Over a period of years as a coach and workshop leader practicing a healing modality (Rebirthing) – a field in which we intensively focus on the integration of our shadow selves, transforming hidden aspects of ourselves related to childhood traumas – I came to realize some commonalities within “scapegoated” individuals.
All adults who grew up in dysfunctional families where they were blamed for the problems of the family become unhappy in similar ways and deal with similar patterns. Many of these individuals think that their suffering is unique. However, when they get involved in any kind of self-growth process, they very soon realize that their way of dealing with life is similar to that of other scapegoated individuals.
The term scapegoat has religious origins. It can be found in the Bible, mentioned in the Book of Leviticus within a Jewish purification ritual. The ancient Greeks practiced a scapegoating rite as well.
In scapegoating rituals a goat (in the Jewish tradition) or a cripple or beggar (in the Greek tradition) was symbolically infused with the transgressions of the community and driven into the wilderness. Derived from this early religious usage, in modern times the term is used to describe an individual who is unjustly blamed for the misfortunes of others.
Scapegoating can be detected in various areas of life such as political situations, economic crises, work environments, educational scenarios, families, and more. Nowadays scapegoating means unfairly blaming a person or group of people that is an easy target for such blame for the problems of another person or group. Scapegoated individuals or peoples are symbolically or concretely made to bear responsibility for the faults or problems of others.
The sad fact is that these individuals tend to recreate their family dynamics in later relationships and they often find themselves in similar situations as with their original family over and over again.
What are the common signs that you may have been scapegoated in your family?
- You probably felt different from other people, as if you were an outsider. You may have felt isolated and painfully alone.
- You served as a target of blame for incidents, accidents, and other people’s feelings within the family as a targeted projection of the family’s unhappiness. The implication was that you would have needed to change for the family to be a happy one. In fact the scapegoated member of the family is usually the healthiest one, the one who does not look away or accept violence, projection, and manipulation.
- You felt as if you were the “bad guy,” the black sheep, or that something was wrong with you.
- You and your achievements were belittled, minimized, criticized, or rejected.
Due to being scapegoated in your original family, you most likely recreated a similar dynamic in your adult life and intimate relationships. The very reason for repeating family patterns – even against your own wishes – is that the way you were treated in your family became a part of your personality and energy field. It formed your beliefs about yourself and set up a blueprint for how to relate to others, which you carried out based on this conditioning. As this is what you learned and lived during those years of childhood, this is, therefore, what you are able to reproduce… unless you unlearn it and choose to learn a new paradigm to shape your life.
How can you, me, and we break out of this cycle? The very first step in breaking the pattern is to understand how you fit within it. You will find below a few different ways you may play the scapegoat role in your life.
- There are challenges in your relationship and you think that the reason for them is that you said or did something wrong, thus making you the cause of the challenges. You think you are the bad guy – unreasonable, unpredictable. If you were blamed for problems in your original family, when facing problems in your relationship the pattern might kick in, and you may feel like you did something wrong again (even if you didn’t).
- You think you did something to the detriment of your relationship, and you want to correct it, explain yourself, talk about it, etc. in hopes that you can restore balance, peace, and love. When we were children it was essential for our survival to be accepted within our family, to have shelter, food, care, love, and to belong somewhere. It was so important for us, since we could not take care of ourselves in those childhood years, that we were willing to pay any price for getting what we needed. We unconsciously even gave up on ourselves in order to fit in, prioritizing others’ needs and giving up on our own in order to be accepted. You might repeat the same pattern in your relationship as well – trying to find balance at any cost.
- You may think that there is a misunderstanding between you and your partner and, once you have cleared the air, the relationship will continue in its previously happy state. You think that either you or your partner does not understand the situation, but that it will only take a simple clarification in order to understand each other.
- You may realize after a while that talking will not sort out difficulties. It seems like your brain is wired differently than your partner’s, that “talking” will not bring a solution after all.
- You may feel that there is an imbalance between you and your partner with regard to wanting to find a common understanding. Your partner does not seem as interested in talking and sharing as you are. Your partner has made his or her own conclusions about you already – that you are the problem. Your partner is more interested in a blaming/shaming game than in taking responsibility for his or her own actions and yours.
The relationship can take a new turn at this stage:
- You may start to question yourself, your intuition, and your feelings, rather than believing that you definitely did something wrong. Actually you are slipping back into the old family patterns and taking on the role of the scapegoat.
- You may start feeling like you would like to make up with your partner, and in this way place yourself in the position of admitting you did something wrong (at least in their perspective).
- Since you are the one who wants to explain and correct the course of the relationship, you reinforce the first belief that your partner is right. It seems that you are running after them seeking clarification and peace.
- If you stop seeking clarification and pull back, you will realize that your partner appears rather passive than active – they are in their own world, locked down, not able or wanting to communicate about the challenges. You may feel stuck and confused, not knowing how to move beyond this and back to harmony. Your partner may be confused as well, harboring anger, resentment, and rejection.
- You want to heal the relationship and your partner. This takes the relationship even more out of balance, since you move into a role as your partner’s healer/parent instead of partner/lover/spouse.
Eventually you will realize that you can’t shift the relationship on your own. You need the willingness and cooperation of your partner, and you need to heal yourself from the pattern of viewing yourself as a scapegoat. If you can leave that role behind, you will grow in great ways in your relationship with your intimate partner.