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When Pain Turns on Itself: The Scapegoat Complex

by Linda Friend, MA, MFT, Healdsburg Holistic Health News 2000

To me life is about learning to live from the heart. In my experience opening to grief again and again is how heart is developed and strengthened. Love, creativity, and fulfillment become more accessible. Grief and suffering, both personal and collective, are always the door. It seems that to be alive is inevitably to be in pain. The more passionately one relates to life the sharper and more intense the pain. The more access we have to our pain the more access we have to our joy. Where we have experienced terrible wrenching pain our heart becomes wounded and we naturally, often out of necessity, learn to armor our heart against these unbearable experiences.

Being a psychotherapist people come to me because they are in terrible pain. My job is so much about helping people to contain and endure their painful experiences when the person can no longer contain and endure them by themselves. In my experience pain is what calls us all to wake up and become more conscious and to begin to heal. In other words our pain is our teacher and the gateway to the soul.

Some of the worst pain I have had to deal with within my own personal healing journey and with my clients is around what Jungian analyst Syliva Perara has called "The Scapegoat Complex." Many women in this culture have an active scapegoat complex as well as minorities and anyone who has experienced extreme abuse or trauma as a child.

In the Scapegoat Complex the person has learned to cope with the unbearable pain by becoming the silent carriers of the split off shadow qualities of the rational, linear-minded western culture. In the family structure the scapegoated person has had parents who dumped everything "negative" which they were unable to tolerate in themselves onto the child. The child becomes the psychological scapegoat or the carriers of everything "evil." The "evil" being anything the parents could not tolerate or understand or was different from their own value system. In western culture this has a lot to do with feminine values such as creativity, intuition, emotional depth and all things non-linear which are not integrated collectively nor held in esteem by the dominant culture.

The scapegoated individual is expected to carry all of the disowned pain of those close to them. They sacrifice themselves in becoming identified with a pain that is perceived as punishment. They are essentially robbed of the experience of their own pain and often are overcome with the pain of the people close to them and the collective pain of the society as well. The ability to contain and endure and grieve one's own pain is thus short circuited. The person feels cast into exile and cut off from the human experience of a shared sense of suffering with other human beings.

The capacity to endure pain is only possible when one has been held intimately and with respect; when the child has experienced attentive positive regard and protective containing arms. To the scapegoated individual this experience has usually been absent or only fleetingly available until they come into therapy. The person has built a wall to ward off the pains of toxic shadow energies. At the same time all the hurts are felt with exquisite sensitivity because they touch old wounds for which there has been no holding containment. The person is unable to tolerate the feelings. They automatically assume they cannot cope and they often have the mistaken belief that being normal would mean not feeling anything painful.

Often the scapegoated individual has a sense of being both the "chosen one" and "the victim." To compensate for feeling the victim the person feels a sense of omnipotence at being the one with "special strengths" that can carry the guilt of others.

Through being held with postive regard by someone that can tolerate well enough their own pain and shadow as well as that of another, the scapegoated person learns to endure their own discomfort and to evaluate the emotional intensitity with some objectivity. In the healing container of therapy the twisted nuances of the Scapegoat Complex can be analyzed and felt and grieved. The heart can then lovingly open to one's self and is gradually strengthened so that nurturance and comfort are accessible during terrible pain. Then pain is no longer experienced as punishment but instead becomes bearable and an enriching part of a soulful life.
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