In the 24th century BC, Jewish tradition “Azazel” called for twin goats used in the moral washings of humanity. One sacrificed, the other was to have a community’s sins figuratively placed upon its head, then sent into the wilderness, where sent down a ravine to perish. When set free, the people believed this goat to carry away their sinful behaviors.
Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.
In modern-day language, this term is used to describe a person or group which is singled out for blame. Symbolic of a figure(s) that is punished for the sins of others, this dynamic of the masses has played out repeatedly with renewable versions of the same tired theme. Throughout centuries, an indefatigable culture of misconstrued stories perpetuates an endless cycle of burden held by those not responsible while those perpetrating abuses bypass accountability.
What celebrity figure comes to mind that fits this description? I can definitely name a few (Sinead O’Connor, Brittany Spears).
What is the problem with scapegoating and why is it so commonly used when it is so palpable? Therein lies the difficulty: It is not obvious and has long been a regularly used method to help individuals shift the blame off those who choose to engage in offensive and harmful behavior. So, when these practices get brought to attention by people whose boundaries they violated, the offenders enter the victim role of the Karpman drama triangle* and pass blame on the very person they hurt. The offended becomes doubly victimized while the perpetrator elicits sympathy from others, often successfully. A he-said-she-said argument results in an unwinning debate where the loser loses more than a sense of reality. In the past, I have put tons of time and energy into trying to argue my innocence, change others’ opinions, or fix the situation. It never worked. My lesson: We cannot change other people, their opinions, judgments, or behaviors, only our own. By attempting to do so, I wasted my time and further suffered from anger and pain. I had to find a new solution.
So how does a person avoid such situations when finding oneself in one? When put into this position with sick family members, I learned the best way to win was not to enter the dynamic. I recognized the signs of a person who avoids responsibility for one’s own actions and persecutes others for outcomes that had unfavorable results. I will accept liability for my part in the interactions, clean up my side of the street, then move on.
And, when I was further into this cycle before I realized the gravity of the condition; I removed myself altogether from the relationship. You cannot have a scapegoat if you have no goat. Rather, do not put oneself in that situation.
Nobody, regardless of class, race, ethnicity, or sex, deserves ridicule, belittlement, dehumanization, or devaluation. When I carried the undeserving shame for the suffering of another, such as my parents’ relentless unhappiness with life itself, I simply stepped out of that relationship and built healthy, protective boundaries to ensure no further violations would again inflict unnecessary pain. Why would I volunteer to suffer needlessly?
My response is:
I refuse to be your scapegoat. And, sir (or ma’am), I also decline to take responsibility for your behavior.
Please go deal with your unhappy self somewhere else in some other way.
When I find this dynamic occurring in a relationship, be it a friendship, romantic involvement, or professional working affiliation, I will step aside and let that individual find either a new target or a solution to their internal conflict. Sadly, the prior is usually the case as the unhealthy person continues to engage in unhealthy relational patterns to validate one’s own distorted reality.
With this tactic, I find it much easier to work through encounters that are unnerving. I can then keep the peace within myself while also addressing the ugliness that offenders can inflict in the social setting. Taking on the sins of the world is a heavy, unnecessary burden that many people carry. With that level of suffering, lives become altered drastically, often with terrible results; suicide, addiction, and mental illness often contain components of such needless baggage.
Next, find healthy relationships to acquire. If you don’t know what healthy looks like for you, seek counsel to discover that. Healthy relationships do exist, and you need to know yourself well to find them. I can tell you what they aren’t. Healthy relationships don’t cast blame, judge, ridicule, belittle, shame, debase, or devalue. Healthy relationships don’t gaslight you or leave you. They support you, build you up, not tear you down and demolish you.
Note: You may also choose the tactic of the fainting goat. Play dead for a while and see if they go away. If the former does not work, this trick is a sure-fire way to let the person know it’s time to move on.
*For an understanding of the Karpman drama triangle, see the works of Stephen Karpman M.D. at https://karpmandramatriangle.com/pdf/DramaTriangle.pdf
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