Escape From Emotional Hell – Scapegoating

Scapegoating is great if you are not the scapegoat.

Psychologically what you do is you project your painful reaction to a life event onto some other poor soul and then make sure they get punished good and proper for it. Leaves a nice satisfying feeling in the tummy – until the problem returns and the cycle begins all over again at which point you find someone new to do it to.

When done in a small group we call it ‘bullying’. In large organisations we call it ‘blame culture’. Between countries it is often the reason for war. As an individual you can only keep a personal eye out for it – but will you know when it is happening to you and will you acknowledge and accept what has to be done to get away from it?

Scapegoating is the act of creating an ‘escape goat’ which we tie to the ground for a predator to eat giving the rest of us time to escape – what was once a tribal survival tactic is now deeply embedded in human social behaviour.

A wonderful method as long as you are not the scapegoat, eh? But there is also another twist to this tale. In their defence the older generations developed a way of getting younger, fitter members of our tribes to also step up for the privilege: we call this heroism.

I am not knocking heroism; just saying you need to be careful you are not acting the hero in a situation where you do not fully understand what is going on.

Heroes sacrifice themselves for the greater good. This is OK as long as when you survive the sacrificial opportunity (that is, you kill the beast or the beast is pacified in some other way) you get some of that greater good yourself.

What if, having sacrificed quite a large part of your life or put your neck on the line for a while you find the ‘greater good’ is not what you yourself receive from those you took this risk for? You need to pay attention to this and make sure you stop offering yourself up as sacrificial lamb if it is to a person or a group of people who do not want the same good things for you they want for themselves after the ‘beast’ is vanquished.

In a lot of dysfunctional families, for example, the beast is the behavioural norm of the family itself.

To avoid each individual member of the family having to face up to the pain of their own inner worlds aggressive families sometimes appoint a ‘black sheep’. Seen as the worst family member they then blame all their woes onto that person so avoiding facing the predator within (their painful feelings). The scapegoat gets a reward from this process by being made to feel very important; if not notorious. They get lots and lots of attention from this process which is better than the lack of attention they had before.

I remember a couple of years back working with a young man where the rest of the family came along (two full generations plus uncles and aunts) and all of them were talking about their worries about him. As they spoke the family members criticised each other in how they dealt with him and past arguments were brought out and re-hashed in front of him. Glaring eyes, snappy remarks, the full works. You would have thought he was on the verge of a violent criminal future.

The young man himself sat passively, answered questions intelligently (yet according to the family he was a bit moody and unpredictable) and when I spoke to him alone he was really easy to get along with. He had been turned into the eye of the family storm – he was the family scapegoat.

These kinds of things can go on for years and eventually, if you are the scapegoat, you can start to believe the hype at an unconscious level. Here is what to do if this is happening to you:

Get out.

You will not find this easy.

The first reason is because it may mean months of unpleasant planning in several different areas – financially; logistically; legally. It could take years to simply move yourself out (the young man I speak about above left his family a few months later).

The second reason it can be difficult is because when they realise the scapegoat has escaped other members of the group want the scapegoat to return and will pursue.

Scapegoats can be useful for a number of reasons – they tend to be giving people and as such are quite useful financially and in other ways; they make great absorbent punch-bags that love to take full responsibility for being punched (heroes).

I have seen many people, of all different age groups and types, play the role of scapegoat and become seriously emotionally ill because of it.

In their heads they justify this treatment with such self-talk as: ‘they know not what they do’ or ‘they will understand one day’ or ‘they did not really mean that’.

They know exactly what they are doing. It is you that does not understand. They mean everything they say – you are just not listening. You still here?

What a great person you are, eh? Hello scapegoat.

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