Help for the Scapegoat

Judging from the  number of  letters I’ve received recently  asking how to cope with their scapegoat role, many people feel like scapegoats. It makes sense given our collective world. There are so many warring factions and polarities in the United States and elsewhere and. thanks to our omnipresent social media, we find it more and more comfortable to hide out in congruent identities.

As I’ve emphasized before, scapegoating is a natural process nurtured in  group anxiety and dysfunction; it is also a first step in group transformation. At the end of a scapegoating process some fundamental realities have changed–for better or worse depending ones point of view. The moment we don’t only  see scapegoating as group pathology but also as a natural part of group transformation, we have a better chance of not becoming its victim. Its a little like sibling rivalry, at times vicious and destructive, but also an energy source, potentially useful in  escaping  the straight jacket of birth order and family demands. Understanding this larger perspective  can help! It provides a handle on  predicting  who will become the scapegoat of a group or family, how to take individual steps to  defuse and reject the role, how to reduce the intensity of  group scapegoating behavior and even decrease the group problem at its heart. These are some of the ways that the individuals can  decrease the chance of becoming a group victim, or if that isn’t possible, to use the scapegoat’s energy to change one own personal fate.  Check out my TED Talk on Scapegoating on this website (drscapegoat.com), particularly the diagram on the mechanism of scapegoating in a group.

For the group or individual to emerge from the scapegoating process relatively untraumatized takes a great deal of courage, fortitude and luck.  Abused children, victims of war, and other uncontrollable circumstances  can do little on their own against the group force and are destined to work out the effects of the trauma well into their adulthood, perhaps all their life. Healing systems which help always provide emotional support but also provide a reenactment of scapegoating  in a more manageable context and with a more benign outcome.

Learning about scapegoating as a process also offers the hope of preventing potential trauma before it occurs.  Understanding the various faces of scapegoating, e.g. bullying behavior, embarrassment in social media, hazing,  and then doing something about it is what works best. But most individuals are not equipped to make the verbal and behavioral interpretations and group adjustment needed to change an acutely damaging ongoing process. As an analyst and therapist I tend to see the victims after the group has labelled them, not just the identified victims but also the damage done to individuals who are the scapegoaters. Too often I hear of a sibling, parent, workmate, or friend who stands aside and watch, becoming complicit in the trauma. They understandably fear the personal damage they might incur in trying to change a difficult situation. Not many of us are heroes and taking on a scapegoating situation as its happening is definitely a heroic undertaking.

Our current politics are writhe with examples of lack of heroism, fear and  self serving cowardice. Most recently  FBI chief. Comey was afraid to stop Trump from exerting what he felt was  improper influence on him and others; Republicans act  afraid to vote against   changes in  health laws that they disagree with for fear of losing party affiliations and privileges ; democrats afraid to make the hard and risky changes in their own leadership structures for fear of losing their place in their parties pecking order. Fear and courage are the emotions at play no matter in complicit behavior !  My own rule of thumb  for knowing what to do when I find myself  in these difficult and self defining situations is recognizing an inner feeling that always accompanies a courage stance.  When I feel that a victim is being created (including me) and  also find myself  afraid to speak or act out to stop it, I try my best to swallow my fear and step forward and taking a risk. I It’s all about not giving  in to fear that allows risking a courageous stance.