How do you escape being a scapegoat?

Being made a scapegoat can be an incredibly difficult and damaging experience. A scapegoat is someone who is blamed or punished for the mistakes or faults of others. Scapegoating often happens in toxic family dynamics, abusive relationships, and dysfunctional workplaces. If you find yourself unfairly blamed and targeted, it can take an emotional toll and make you feel powerless. However, there are steps you can take to stop being a scapegoat and regain your sense of control.

What does it mean to be a scapegoat?

A scapegoat is a person who is singled out and blamed for things that are not their fault. The term originates from ancient religious rituals where sins and misdeeds were symbolically placed on a goat, which was then banished to the wilderness. This allowed people to feel absolved of their wrongdoings, having transferred the blame onto an innocent party. Modern scapegoating serves a similar psychological purpose – rather than taking responsibility for mistakes or shortcomings, people project their failings onto a designated scapegoat target.

Common behaviors used against scapegoats include:

  • Criticism and belittling
  • Blaming without reason
  • Marginalization and exclusion
  • Unfair punishment and accusations
  • Denial of needs and desires
  • Rejection and intimidation

A scapegoat is subjected to perpetual negativity, while simultaneously being denied affection. Their feelings and needs are ignored or dismissed as unimportant. Even neutral actions get twisted into supposed evidence of wrongdoing. The scapegoating serves to maintain dysfunction in the family, relationship or organization, by redirecting blame and deflecting accountability.

Why do people scapegoat others?

There are various interpersonal dynamics that can lead to scapegoating:

  • Narcissism – Narcissists shift blame to avoid damage to their self-image. Making others the problem allows them to retain a facade of perfection.
  • Projection – People who cannot accept their own flaws project them onto others. Blaming the scapegoat disguises their own inadequacy.
  • Deflection – Scapegoating moves attention away from real issues. Focus stays on the supposed faults of the scapegoat.
  • Displaced aggression – Frustration and insecurity get channeled into mistreatment of the scapegoat.
  • Bonding – Abusing a shared target can create unhealthy alignment against the scapegoat.

Often a combination of these motivations drives the scapegoating. The chosen target tends to be someone vulnerable who is unlikely to challenge or retaliate against the unfair blaming. Sensitivity and differences can be used as excuses to single someone out. While scapegoating stems from unhealthy psychological and behavioral patterns, the treatment still inflicts real damage.

What are the effects of being scapegoated?

Being continually blamed and attacked for things beyond your control can profoundly impact mental health and self-esteem. Effects frequently experienced by scapegoats include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-worth and lack of confidence
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Self-blame and guilt
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Loss of trust
  • Hypervigilance
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Physical stress symptoms

Without intervention, these effects can linger even after escape from the scapegoating situation. The sense of powerlessness and betrayal can be extremely damaging. Seeking counseling and joining support groups can help overcome the psychological impacts. Establishing healthy boundaries and unlearning negative mindsets are also essential steps.

How can you stop being a scapegoat?

If you are the victim of scapegoating, know that you are not alone and there are strategies to overcome this mistreatment:

1. Recognize the behaviors

Gaslighting and intermittent kindness often obscure scapegoating. Look for patterns of blame, put-downs, exclusion and denies of agency. Acknowledge that these harmful behaviors are not your fault.

2. Build your confidence

Combat self-doubt and negative self-talk by listing your strengths and talents. Reflect on accomplishments and things you are proud of. You are far more than the unfair criticisms of others.

3. Establish boundaries

Decide what behaviors you will no longer accept from others. Clearly communicate your boundaries and the consequences for violating them. Remove yourself from toxic situations.

4. Find supportive community

Connect with others who have experienced scapegoating. Therapists and support groups can provide validation and encouragement. Build a network of healthy positive relationships.

5. Practice self-care

Make time for activities and relationships that counteract the effects of scapegoating. Get regular exercise, pursue hobbies, and do things that replenish your mental well-being.

6. Respond calmly

Scapegoaters often try to provoke an intense reaction. Stay composed when confronted and reassert your boundaries. Do not stoop to their level.

7. Increase independence

Ensure you have independent access to finances, mobility, and other essentials. Being self-sufficient makes it easier to distance yourself when needed.

8. Reframe your mindset

Rather than feeling like a helpless victim, focus on the power you have to protect yourself through your choices and actions.

9. Get professional help

Take advantage of counseling, coaching and other resources to process the trauma and acquire coping mechanisms. You have the right to heal.

10. Exit the situation

In extreme cases of abuse and toxicity, you may need to sever ties altogether. Surround yourself with supportive people as you transition to a healthier environment.

What strategies help stop scapegoating at work?

Workplace scapegoating jeopardizes careers, performance and mental health. Tactics to combat being singled out on the job include:

  • Discreetly record interactions to document mistreatment.
  • Present evidence to senior leaders and HR if abuse persists.
  • Request a transfer or change of teams.
  • Network for other job prospects as a safety net.
  • Consult a lawyer if discrimination seems to be involved.
  • Rally coworker witnesses to confirm your perspective.
  • Improve areas that get unfairly criticized.
  • Avoid oversharing personal details and emotions.
  • Politely confront the perpetrator about their behavior.

While looking for a way out, try not to internalize hurtful accusations. Scapegoating often stems from insecurities and office politics rather than your actual performance.

What are tips for stopping family scapegoating?

Escaping the scapegoat role in a family context presents added challenges due to enmeshment and loyalty binds. Helpful approaches include:

  • Seek counseling solo even if others refuse to participate.
  • Express your needs calmly and respectfully.
  • Spend less time with relatives who mistreat you.
  • Ask trusted friends to offer reality checks.
  • Set clear boundaries and consequences with family.
  • Don’t expect validation from your scapegoaters.
  • Separate your self-worth from criticism.
  • Recognize allies within the family.
  • Correct misinformation without getting confrontational.
  • Reduce contact or cut ties if the situation is untenable.

Letting go of unhealthy family bonds requires courage but can be essential for your wellbeing. Seek support to navigate this challenging process.

What should you do if your child is being scapegoated?

Children subjected to scapegoating require dedicated protection. If your child is the target of blame in school, activities or family contexts, take action such as:

  • Affirm the child and instill a sense of inherent worth.
  • Advocate for their needs with other adults.
  • Request changed classroom or teammate assignments.
  • Report severe bullying to authorities.
  • Arrange counseling to counteract self-blame.
  • Limit time with relatives who mistreat them.
  • Teach strategies for handling manipulation.
  • Help them build identity apart from scapegoating.

With support and modeling of healthy dynamics, the child can come to recognize they are not responsible for the scapegoating. This awareness provides strength to withstand unjust treatment.

How can therapy help with scapegoating?

A therapist experienced in addressing emotional abuse can provide invaluable support:

  • Validate your perceptions of mistreatment.
  • Treat underlying mental health impacts.
  • Teach coping strategies and self-care practices.
  • Help build self-confidence and reframe negative self-talk.
  • Guide establishment of healthy boundaries.
  • Assist processing feelings of guilt, anger and grief.
  • Support making positive life changes.
  • Provide perspective on toxic dynamics.
  • Referrals to helpful specialists and support groups.

Even if those around you refuse to acknowledge the scapegoating, a therapist can recognize what is happening and help you escape the harmful paradigm.

What is the best way to confront being scapegoated?

When directly addressing scapegoating, remain composed and stick to the facts. Some tips include:

  • Ask for specific examples of wrongdoing.
  • Calmly present evidence contradicting accusations.
  • Request fair treatment moving forward.
  • Reassert your positive qualities and accomplishments.
  • Express the pain caused by false allegations.
  • Remind them of your proven commitment and talent.
  • Ask what their underlying concerns might be.
  • Point out inconsistencies in who gets blamed.

Avoid heated arguments – stay solution-focused. If the other party is unwilling to discuss productively, disengage. Not all scapegoaters will own up to their behavior, but calmly standing up for yourself can be empowering.

How can managers prevent scapegoating on their team?

Managers play a key role in shaping team culture. To prevent scapegoating, they can:

  • Establish norms of trust, diversity and inclusion.
  • Intervene at any signs of singling people out.
  • Address performance issues privately with individuals.
  • Facilitate constructive group discussions of problems.
  • Reward collaborative behavior.
  • Diversify assignments so bias has less opportunity to develop.
  • Train staff on biases and microaggressions.
  • Model accountability by admitting their own mistakes.
  • Act swiftly if scapegoating behavior emerges.

Promoting psychological safety allows the team to learn from failures without needing to blame. This removes the interpersonal incentive for scapegoating.


If you find yourself singled out as a scapegoat, know that you have the power to escape this harmful dynamic. Seek help, build your confidence, and establish firm boundaries against mistreatment. Surround yourself with people who appreciate your worth. Work to process feelings of anger and hurt without letting them dominate your life going forward. While scapegoating often thrives on silence, speaking your truth can be an antidote. You deserve to be treated with basic decency – never forget your inherent value as a human being.

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