Perhaps you’ve heard the term scapegoat or scapegoating before.


After learning more about it — and from personal experience — I’m sharing what I found.


When it comes to family dynamics, scapegoating is a form of emotional abuse. A scapegoat is a person who is blamed or punished for the family issues/problems. Being the scapegoat can be torturous. Scapegoating helps family members retain the desired image of themselves  to avoid looking at their contribution to the family dysfunction. It is done as an avoidance tactic. It’s Denial with a capital D.


It stems from an unwillingness to see a similar fault or imperfection in self, so the unpleasant feelings evoked get projected onto another. Chances are the scapegoat is the family barometer, and is probably doing the repair work necessary to overcome the dysfunction. This is the one saying in effect, Look, there is a festering wound here, and we need to get this cleaned up before it gets worse.


Those who scapegoat choose targets that feel safe to blame. They perceive their victims as having less power. Scapegoating is irrational. It is a form of Grooming – mental manipulation. It is one way of blaming others. 


Feeling Shame

No one likes to feel shame and those who scapegoat carry shame and fear. They do shame-transference / deflecting by pointing fingers hoping that people won’t see their flaws – their shame. Unfortunately, doing this impedes their own emotional growth work. 


The thing is… the dysfunction in the family started way before the scapegoat target was born.


Some scapegoating phrases are:

  • She just wants to cause trouble.
  • He just wants attention.
  • She has a rule-or-ruin attitude.
  • It’s always something with them.
  • Why do you keep stirring the pot?
  • You’re the problem! S/he’s the problem!


The reality is that every single one of us is imperfect. Let’s face it – all families experience some unhealthiness or dysfunction. However, the families that are close and strong are the ones who are respectful of each other. They are accepting and manifest unconditional love. They are open and honest and ensure there is a sense of psychological and emotional safety for all to be vulnerable whenever they feel the need to share any struggles they are going through. They hold a safe space for each other. While imperfect, they’re willing to make family relationships work.


Scapegoating families are the opposite. They don’t seem to grow to emotional maturity. Instead they cast blame, finger point, use sarcasm, bully, guilt-trip, make fun of, lack respect and humility, and live emotionally disconnected.


Unsavory truths about ourselves can require a counselor’s insight.  When people mine their reasons for scapegoating and deflecting, they might be able to heal some of their well-covered wounds and become more conscious of who they are. If the scapegoater embraces this awareness, they can grow. 


Owning our imperfections is better than letting the imperfections own us.

Lisa Hilton, CTRC-A, founder of Hilton Coaching & Consulting. I am a trauma coach; I educate, consult, and am a published author. I work with adult survivors of Childhood Trauma and those suffering from Complex PTSD so they can Transform their Travesty into Triumph, one step at a time.

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