Theravive Home

Therapy News And Blogging

December 2, 2018
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

When Balance Fails

December 2, 2018 19:42 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW  [About the Author]

Humans resist troublesome feelings stirred up by internal conflict.  As a rule, individuals don’t recognize that their attitude of discomfort, dread, even sluggishness, is emanating from the war that goes on inside.  This is the battle between the head and the heart.

It has been said that the longest 18”  is the distance between these two organs. The head embraces logic.  It is the practical part of the personality.  The heart, represents the intuitive side of human nature. The head tells you what you know.  your heart tells you what you feel and believe.

The ensuing contest between what makes sense and what stems from desire is unsettling at best.

In the bible, the Book of Leviticus 16, the ancient Israelites placed all their misdeeds, sins, and unhappiness on the head of a goat. That goat was then expelled, exiled into the wilderness.  Thus, the origin of Scapegoat.

Of course this action failed to remove knowledge of personal shame, fear, and guilt. Internal conflict is not so easily resolved and humans, over time, have been encouraged to face "their" demons. Taking responsibility for one’s behavior is essential in the quest for a life of contentment and peace.

Unfortunately, self-examination is painful.  One is confronted with perceived deficiencies in a world that demands perfection.  Those who ignore life’s grey areas cannot understand or embrace self-love and empowerment. The belief that a situation is all good or all bad builds a barrier that obstructs acceptance and understanding.
At first blush, it is tempting to project one’s feelings of deficiency onto an outside source — just like the ancient scapegoat.

Historically, there are many examples of scapegoating behavior.  The Salem Witch Trials are one example.  During an economic downturn when Salem Town and Salem Village were at odds, three girls suffered from “fits” which were believed to be the result of witchcraft.  Hysteria and paranoia took hold and women, men and two dogs were hanged because they had, supposedly, cast spells that brought misfortune to the towns. It was later determined that the girls had probably been infected with encephalitis.  
When the AIDS epidemic was revealed in the 1980’s, a gay flight steward named Gaetan Dugas, was the designated scapegoat.  He was accused of starting and spreading the AIDS epidemic.

And then, there’s Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.  In 1871 it was believed that the cow kicked over a kerosene lamp that started a fire that burnt down 17,450 buildings and killed 300 people.  This was known as The Great Chicago Fire.  In truth, there was a lot of prejudice against the newly arrived Irish in Chicago at that time, so it was convenient to scapegoat Mrs. O’Leary, a recent refugee, and her cow was dragged into it as well.

As a rule, something that is believed is assumed to be true.  It was hard to convince anyone that that the world was round and not flat.  Pythagoras first suggested that the world was spherical.  This was in the 6th century, B.C.  This information was held as suspect until the explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, proved the veracity of the theory in the 16th century.  Even then there were doubters.

In times of social turmoil, when inner chaos peaks, it is common, and to be expected, that a person, group, or religion will be faulted for the disturbance.  When individuals are unable to take responsibility for their own behavior it is simple to project that behavior and place the blame somewhere outside of the self.

The target that is chosen is usually a person or group who will not respond in kind. Those who are likely to incite more violence are usually left alone.  The goal is to avoid a violent chain reaction.  It doesn’t always work that way.

Scapegoating can backfire.  When it does, it deepens the scars caused by pain.  In the Rebellion of Nat Turner, the slave who inspired a slave uprising in August 1831, white men were killed in retaliation for unacceptable treatment.  The terror spread, and, ultimately, more slaves were hung and attempts to incorporate freed men into the society were abandoned.

While it would be more profitable, expedient, and civilized to examine one’s fears, that is not the usual course that is taken.  It is easier to blame the “witch” who caused “fits” or the airline steward who was accused of creating AIDS, for the terror that fills the human heart with dread.  It takes effort to be accountable. A majority of individuals would rather not expose their perceived deficiencies to themselves or others.  The irony is that as long as the problem is out there, placed anywhere but within the individual, so is the locus of control.  The self-distancing from hardship prevents the distancer from the feeling of wellbeing that results from the knowledge of agency.

Scapegoating within families is particularly destructive. Children who are sensitive and empathic are likely to be chosen as the “mark”.  They will accept the emotional guilt placed upon them and relieve the rest of the family from responsibility.  When the scapegoat leaves the family or rejects the title, families are thrown into disarray.  The group will not like to discard the identities that scapegoating allowed.

A new sitting duck, be it person or institution, will fill the void and life within the family can resume as usual.

Those who participate in any form of scapegoating will think of themselves as being honorable.  This leaves the role of toxic entity to the victim.  As a short-term solution this will feel like a balm.  In the long-term this sense of righteousness can last for only so long.

As long as individuals who reside or behave outside the norms of the group are available they will be vulnerable.  The persecutors will avoid selecting an individual from inside their faction.  If they are close knit, it is likely that supposed secrets are, in fact, common knowledge.  Being protective of their own frailties, the “stranger” is a perfect choice.

Nothing of value emerges from scapegoating.  The practice, however, has been around since biblical times.  It is unlikely that scapegoating will be discarded any time in the foreseeable future.

"Girard, Rene. “Scapegoating: A Chilling Truth About Human Behavior.” PAUL J. LETENDRE, LMHC, 8 June 2018,
"Douglas, Alexander. “The Dirty Politics of Scapegoating.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Nov. 2016, the
"Matthews, Andrea. “The Scapegoat Identity.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Jan. 2011,
"Sol, Mateo. “8 Types of Internal Conflict and How to Find Peace of Mind.” LonerWolf,
"Boyle, Sherianna. “What Is Inner Conflict & How to Handle It.” Everyday Power Blog,

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

I bring with me +30 years of experience as a clinician. My Masters degrees are from: Assumption College, Worcester, MA, Master of Arts in Psychology & Counseling/ and Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA, an MSW in Clinical Social Work. This is the 11th year I have written a monthly newsletter that is sent to approximately 500 individuals. The archive can be found on my website,

Office Location:
The OC Building, 11983 Tamiami Trail, N., Naples, FL 34110
Naples, Florida
United States
Phone: 239 293-4314
Contact Ruth Gordon

Professional Website:
Comments are closed