Understanding and healing the Scapegoat within


The family scapegoat receives the shadow projections of the family. They are the one that carries and tries to express qualities, needs, reactions and expressions which may not have had a chance to live in the family.  Often if we review the family history we will be able to see a pattern or something the scapegoat is trying to live for the family that could not be expressed, or struggled to be expressed over generations. They may be the carrier of hidden sadness or pain.

There is also collective element to the scapegoat which means certain qualities in any particular culture are accepted and are seen as valuable to express where as others may be demonised. Religious beliefs create the scapegoat by dictating what is “holy” and what is “demonic” and so create splits. The pervasive spread of the Catholic zeitgeist, for example, reveres qualities of self sacrifice, meekness, chastity and in many ways a repression of essential elements of what it means to be a human animal struggling to express oneself in the world as a self who can feel a sense of balanced empowerment and know it is okay to have legtimate wants and needs and life in an organic feeling body.

The scapegoat in the family is particularly created by the narcissistic parent who, as a child, could not live the wholeness of who they were due to parental neglect, abandonment, hostility, stress or other kinds of splits. John Bradshaw in his book on shame, Healing the Shame that Binds You, and other writers have shown how in families affected by toxic shame, the scapegoat is a role that is taken on often, though not only, by the second child.

In fact the issue of shame is central to narcissistic disorders and the creation of the scapegoat. If we are truly able to develop and live, free to express the totality of who we are without shame, the shadow may not be created, thus no need for scapegoats.

Shame is central to narcissism of the unhealthy variety in that the narcissistic individual never believes him or herself to be just a person amongst persons. An inherent feeling of unconscious shame, instead leads them to identify themselves as more highly evolved and deserving of envy, as inherently superior inside. The unconscious sense of deep inferiority created by episodes of shame, humiliation, abandonment or emotional rejections in childhood gets covered over and defended against with unconscious protections and projections.

What the narcissist cannot make a relationship with inside, he projects out. The need for constant mirroring that exists in the form of needing narcissist supply from outside the self results due to the lack or mirroring or flawed and skewed mirroring in childhood. What has been rejected becomes projected.

The narcissist will attract to him or herself those with the missing qualities.   Those of us set up for this kind of attraction from the other side, due to problems with nurturing, validation, mirroring and acceptance in childhood, are attracted to the narcissist like iron filings to a magnet. We have our own narcissistic issues which during the course of the eventual conflicts that develop in the relationship will come to light, often with us being rejected by the narcissist. The pain generated by this rejection forces us, or at the very least, gives us an opportunity to bring to consciousness our own wounds from childhood and understand the deficiencies that we have lived with as well as the struggles we had with our own parents and their repressed shadow qualities. An opportunity comes to find self healing, since we are no longer children, we can recognise that deep inside our inner child of the past still lives and has wounds that need to be understood and tended from within.

Through this process we can begin to identify healthy behaviours and relationships from unhealthy ones and come to understand some of the false beliefs generated by lack of emotional nurturing and attunement in childhood, as well as the hostility of the parent who could not accept expression of our shadow qualities (which often replays as a powerful theme in all of our relationships).

In the course of our journey to self awareness, particularly for those of us who may have taken on a scapegoat function,  healing comes when we can begin to identify the introjects (internalised projections) of negative voices and beliefs or inner critic/persecutor that may have embedded within us from parental and cultural/collective conditioning. Parental projections or carrying of their trauma may mean we battle with negative voices, depression, addiction or pervasive suicidal feelings. Through hearing and becoming conscious of these we can gain a sense of detachment in time and find new more positive, loving, affirming voices from within which can help us to grow and heal.

For the scapegoat there is an essential task to be learned. The scapegoat will often be the one in the family that ends up in treatment or with an addiction. They may be the one who blows the whistle and begins to deal with the family skeletons.  Addictive tendencies of other members of the family may be well hidden, but on some level the scapegoat fails. This is a necessary failure for the purpose of coming to know and love the entire self that could not live and find wholeness from within the family. Often family scapegoats when seeking to bring attention to deficiencies in the family will be rejected or ostracised: this parallels what happens in cultures where the scapegoat is sent away into the desert or exile with the sins of the collective on its head. Such an exile may be necessary it may be metaphoric rather than literal.

The scapegoat suffers the pain of never finding true acceptance, of feeling on the outside, exiled in some way. Healing can only come for the scapegoat when they realise the role and function they play in the family and the collective culture. The scapegoat has a supreme value and this is why they are rejected.

The Jungian analyst and teller of fairytales, Clarissa Pinkola Estes addresses this issue of wandering and banishment that internalises in her examination of the Ugly Duckling fairytale. The ugly duckling must go through rejection and a profound search to find a place of belonging and recognise the beauty of the self.

On a personal note, as one of the scapegoats in my own family, I became the identified addict. I was blamed by a mother (who valued my new found sobriety supposedly on one hand while dealing out invalidating backhanders on the other) could never own her part in the creation of this. On one level she was only a player in a far bigger drama working out across generations.

When I got into recovery feeling myself to be a scapegoat was not conscious but I was strongly affected.  In healing groups with other scapegoats I was able to begin to dis-identify from the projection of badness, especially when displaying self assertion and anger. At times I played the scapegoat role in groups.  It hurt a lot at the time, but eventually I grew in understanding when the pattern would play out  My critical leaning was, that I must not scapegoat myself, though exile was and is necessary for the scapegoat.  Alone time gives us time to  introspect, detach from unhealthy and invalidating relationships and to heal.  My struggle in the family to gain freedom and awareness has gone on over many years. It is taking a long time and many heartbreaking conflicts to realise what pattern was playing as well as the particular parts various family members were playing.

In her analysis of the scapegoat identified individual,Syliva Perrera (who wrote an excellent book on the subject,) makes the point that split off assertion and desire is a huge part of what creates the scapegoat. Many of us who develop addictions as a mean of coping use the substances to numb and anaesthetise our feelings around not being able to express and assert ourselves fully. Addictive relationships function in similar ways, especially when the longing and hunger we feel has complex and deep roots in earlier invalidating relationships. We enter them hoping the broken hearted child will heal. Instead that child meets her own woundedness and is sent on a journey so that she or he can heal. Healing involves finding ways which allow the wholeness of ourselves to express and find acceptance, mirroring and love in relationships, families, collectives and a culture which often do not allow certain feelings a place.

Women too, can take on the role of the scapegoat. We are scapegoated for being too angry (what a ‘bitch’), needy, dramatic or vulnerable.

The playing out of the mass genocide of the Jews during the Second World War was another example of the scapegoat complex playing out collectively, generated by the toxic shame of an individual (Hitler) who was able to mobilise the rage and hurt of many in a nation that had been humiliated. That humiliation and the identification with roles of power and supremacy saw the split off qualities being projected and “killer” energy emerge.  It is interesting to note that Joseph Stalin’s father was a alcoholic and Stalin too was a victim of toxic shame.

The scapegoat is no stranger to murder and killing, their soul is the victim of a psychic murder. We scapegoatees must learn during the course of our healing and enlightenment to find freedom from the killer that can migrate to live inside of us in order that we can live free of the killer voices that block our self expression and inner feelings of love and self worth. The entirely of ourselves has a value and through embracing and becoming more conscious of the ways in which we participate in and perpetrate our own wounding we can heal and grow and make new choices that lead us down happier paths than we experienced in the past. 

We can begin to understand the scapegoater that lives inside, for we are not immune either, at times, to scapegoating ourselves and others.   The qualities that we may have been rejected for sensitivity, joy, exuberance, fieryness, vulnerability, messiness, passionate conviction, sensuality and sexuality are unique threads of human self expression which woven together have formed the unique and precious tapestry that make us raw and real, messy and ultimately human, a person among people with certain gifts of perception, expression and depth that may have in some way threatened or frightened those who are more defended, less inwardly and holistically attuned.

Death brings healing


I have been studying eclipse periods for some years and have noticed that significant deaths often accompany eclipses. which is not unusual since eclipse seasons rule endings and new beginnings. My sister passed away at 3.30 am Eastern Standard time on Easter Sunday morning, 20th April.  Two other friends have lost their fathers prior to today’s solar eclipse and following the full moon lunar eclipse and one of our dog park visitors sadly lost his 14 year companion, Muriel and was grieving today when his owners bought him out on a gorgeous, sunny autumn day. As the world turns towards a new season, souls have gone home.

My sister died of a deep seated and untreatable lung infection.  She was sixty eight years of age.  Her family were gathered around her over the final 48 hours of her life.  Her four sons had only been together with her twice in a 30 year period and were with her until two hours before her death.  I had sat with her for most of the two previous evenings and I felt deep in my heart that it was time to let go and say goodbye at 1 am which is when I left the hospital.  She had been removed from life support at 11.30 pm and seemed to be rallying, however that was just my wishful thinking.  Despite her tenacity, she finally let go.

My sister knew a lot of suffering, betrayal, loss, tragedy but she also loved life.  Although wheelchair bound and bed ridden for much of the past 8 years, she was a creative and vibrant spirit who bought laughter and love into the lives of so many of the beautiful people whose paths crossed hers and who cared for her in her later years.

It was so touching at her funeral to hear such happy stories of the joy she but into some of the carers lives and witness the amount of love pouring out from their hearts to hers.  It made me realise that death, although sad is such a profound passage that possibly brings gifts to our lives.

My sister was separated from her four sons, several years following a massive cerebral bleed. The two youngest did not know that their mother did not choose this separation but was in fact removed from their lives by their father.  The two eldest were abandoned by their father and had to survive on their wits.  It developed a toughness and resilience in all of the boys and despite the pain, it was so inspiring to see that part of them remained forever non corrupted by the challenges of their past, although deeo scars remain, they have worked to grow in love and understanding.

When I lost my own father I never had the experience of being supported in my grief.  I went over to the other side of the world alone and the grief became buried and acted out in addiction, until I began to stop self medicating and chose recovery.  Subsequent deaths have presented opportunities to feel what was too difficult to feel all those years ago due to lack of support.  It may be a strange truth but we actually need permission to grieve.  It is harder to grieve alone and a grief process can be actively blocked especially in certain families.  I have experienced a lot of problems in my own life due to repressed and somatised grief (grief buried in the body0>

I felt incredibly blessed during the brief time that we all had to say goodbye to my sister and over the following week that led to funeral, that I was supported and could support my nephews in their grief.  I cannot tell you the healing that has come to me during this time, a time in which we have been able to talk about some of the traumas we endured.  I have been witness to the struggles of the younger two who now have loving partners and are well on the way to establishing beautiful families of their own.  And although my sister is dead her amazing gifts now live on into the next generation. These include: generosity, creativity, resilience, intelligence, wisdom, penetrating insight, love and care for others less fortunate, artistic talents, ingenuity.   The darker traits are there too: powerful self will, a huge appetite for alcohol, stubbornness, intractability.


My sister was a Sun sign Capricorn. Today I was re-reading some of Sylvia Bretton Perrera’s book The Scapegoat Complex and could not help but think of my sister when I read the following paragraphs, for following her breakdown and rejection by her partner she was exiled by part of my family, who though living less than 10 miles away never bothered to visit her. When family events occurred, birthdays, weddings and other celebrations she was in later years often excluded, a fact which used to cause me a lot of pain.  In witnessing this exile and the suffering it caused I could not help but think of the exiled goat which Perrera talks of who is cast out by the community with the sins of the collective on its head.  In mythic parlance this figure is given the name Azazel, The Goat of God.

Perrera writes:

Azazel was originally, a divinity symbolised and embodied in the goat, that lively, swift, high-climbing, yet earthy, sexually potent animal with a strong odor.  It is an animal both combative and nurturant, able to lie in inhospitable terrain and willing to be domesticated.  As horned god, the goat is an image of primal creative energy of the generative and destructive force of desire.  As ibex, its form appears on an early Sumerian cylinder seals, ritually rampant with the figure of the Great Goddess: the kid with the Mother.  There it suggests the instinctive forces of the Great Round, especially those which can be somewhat tamed for human benefit.

The goat was also sacred to a large number of other divinities,… All these divinities are associated with the ecstatic depths.  They compel, and sometimes mediate, the awesome truth of reality through passionate encounter with affect states that grip the soul and are experienced as transpersonal dismemberments and renewals. They are the states which the laws of Yahweh sought to order and limit.  Thus Azazel was posited as the divinity of the place outside Hebrew collective life.

Azazel then was once a horned and herdsman god of nature, a fertility daimon, a healer, an expression of the creative process in art, and a consort of the Great Goddess, alternating in his office with the farmer god.

All these aspects of the goat have been lost to Judeo Christian culture, although they have remained in pagan and folk tradition.  Within the dominant stream of culture in the West the goat is identified with Satan and the demonic energies of the accusing Azazel.  This has ensured repression of the qualities the collective rejects.  The goat god himself has been made to stand against very life forces he originally mediated into collective life.  As demon an punisher, his image warns away those who would seek him.

In scapegoat identified individuals’ material, the goat often appears after the complex is partially worked through. Awareness of the complex forces a particular set of relations to the horned goat god, as one rediscovers for the modern culture the enormous creative energies symbolised in the image.  Initally, the goat appears as an ambiguous figure.  On the one hand it is felt to be excessively wild and untamed impulsivity.  On the other hand, it holds creative and erotic potential.

Perrera goes on to explain how this complex played out in the life of one client with the Azazel figure forcing a repression by a judgemental inner figure against her own needs and assertiveness, while at the same time making her a victim of violent eruptive rages.  This was a complete mirroring of my own sister’s story and some of the incidents in which this occurred where told to me by my nephews following my sister’s death.  I knew these erruptions well, our mother with a Capricorn Moon had them.  I have experienced them myself.


The aggressive instinct within during the process of this woman’s particular journey over time became humanised. The anger and rage which were in fact an explosive expression of an assertive drive split off in childhood as a result of dynamics with both parents and grown huge with the subsequent repression, could slowly transform expression over time, as the repression was lifted and the impulsive raw energy regulated over time.

In my sister’s case, without the benefit of this kind of therapeutic intervention and after years of medication, sadly my sister’s eruptive rage could not be totally tamed and integrated into concsicousness and yet its energy fuelled a vast creativity that was able to find avenues of expression even though she had, over years become totally dependent on others for care and could not be moved without mechanical assistance.  Her destructive choice of partners was her Achilles heel.  The last alcoholic beat my sister and left her only to return when her circumstances had improved and he could prey on her again.  Due to my sister;s lack of self protection she attracted this destructive force into her life and bore the consequences and yet she never blamed him, for on some level the need to be associated with someone who had gone through wounding experiences and had turned toward booze for comfort was too powerful.  .

On her birthday in January, a group of us gathered to celebrate with my sister, she received many beautiful gifts.  At one point as she was unwrapping a necklace, she burst into tears.  “I don’t deserve any of this.”   I will never really know exactly what thoughts went through my sisters head.  On collecting the clothing that she would be buried in one of the carers said to me.  “Your sister was a very tortured individual.”  Did she know her history?  Did she understand all my sister had been through?  Yet I knew there was some truth in those words.  And yet there was more to her even than this.

The Great Round chose to take my sister home on Easter Sunday.  As autumn leaves are falling here and we pass into winter, yet another leaf has fallen from the great tree of my family.

New connections have been made over the funeral time.  Healings have begun in my family, unravelled threads are beginning to be tied back.  Spending time with two of my nephews has opened up a dialogue around their wounds, the manner in which one, himself seeks comfort from alcohol.  We even had our own mini explosion of energy in the early hours following my sister’s funeral which, rather than creating a rupture opened up deeper insight into how energies that could not find a new balance in my sister’s life are now seeking a new balance in the lives of the ancestors who remain.  During this time as Mars has retrograded through the sign of relationship and balance, Libra new balances are being found and the entire experience around the funeral, the way in which we were able to support each other and consider each other’s vulnerabilities and factor in care has been an amazing process to behold.

On the eve of my sister’s death as I sat in the ICU and watched each person saying their goodbyes to my beloved sister tears fell. I cannot begin to express the profound welling up of consciousness and healing that came, for what I understood was, how even in the darkest of times there is a light that shines within, that life is a blessing even with all the challenges it presents, how innocent we really are and how impersonal life really is and yet, at times we take it so personally.   In the end although I grieved, I actually felt a lightness, joy and peace at my sister’s passing.  She will be missed and yet I don’t feel she is all that far away. She lives on all around me and our journey goes on with the memory of all we shared which will be a light to guide us forward into the next chapter of the story that is unfolding.