Do We Scapegoat Ourselves?

An important and common misunderstanding about scapegoating is the relationship between the individual and the group (or a subgroup and the community), which gives rise to questions like “Don’t people label themselves as victims?” “Aren’t certain people natural victims?” “Don’t the scapegoats behave in groups in a way that gets them in trouble?”

These kinds of questions always come up, and they are partially true. Yes, certain people do learn how to be victims and can play into others’ desire to put them in that position. This is especially true in individuals who have been victims as children. It’s their fallback place in case of new risk and new trauma. It’s a place of comfort, however strange that may seem to others.

This self-victimizing tendency is something that has a remedy. In fact, a great deal of self help, counseling, psychotherapy, and coaching is aimed at helping an individual recognize and change these self-defeating behaviors. With skilled help and a dab of courage, many can learn how to get out of these roles. But not always. That depends on the group.

While scapegoating groups use these natural victims as their fodder, victims do not cause the scapegoating itself. In fact, scapegoating is part of every group’s natural behavior. Groups are almost always stronger than individuals, and experience and countless examples have shown us that when and if a group sees benefit in scapegoating, it will find a victim, whether he or she (or we) is well prepared for that role or not.

Yes, individuals can play into the group’s need to scapegoat, but they do not cause the scapegoating.  Jews, Afro-Americans, and gays, to name a few prominently  scapegoated collectives,  are not themselves the cause for their own suffering at the hands of society. The fact that they may (or may not) look and act differently — or that they may offend others with their views or behaviors — make them easier to scapegoat then, say, Protestant ministers or grandmothers. (Actually, it’s hard to find a group that hasn’t been, at one time or another, the target of group scapegoating.)

So it’s not about only teaching kids who are picked on to “fight back ,” although this might certainly help one’s son or daughter in their schoolyard plight. The trouble is that bullying groups will just find someone else to pick on.  The only effective solution is to teach groups how to change and develop without creating victims — and that’s a matter of an educational and legal system focused on changing the group dynamic that is causing  the bullying, the hazing, or worse.

Ultimately it’s about holding the group rather than any given individual responsible. Blaming  the victim is just a part of the scapegoating process.



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