Let's Talk About Being Scapegoated
Understanding What Drives it and What Can Help is Important
Being picked, or maybe the more accurate word is targeted, to be the scapegoat may or may not be shocking. It can and often is traumatic and costly.
This might be obvious yet for those who might be a little fuzzy about this rogue behavior, a scapegoat is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “a person who is blamed for something someone else has done.”
Another definition adds, “especially for reasons of expediency,” meaning, “the quality of being convenient and practical despite being improper or immoral.”
Finally, it is “the practice of singling out a person or group for unmerited blame and consequent negative treatment.”
Let’s briefly address everything above: being unjustly blamed, singled out, for something someone else did, because it’s convenient and helpful. It’s wrongly having to endure mistreatment and maybe the negative treatment is a significant loss of trust, damaged relationships (professional or personal or both) and status, finances and mental and physical health.
In short, it can be a gruesome emotional and psychological experience.
So what’s going on here when this is taking place? Authentic Leadership Advisors wrote an excellent, easy-to-read, powerfully informative article about it, entitled “Serial Scapegoating — Ripple Effects of Blame.” Highly recommended.
I’m going to take you on a diving expedition of what I read (and you can too). Stick around and you could help yourself or someone you love or otherwise care about.
Denial Leads to Defamation
“People are generally motivated to cultivate and defend a positive self-image (Greenwald, 1980). One common way that people protect their self-image, especially when threatened, is to blame other people and/or external circumstances for their failures in order to avoid having to admit the painful truth that they are responsible for an undesirable outcome (Blaine & Crocker, 1993; Bradley, 1978; Miller, 1976; Snyder & Higgins, 1988; Zuckerman, 1979).”
Ego and our identity — how we see ourselves, is a big part of our psychology.
If someone’s ego is threatened and a person either disagrees with what they’re perceiving or experiencing or they know it to be true yet find the experience too painful, they might very well resort to projecting their actions on someone else, maybe you, so they can protect their self image.
You can see how this can be dangerous territory when interacting with someone not well equipped with humility, poise, responsibility and higher-level character.
That’s problematic because that person may zero in on you in a hostile manner to transfer the negative spotlight off them and on to you.
For them, emotions and feelings become their perceived (yet inaccurate or false) “facts.” Impulse control and remorse for assault-like behavior isn’t present.
In short, denial becomes a military missile launching pad and you are the target for a direct hit, significant damage or destruction.
This can put the scapegoat in a place of confused, maybe agonizing reflection, says the Authentic Leadership Advisors article.
Initially, the scapegoat may ask themselves some of the following questions:
– What could I have done to invite (deserve) such a situation?
– How can I defend myself without looking like I am trying to defend myself?
– How many people have been exposed to this slander? Will they believe it?
– Who can I trust now?
– What must people think of me?…Who am I?
– Will I ever recover from this?
Years ago I was involved with a woman who was being terribly lied about. I asked if it bothered her because she didn’t appear to be knocked off emotional balance.
Her reply has long stayed with me. “I know it’s not true and the people who know me know it’s not true. No one else matters,” she said.
Wow, I thought. That’s strength. Unfortunately not everyone deals with being scapegoated with such grace. What was said about her hurt yet she didn’t let it control her overall outlook.
However in some situations, the scapegoat gets, figure of speech here, run over viciously where they don’t feel so strong and either they curl up in a ball, do something illegal or immoral seeking revenge, or they respond with self control and wise strategy to protect key needs in their professional and personal lives.
Scapegoating, and this is not hyperbole, is abuse. Flat out, unquestionably. So it’s difficult to gather oneself and think clearly to proceed expertly in a moral, successful way.
Quickly, let’s touch on three of the questions above.
How can I defend myself without looking like I am trying to defend myself?
Answer: Surprisingly, this can be tricky. You likely won’t think about how you are coming across to others when you are trying to disprove the absurd falsehoods being communicated.
My recommendation is to breathe and stay calm, if possible or more likely, seek to promptly regain emotional balance before proceeding.
Heated emotion is not clear thinking and you don’t want to compound your situation with a poor decision or impulsive behavior.
Next, communicate humbly, not arrogantly. Focus on facts, in a respectful manner. Show, with your communication and otherwise, you are the reasonable and more credible person.
Don’t give critics, enemies or people on the fence about how they view you the room to fall further into bear trap of confirmation bias that the person doing the scapegoating is working to create.
How many people have been exposed to this slander? Will they believe it?
Answer: Great question. You and I both know that slander spreads like the behavior disease it is and people, even more intelligent ones, are gullible and susceptible to being played for fools.
Will I ever recover from this?
Answer: “Ever” is an extreme word. In some cases, maybe someone will not recover yet that’s a very rare outcome. In the overwhelming majority of cases you can and will recover from being scapegoated.
Your emotional and psychological state might suffer terribly and you may take life-altering damage to other parts of your life but with a willingness to do what is necessary to recover and avoid what you shouldn’t do, you will recover, nicely I might add. Eventually.
It’s not always easy when dealing with terrorists who scapegoat people yet it’s not usually the figurative end of the world for you.
More helpful notes from the same article:
According to a study called “Blame Contagion: The Automatic Transmission of Self-Serving Attributions,” researchers from USC and Stanford stated:
– “Anyone can become a blamer, but there are some common traits. Typically, blamers are more ego defensive, have a higher likelihood of being narcissistic and tend to feel chronically insecure.”
– “Blaming becomes common when people are worried about their safety.”
– “There is likely to be more blaming going on when people feel their jobs are threatened.”
Analysis: Blamers are not always rotten to the core yet they can be and the research is accurate, many times they do possess the traits listed by the professionals at USC and Stanford. But not always.
Blaming certainly becomes more likely when people perceive their safety and honestly, “their” territory is being breached and they or their lives are in some real or imagined stage of a threat.
Additional blame can be occurring when people’s jobs are perceived to be threatened or are factually evidenced to be at risk.
And it’s not just their professional job, it can be a role or identity in their work life or personal life that they perceive, feel and judge as being threatened, even if their is no evidence to support that conclusion.
So what can help overcome being blamed or scapegoated or at least to mitigate a bad situation?
I’m glad you asked. Here it is:
Self-Worth is the Antidote to Blame
– “Another experiment found that self-affirmation inoculated participants from blame. The tendency for blame to spread was completely eliminated in a group of participants who had the opportunity to affirm their self-worth.”
– “By giving participants the chance to bolster their self-worth we removed their need to self protect though subsequent blaming.”
Final Words: You may not be able to — or want to — help the person you know or believe is responsible for the blaming and scapegoating you yet if can and if you want to communicate or otherwise sincerely assist them in feeling good about themselves there appears, according to the research, a chance they will not wish to attack or they might at least let up.
Just don’t count on them to correct the record. That is highly unlikely.
If the facts are the facts and the evidence is the evidence about them and you have revealed it or are an easy target for convenience, you may not be able to avoid the probability of one significant blow or repeated ones that are aimed to harm or ruin and silence you.
Michael Toebe is the specialist at Reputation Quality, assisting people further build reputation as an asset and responsibly, ethically protecting, restoring or reconstructing its well-being.