“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.”
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 The fact is that these people become depressed, anxious, withdrawn, and even, in the worst cases, suicidal.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.