Suffering is universal. But being a victim is optional. There is no way to escape being hurt or oppressed by other people or circumstances. Dr. Edith Eger – Holocaust survivor
This article is a 14 minute read and aims to shine a light on scapegoating behaviour, how to wise up to our own role in it and how to become more self-aware. I’ve turned conversations I’ve had with friends, my own experiences and observations into this article. I hope by reading this, it helps your situation, so you can turn your, “Why me?’ into a, “What now?” as Dr. Edith Eger says in chapter one of her book, The Gift.
Scapegoating can feel like abuse and in some circumstances can in fact become an abusive tactic. It can feel traumatising for the victim, the bystander and the perpetrator. Anon
Anger belongs to the angry person
Emotions are always true (about something), but they’re not always right. Karla McLaren, M.Ed.
When anger is channelled healthily, it processes all kinds of unpleasant emotional pain. For example, try processing your difficult emotions while engaging in a physical activity. Sometimes however, people find that when punishing emotions rise they cannot deal with them at all and instead try to avoid them in any way possible. “You made me feel like this!” When in fact no one can make anyone feel anything. The angry person might try to instantly transfer their anger straight onto someone else by kicking up a big fuss until the victim (or someone feeling or acting like one) is angry about something too – the victim will likely be upset but about something completely different though. People want to get rid of uncomfortable emotions as quickly as possible and it’s true that dumping on someone else works, even if only as a temporary fix. The urge to feel better makes people prone to scold others in the moment. “It’s all your fault!”
Blame creates a scapegoat
Welcome in the scapegoat – those handy people who are deemed as more vulnerable, weaker or a soft touch whose done nothing to deserve the wrath. People who cannot be, “wrong” need a scapegoat to blame. The thing is, once the blame has been shifted successfully onto someone else, the angry person does feel happy again. In fact, they can seem miraculously better and can even be heard prematurely laughing. Meanwhile the scapegoat is left suffering and wondering what on earth happened… and that’s not fair!
It’s ok to feel bad
We’re not supposed to feel happy all the time. When people blame others, they avoid taking any responsibility for their actions, emotions and life choices – they stay stuck! People need to sit and be present with their emotions, naming them and letting them wash right through them. Start owning your anger (it’s empowering) and trust that the uncomfortable emotions will always pass.
Taking responsibility for your life
I recommend looking at what you could do differently every time you catch yourself blaming others. “You made me do it!” Take yourself off and sit with your feelings, breathe through them until you feel calm again. If people can identify just one tiny thing they could have changed in a situation that triggered them, then they step forward in their growth as a human being.
Narcissism has become such a generic and pop-up word which can be good in ways, but it is also very serious and misunderstood. It can be very dangerous being in relationship with a narcissist. Narcissism is about unconscious shame and the anger/rage can be intense if a true narcissist feels exposed and can feel his/her shame. The resultant attack can be terrifying/confusing. This is more than scapegoating. Anon
People who scapegoat others often display traits of narcissism, often taking the form of bullying and holding grudges. Give up the idea that they will change. It is a complex mental health condition that goes far beyond a few stereotypical behaviours. Often a true narcissist has no idea of their condition and how it affect others.
Everyone has some level of narcissistic tendencies – it’s a spectrum!
These people need constant validation and also love to have their ego stroked. They often disregard others’ needs and feelings. They have difficulty taking on feedback and they don’t like to admit when they’re wrong – try saying, “No” to them! They become defensive and are quick to feel wounded. Their individual take on life can make their integrity feel challenged or threatened – even when it was not meant. Shame stops them from accessing deep emotions like dependency, vulnerability, fear, helplessness, unworthiness, self-hatred, etc., so the narcissistic side of the personality seeks these emotions out in others instead. A narcissists actions are a reflection of their pain, not yours.
This is a common coping mechanism when people think they are better or superior than others, in whatever category of being human they choose. They do this to make themselves feel better. However, this is an illusion that people employ in order to make their reality more acceptable and to facilitate navigating the inner landscape of their painful emotions.
The person who blames and points the finger at another cannot sit with their own bad feelings, to do so would feel terrifying and shameful, so instead they blame and shame the other as a way to escape what’s happening on the inside of them. Anon
Choosing a scapegoat
Why do people lash out at their closest friends and family? The answer is immediacy. The angry person is not necessarily only going to pick on the people they love the most but they will also choose people who are close by, in the same vicinity and most importantly – convenient! The black sheep of the family fulfil this role for caregivers and often whole families will gang up on the black sheep for fear of becoming the scapegoat themselves. The black sheep are often chosen because they see the truth in a family dynamic and they need to be quietened down because otherwise the caregiver would have to do some self-reflection and might even have to change. However, there’s no real rule for how a scapegoat is chosen – a victim is needed and is sometimes chosen in haste!
Confessing to scapegoating is a real challenge because to have a scapegoat is not to know you have one. We can easily see the innocence of other people’s scapegoats, but ours look guilty as sin. Suzanne Ross – Co-founder of the Raven Foundation
Solutions to help a scapegoat
- Be honest with yourself, admit when you have a pattern – people reveal themselves in their repeat patterns.
- Set effective boundaries – this will help us stop being a soft target for future scapegoating.
- Identify when it’s not our stuff – observe who was upset to begin with (hold onto your happy thoughts).
- Do not engage, walk away – only bring the conversation back to that point again when things are calm.
- Do not accept the blame – stay neutral (I know it’s hard), and stand up to them in a calm and caring way.
- Only engage with the angry person if they can do so calmly.
- Help them to identify their triggers but avoid problem solving for them.
- If they lash out, think of them as a 3-year-old who feels rejected.
- Stay in the present, leave past hurt in the past (you can always talk to someone else about your hurt).
- True narcissists have very little empathy – heartfelt communication can be lost on them.
- The angry person needs to learn how to define what they want but not in a punishing way.
- Encourage people to sit still with their emotions instead of transferring them and embroiling others.
- Ask them what they could have done differently – this brings the issue back into their own experience, though it is difficult for a true narcissists to start taking responsibility.
- Naming emotions can help you work with and calm them.
- Scapegoats must consistently stand up to the idea that they are bad or unlovable.
- A scapegoat must become more self aware and do their own problem solving.
- Cultivate healthy relationships – avoid people who are arrogant and have poor characters traits like a sense of superiority, a large ego which needs maintaining, feelings of entitlement and limited personal self-reflection skills.
- Keep being kind and caring – don’t let them spoil that side of you.
- Ignore their smear campaigns!
- Recognise who is worthy of your emotional investment.
When scapegoats leave they will still be perceived as the villains, to avoid the angry person doing any sort of self-reflection. It’s hard to walk away when it’s a family member or work colleague though. If the angry person feels regret, it is not because they hurt you, it is for losing something that they value. A new target will soon be chosen. It’s not just narcissists and sociopaths (who do it for fun), it’s addicts too because accepting fault in one area of their life means being accountable in another.
You will never convince a narcissist that they hurt you more than you hurt them. Chelsey Brooke Cole – Narcissistic abuse expert
So, while I’ve still got your attention, I’d just like to mention that the goat art in this article is available for sale and I’ve made some huge discounts, so please take a look!
The Karpman drama triangle
A good exercise is to reflect on your part in the victim and rescuer dynamic. For example when we’re busy saving someone else, we’re avoiding our own stuff, whilst disempowering the victim. The victim and rescuer dynamic can also contain a third role, that of the persecutor, to make a triangle. Each role in the drama triangle is interchangeable and each person can flow effortlessly between each role. We all need to become aware of what triggers our emotions and we need to become extremely self-aware when we find ourselves entering into this drama triangle. We can find an exit from the drama triangle (as fast as possible), by using humour, by taking a pause to feel our emotion as it rises, or by doing whatever else that works for us. When people truly become more self-aware, they will have garnered the ability to identify, understand, and manage their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. When we realise what blaming is from a place of limited emotional intelligence, we would hopefully also have learned how to regulate our behaviour when responding appropriately to others.
Forgive yourself about the times when you blamed others and how good it felt. Everyone remembers the hurt though and having our feelings acknowledged is appreciated. Maybe it’s time to try and open up a new conversation from a healthy place and demonstrate how you’ve grown as a person or are willing to try. However, if you still feel a bit like, “I am sorry but you did that to me” or “You said…” Then maybe you should probably wait til you feel differently because your scapegoat will not want to engage with you.