!!!

We were good kids, good teens, good adults. Sure, sometimes we misbehaved on purpose. I did. And I was punished for it. You’ve never heard me say one word of complaint against the just punishments I received for blatantly flouting my parents’ rules. Not one word.

But you and I can, will and should speak out against being the Whipping Boy of the narcissists and their victims. It wasn’t damn fair. We did nothing to deserve it. It should never have happened.

And that’s how the can gets kicked down the road. Pain begets pain and here we are, trying to stop it. Biting our lips, hard and painfully, so we keep the pain inside, so we don’t snap at our spouses and turn them into whipping boys. Taking a deep breath and counting 1-2-3 before we speak to our kids. Putting ourselves in Adult Time-Out so we can figure out why were hurting so badly, so we don’t unjustly pass down the pain to the next generation.

Were you the narcissist’s Whipping Boy? Listen closely. You did NOT deserve it!