Abusers and Complicitors

For the past few months I have had a number of letters asking for help in understanding the psychology of scapegoaters.  The writers, often self-identified scapegoats, wonders how their tormentors survive the difficult emotions that they  should   feel as they unjustly punish and abuse others.

My own experiences is that most abusers see themselves as abused. That helps because they feel that their acts are justified revenge, or its first cousin, retribution.  For this type of scapegoater, the real-time victims are displacements from the abusers  own painful memories, repetition  behavior based on what was done to them by parents, bosses, and gangs.  It gives them another chance  not to feel like a helpless coward.  And to get even even if it is years later.  Unfortunately bullying others, as with other kinds of revenge behavior, may serve the emotional needs of the abuser. As the Sicilian’s proverb says, it is still tasty when served cold.

There are many other reasons for the scapegoater’s lack of sentient feelings toward the people and sub-groups they abuse. Many scapegoaters, in vivo versions of characters that show up in the media as sadists and serial killers, have severe pathology: e.g. a psychopathic failure to feel and/or  adequately judge their own behavior. Paranoid character disorders and other mentally ill persons can manifest in this form. There is little point in quietly appealing to their “good” nature which has, for whatever cause, become distorted.  Setting a limit is far wiser and more effective behavior.

Some of these letter writers ask why appealing to the best in people doesn’t work. Actually they would be better off appealing to what I have called complicitors, those of us who inadvertently support the scapegoating abuse of others. Family members are frequently guilty of being complicitors:  parents, siblings and close friends who cannot bear to call someone they love on the carpet. Such behavior is understandable but ultimately hurts both the scapegoat and the scapegoated. It’s an easy way out, a way to stay uninvolved, but it has a cost. Appeasers end up feeling like cowards. Like co-dependents they end up supporting more and more harm to others. And they do feel guilt and that guilt lives beyond them in the very people they love.


  1. The record stoically reminded the cynically responding Bldg. Mgr. that it is part of her responsibility and that of the entire Trustee Board to know that the fastest growing violent crime in the U.S. is the physical abuse – including rape – of women by men.

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