Empath as Scapegoat in Group Dynamics

As healthy Empaths, we can grow increasingly aware of when we take on the unwanted emotions of another, but we may not realize when we take on emotions for an entire group. This can be extremely draining and horribly confusing, since the group will need to keep its processor and scapegoat in place so it doesn’t have to deal with the feelings the unwitting Empath has taken on.

I had a client who was an uncontrolled empath. She didn’t realize when she was being pulled into relationships in order to process another’s energy for them. She had married into a family that had an extremely emotionally dissociated member who acted as a Hero for the family. Because this person was so dissociated, his family members couldn’t talk to him about problems in a way that could be heard, and they were also invested in reinforcing this person’s role as Hero. So, the family members talked behind this person’s back to relieve their tension.

My client understood that this person had become dissociated because of childhood experiences, and had sympathy and compassion for him. She found it unbelievably unfair and inauthentic when the rest of the family complained behind the dissociated person’s back, but to his face, everything was presented as being well and happy. She could tell that this person was under considerable stress, and was acting out that stress by unconsciously rebelling against the role set out for him by engaging in crazy-making behavior.

This family was uncomfortable with the negative feelings they had toward the emotionally dissociated person, especially since their identity as a family depended on a sense of harmony and success. If the family members dealt with their negative emotions they were going to uncover the unconscious sense of doom and failure for having such an unhealthy family member. To compensate, they tried to push their unwanted emotions outward by venting and gossiping behind this person’s back. The Empath, being empathic, started absorbing these thoughts and emotions.

Suddenly she went from being very understanding and sympathetic toward the emotionally dissociated person, to very judgmental and frustrated. She started speaking out about this person in ways that the other family members had before, but this was totally out of character for her. She was now the spokesperson for all the unwanted angry feelings of the group, so her actions and words and more significantly, feelings, were intensified by the number of people for whom she was processing.

What was interesting was that the angry family members didn’t feel so angry toward the emotionally disconnected family member; they had successfully shifted their unwanted emotions to the Empath. Instead, they could look at the Empath and see how over the top her anger was, and focus their disdain there instead of look at how they themselves were uncomfortable. The Empath became the perfect distraction from the underlying cause of the tension within the family. Interestingly, the emotionally dissociated family member, when confronted by the angry Empath, compensated by behaving in ways that would please his family; he began producing new members, making sure to select a mate that everyone would like, unconsciously living up to the unspoken goal of gathering more members into the fold.

With their reformed member, the Empath was now the scapegoat. If only the Empath didn’t feel the way she did, then they’d have a happy family. If only the Empath would forgive and forget about things, then they’d have a happy family again. If only the Empath would accept the emotionally dissociated member as he was, they could all be together again.

Of course, the Empath didn’t like being the scapegoat. She began to defend herself by pointing out the original cause of the tension: the actions of the emotionally dissociated person. Actually, the group at this point had a big investment in not listening to the Empath. Now that their tension was gone, they wanted to keep it that way. If the empath was not to blame, then they’d have to take their feelings back and perhaps bring those feelings to painful consciousness.

So, the task for the Empath, once she becomes a scapegoat, is to stop colluding with the group. This Empath stepped out of the role, realizing that she had no control over how the rest of the family members saw her. But, the group members did all they could to keep her in that role. They literally invited angry behavior from the Empath by treating her badly and laying blame directly at her feet. All of this was done unconsciously so they could later tell themselves that the Empath was the problem. My client also had to become conscious about the ways that she unconsciously invited a snubbing or a rejection from the group, which kept her feeling angry and betrayed. For the Empath, she asked herself over and over, what role am I playing here? Does this add to the chaos or clear up the energy? Am I really angry or is this the old game?

She had to painstakingly sort through her own feelings of anger and betrayal at each of the family members. As she did so, she was able to shift her perception enough to see the original understanding and compassion she had for the emotionally dissociated member. She saw that this person was also trapped into a role by the group, and that his bad past behavior was an acting out against the role he had been cast in. But because this person was so dissociated and so unconscious, he was doomed to repeat hurtful behavior. The Empath stood by her choice to not have a relationship with the dissociated person to ensure that she would not be pulled into any more drama.

As for the other family members, their insistence on making the Empath the problem made it impossible for her to have a healthy relationship with them. However, with one or two members who were willing to look at how they helped create the situation, a new relationship was able to develop between them and the Empath. The irony about the whole affair was that the scapegoat did bring the hidden feelings of fear of losing family cohesiveness to a head: the family’s worst fears were realized. But, instead of using it as an opportunity to heal, the family most likely will continue to keep the Empath as the scapegoat and become even more entrenched in holding the appearance of a happy harmonious extended family from that point until the next family crisis and opportunity for healing arises.

Being a scapegoat is a horribly painful situation to fall into as an Empath. In order to avoid it happening, Empaths must learn to tell the difference between their emotions and other’s emotions. Also, when they notice a group of people becoming worked up over someone else or an issue in a negative fashion, they must be careful not to sympathize so as not to risk being caught in the emotional whirlwind. The best action is to stay detached, and if that is too difficult, to quietly leave the scene.

16 Responses to Empath as Scapegoat in Group Dynamics

  1. Gina Tate MARIE Tate says:

    Thank you for this information! Not much on this out there. I keep getting into this dynamic at work. Have left many jobs due to this very issue. Devouring your other information and learning to set boundaries and put myself first. 🙂

    • Shari says:

      Omygosh! I have been in this exact situation at my workplace for the past 16 years. I finally found the strength to end this destructive pattern in April when I put in my notice. It was bittersweet to say the least. No one seemed to care that I was leaving. Now they will have to deal with their dysfunction on their own.

  2. Wawa says:

    Thank you so much! I am going through this with my own family..I am now in a place where I cut all communication and move on with my life and pray that time will heal..all in God’s hands now..been going through hell but am trying to stand up again and this helps me realize exactly what’s going since it is exactly the same..Tq again and bless you

  3. Pingback: ACoAs being SCAPEGOATED (Part 6b) | HEAL & GROW for ACoAs

  4. Sarah says:

    Wow!!! I am absolutely fascinated. This describes my spouse’s family to a tee. I always say there are several ways of looking at any situation, and this article has helped me to rethink my role and my spouse’s role in the family. Thank you for such insight.

  5. Almina says:

    Thank you so much for writing this article and sharing such useful insights. Not so long ago I was in the exact same position as your client, except that I was not dealing with a family but with a spiritual community. On the surface their leaders seemed so enlightened and wise, nearly saint-like, but beneath the surface all sorts of negative tendencies were running amok. These people would falsely accuse genuine students who failed to live up to their standards and then encourage the entire community to socially isolate such students. In the meanwhile those students had no idea what was going on nor why they were increasingly being shut out by their fellow students. It was a horrendous thing to witness.

  6. Kath says:

    Gina and Marie Tates comment about having to learn to set boundaries. This is my main focus at the moment. For those of us who are the family scapegoat, setting boundaries is very difficult. We must however learn this vital tool to be able to survive the workforce. Not just ‘strong’ boundaries but ‘concrete’ ones. We must try and learn how to feel safe within ourselves as we so often don’t feel safe in any relationships with others.

  7. Vicki Trotter says:

    Oh my goodness, this is almost exactly what I have been experiencing within my own dysfunctional family of origin since time began!!!! I am going to delve into this much more deeply because it has just about killed me. I may have to detach completely from my family but I must take care of myself. I AM NOT GOING TO BE A MARTYR…that serves no one!

    • Elaine says:

      Dear Vicki,

      I’m so sorry you have been the family scapegoat! Yes, being so really can just about kill you. I am so glad you are going to take yourself out of that dynamic from now on. Please check out my first book on the Archetypal Drama Triangle. You can download it for free on Amazon and the other digital booksellers. It will get you started on delving deeper.

      much love,

  8. Z says:

    This is what I have been researching recently. Have been held down, almost drowned by this, in life; despite top scores and ticking all the boxes in a lot of things, I kept being dragged down. I have been looking for tools to cut the scapegoating angle. I am no contact, have done a lot of prayer, inner work and cord cutting, and feel much clearer. I regularly purge my being of other energies in various ways.
    I do know this has been up and down: when I am praying and working out and feeling happy, they cannot really hurt me, but they find a way to pull me down; each visit back has cost me dearly though there is no direct connection. I am now picking up the pieces of a broken life, determined to never see them again. I was top grade narc supply, ‘the loving self sacrificing daughter’ also known as the easily guilted one.

    My concern is how to ensure they can’t get back at me again, other than physical no contact. Also, they use a lot of money hoovering. Would love to know more.

    • Elaine says:

      Hello Z,

      Sounds like your family dynamic is super entangled and painful. I’m really sorry you are going through this. It may be that no physical contact is necessary while you are separating yourself from the dynamic. Have you read my Empath as Archetype series? The last book is about this kind of family dynamic. Please read the books in order, though, or it won’t make much sense.

      Sending hugs!

  9. Leon says:

    Shooo, had not thought about it this way before, re Empaths and group dynamics! I can relate a scenario of a life as an Empath and always being brought down about it, especially by 2 brothers – the other has passed on – ….. Now that I am awaked and aware I wondered about why this dynamic persists…….there is much to take in here…..thank you like minded Empath!

  10. Nanditha J Kini Mukerjee says:

    Can COMPLETELY relate to this situation,having gone through exactly the same situation as an empath in a new family.

  11. Marie says:

    I have been seeking info about , narcissism, scapegoating, etc.
    It’s overwhelming. I have come to realize that I have been abused by my family for my whole life. As an empath, I have always tried to campaign for treating each other with love and understanding. At the same time, I would speak out when I saw unfair behavior or dysfunction. I have a narcissist dad who favored his oldest “golden” child (who also became a narcissist). Now my dad is 90, and after some years of setting boundaries with him, he has softened and become much more loving and caring. However, both sisters, older and younger, continue to scapegoat and shun me, call me crazy, criticize all I do and don’t do, and lie….and do all they can to control my dad. I am sad and depressed. I will walk away from the family once my dad has passed. It’s all very painful to be a tender hearted empath who actually loves people. Thankfully I am married to my best friend (40 yrs) and have friends. Still hard to let go of the idea of having real sisters..It is so unfair and cruel to be treated like the “problem”. Why do they target the one who is actually capable of forgiving, and treating others with love. I left home at 17 and made a life for muyself, but continued to try to be accepted by the “mean sisters” . If I ever brought up issues that I would like to resolve, I was called “too senstive” and finally “crazy”. Why do people choose to hate and be down-right mean? I know it is all rooted in their own brokenness, low self-esteem , and a dysfunctional family system.(mom an alcoholic, Dad an abusive Narcissist, grandfather sexually abused us.) I get it. It’s just so hurtful and difficult being the scapegoat. I want to heal. Right now I’m just sad and broken-hearted…and in my 60’s!

    • Elaine says:

      Hi Marie,

      I’m so sorry you have had such a hard time with your family. Scapegoating is such a common phenomenon in family dynamics (and group dynamics in general) in which the group doesn’t want to own their own shadows. It sounds like you were the easy target for their scapegoating given your sensitive nature. I know it’s hard, but there’s no fixing this problem from your end since they are invested in not seeing themselves clearly. The best thing you can do is move into your own happy life fully, and not give them too much of your attention. Don’t let yourself be victimized anylonger–see them as the wounded people they are, do your own personal work, and go and be happy with your husband and enjoy your other relationships! You deserve that. We all do.

      much love,

  12. Alisa says:

    Thank you all of you for your support! I found out these dynamics in my own life (I’m also in my sixties). This happened in several groups, starting in my family of origin, but even in a therapy group I attended for many years. It goes on like this: group members have certain feelings of negativity, and talk about it in a social acceptable way, but oppressing wat they really feel. The tension builds upp, the negative energy grows, I feel it, it surrounds me and I cannot resist any longer getting drawn into it, although it was not my own negativity in the beginning. Than I am the first one who can not stand it any longer, and, despite of myself (and to my own surprise) I burst out in harsh negative words, expressing all the negativity that was there, clear and loud. Now the air is cleaned, but what happens next, of course, is that everybody throws his or her anger upon me. I am the negative person in the group, they are clean and neat, I’m full of dirt. Other people’s dirt.
    The solution, not to get involved in this kind of situations, I found is, when I’m in a group where such a thing is beginning to happen, I detach myself or leave the conversation or the group. I also learned to create groups myself, where I have the influence to prevent unconscious behavior. (This is the best way!) About my family, my solution is only to meet family members separately, never together and never to attend birthday parties or other family events. And to disconnect from the narcissistic members. It really helped a lot that I emigrated to another country. In this new country I have good contacts, but I make sure not to get involved in already existing groups.

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