The Scapegoat

I came across an old xerox from an unidentified textbook about psychology that I saved from way back and now wanted to share a bit I found about scapegoating. I think it’s behind alot of our problems in the ways we treat people and how we’re treated.


Often one child in a family is singled out as the recipient of the most abuse. Reasons for this type of selection are complex and varied. Usually scapegoating begins at a very early age, sometimes at birth. Infants who are irritable, colicky and who do not respond well to parental nurturing may become targets for abuse. Premature infants are more likely to become scapegoats than those carried to full term.

Scapegoating is frequently described as an interactive process in which the child’s physical, social or psychological characteristics combine with those of the parent to increase the likelihood of abuse. Children perceived as difficult or unresponsive or hyperactive are at risk. Other traits can include psychological impairment, learning disabilities or chronic illness.

Caretakers of scapegoated children range from normally capable persons under stress to those with severe psychopathology. Parents may perceive a particular child as reflecting their own defects or inadequecies. In such situations the parent’s self-hatred is misdirected toward the child. The child has become a symbol of all the parent dislikes in him or herself.

Maltreatment by caretakers is quickly internalized by children. Scapegoated children come to have low self-esteem and see themselves as bad and deserving of punishment. As they grow older many of these children actually seek punishment by acting out at home or in school. They may also invite abuse from peers by taunting and provoking them. Because the children see themselves as deserving of abuse they offer only token self-defense when they are subsequently attacked.

As they grow older, victims of severe scapegoating continue to have difficulty in establishing close relationships with peers, teachers and others. Prolonged treatment is often required to help these children develop a capacity for displaying warmth toward themselves and others.

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6 Responses to “The Scapegoat”

  1. Donna Ho Says:

    Hi Jerry! I’m a journalism student at Syracuse University and my class has an assignment to blog-watch. Each of us picked randomly out of a mug on which blog to look at and I got yours! I wanted to know if I would be able to email you a few questions about your inspiration for the blog and the story behind it. Thanks and I hope to hear from you soon!


  2. Colleen Says:

    I found the credit for your picture while searching for the reason why my family hates me so much.

    The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt, 1854. Hunt had this framed in a picture with the quotations “Surely he hath borne our Griefs and carried our Sorrows; Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4) and “And the Goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a Land not inhabited.” (Leviticus 16:22)

  3. Jerry Says:

    Hi Colleen – Thanks for that tidbit abut the goats. I understand how you feel about your family. Almost every family has their favorites and goats. It’s truly unfortunate.

    I was reading about animal acts in vaudeville and they said the toughest animal to train is the goat. Goats are rugged individualists, unpredictable and completely fearless. So it’s not all gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. Now go out there my fellow goat and butt some heads!

  4. Colleen Says:

    I found some real goats to hang out with a few months ago – it was so much fun – I didn’t realize the symbolism at the time. I hope to be out at that farm again soon shooing them off cars, taking them on a hike with their dog companions; 2 rotties and a sharpe. It was so fun the last time to look and see this parade of happy animals frolicking behind me. That’s what I need to run and jump and play without fear.

  5. Michelle Says:

    Hi Colleen, I’m a goat too. I was always the outcast in my family because I spoke out against the family dysfunction. You are not alone, I will play with you my fellow goat. Goats are Good for Families…

  6. Jerry Says:

    I had a friend who took care of a friend’s goats while she was away on vacation once. She said it was hell. The goats were completely uncooperative and really tough to take care of. I guess goats aren’t for everyone…