Psychotherapy Services in South West London

Managing conflict: the scapegoat and bearing the burden of sin

Scapegoating is described as a defence against psychological distress in groups. However this social process goes back to ancient times. The scapegoat is first introduced to the Israelites in Leviticus. The atonement ritual of scapegoat required two flawless goats: one to be slaughtered and one to be the scapegoat that was sent into the desert to carry away the sins of the people. Atonement requires not only the shedding of innocent blood, but also the expulsion of the innocent, who takes onto himself all guilt of the people and carries it away. In a group, the scapegoat colludes with other group members to take the blame for family distress, so that the rest of the group feel secure and appear to be stable. By assigning the scapegoat role to one individual, the group can avoid examining emotional fault and anxiety about change. Such belief has a magical quality about it, and may thus qualify as immature or psychotic defence. Unconsciously the group will be struggling with fears of disintegration, helplessness, envy or rage. Typically, the process begins with the leader, i.e. after initial bonding and a sense of togetherness is established a differentiation process follows. Idealisation of the leader begins to fade, and competition for the leadership may emerge. Fear and sadness at the loss of idealization and competitiveness, may make the leader of a group the point of the scapeogating. A sense of helplessness in the group can be transformed by initially supporting the scapegoat in almost a perverse cheerleading role but only with the ultimate intention of expelling the scapegoat. Through reaction formation, the aggression is hidden and the helplessness disappears with the disappearance of the scapegoat. In short, what the group dislikes about the scapegoat is what they dislike about themselves. As a consequence what the scapegoat therefore says or does is the product of what the group members wanted to do or say, but were unable to articulate and unwilling to address. The collective delusion is therefore in believing that the acting out by the scapegoat is due to his individual attributes rather than group dynamics.

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