Are you a victim of scapegoating in dysfunctional families? Within dysfunctional families, it may fall to one person—often the strongest and healthiest—to shoulder the burdens of the group in the cruel role of scapegoat, and this is why family scapegoats become lifelong victims.
In biblical lore, Aaron selected a goat on behalf of the entire tribe, cast upon it the sins of all members, and then banished it alone to the wild. The members of the tribe were then at great ease, having been freed from their cast-off sins—whatever those sins may have been.
Everyone felt better, though they had neither identified their specific sins nor atoned for them. They had simply agreed to hang them on the goat. If this spurious logic was obvious to anyone, it was not discussed. Why question an agreed-upon means of making everyone feel better?
Now about that goat. It 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.
This is the story of the scapegoat.
In dysfunctional families, for reasons similar to those Aaron devised, there can also be a designated person selected for the role of scapegoat.
In a family system, the selection process is less overt than Aaron’s. It is done more by consensual and habitual shunning that becomes an unspoken code of behavior: one person is chosen to bear the brunt of any psychological discomfort experienced by the family as a whole.
It is justified by repeating the stories that create and then reinforce the image of the scapegoat as being a person who is worthy of disdain and disparagement.
Scapegoating In Dysfunctional Families
Like the strong goat, Aaron selected, the target of family scapegoating is also often the strongest and healthiest member of the family. At first blush, this may sound counterintuitive. But think about it a little more. In Aaron’s case, there would be no group pleasure derived from banishing a weak animal who might easily die anyway, because that would not gratify the needs of the tribe to send off their sins on a robust vehicle, a strong goat who was up to the task of bearing the burden.
So it is in families: the targeted individual is often the most accomplished. She—and for the purposes of narrative cohesion, our scapegoat is a female here—must be strong enough to withstand the weight of the shunning voices which might easily and quickly topple a weaker person.
The scapegoating would fail if the weight of the sins killed the goat before it could even get chased out of town. Catharsis is the goal. The goat needs to be strong enough to suffer in order that the tribe members do not.
Just as the goat was blameless despite being sent to its lonely death, so is the human scapegoat innocent of all charges.
She may not be a perfect human being, but she is no different from anyone else in her range of faults. It is not her character or her actions that have directly caused her banishment.
It is the way her character and her actions, and often her accomplishments, have been experienced by the dysfunctional family members, who for their own unexamined reasons need to dispel this person from the family realm in order to avoid looking into their own consciences.