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Stop Taking on Others' Stuff: Voice Dialogue and Healing the Inner Scapegoat

By Francesca Starr, Ph.D.

As seen on – April 28, 2010

This is the second in a series of  articles on healing the Inner Scapegoat:

“From earliest childhood, Savannah had chosen to bear the weight of the family’s accumulated psychotic energy. Her luminous sensitivity left her open to the violence and disaffection of our household and we used her to store the bitterness of our mordant chronicle. I could see it now: One member of the family, by a process of artificial but deadly selection, is nominated to be the lunatic, and all neuroses, wildness, and displaced suffering settles like dust in the eaves and porches of that tenderest, most vulnerable psyche.” – Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

Savannah is the family scapegoat. She, like most scapegoats, experiences the pain, wounds, dark secrets, and rejected emotions of the family system. There occurs in families (and groups) a deadly, unspoken agreement whereby the collective casts its unconscious, denied psychological/emotional material onto the child who may be: different, gay, weaker, sickly, less successful, or more vulnerable; at times they are the “light child” – unbounded energy, joy, love (too much for the family system to handle). Out of love, and an unexplained sense of destiny, the sensitive child actually absorbs and carries the group’s disowned “lunacy”; with the intent to mend the family, and minimize the chaos, neglect, abuse, or violence that regularly shatters souls.

The idea of the scapegoat goes back to the earliest human communities. Inherent in the human experience is the deep-seated belief that energy is given or exchanged through sacrifice; that energies of evil forces, illness, unacceptable emotions and behaviors can literally be transferred from a person or a community, to a specific object (earth, rocks, and vegetation), animal, or human. Throughout human history there have been rituals involving the sacrifice of a thing, animal, or person in exchange for:

1. A balance of energy in the overall system of life.
2. Avoiding death or keeping the dead away.
3. Reducing natural disasters and avoiding catastrophe.
4. Making the god or goddess less angry.
5. A year of good crops.
6. Relief of the individual and communities’ sins, illnesses, unacceptable feelings, or behaviors.
7. Collective and individual purification and reconnection with god.

In ancient rituals the historical scapegoat was identified with the god; often with the god of the underworld – of the unconscious. It was considered a divine being. This special, spirit-connected shadow carrier had a gift. The gift was the capacity to carry huge amounts of collective darkness, and transfer it from the community to a transpersonal domain. Further, while the unconscious energies are born away from the community, the transpersonal or spiritual dimensions are channeled through the scapegoat back to the collective. The scapegoat was the conduit that purged the dark, and brought enriched meaning, atonement (at one); purification, and renewed connection with other dimensions; with their gods or goddesses.

We have lost the understanding of the sacred nature of the scapegoat; once called “the strong one of God”. We no longer appreciate it as a medium for the transformation of our own darkness or shadow (Jung defined the shadow as the territory into which we cast our unacceptable parts, rejected instincts, emotions, and talents). Rather than the scapegoat being valued, Sylvia Brinton Perera, author of The Scapegoat Complex, said, “scapegoating, as it is currently practiced, means finding the one or ones who can be identified with evil or wrong-doing, blamed for it, and cast out from the community in order to leave the remaining members with a feeling of guiltlessness, atoned (at-one) with the collective standards of behavior.” [1]

This process of seeing others as unacceptable, sinful, wrong, the cause of misfortune, or a threat to the proper order of things; is called projection. If I am identified with being pure, selfless, and caring for others, I have disowned, or cast away into the abyss within, the opposite characteristics – impure, selfish and self-caring. Because I don’t know those aspects reside in my shadow/unconscious, I project them onto others (who then carry some of MY shadow energy), and judge them as unacceptable, wrong, and even abhorrent.

Bottom line: the unprocessed, scorned energies (parts or inner selves) within individuals, families, and groups are projected onto the selected scapegoat(s). Just as in ancient times, this shadow carrier, the vessel for the dark energies and pathologies that any system refuses to acknowledge, is sacrificed for the greater good.

Without an understanding of: 1) the multi-faceted nature of all humans (we all have known, developed parts or inner selves; and we all have opposite traits and sub-personalities that we do not know, or actively repress); 2) the process of projection; and 3) how to access transpersonal dimensions, scapegoating will continue to be a purely damaging, devastating, soul-killing process.

For example, we now know that many of the children involved in school shootings have suffered years of brutal bullying and complete disregard by peers; and no adult protected them, or stopped it. On a much larger scale: the Nazis (who came to power during the post WWI humiliation and degradation imposed as punishment by the rest of the world) identified with the cult of Aryan superiority and perfection, and projected their inferior, powerless, contemptible traits onto Jews, Gays, Gypsies, Catholics, etc.

It is also worth mentioning that as children, Hitler, many of his henchmen, and, in truth, many German citizens, were viciously beaten and shamed on a very regular basis. Much of this comes from what Alice Miller calls poisonous pedagogy, which has been around for generations. “Poisonous pedagogy…is the kind of parenting and education aimed at breaking a child’s will and making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt or covert coercion, manipulation, and emotional blackmail.”  In terms of scapegoating, the child raised according to poisonous pedagogy is the recipient of overwhelming, generational fury. They are stripped of all sense of self and remain obedient and pliable as an adult; or, out of revenge, they replay what the parents did to them, blindly heaving abusive behaviors upon their spouses or children; or both.

How do we break the seemingly endless cycle of scapegoating? The best solution (and the least likely) is for those who transfer their (absolutely real) shadow energy onto others, to recognize that the energy perceived to be intolerable and evil in others, is actually a source of vital, raw, creative, passionate life-force within themselves! They can learn to digest and incorporate the essence of those heretofore deplorable characteristics and traits into their lives. This relieves the scapegoat of its unbearable burden. Only then can sacred ritual support the transfer of excess shadow energy to a higher source (a source that can handle and transmute the shadow).

Since the chances of awakening those who cast shadow energy is slim; the next best solution is to awaken the Scapegoat. This is the work of therapy; and this is where Voice Dialogue excels. A significant factor in this healing process is the therapist’s understanding that most Inner Scapegoats identify with the archetype of the Savior. They carry a deep conviction that it is their destiny to be the sacrificial lamb who surrenders a life based on fulfilling their own enormous potential.

Voice Dialogue is one of the safest, most effective methods used to gain access to the many levels of the human psyche (our inner world). To awaken the Scapegoat, we must enter into respectful dialogue with a series of inner selves. Eventually, through building trust with the protective layers of the highly developed Primary Selves (our ego) we are privileged to meet and talk with the one who first became the scapegoat of the family – the young, very vulnerable Inner Child.

In the next article, we will discuss how Voice Dialogue specifically: 1) awakens the Scapegoat; 2) helps this sensitive soul understand how to dis-identify from the archetype of Savior; 3) teaches energetic and other boundaries; 4) creates connection to transpersonal dimensions which support the lifting of the overwhelming burden of collective shadow; and 5) opens the inner doors to other channels through which the remaining energies can flow – i.e. creative expression and becoming a conscious healer.

*Perera, Sylvia Brinton, The Scapegoat Complex: Toward a Psychology of Shadow and Guilt, Inner City Books, Toronto, 1986.

Miller, Alice, The Truth Will Set You Free: Overcoming Emotional Blindness and Finding Your True Adult Self, Basic Books, NYC, 2001, Preface pg 1


Read the next article in this series


Francesca Starr, Ph.D., CPC
Certified Professional Coach, Post Graduate Voice Dialogue Training with Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone (Creators of Voice Dialogue), Ph.D. Counseling Psychology, MA Transpersonal Psychology, MA Education. Francesca brings finely honed skills and knowledge from previous careers (1. education, 2. business, and 3. counseling) to her passion as a Voice Dialogue Coach and Trainer. Gentle conversations with your Inner Selves that transform your life. Inspired, breakthrough coaching to resolve life and work issues, generate conscious choice and creative action, and evolve consciousness.