Scapegoats:Innocent and Guilty

DRSCAPEGOAT  was a created effigy ,  a serving simulacrum  inspired by what doctors should do best, that is provide help for people who suffer. Dr. S opened   theory and practice of scapegoating to the internet wilderness and promised to answer questions and provide advice for   wanderers in that dry and scratchy desert as well as providing space to struggle with others in similar situations.

Many people have contacted Dr. Scapegoat for help; few shared with fellow sufferers.  The people who experienced scapegoating, among the most traumatic experiences humans encounter, are generally loathe to share with peers in venues where there was little protection. The tales require trust. The doctor role, even if virtual, gave that. Dr. S received emails, phone calls and asked for and received personal interviews.  Hopefully the help and advice given was useful.   

The problems and suffering presented to Dr. Scapegoat were intensely personal and private.  The groups that was presumed to be scapegoaters, in almost all cases identified as the family, was usually mentioned.  Scapegoating groups   did not come forward when that was suggested. All was left to   individuals caught and victimized in the group and collective dynamic. The scapegoat stayed in role as the guilt eater..

As the creator of Dr. S, I have mentioned from time to time that Scapegoating is a professional concern.  As a psychiatrist and advisor I have worked hard with individuals, groups, organizations, even countries to ameliorate its negative effects and supports its salutatory ones. Lately I have personally felt its negative power in my own life   which has led to an even deeper consideration of its mechanisms, its ultimate dependence on the human need for revenge and sacrifice.

Revenge is not an easy subjects for any of us to be direct about but it has everything to do with scapegoating.  This month I spent a week in New York indulging my passion for opera (my nonfiction writing extends to Britten and Shostakovich as scapegoats—see The best of the four operas I saw was Richard Strauss’s Electra, based on one of the great revenge stories of all time. Electra obsessively plans to kill her mother (Queen Clytemnestra) and step father (Aegisthus) who together murdered her father, the famed Agamemnon. The need for revenge is so straight forward and yet so difficult to carry out. The conflict between love and hate, passivity and action, eventually drives Electra quite mad. Her brother Orestes is able to do the deed but not her. Both siblings suffer for their actions.

Despite conflicting desires, the characters’ are   understandable in some mythic fated way. Even Clytemnestra, one of the ostensible villains, has good reason for killing her husband   Agamemnon, for he was father of their daughter Iphigenia   killed her, a sacrifice to the gods to allow his war fleet to make war on the Trojans.

During the opera I thought of the many emails I received wondering about why they were being scapegoated. Unlike the Electra of Sophocles and Hofmannsthal, Strauss’s librettist, most felt innocent; they could not understand or even rationalize why their lives were being so traumatized by   family members and others. I believed most, questioned others. But the opera made me wonder about a basic division in the ubiquitous world of scapegoating: there are those of us like Clytemnestra who knowingly propagate physical and psychic violence e.g. brutalizing fathers, molesting mothers, violent siblings, and evil dictators.  Who then, taking responsibility or not for their actions, are ostracized and hunted and maligned. And there are others who just don’t understand. Like Job. Like a certain kind of patriarch. Like professional victims. Like the truly innocent.

I’ll go on with this theme in my next essay. But in the meantime I wonder if any of you out there, scapegoaters and scapegoats, innocents or guilt ridden, have some thoughts on this? Scapegoats are archetypal and mythic, bigger than the personal. In that context, does it really matter if we are conscious of our sins? Does it matter if we are scapegoated for reasons we know? And iss innocence the same as not knowing?


  1. Annette R Bennett says:

    Sorry here is alot, but it has been a long journey.

    No, it does not matter if they are conscious of sins. I am 64 yrs of age, have been through enormous Scapegoating. It took me yrs. to finally learn the term for the dysfunctional life I had lived with all my life. I knew it was wrong; I could try to describe the incidents. But to put the sum of it, in a term or title, or even a phrase so others could understand (that made sense) was beyond my words . If you tell some of the stories for them to understand, it goes above their head, they to miss it. All they hear is you are whining, or why do you have anything to do with these people or what have you done for them to treat you this way. It is not worth the additional exposure to critical ignorance of the behavior, to venture their understanding. Thirty some years of counselor’s and therapy, no one told me. The field of phycology is so void of the knowledge and understanding, also discerning the dynamic in patients. How can a person find help. Even, if a person wants to confront the demon who causes them such pain and misery. The Christian concept is constant forgiveness, not get away from it then forgive from afar. This complicated hate called scapegoating (it is a sibling or an off spring of hate) that comes from others. How do you understand the reflex that comes from other humans thinking, reasoning and therefore actions; that are perpetrated upon you. Do you have to get in bed with the proverbial enemy, in order to reveal their wounds and heal their needs, before their actions of hate can be comforted in your life. How does one take on the burden of their enemy or enemies, when trying to survive, themselves. They only way to attack an enemy, is to understand that enemies strategies, the wall of hate, cruelty and denial is massive. The years of study Generals do, in order to engage the enemy, protect the troops and win take years and prior knowledge to prepare. Scapegoated people work all their lives trying to get around, over or through this wall. When they really need to understand the wall is not one they can go around, through or over. The Enemy moves the wall, raises the wall and if you can puncture the wall, they only add to the thickness of the wall. As you see; it has never been a wall or barrier they intend for you to get past. This wall is the Goaters’ way of protection, you are the one they chose to goad, this is a release for them. You cannot take it from them; if it comes down to they will be exposed to themselves or others. God help them, they will go to any extreme to stop that. Trying to please them, questioning, ignoring them anything that puts you in a place or position of even ground, will set their evil off. The hate produces evil, it is oozing pus that comes from hate. In their minds they reconcile all the reasons for the hate, you do not know, most of the time. They are separate beings with their own emotions and patterns of thinking, how would you know how they came to that point. They can take anything good or bad you do and make it in to their need to project the pus from their wounds on to you. The hate in them could have come from many places in their past, how would you know. You can see some of hate their reasoning at times. This does not begin to help you understand the enemy of hate they project on you. Nor does it tell you why they chose you. In my case it was my Mother and I have watched my siblings repeat it in their families. They reek of the sores, the pus never stops flowing.
    What is so hard for the victim to see, or learn ; most of the time it is not you or what you do. Sure you have flaws but do others pounce on them like a scapegoater does. You are in a no win war, with enemies who will change the levels of achievement, you will never ever gain any rank of accomplishment, that will release you as the enemy. They need that enemy, see they are a victim and someone must pay, they picked you. Now to confuse matters they will tell you they love you, no they love using you. They do not know you; nor do they want to; that would in it self provoke understanding. God help them; understanding is what they are running from. See they do not want to confront their enemy in battle, much less sleep with it one night. They do not want that level of understanding, they just want to hate it, then the sore is lanced and the pus releases and they feel better. No matter who they infect with the bacteria of hate. So no it does not matter. For the Scapegoater understanding the enemy, does not make him stop trying to infect you with his sores. It is like a infectious skin disease, you do not want to get it, you see their suffering you do not know where they were infected or why, you can try to see their pain, you cannot heal them as they need professional help and refuse to go get it. They spread the pus and wonder why all the people around them have it, but yet they are glad, then and only then will they understand their pain. My mother and one sister reek of this; they take this pain out on others all the time. Mom died and they carrying on the infection.
    I remember a close friend told me one day. If you ever make a bad mistake they will crucify you. There was no avoiding it as a human, you are going to fail, they are just waiting. I will not go into the nasty sore of my family. But knowing does not change it, why does not either. Neither one takes it away or helps the scapegoaters’. Now for the one being scapegoated, it does give the sickness a name and definition, it tells you it’s origin. It also tells you, it is not your fault, nor can you fix it. It does not tell you how to heal from it or how to love those that hurt you. If you love them, you cannot help them. Matter of fact you are the last one who can. You are a replacement idol for their anger. It is like being a spouse of an alcoholic, you are the last one who can help them, especially if they blame you. You see the sickness, you see the cure, but you cannot tell them, they will turn that self-hatred on you in a second.
    I am going to tell you a story I told a Doctor one time. See I am the poster child for a Scapegoated child of a Narcissistic Mother and Siblings. I did all the text book reactions. I married a man who became and alcoholic. I will not get into that. But after thirty eight years of suffering being told it was my fault he had affairs, drank, illegal actions. I divorced him. A lot of ugly pain, and no family support, only blame. I was told by my doctor it was a sick system, I told him I knew. But how do you get out of two families who are all you have and find your way alone. This is the story I told him, I had come to in my head over the years of marriage.
    I said when we fell in love and was to married, I thought finally, I had someone to walk out life with, hand in hand. No, we started on a road headed in the direction we had agreed on, hand in hand. Someone who loved me as we went through work, life and later children making our way. I was so happy, it was hard but we did it together. All the sudden the road had a fork in it; one to the right-way and one to the left-way. The left the road was unfamiliar and scary. He wanted to go down to the left, I said no, wrong way. See the trouble, bad road, I do not want to go or take the children that way, it scares me. No matter how many times I fought him his answer was the same. If you want me to hold your hand, you will have to go to the left not the right. I will not go the Right way, with you, you go it alone. You think when they see, they will turn around. No, they like those types of roads, no rules, no laws, no safety. Living on the edge, exciting, fun risky life. As you go down this road, the fear and terror builds, the hard times and bumps take their toll on you and the children. All the while you are begging lets go back to the fork in the road and take the right way. No I will not, I like this road. After years of being torn apart, the children are hurt from lack of healthy nourishment. Your heart aches for them, and you love the misguided sick husband, you cannot help them see. You know the sickness and answer for them, you cannot make them see. But what you have not seen is the answer for you, as you are not looking at you, you are concentrating on the husband and children. So you have to look at the fact you held their hand when you should have let go, you did not know what was on that road nor that they chose it because it was all about them. But you have to turn around with the children and walk up that bad road alone, more scared than before, as you know now what that road has to offer. You are a War Torn Wreck and the children are scared and hurting too. They love their father and hate you for leaving and want you to at the same time. You have to reach that fork, just to face the trip down the right road usually alone. The loss of time, love, energy and everything makes you so tired. All the while being blamed by everyone for why you held his hand, why did you leave, he is still my Dad. You picked this for us. While at the same time these same people told you to forgive him, stand by him, everyone fails. The point is not knowing, seeing, doing is never enough, they just need to blame, they need a place to put the pain. If you will take it they will give it! God Help you, you need to run from the blame they have placed upon you. They do not care what you have done for them, how much or far you will go. They just want a place to put the pain, then that is the spot to vent the pus out of the sore.
    As far as conscious goes, the bible says the beginning of wisdom is understanding, and the beginning of understanding is fear of the Lord. So with that said, the fear of the Lord drives our motivation to understand. Understanding is very hard and painful, it takes something beyond us. Be it a purpose, for becoming a better person, to acquire wisdom (that could be a selfish motive or a motive of protection due to the fear) and it can be one of love of another. In all it has an accountability measure to it. This I think is where many stumble, they do not want to be accountable for nothing. I remember telling my Husband. How does this work, you blame me for all the wrong things you do, but you never blame me for the right things you do. If I could just learn how to turn that around, I could single handedly make you into a great person. I push myself very hard, I had to. I find that in it self this causes people to blame. I heard a quote “That mediocracy hates excellence” of course no one is excellent, but to the second in task, you think your better. Maybe you are just driven to get yourself up and out of that hole. It never dawns on them, you are not working against them at all. I know for me as I worked hard to come up, the more I did the worse they got. My Dad, God Bless him was my only supporter. He called me Little Bit, he said when I asked him what is it Daddy, what have I done, what did I do wrong. He said nothing, it is not about you, they want what you have, but do not want to do what you do. I said, Daddy they can do it, I work so hard and I am tired. They can pick their thing and do the same. He said no, they want it, but will not pay that price. He was the first that told me, you are a scapegoat a whipping post. He said we did not argue in-front of you kids. But I have spoken with your Mother many times on this. I am sorry I probably made it worse. I told him no, this was her problem and he had nothing to do with her choices. That was the first acknowledgement I got it was even there. At that time I was around 55 yrs old. My siblings denied she treated me different and they helped her. When she died they were cruel, she wanted me set aside, not included and they honored her wishes. That is when my crucification came, I knew it. They publicly excluded me from her death and funeral. I prayed all the way through and asked God to help me, I knew from the start what they were doing. Now they tell me I have had enough years to get over what they did. If I do not forgive them, God will not forgive me. To say the least they are not apart of my life. They try every chance they get to hurt me emotionally. I keep my world separate. I was never invited much before and now not at all. They include my ex and children. When it comes to emotional abuse they are experts. My oldest Brother has tried every evil way to make me bow and told me I deserved it. I had been studying it for about 2.5 yrs when she died, that God I had some understanding of it. So to answer yes it helps the scapegoated, it a tool, it is a guide etc. No it does not stop it. For the Goater to understand, they would have to be accountable for their pain and hate. As long as they have a place to put the hate, no they will not seek the understanding.
    Innocence is to me not a part of; not knowing is not aware of. You can seek the knowledge to help yourself, I will say it is not radially available at all. Very few are aware of this Monster. Innocence can be a two edge sword. You have no idea they really do not love you like you think, or they tell you it is for your own good. Like my brother said you are to blame for what happened at Moms death. My answer was I do not take responsibility for things I am not a part of, have a decision in, or took not type of action in it happening. You can be innocent and still be blamed, hurt and carry the pain of. Knowing can be the same way. The only difference and it is a lot considering, is it cuts the ties of blame if you learn these two. You cannot stop them but you can cut yourself out of the monstrous blame they try to place on your “Well Being”.
    Signed “LittleBit”

    • Hello Annette
      I just wanted to let you know that I read your post. I understand and recognize the pain and sadness that being designated as the scapegoat in a family creates… You are not alone if that is at all helpful to hear. I was one too. I read in an article that offers explanations for how scapegoat is chosen by dysfunctional family members. The scapegoat:
      Tends to be a strong individual
      Tends to have black-and-white thinking
      Often very outspoken or sensitive – will either point out the defect or ‘act out’ behaviorally in reaction to the unhealthy environment
      Usually has a very large capacity for caring – this causes them to tolerate the unfair, negative treatment. They care for their family members and thus endure
      Unable to separate self from criticism heaped upon them – will internalize negative message and blame themselves for the abusive behavior
      Sometimes is ‘different’ – for example, handicapped, adopted, has some sort of physical or mental flaw – could have habits or mannerisms that deviate from ‘normal’…this is from an article by Julie Wilson if you would like to look for it’s entire message.
      What you said is validated that the family members will not be willing to listen or become aware of the cycle of blaming the scapegoat…they are too invested…

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