Portrait of The Scapegoater - The Scapegoating Pandemic Series
From The Caring Heart with Dr. Joyce from Spokane Washington

“A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”  (James 1:8)

According to the writings of many knowledgeable people, a typical scapegoater is a very hurting person.  During his developmental years, his (or her) mind, heart, and personality were exposed to repeated, crushing, negative assaults, which hurt, shamed, and changed him.  He became very angry inside, and very, very afraid.  His self-esteem was “to the floor.” As modern fMRIs and other brain scanning instruments have shown, a fetus’ brain development can even be affected negatively, in the womb, by some event as seemingly removed from itself as mom and dad fighting in the room.   

For normal infant brain and personality development to proceed unhampered, a secure attachment to a stable caretaker is mandatory. Especially during the first three years of brain formation, caregiving which is coldly abrupt, inept, and which does not meet the legitimate physical and relational needs of the infant in a timely manner can alter the brain circuits, which are trying to develop, and start them forming neural pathways for later attitudinal and behavioral problems.  The infant becomes very afraid, and to protect its survival, the infant starts shutting down its feelings from its awareness. Too much pain!  He or she is very much at risk for the abnormal brain development which will not make it possible for the child, or later the adult he becomes, to become warmly attached to anyone. Also, impulse control is inadequately developed at brain level functioning, allowing for abrupt, unchecked release of harmful, angry behaviors.  Very early in life, a possibly extremely dangerous individual has been born and is growing, being shaped by countless negative, harmful experiences.

 Let’s call our typical scapegoater “Joe.”  Because Joe was so scared deep inside, and because he had been shamed into believing himself extremely inadequate and unlovable, he could not develop a coherent, natural personality with which to relate to the world.  So, to hopefully please people and “fit in,” Joe developed a number of “mini-personalities,” he could use to relate in different situations.  Unfortunately, none of these mini-personalities matched up with the real personality Joe would have developed if he had been raised in a healthy environment.  They were not his real self, so not only was he deceiving others, Joe, himself, was deceived and in denial about who he was.  People with definite multiple personalities, which have different names and which “take turns” appearing, have been found to have suffered very extreme abuse.

Patricia Evans, in The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How To Recognize It And How To Respond, maintains that the scapegoating abuser actually lives in a different reality than a normal, healthy reality.  Because the scapegoater, Joe, has been so terribly squelched, with low self-esteem, he (or she) knows no Personal Power within himself.  Joe lives through his days in a “Power Over” consciousness.  He cannot feel the security and self-acceptance of personal power/adequacy, so he dominates, manipulates, and controls others to avoid, or at least lessen, his feelings of powerlessness.  He automatically rejects overtures of openness and warmth from others, which make him feel very vulnerable, desperately so.  He doesn’t think about the pain he is causing someone else.  Joe’s denial is very real.  In the Power Over reality, competition and “one-up-man-ship” are paramount.  Any successful achievement of a significant other is seen as a threat.  Moreover, because competition and trying to always win are the only reality he knows anything about, he believes other people are competitive also, and are out to win over him!  So, he often believes that he needs to attack them to protect himself! For him, life is an interpersonal battleground, where stealth, deception, and strategy are absolutely necessary for his survival.  He does not know or understand his real feelings underneath, so he cannot utilize his real feeling self to relate.  He believes he is justified in his abusive treatment of others, and would thoroughly resist the idea that he needs to change. 

In contrast to the scapegoater’s “Power Over” model of relating, the “Personal Power” model of relating is one of mutuality and cooperation.  Relationships are kind, honest, and mutually supportive as the individuals bring their whole, adequate selves, real feelings and all, to create their lives together.  The individuals have personal power because they know their feelings about things, they know what they want and don’t want, and they are free to choose.  The goals of competition and winning are not present, and equality is lived ongoing.  They are liable to feel the world is a mutually beneficial place around them.  They are in harmony with themselves and one another.  True scapegoaters don’t have insight into relating with mutuality and cooperation, and can’t do it.  Period!  Think about it – authentic, harmonious relating necessitates possessing high-level social skills, including facial expressions, listening, evaluating incoming communications accurately, and then constructing really suitable responses.  Not so easy for “kindergarten” or damaged, inadequate communicators!

J. Keith Miller, in Compelled to Control: Why Relationships Break Down and What Makes Them Well, maintains that shame has been the central destroying factor in a scapegoater’s history.  The many words said to shame him and put him down have hurt and confused him.  And the mean behaviors of others towards him, such as being a punching bag for bigger, stronger brothers or his mean, alcoholic dad, have caused him to have what Miller calls “shaming voices” inside.   These shaming voices cause him extreme pain.  They tell him he is no good.  He has no value.  He is not loved.  Moreover, he is just awful!!  He is also very afraid.  So, to manage all that mental and emotional pain, the scapegoater engages in one or more compulsive, addictive behaviors. 

Similar to Patricia Evan’s analysis above, Keith Miller believes the scapegoater/abuser to be living in a different reality.  Because he believes the shaming voices that are telling him he is a terrible person, he is scared to death he will be found out by others as being inadequate and out of control.  To cover up his low, shaky self-esteem, he sometimes adopts a super-confident exterior.  He is extremely self-centered, narcissistic, always managing the world around him to his advantage.  He is the master controller of the people in his life, and his controlling tactics do include substantial abuse.  Also, Miller maintains that the scapegoater’s personal pain management techniques include addictions to substances and activities which remove, or at least mute, the pain within for a while.  Whether alcohol, drugs, food, compulsive buying, gambling, or whatever come to dominate his life, the cause is basically the same - amelioration of internal pain.  All of these addictive behaviors activate the neurotransmitter dopamine, which brings pleasurable sensations.  He doesn’t really know how the pain he is inflicting feels to his victims, because he lacks the capacity to feel real empathy and compassion.  What he does feel, though, is much better after an episode of scapegoating, which makes him want to do it again and again, so his scapegoating can take up a cyclic rhythm.  After a tension-releasing episode, tension begins building up again, so at a certain point, Joe feels the urge to scapegoat again, on and on.   His compulsion is to put someone else down in order to jack himself up!

So, what is really running typical scapegoater Joe?  His dysfunctional, damaged brain is in charge. “…if we are not seen, if our caregivers do not attune to us, and we are met with the experience of feeling invisible or misunderstood, our nervous system responds with a sudden activation of the brake portion of its regulatory circuits.  Slamming on the brakes creates a distinctive physiological response: heaviness in the chest, nausea in the belly, and downcast or turned-away eyes.  We literally shrink into ourselves from a pain that is often beneath our awareness. This nauseating and jolting shift occurs whenever we are ignored or given confusing signals by others and it is experienced as a state of SHAME. 

Shame states are common in children whose parents are repeatedly unavailable or who habitually fail to attune to them.  When shame from non-attuned communication is combined with parental hostility, toxic humiliation ensues.  These isolated states of being – shame intensified by humiliation - burn themselves into our synaptic connections.  Now the slammed-on brakes of the freeze response are painfully combined with the floored accelerator of rage.” (Siegal, p. 195). 

Angry, abusing scapegoaters can be found in every socioeconomic group, in every racial group, in every educational level, and in every age group.  Because of the way their physical brain has been formed in critical areas, such folks have really very limited behavioral will power where their areas of damaged brain development are involved. They did not choose their parents or their environment.  They did not choose to have the neglect and/or abuse.  They certainly had no control over inadequate, problematic brain development.  Joe and millions of others like him are not merely being “naughty,” or mean, or abusive for the fun of it.  They are genuinely mal-developed individuals who need years of very skilled counseling and life changes to get over their abnormal, abusive scapegoating, if they can get over it at all.  First of all, they have to want to.  But, even though we should feel great compassion for such injured people, we still need to always remember that they are dangerous, even extremely dangerous. 


Evans, Patricia The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How To Recognize It and How Respond Adams Media Corporation (Holbrook, Mass. 1992)

Miller, J. Keith, Compelled to Control: Why Relationships Break Down and What Makes Them Well  Health Communications Inc. (Deerfield Beach, Florida 1992)

Siegel, Daniel J.  Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation  Bantam Books Trade Paperbacks (New York, 2011)

Copyright 2015 The Caring Heart

Go on to: Portrait Of The Victim
Return to: The Scapegoating Pandemic