The Scapegoat or Sacrificial Lamb

The bottom line is that making someone the scapegoat is abuse, whether that person is a child or an adult. Another way to phrase the problem is no one wants to be the sacrificial lamb.

Scape Goat or the Sacrificial Lamb

“The psychoanalytic theory holds that unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another, who then becomes a scapegoat for one’s own problems.” 

“It’s too easy to criticize a man when he’s out of favor, and to make him shoulder the blame for everybody else’s mistakes.”

Leo Tolstoy

During the many years of my practice, I encountered some clients who complained they felt picked on and abused by their family of origin. Even though they were now adults, they reported feeling distressed and depressed over this problem.

While scapegoating happens, family members are unaware of what they are doing. They would deny it if confronted with their behavior. Often, scapegoating begins in childhood and continues into and throughout adulthood. For various reasons, these adults, during their childhoods, were the target of accusations, blame, criticism, and ostracism.

Why would a family choose a loved one to bully and scapegoat? The answer has much to do with the scapegoating concept and its purpose. Scapegoating is often a way for families to hide problems they cannot face. These problems include incest, parental infidelity, alcoholism, mental illness, and alcohol and drug abuse. These are just a few examples.

A parent with Borderline Personality or Narcissistic Personality Disorder can vent their frustrations, aggression, and hatred against one child by uniting the others who are made to believe that this one sibling is guilty of everything. In this scenario, the parent goads the other children to pick on the one. None of these stop in adulthood. Of course, the child whose personality is most like the personality disordered patient is targeted because that parent sees in the child everything they hate about themselves.

There is no way to underestimate the fears, self-hatred, and desperation the victims of scapegoating come to feel. The fact is that these people become depressed, anxious, withdrawn, and even, in the worst cases, suicidal. It is common for them to believe what the family tells them so that they accept all the blame and finger-pointing at them.

Individual and family therapy for helping people in this situation. Family members are often unwilling to attend because they believe nothing is wrong. Sometimes a client walks away from the family of origin and severs all ties. Severing family ties is always challenging.

The bottom line is that making someone the scapegoat is abuse, whether that person is a child or an adult. Another way to phrase the problem is no one wants to be the sacrificial lamb.




Children, Teens and Suicide

Suicides among young people continue to be a severe problem. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults ages 15-to-24-year-olds.

Most children and adolescents who attempt suicide have a significant mental health disorder, usually depression. Among younger children, suicide attempts are often impulsive. They may be associated with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or problems with attention and hyperactivity.

Now, however, childhood and teen suicide statistics are complicated by the Covid Pandemic. Even though schools are now open in most communities throughout the United States, parents report that many young people do not want to return to school. While remote learning carried many disadvantages, some children found it reassuring to remain at home with the family.

Children’s suicide attempts have increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic.


COVID-19 has led to significant changes in the dynamics of children’s suicide attempts, according to the results of a cross-sectional study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association


“Recent studies have reported a deterioration in children’s mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with an increase in anxiety and mood disorders,” Anthony Cousien, Ph.D., of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Paris in France, and colleagues wrote. “Rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts among children were also higher when COVID-19–related stressors heightened in 2020. 

The researchers analyzed data of 830 children aged 15 years or younger (mean age, 13.5 years; 1:4 ratio of boys to girls) with suicide attempt history admitted to the pediatric Emergency Department of a single hospital between January 2010 and April 2021. They defined a suicide attempt as “a nonfatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die because of the behavior.”

Cousien and colleagues speculated that children’s specific sensitivity to mitigation measures, adverse effects on family health and economic conditions, increased screen time, and social media use or bereavement may have affected this acceleration.

Social media is also a significant risk factor for teen suicide.

Suicide rates among teenagers have seen a drastic increase from 2007 to the present. Social media has become a prevalent way of life. Another risk factor may be media accounts of suicide that romanticize or dramatize the description of suicidal deaths, possibly leading to an increased number of suicides.

Among teenagers, suicide attempts come with feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. For some teens, suicide may appear to solve their problems.

Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders. The child or adolescent needs to have their illness recognized, diagnosed, and appropriately treated with a comprehensive treatment plan.

Thoughts about suicide and suicide attempts are often associated with depression. Besides depression, other risk factors include:

  • family history of suicide attempts
  • exposure to violence
  • impulsivity
  • aggressive or disruptive behavior
  • access to firearms
  • bullying
  • feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • acute loss or rejection

Children and adolescents thinking about suicide may make openly suicidal statements or comments such as, “I wish I was dead,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.” Other warning signs associated with suicide can include:

  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • frequent or pervasive sadness
  • withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities
  • frequent complaints about physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • a decline in the quality of schoolwork
  • preoccupation with death and dying

Young people thinking about suicide may also stop planning for or talking about the future. They may give away important possessions.

People often feel uncomfortable talking about suicide. However, asking your child or adolescent whether they are depressed or thinking about suicide can be helpful. Specific examples of such questions include:

  • Are you feeling sad or depressed?
  • Are you thinking about hurting or killing yourself?
  • Have you ever thought about hurting or killing yourself?

Rather than putting thoughts in your child’s head, these questions can assure that somebody cares and will give your child the chance to talk about problems.

Parents, teachers, and friends should always err on caution and safety. Any child or adolescent with suicidal thoughts or plans should be evaluated immediately by a trained mental health professional.

 No matter which boat you are in, remember that it doesn’t help to blame yourself as a parent.

Whether you are a parent, helping your teenager prevent suicide, or have lost your teenager to suicide, find a community and gather them close around you. You may find that this community is people in the church, friends, or other parents who have faced the same challenges. Keep a close connection with safe people and walk on this journey with others. Remember that you are not alone.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline



“I’m So Bored”

I’m So Bored!

Have you ever heard this plaintive cry or uttered it yourself? This lament about boredom affects young or old alike. Unfortunately, however, we do not know about it, except boredom is very unpleasant. So, what is boredom, what seems to cause it, and what can we do about it?

According to the Oxford American Dictionary, second edition, the word bored “is a feeling of being weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in their current activity.” Another definition of “bored” is a “feeling” of having nothing to do. The word “feeling” in the last sentence is in quotes because boredom is subjective and in the person’s conscious experience. In other words, if two people attend a lecture and one is bored and falls asleep. Still, the other one is fascinated. It means that they each have a different and subjective reaction to the same experience. Due to feeling bored, one person cannot focus their attention on the lecture and gradually fall asleep, unlike the political science class I took in undergraduate school many years ago. Others in the class were fascinated, but I could barely keep my eyes open.

What Causes Boredom?

It has never been clear what causes boredom, but many theories and explanations exist. Speculation has it that some people crave a lot of external stimulation to prevent boredom. The particular type of external stimulation will vary from one individual to the next. For instance, those extroverted people are very successful in finding people to speak to and avert becoming bored. The constant stimulation from the successful ways they interact with people is a continuous source of them. However, introverted people may have more of a problem finding motivation because socializing with people does not come so quickly to them.

Some researchers believe that some people experience boredom out of an inability to know what they are feeling and what they want. Alexithymia is the inability to understand what one’s feelings are. 

People who experience alexithymia lack a fantasy and dream life or cannot remember their dreams. If they remember them, they have no way of explaining or imagining what they might mean. One does not have to experience alexithymia in its full-blown flatness. Still, the inability to know what one prefers to do is a similar type of thing. In other words, it is the inability to know what to do, what might feel good, or to have any hobbies, interests, or enjoyments that leads to the feeling of being bored.

One theory of boredom comes from psychoanalysis. The theory states that boredom is anger and hostility that a person turns against the self, resulting in boredom. 

Many professionals in substance abuse state that boredom is one catalyst for drug and alcohol abuse. The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that yearning or wanting, along with bored feelings, leads the alcoholic to drink. Using a similar explanation, many teenagers turn to drugs and alcohol out of boredom at home and in school.

Many years ago, I suggested that adolescents feel bored because their metabolism operates more quickly than during adulthood. The supposed result is that young people experience time passing very slowly. Supposedly, as we age, metabolism slows with the result that time seems to pass more quickly. Well, I do not know if a slowed metabolism is why time seems to fly by so fast for me, but it certainly seems to move at an ever-quickening pace, and many of my peers agree.

Addiction specialists believe that boredom can be a symptom of depression. The lack of interest in anything is the withdrawal from the world due to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. In addition, a lack of stimulation in the environment can promote boredom among small children because their natural curiosity and need to explore are not satisfied. 

Finally, in school, classes that are either too difficult or too easy for a child or adult can lead to boredom. For example, those who are incredibly bright and have high IQs can feel bored if the content of the lessons is not stimulating because they are too easy. On the opposite side of the spectrum, classes that are too challenging for students can lead to boredom because what they are learning is beyond their ability or readiness to master the content.

What to do?

Suppose you have a chronic sense of boredom or a child who complains about boredom at home or school. In that case, you need to explore the possibility of depression or something else causing that uncomfortable feeling. For example, if your child is bored in school, they might be in the incorrect class. While many children complain about boring school, they should not dismiss it. Many youngsters are unwilling to talk about what is bothering them at school. Perhaps there is a bully the youngster fears to discuss or due to classes being too easy or hard. A fear of talking about “I am bored” can represent many things, especially when a child constantly repeats it.

There is always the possibility of consulting a mental health professional for yourself or your child if boredom continues unabated.

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