[skeyp-goht] - a person or group made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in their place.
According to Good Therapy, "scapegoating is based in biblical lore as a goat who was selected from the herd and sent forth into the wilderness for reasons having to do with the sins of others. The goat had done nothing to merit banishment."
"But once the ashes were cold on the rituals of dispatching it, the goat found itself alone in the wilderness, isolated from its herd, in unknown territory, suddenly forced to fend for itself. It faced dangers from predators; difficulty finding food, sustenance, and shelter; and it lived the constantly woeful insecurity of a herd animal without a herd."
I first heard the term scapegoat, when I was in college. It was the last word in an initial sentence, that a social worker told me."You're the family scapegoat," she said.
At the time, I had no idea what being a scapegoat meant, or even more pivotal, how to get out.
I was seated across from this older woman, who had been divorced, with two children. She was remarried and very pretty. A hard worker, she seemed to sense things that I wished I knew. She shared a story of how a client had killed themselves and when she went home to tell her husband, he was absent. She said that was when she decided to leave him.
She moved into a small apartment and raised her kids, after her divorce. Rather than see her story as shameful, I found her inspiring. Little did I know that my life would take a similar turn and that she would serve as the impetus for my making similar choices.
She encouraged me to move after graduation and handed me her home phone number, in case I ever needed it. Many cold or lonely times, I would call her from Montana, instead of my actual family. It was in that frigid desolation when I wished that she was my real mother and wondered what I had ever done to be so alone.
"In dysfunctional families, there can be a designated person selected for the role of scapegoat. It is done more by consensual and habitual shunning that becomes an unspoken code of behavior. It is justified by repeating the stories that create and reinforce the image of the scapegoat as being a person who is worthy of disdain and disparagement."
There is a reason that the scapegoat is said to have a blameless burden. They do nothing bad to deserve this title, yet they are encumbered with so much weight and misdirected agony that they are eventually saddled with the woes, sins and issues of everyone else.
In my family, I was a virtual trash receptacle for every ugly thing that they wanted to disown and the most comfortable way for them to deal with this, was by pointing the finger at me, once they unloaded their issues directly into my lap.
Being an empath didn't help, as it only aided in making their abuse more compounded. Being compassionate didn't help, as they merely saw that as a means to confuse and trick me into feeling sympathy for their problems, just so they could dump them and walk away.
Anything I ever did incorrectly was magnified. Anything they ever did incorrectly was never discussed. Anything they got was expected, yet I was lucky to get a fraction of what they received.
Even when or if, I did get anything from my family, it was exaggerated as being unfair or more than I deserved. Meanwhile, all of my siblings were getting exponentially more and never questioned.
For example, I went to school in-state because I wasn't allowed to go out of state, according to my parents. I wasn't allowed to work in college either. Meanwhile, my other siblings could go to school wherever they wanted, allowed to work, given more money and cost more to support.
When or if I couldn't pay for bills, which would be expected, I had to beg for money.
Easily, this turned into what a loser I was and how incapable I was, direct from the mouths of those I was related to. They were getting more, had access and every perk. I squeaked by, fighting for every opportunity or blessing.
It would be valid to say that every golden moment that crossed my path had everything to do with my efforts and nothing to do with my family's greed, selfishness and over-monopolizing of resources. They fundamentally built their lives off of extinguishing another.
If their lives seem like events that deserve acclaim, you can imagine how unimpressed I am. If I died, no one would attend the funeral, unless, of course, the news was there.
Ironically, the only time they would have ever showed up or paused from their busy lives was if I died... maybe.
I am a natural artist, yet my talents were never praised. I was forced into activities that I wasn't great at, and ones that my siblings were good at.
There would never have come a day where my siblings would have ever been made to compete against me, in the arts, because I would have outshone them.
Even when pushed into unnatural competitions, somehow, I still managed to do well and I remember the reactions of my family members. They weren't congratulatory or amazed. It was more like shock and surprise that I actually did well, even as a fish out of the water, on their turf.
Thus, I was stunned realizing that my participation was supposed to degrade me, while boosting them to a higher status. As a minor, I was essentially powerless to deny this or risk my needs challenging it. I had very little choice in the matter.
It seemed that no matter where I turned, I managed to somehow succeed, even with the limited supplies and assistance. This, then, aggravated my family members who sought out other ways to do damage.
Hearing and believing that everything amiss, in my life and those closest to me, was my fault, I'd fulfilled every toxic ounce of refuse, while simultaneously, feeling utterly handicapped by it. I began in tears, silently from behind a closed door, while no other person ever saw this side.
When people saw me, they saw a girl smiling and cheerful. I never wanted this torture to be apparent. I wanted to overcome it, so I carried a sadness with me everywhere I went, like a dead horse.
I knew nothing of how to rid myself of this, I didn't even know that it was abuse. I felt responsible for every dysfunction or fight. I came to analyze all problems and concluded that, in some way or another, that it was my responsibility for their occurrences.
Today, when someone points out how something had nothing to do with me or how it could have easily been solved another way, I have an impossible time wrapping my head around that notion.
This scapegoating had been programmed so deeply into my psyche that it was almost improbable to escape. Imagine deveining a shrimp while hoping that it will still be alive and well when you're through with tearing out its guts and life force.
If you can do that, then you are standing in the shoes of a scapegoat, who likely, has many times, dreamt of escape. It is no surprise that most of us hold back out of fear.
I had been beaten down spiritually, emotionally and otherwise, never having a voice; needing permission for any goodness or fortune. I was routinely punished, once beaten for walking away from my mother, in what my father described as me giving her a look.
What look had I given my mother beside one of honesty or confusion?
At less than 10 years old, getting physically abused for something obscure was daunting. My mother did not intervene. She took what happened as a sign of my father's devotion or preference towards her. I knew my father was only trying to make her happy, so he beat me and I took it, because I loved my parents.
This broke me, spinning my head in circles, as I never knew what would land me into trouble. I trod lightly on the eggshells that covered my home's floors. If anything with anyone ever went awry, I would be sought out and crucified. I learned to wait in vain, with a pit in my stomach, knowing that I wouldn't get very far. I could temporarily escape, but whenever I returned, the abuse would always be waiting.
If the abuse wasn't upfront and expressive, it turned into, refusing to answer doors and phones. It became ignoring urgent needs or rebuking support that most families would have deemed customary. It became banishment from the only family I had, leaving me no other alternative, safe space or refuge.
I suppose one too many times, I tried to escape and they finally decided that I wouldn't ever be allowed back in. I think that had always been the goal anyway.
"Like the strong goat Aaron selected, in Biblical lore, the target of family scapegoating is also often the strongest and healthiest member of the family."
Accordingly, the group would not derive pleasure from banishing a weak animal who might easily die anyway, because that would not gratify the needs of the tribe. A strong goat who was up to the task of bearing the burden was sufficient.
"So it is in families: the targeted individual is often the most accomplished."
These unlucky souls must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the shunning voices which might easily and quickly topple a weakling.
"The scapegoating would fail if the weight of the sins killed the goat before it could get chased out of town. As catharsis is the goal, the goat needs to be strong enough to suffer in order that the tribe members do not."
It goes without saying that to truly understand the concept of scapegoating, you must imagine yourself as someone who is bright and skilled. Then, demand yourself to see others, less accomplished than yourself, being exalted by their families. Meanwhile, you can never do right by your own.
It is a shaky, unsettling and unfair predicament. It compels examination that no matter how in depth and constant, will never make sense. And, as much as the scapegoat knows that what is happening is wrong, there is no explanation or sentence that can take the abuse away.
Essentially, scapegoating is a baseless, nonsensical attack of one person's character from a group of one or more people.
The criticisms needn't be valid, they only need be relentlessly attached to another person, most likely without their willingness and with an added learned helplessness that only these sufferers know best.
It was no coincidence that, after years of this torment, I was the one seated in a social worker's office convinced that there was something very fundamentally broken within me. At the same time, not one of the people responsible for this misconduct was seeking help for what I now see was real and inhumane behavior towards a relative.
Scapegoating is a dressing; a mask or costume that abusers assign to the scapegoat. Far from what it may appear as, this can actually cause destruction, as the abused is made into a mock-up of something they aren't.
The scapegoat's perception is systematically ruined and corrupted, and not just within themselves, but within the people they see and meet every day, even some of their friends and associates.
It is undermining at it's finest, literally pulling the legs out from underneath another and hoping that they flop; atop rejoicing when they succumb.
I have oftentimes wondered how mere strangers could be convinced by a figment, when the proof was absolutely evident that I wasn't as others claimed. Even with people who knew me well and hadn't ever met the people who scapegoated me, persuasion was that powerful, enough to influence anyone, anywhere.
With the internet, scapegoating can go wherever a computer can.
It becomes a damning experience for the scapegoat, as wherever they turn, they are met with extra generations of converts who believe the fiber of their abusers. Giving an exhaustive and defeated breath to the goat means that they accept that there is literally, nowhere for them to turn, without fear of being judged or where their abusers' domination won't leak into every pore of their livelihoods.
Those who have caused them ostracization and distress, in the first place, choose to continue the process or, in worst case scenarios, hand them off to other abusive situations and desert them claiming no knowledge of injustice.
The truth is usually the opposite of this assertion, as most will admit to knowing something wasn't right, but rather than assist, they chose to look the other way and in essence, abandoned the wounded scapegoat where they fell.
It is clear, that with a strong support network, scapegoats can move on and succeed. But, for the lone scapegoat, who has been alienated or injured, the surmount may never come.
Perhaps, what best sums up the life of a scapegoat, for me, as one who has been a continual member, is the following passage:
"She will pay a lifelong price for sins she did not commit.
However, it is difficult and painful to extract oneself from one’s family as it is counter to the most basic human needs for home, shelter and affiliation.
It is a cruel and inexcusable undertaking for a family to scapegoat a member.
If you look at the research regarding the fate of individuals who have been relentlessly bullied, you can draw conclusions about what happens to scapegoated family members, for scapegoating is bullying with focused and long-term intensity.
If you are being scapegoated in your family, please seek professional help.
You are not likely to be able to intervene in a dysfunctional system that treats one of its own members in this way.
You may continue to experience the futile attempts at explaining yourself. You may fail to understand the way you are being treated. You may begin to doubt your own version of your life story.
Good counseling support can help free you from the binding ties of pain, guilt and shame that you did not create and which are not justified."
Dedicated to Nina Barbin LCSW