Me? Scapegoat Others? No!
I felt that pain right through my bones, and a great emptiness inside, even though I didn’t understand why. After months of confusion, feeling ‘wrong’ and feeling a sense of loneliness, I decided to resign. It took me months after that to realize that during that time at work, I had felt rejected by my colleagues, and had developed a defeatist attitude towards myself. But it took me much longer to realized that I had actually been scapegoated, marginalized.
This experience, had more than a decade ago, has stayed with me, and made me aware that, in many teams and organizations, scapegoating happens, and that maybe, at some point in our lives, we have all been scapegoated. But most important of all, whether we admit it or not, we have scapegoated others at least once in our lives.
Scapegoating: What Is it?
Scapegoating can be defined as the act of making a person or group bear the blame for others, or to suffer in their place. In teams and organizations, it usually involves isolating an individual or a group of people.
As described by Terri O’Fallon of Pacific Integral, scapegoating is manifested in different forms, such as:
- Marginalizing the other
- Overwhelming them and disorienting them
- Openly attacking them
- Setting them up for failure
- Scapegoating can start by simple gossip about others, joking about them, labeling them, not listening to them, avoiding them, or feeling indignant about their behavior or way of being. This could lead to dehumanizing them.
Notice what may be happening in your team/ organization: is there a colleague of yours who is being demoted? Are they increasingly getting ill? Is their absebteeism from work increasing? Do they seem to be losing their self confidence? Once they resign, do they leave and there are continuous vacancies for the same post? In such cases, scapegoating may be at play.
If you are the one being the scapegoated, you may be feeling constantly uneasy in a certain context, afraid of speaking out, of rocking the boat. You may be feeling unusually ill, dreading to get to work, and, in the organizational collective…lonely.
The above could have devastating effects on the self and the energy of team and an organization. It’s maybe time to talk about this human phenomenon, and to build awareness about it in ourselves and in our teams.
Scapegoating: Let’s Tackle It
When we witness scapegoating, or we are perpetrating it ourselves, we are denying that we too are responsible for the state of the relationship in question. We are blaming others for our difficulties, and by scapegoating we are asserting someone is bad or wrong, while in reality we are rejecting part of ourselves, something in ourselves, as human beings.
And yet, when we have an intuition that scapegoating is taking place, when we feel the signals, let us proactively tackle scapegoating. We can do so by:
- Consciously observing the dynamics, from the outside, noticing patterns of power and relationships in teams or an organization,
- Creating/ nurturing sincere relationship in which tensions and such experiences can be shared in a safe space of trust,
- Engaging in authentic communication to challenge scapegoating, the one we are perpetrating, or experiencing.
The above starts from the self, and no-one else. We can reflect, inquire, speak out and speak up.
I personally wish I had been aware of this phenomenon more than ten years back, and before I experienced scapegoating on my own skin. I now also catch myself when I display this behavior towards others, and with this awareness I try to stop dead in my track.
I wonder what experiences you have around scapegoating, or being scapegoated? I would love to know.
*Many thanks again to Terri O’Fallon and all faculty at Pacific Integral for sharing such wisdom, for the sake of sustenance and happiness of so many teams.