Throughout years of working with people who are struggling with substance abuse, mental illness, or childhood abuse issues, I have started to see a pattern. It is not uncommon for people with these issues to also be the Scapegoat or the Black Sheep in their family. The Scapegoat role is a role that you learn in your family of origin. If you don't recognize that you are locked into that role, you will replicate it in every interaction you have - your relationships, your marriage, your own family, your work, your friends. It has the potential to totally destroy your life. What is the Scapegoat role? How did you inherit it? How do you get out of it?
It is important to know the legend of the Scapegoat. The Scapegoat is an old Jewish custom. In the days before meteorology and biology, ancient peoples who experienced plagues, famine or drought often believed that God was punishing them for a sin. But they did not know who among them had committed the sin. So they performed an ancient ritual. A goat was brought into the center of the community. (No animals will be harmed in the writing of this article. I promise.) A ritual was performed which allowed each member of the community to heap their individual sins upon the goat. The goat was then driven out into the desert, away from the community. The hope was that the goat would remove the sins from the community in order to glean favor from God and have the punishment lifted.
The metaphorical Scapegoat works the same way in a family system. (It is important to realize that what I am about to describe is a subconscious process that is passed down from generation to generation. The family does not consciously realize they are doing this at any point.) The family heaps their collective sins on the Scapegoat of the family, then drives them away from them. They can then point at the "black sheep" in the family and proudly proclaim that they are not like them. This serves the purpose of allowing the family to look very good to outsiders, by making the Scapegoat look completely bad. The Scapegoat is sacrificed for the good of the family.
How is the Scapegoat chosen? Please pay attention if you are your family's Scapegoat. This is important. (Again, this process is totally subconscious on the part of the family.) The Scapegoat must have two characteristics in order to be able to perform their function:
1) They must be the strongest.
The Scapegoat has to bear the sins of the entire family. They have to survive, alone, in the "desert" without the comfort or support of the family. So they must be strong in order to carry the burden.
2) They must be the most loving.
The Scapegoat sacrifices themself for the benefit of the family. Again, this is somewhat subconscious, but only some level they know they are doing this. They give up themselves so the family may appear to be "OK".
How do you get out of this role? First, you have to acknowledge that you are in it and understand how it works. Most Scapegoats are fully convinced that there IS something wrong with them. There isn't. You really have to wrap your mind around this first.
Second, you have to realize that you may have been cast in this role by your family, but you are now acting it out in your own life. There is something you are doing which causes other groups of people to cast you in that role. I'll be writing other articles to elaborate on the many ways this can be done, but the ways can be as varied as there are people. Learning your specific style of interacting is crucial. A counselor will be very helpful. Group therapy would be even more helpful. You will replicate the Scapegoat role in the group and this is where the power of group therapy lies. The other members will be able to give you feedback about what you are doing to re-create that role. Only by facing the fact that your own behavior is now creating the role can you change the pattern. However, if you are the Scapegoat, you are the Scapegoat because you are the strongest. You have it within you to face this and change it.
For more information about this topic look in the right column of this web page under "Categories". Click on the category, "Scapegoat". As I post updates, they will appear here.