Linda Friend, MA, MFT
P.O. Box 1228
Healdsburg, CA 95448
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
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;
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.