If you ever find yourself experiencing the following consistent patterns emerging in your family, work life, and/or other significant relationships, you might be considered the scapegoat.
>> You are often ignored, almost even invisible, to others. Your voice is never heard. People might often disregard what you have to say. You feel the cold rejection from those around you who would much prefer to freeze you out.
>> You are not praised. In healthy relationships, people feel proud of each other and achievements are supported, encouraged, and recognized. Instead, your achievements are dismissed and even belittled.
>> You are portrayed in a negative a light to others. It is painful to hear that you have been spoken about, “behind the curtain,” in such disparaging and insulting ways. It might seem that in whatever context, be that at work, in the home, within friendship groups, you are discredited and your character is brought into question.
>> You feel rejected and isolated. Gossiping in the workplace and even amongst family members are a means by which scapegoaters alienate you from support and prevent others from aligning with you. Scapegoaters can keep you physically and/or emotionally isolated from significant support. This strategy is to keep you powerless and in need.
>> You are always taking the blame for others’ mistakes. Ever found yourself blamed for things you have not done or accused of miscommunication when you did not. You might be accused of doing something or have to take responsibility for other people’s actions.
>> You feel like others use you as their punching bag.
Ashley Crossman defines scapegoating as the “process by which a person or a group is unfairly blamed for something they didn’t do and, as a result, the real source of the problem is either never seen or purposefully ignored.” This might feel like a witch hunt where individuals or even groups are targeted. The term is used in sociology to understand group conflict within society. It is also used in psychology to understand early family dynamics in dysfunctional systems and the impact it has on work relationships, romantic relationships, and/or any other significant relationships that a person might have.
The term scapegoat is derived from ancient Jewish ceremonial practices. In this age-old tradition, a goat was either sacrificed or released into the wilderness after taking on the sins of others in the community. So the use of this term in the psychological context refers to a person taking on the mistakes of others. The person is not at fault but is seen as the “person to take the fall” for those at fault. Essentially, the scapegoat is the person who is used to assume responsibility for other people’s behaviours.
In dysfunctional families, the narcissistic members often target particular individuals who are not conforming to the status quo of the family. This person stands out as “different.” Usually, those who are scapegoated already have a voice and often call their family members out on certain inappropriate behaviour. As a result, they get labelled as the black sheep of the family or “not one of us.” Siblings might say to another sibling, “You never had to deal with the abuse we endured when we were younger, you are not one of us.” There’s a feeling of not belonging or fitting in to a certain dynamic within the family system. They might often see through the narcissistic members and family toxicity. However, they pay the price and are often discredited by other members of the family system.
The parallels between dysfunctional family systems and workplace toxic environments are vast. In the workplace, the narcissist uses this strategy to absolve themselves of all responsibility. The sociopath in working environments will do this for sheer fun, entertainment, and for creating high levels of conflict, low morale, and drama. The addicted employee will not be able to assume responsibility in any area of their lives so will deflect it onto another employee.
In love relationship, you might find yourself with a partner who does not want to accept responsibility for their drinking and violent behaviour. Instead, you might be blamed for stressing them out with your unnecessary need for communication. If you call them out on their behaviour, they can lash out at you in order to silence you. You will be sacrificed if you dare to challenge the pattern that works so well for them. Scapegoaters do not want to take responsibility and they do not want to change. Instead, you have to change to keep them happy.
In friendships, you are the friend who will support your friends in times of crises. After repeatedly attempting to assist your friend through a series of crises, you might become aware that your friend takes no responsibility for her actions or her role in creating the conflict. So, you decide to call her attention to that and low and behold—you are scapegoated!
These dynamics can feel alienating, and individuals who have experienced scapegoating in their relationships can feel extremely alone, feeling like they never truly belong. Family bullying, workplace bullying, and bullying in other relationships can seriously impact one’s mental health, resulting in depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. A scapegoater can inflict both psychological and/or physical injury depending on the level of toxicity.
This often sounds like a powerless situation; however, if you identify as being scapegoated in any relationship, be that at work or family and/or friendships, you can take courageous steps to free yourself:
1. Understand exactly what a scapegoat is. If you feel yourself taking responsibility or being blamed for things you have not done, you are more than likely being scapegoated. It can happen in subtle ways, like another employee taking credit for a work success you have done or you are blamed for saying or doing things you were not involved in. Your partner might have a temper and he blames you for provoking him instead of managing his own behaviour.
The key function of scapegoating is to discredit you and abdicate personal responsibility. They almost always use others to side with them against you. In the workplace, scapegoaters will often congregate to whinge and to “vent” (gossip) incessantly about how another employee is inadequate or incompetent or is to blame for their work stress or how the system is to blame. They might also perceive you as supporting the system. These kinds of people hardly ever have the insight to see their role in the toxic system.
2. Don’t accept liability for what you have been accused of. This is a crucial step. Sometimes, we might feel powerless in situations like these and at first, we might allow these individuals to blame us for things that we had nothing to do with. It is crucial, if you did not do something, to stand up for yourself. Employees who do not want to rock the boat can continue being the scapegoat out of fear. The players here are toxic and their ways of relating are manipulative, defaming, and devious.
In the workplace, it might be important to keep detailed notes of events as they have happened. The facts and people involved are key. This does not have to be personal when you stick to the facts. The toxic employees aren’t often thinking about the facts when they act. In the family system, you might often be the whistleblower who can firmly say to other members that you will not be allowing them to drag your name into this, or you can opt to not get involved where you aren’t responsible. Unless you are directly responsible for your own actions in a situation, you do not need to accept liability.
3. Review your own history and past story. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family system, there is a chance you know all too well the pain associated with being the scapegoat. In some situations, a narcissistic sibling was responsible for making you take the fall for their actions and, as a result, threatened you into taking the blame. These threats could have been as simple as telling you that they were going to get you into trouble or better yet, that you should tell your parents that it was you instead of them who was at fault.
A narcissist parent who is unable to address their rage or violence will blame you for being the one who was misbehaving and caused them to lose their temper. Once you understand how you coped with this role, you might be able to rewrite history or draw from your ability to stand up for yourself.
4. Stop allowing yourself to be scapegoated. It is important to set appropriate boundaries in the workplace or in personal relationships regarding how you expect to be spoken to or treated. In most organisations, there will be policies and procedures regarding bullying, discrimination, and harassment, and you can utilize this to regain your power. It is important for you to always bear in mind that in some instances the toxicity in work, family, and personal relationships can be too intense or, in some cases, life-threatening. So it is important to get guidance (legally and psychologically) as you set these boundaries.
5. Identify consistent patterns of relating. In workplace cases, there have often been a few, if not many, causalities. Innocent people carry blame and are subject to toxic cultures. In society at large, the scapegoat is consistently used as a means to project prejudice and aggression by individuals and groups. It happens often in the workplace and they often seek out targets to blame for their own feelings of anger and hostility. There are often more than a few scapegoats in a workplace setting. In family systems, you might find that no matter what you do to please, conform, or even if you become invisible, there is a consistent pattern of you being the problem. These are not isolated, or one-off incidents.
6. Be proud of your achievements. Do not be afraid to highlight your achievements both at home and at work. These are your strengths and they can assist you in feeling more in control and able to unhook from these destructive relationships. You might have grown up in an environment that downplayed all your highlights—they simply couldn’t allow you the attention as they needed it all for themselves. In the workplace, they are threatened by your achievements and will say things like, “You think you better than us” or, “So you want to be the boss’s pet.”
7. Don’t accept the identity of the scapegoat. You might always receive information from colleagues, extended family members, partners—even friends—that you are the problem. Due to being surrounded by the negativity, you might hold projected feelings of loneliness, hurt, confusion, and inadequacy, which don’t even belong to you. Remember the toxic ones take no responsibility for anything, even their own feelings. You are a dumping ground for all the stuff they are ill-equipped to deal with. This can be ostracizing and demoralising. It is challenging to not take on the identity. However, this step is truly the courageous one.
“You are not who they say you are, you are who you say you are.” ~ Jason Alexander
8. Make sure you have access to professional help. Scapegoating can cause tragic cases of psychological injury. Continuous degrading can cause immense pain and continuous injury. When you are abused at work, you can feel the shock of being assaulted. Remember, work should be a safe, civil, and predictable environment where you feel valued. In instances of little management support, it is easy to feel discredited and further injury occurs. In relationships, you might not even know how to detach yourself from relationships that do not support or serve your well-being. There is an increase in stress, and you will need skills for coping with it.
Scapegoating is bullying in the workplace. Scapegoating is also a form of family bullying or domestic bullying. Make peace of mind your top priority through this entire ordeal. Mental and emotional assault is draining; it is draining within family systems and workplace environments. Decide what you must do to create emotional, physical, and psychological safety.
Scapegoats have a unique strength about them that scapegoaters recognize and want to destroy. They don’t want to hear your voice. They want to silence you. But you have a voice. The strength of being a scapegoat may make you a target, but it is also your saving grace allowing you to break free.
Relephant: Buddhadharma In Everyday Life. Lojong Slogan: Drive all Blames into One. ~ via Linda Lewis