scapegoatI had a conversation with two women today about their relationship with their husbands and children. They often find themselves feeling scapegoated for things that go wrong in the household.

While I was talking with them, I recalled many other women who have described similar experiences. I started to wonder how this happens, and what can be done about it.

Both women, for different reasons, had developed a tendency to look for problems in their relationships (always scanning the environment to find the evidence that someone was not happy), as well as a tendency to blame themselves internally for those problems. At the same time they resisted the suggestion that they might be responsible when it came from others.

We were intrigued by was the way that the internal scapegoating (blaming themselves) contributed to and, perhaps, made possible the family’s scapegoating of them.  In other words, the fact that they told themselves that perhaps they were flawed and inadequate as people, wives, mothers, facilitated or made possible a process whereby their husbands and children tended to project onto them blame for things that they really didn’t have anything to do with.

One of the women assumed  that what I meant was that she was responsible for the scapegoating. She got irritated with me.

I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t saying  that she was  responsible for what was happening, but I thought that there might be things that she could do to change the cycle. The first thing was to reject the internal scapegoating.  To have a realistic appraisal of what she contributed to the problems in the family that was not black or white (feeling totally responsible, or denying any responsibility).

To have that realistic appraisal (I might be contributing to the problem in this way, but my daughter is doing X and my husband is doing Y), (and to be comfortable with considering what she might be doing), she needed first to silence the harsh internal critic that thought she was probably entirely at fault. Because what motivate the denial was the need to fight back not so much against her family’s blame but against her self-blame.

If she could do this I thought she might be able to interrupt the cycle and model more mature behavior for her children (and perhaps her husband) – very rarely is anything entirely one person’s fault.