Strategies, Schemes, and Wiles - The Scapegoating Pandemic Series
From The Caring Heart with Dr. Joyce from Spokane Washington

“And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev. 12:9).

“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (I Cor. 15:33)

Scapegoaters use a multitude of strategies, schemes, and wiles to accomplish their interpersonal goals.  In my opinion, three words describe their underlying motivations.  Those words are DECEPTION, CONTROL, AND DAMAGE (or DESTRUCTION if the severity is great enough).  Some scapegoating actions are very overt – easy to see and recognize.

For instance, a young bully intentionally shoving a skinny classmate, causing him to hit the ground hard, is not difficult to spot as being scapegoating.  Other scapegoating can be extremely subtle and insidious, though, being carried on for years without recognition of its being harmful abuse.  It is actually very common for victims to have their self-esteem and other parts of their selves and lives subtly eroded by a perpetrator for years, all the time believing that they, themselves, are at fault and inadequate. It is extremely important for everyone to be well-informed and knowledgeable about as many of the devious strategies, schemes, and wiles of scapegoaters as possible, to protect themselves and those important to them. We need to be as observant and as much of a smart sleuth as Sherlock Holmes! 

We need to look for meanings and patterns as to what is really going on. Scapegoating is deceptive, in that the perpetrator hides his or her true motives.  Indeed, underlying motives may be unconscious in the perpetrator, or very hazy in his or her awareness.  The over-arching motive is the desire for control – to have power over the victim.  In verbal abuse, deception is also present what is disparagingly said about the victim is not true, or is harmfully slanted.  When others hear the victim being craftily put down, they may unfortunately believe the lie.  Sly, manipulative verbal abuse attacks the character and the abilities of the victim.  It can be very unpredictable, and can shock and stun the victim, throwing him or her totally off balance.  It disregards, disrespects, and disvalues the other person.

Verbal abuse can escalate to physical abuse, and can increase in intensity and frequency. Animals can be yelled at, frightened, hit, kicked, etc., and thrown out of the house in the cold and wet. Little kids can be, and are, treated that way too, with welts all over their bodies and scared to death. Women are slugged, raped and strangled.

Following is a list of some common scapegoater interpersonal strategies, with brief descriptions. It is a sample and not exhaustive.  Maybe you could add other wiles to this list, from your own experience!  Do you recognize patterns?

Withholding.  A withholder keeps all his thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams to himself, keeping a cool indifference and refusing to share.  It is impossible to have an intimate relationship with such a withholder.  Very destructive to a partner. Also, a withholder can be very aware that the victim wants a needed, satisfying response to something, but refuses to give it.  Actually, anything can be withheld, much to the utter frustration of the victim.  

Countering. A counterer always thinks the opposite of his partner, immediately expresses a different viewpoint, and wants to argue.  The partner does not know what the counterer really thinks about anything, so she cannot really know him. Again, very destructive to anyone stuck with him or her.

Discounting. The discounter treats the thoughts and feelings of the victim as though they are nothing – wrong, invalid, false.  Will not validate the victim.”   He or she “runs rough shod” over needs and feelings.  For example, a little boy tells his dad he is very tired.  Dad responds by ordering him sharply, “Well, hurry up, let’s get going, I don’t have all day.”

Blocking. A blocker gets in the way of the partner’s being able to accomplish some goal. If the blocker is asked to hurry up, he will stop, turn around, and start arguing.  Or, the blocker will not do his needed share in a project, procrastinating on and on. (I like to call this one “The Bind.”  It makes the victim feel desperation and ties the stomach in knots.) The blocker is immovable, won’t get out of the way.

Hostile Joking.  This is joking which is not merely done to be funny, but to mercilessly and sarcastically cut someone else down, very disparagingly. Hurting words are aimed where they really cut deep.  The victim is often further abused by being accused of “not being able to take it.” 

Diverting.  In conversation, repeatedly responding to the last thing said, by relating to some part of the communication in a tangential manner, diverting the conversation, actually, from one topic to another topic, losing understandableness and creating tremendous confusion.  Such nonsensical talk can go on for hours, with the diverter refusing to “make sense,” and the victim trying so hard to reason with the diverter, meanwhile becoming more and more distraught.  Very traumatizing.   

Accusing and Blaming. When things don’t go the way the accuser wants, or when the accuser is in a bad mood, he or she blames the partner, who is entirely innocent of whatever it is.  In a dysfunctional family, a scapegoated wife or child is a favorite candidate for such abuse.  Or, the family dog could get a lot of nasty, ugly, snarling and yelling, making poor Fido want to go hide.

Threatening.  If the victim does not “give in,” and shut up, or stop doing something, or whatever, the perpetrator threatens some harmful, unwanted action.  For example, “If you don’t quit whining, I’m going to leave, or divorce you, or not cooperate, or not give you much money for groceries, or whatever else I can dream up to say that I know will make you squirm and cow-tow to me.”

Name Calling. Calling people ugly, demeaning names is as old as history itself.  It is a hostile act, meant to hurt and squash the receiver.  The name caller often feels a great deal of satisfaction.  “Well, I sure told him!”  The old saying “Sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you” is not really true.  Names do hurt deeply, and can cause lasting harm, breaking people’s spirits.

Lying and Denial.  This type of destructive scheme is when the scapegoater either insists he DID NOT say something that the victim remembers him saying, or when he DID say something that he really didn’t say.  For instance, “I told you to do that!” when he hadn’t.  Makes a “big deal” out of it and uses the incident (which he created) to show the victim how awful, neglectful, and ignorant he or she is.

Childizing.  In this type of scapegoating, the scapegoater takes the role of the expert, and treats the adult victim as if he or she is a child, needing repeated instruction on even common, ordinary tasks to get through her or his days.  “I’m just trying to help.”  Or, when there is a job to be done, the scapegoater does all the work needing any brains and skill, and the victim watches and acts as the “go-fer.” Very demeaning and damaging to self-esteem, especially in developing persons, such as teenagers, and when repeated time after time, with “baby” tones of voice.   

Unclear Language.  What can happen in this scheme is that the perpetrator uses unclear language when telling the victim to do something, and then gets really mad when the victim “screws up.”  For instance, using pronouns instead of nouns.  “Put that over there!”  Gesturing is not used to aid understanding, either. Nobody could know what “that” is, or where “over there” is.  Just another excuse to get mad and angrily put the victim down.

Judgmental Criticism.  The scapegoater makes a judgment about the victim and then criticizes him or her about it.  I remember a relative telling me, “out of the blue” that I let food spoil in my refrigerator.  Not true, I’m meticulous about food in my frig! Obviously, he was trying to put me down, and/or start an argument, or something.  Sometimes such judgments are made in a seemingly kind, helpful way.  But, they always say something negative about the victim, and they always elevate the perpetrator above him or her.  A sharp edge to the voice can be there, with cold expressiveness.   

Trivializing.  The message here is that what the victim has done or said is very insignificant, in fact, her accomplishments are so insignificant they do not need to be mentioned at all!  I know someone who went through three college degrees, receiving the President’s Cup for highest academic achievement when receiving her bachelor’s degree.  Her husband never, in all her years of study or at any graduation, said anything about any of it.  Not one comment! Someone else’s successes are apparently too hard for a trivializers fragile ego. 

Giving Orders.  Repeatedly telling someone else to “do this” and “do that.”  This practice denies the autonomy of another, and treats the other as an unpaid servant.

Double Standards.  One set of standards and expectations are supposedly for everyone, but the scapegoater is free to violate those standards himself, and nobody else better mention it!    

Besides low self esteem and a raft of other personality and social problems, victims can develop post-traumatic stress disorder from repeatedly being traumatized by the scapegoating they have received, or from even one incident.  Very dangerous!  Another complication for victims is that scapegoaters can be very talented in engaging in their scapegoating when nobody else is around to witness it.  People can think of the harmful individual as a “really nice guy.”  Nobody believes the victim should she try to reach out to someone for help.  Certainly, animals cannot vocalize to caring others, if around, except through crouching, running away, barking, whining, and such.  So, when there is no way for the scapegoated person’s (or animal’s) experience to be validated, personalities can really be destroyed. “Crazymaking” is a term that has been used to describe such bizarre scapegoating communications.  Because our physical systems are so very linked to our mental and emotional systems, scapegoating stress, if extreme and continuing, can cause serious physical problems and illnesses, and contribute to a shortened lifespan. 

To me, one caution is in order here.  We should be careful NOT to go scapegoater strategies “witch hunting.”  None of us are perfect in our relating and expressiveness.  Also, we are not always one hundred percent accurate in our assessment of what an incident means.  We should be very cautious not to label another person as a scapegoater from an isolated incident, even in our own minds, when that person is innocent of any mal-intent.  Humans have always had an innate tendency to blame someone or something else for their problems. 


Evans, Patricia.  The Verbally Abusive Relationship:To Recognize It And How To Respond. Adams Media Corporation (Holbook, Mass. 1996). 

Note: For persons interesting in learning much more about abusive relationships, I heartily encourage you to read Patricia Evans books. She’s published at least four.

COPYRIGHT Dr. Joyce – The Caring Heart 2015

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