Are you the Scapegoat or the Townsman? Or Both?
In the bible, a goat was cast out into the desert as part of the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement. This is how the term “scapegoat” came to be. A scapegoat is an individual or group of people that are singled out for unmerited negative treatment or blame. This is not a new practice; In fact in ancient Greece, when a disaster would occur, such as plague or famine or war, a beggar or criminal was cast out of the community. If we look at scapegoating according to it’s medical definition, "A Process in which the mechanisms of projection or displacement are utilized in focusing feelings of aggression, hostility, frustration, grief etc. upon another individual or group; the amount of blame being unwarranted." We find that scapegoating is a common reaction when we do not want to face unwanted thoughts, feelings or emotions. Those unwanted feelings and thoughts become unconsciously projected onto someone else. It is a way of taking the negative focus off of the self (self blame) and placing it on someone or something else (other blame).
As it is played out in the family, the scapegoat is a person who adopts the role of the sacrificial lamb in the family. They are singled out as the “problem” in the family. They ‘take the fall’ for the rest of the members of the family, so that they do not have to face or take responsibility for their own dysfunction.
A townsman is a person who is so resistant to his or her own feelings and thoughts, as well as so afraid to face their own dysfunction that they focus on the problems of others. They are reactive people who project their unhealed issues onto other people… usually one “problem person” in their lives. This projection distracts them from themselves. They deny their dysfunction and do not take any responsibility for what occurs negatively in their lives.
In families, there is a thing called the IP (Identified Patient). In a dysfunctional family, there is often a person who is selected unconsciously to act out the family’s inner conflicts as a diversion for those who do not want to face themselves. This person is the split off carrier for the family’s disturbance. The family disturbance may have been passed from generation to generation for hundreds and even thousands of years. When excessively painful feelings arise in a family (amongst the individuals), this person is identified as the cause of both the family problems and individual problems. That person (The IP) becomes the Scapegoat for the family. The person is identified as the “problem child” or the “sick” one in the family. They are seen as defective and all of the family’s focus is directed onto them as being bad or having something wrong with them, thereby relieving the pressure from the other members, who now get to feel good and as if there is something right with them in comparison.
The IP of the family grows up to feel as if there is something inherently wrong with them. They have a reduced ability to cope by themselves. Their being is full of all of the rage and grief and confusion that comes along with having grown up as a scapegoat for people who were supposed to love them. The kicker is, once the IP attempts to heal themselves (and in doing so, begins to expose the family dysfunction that occurred), their family will adamantly deny the fact that this was the dynamic that occurred in the home. But then again, why would they admit to it? They unconsciously designated the person as the scapegoat in the first place to avoid admitting to their own dysfunction. Why would they suddenly want to take responsibility for their dysfunction now, at the risk of feeling even more terrible about themselves than they already do? So, instead of being validated, the IP is invalidated. The IP’s desire to expose the family’s dysfunction is used against them. The IP’s desire to expose the family dysfunction is used by the family as more proof that the IP is mentally ill or problematic. This makes the IP feel crazy and the family feel sane, albeit “put upon and hurt by” the IP.
Deep down, scapegoat personalities hold an incredibly harmful belief. The belief of: “I need to take on blame and take on guilt to be good”. The scapegoat takes on the emotional burden of the family dysfunction and identifies with being “a problem” so that they can at least be seen as good because of their guilt. By doing this, they validate their family and receive love in return. Validating the family is the only way to cope. The only way to cope with emotional abuse is to make what is happening to them ok. So the scapegoat tries to make it ok that they are being treated the way that they are being treated. The scapegoat sacrifices himself to maintain the sacred illusion that what the parent says makes sense.
As children, without the understanding of avoidance strategies, the scapegoat only knows one thing: If I don’t deserve the way my family is treating me, then the harsh truth is that they don’t love me. That is a more painful reality to face when you are completely dependent on someone than the reality of “something is wrong with me”. But later in life, this ceases to remain true. The more self-sufficient you get and the farther you separate from your family of origin, the more painful it becomes to maintain the reality that “something is wrong with me”. And the more this truth is revealed: “ The patterns that are left over from the dysfunction in my childhood environment are what is wrong with me”.
After a person realizes that they have played this role for their dysfunctional family, they will experience a period of intense anger. They will truly feel like the sacrificial lamb. They will recognize this pattern in nearly all of their relationships. They will feel like a victim to their family. They need to allow themselves to experience and move completely through this anger. They need to realize that they have been forced to perform this great act of self-abandonment. They abandoned themselves for the sake of their family. They abandoned themselves so their family members could stay in denial about themselves. From there, they can move out of victimhood, into the empowerment and belonging they have wanted for so long.
For the recovering scapegoat, the step out of victimhood is made by healing their emotional body. The step out of victimhood is made by promising themselves that they will never abandon or sacrifice themselves again. The step out of victimhood is to take themselves out of this role within the family, even if this means to remove themselves from the family completely. The step out of victimhood is made by promising to no longer be a canvass for their family’s projections (if they are projected on to, they respond by calmly shining light on the other person’s projections instead). The step out of victimhood is made by taking full responsibility for all of their own residual dysfunction. And lastly, the step out of victimhood is to recognize that the scapegoat was not sacrificed by others. Instead, he allowed himself to be sacrificed for what he thought was the greater good; the scapegoat in essence, sacrificed himself. The recovering scapegoat will of course need to make peace with the fact that they will most likely never get validation from their family that their perceptions and revelations about the family are true. In other words, the challenge for the recovering scapegoat is that the townsman will never admit that the scapegoat is in fact a scapegoat.
If you are a townsman, it is time to be brave enough to admit that you feel badly about yourself. If you are a townsman, it is time to be brave enough to own up to your own ‘dysfunction’ and admit to your projections when you make them. It is time to take responsibility for the things you think may be “wrong about you”. It is time to stop focusing on other people’s problems and instead, to focus on your own. The need to be “good” that originates from your childhood has pushed you into a place of self-denial. Having dysfunction within you does not make you bad. It makes you a byproduct of your environment. It makes you a person full of adaptations, some of which do more harm than good… just like the rest of us. It is by far a healthier personality trait to be completely authentic. No matter how ugly you think the reality of you may be, you can only begin to integrate into your being, that which is real.
Even though we usually fit into either the archetype of scapegoat or townsman, we have all been both over the course of our lives.
It is time to end the dysfunction; beginning with ourselves.