The Creativity Cure

A do-it-yourself prescription for happiness

False Accusations, Scapegoats, and the Power of Words

Recovery is possible.

Being publically accused of a crime one did not commit could lead a person to jump off a bridge. Once the information is out there, defending yourself, clearing your name, fighting suspicion and tolerating disdain is a horrible predicament.

People with little information can form strong opinions and take unwarranted retaliatory action from expulsion from the clan to spreading the false word. In Jane Eyre, the cruel headmaster tells the girls to let no one be her friend, take her hand or comfort her. You get the sense that this is the worst for Jane, worse than the head blow and the lack of bread.

If the accusations are not true, the person is in a situation that is similar to being bullied. Even if one is rich, successful, famous or “has it all,” the psychological devastation can be ruinous. If you are not believed, if you cannot fight back with the true story, if now you are distrusted and under scrutiny, the sense of helplessness is overwhelming. People with inner vulnerabilities are easy targets. Others sense the fragility and find it thrilling to gang up or attack. Having a scapegoat can help a group form a strong bond and find meaning in what could be otherwise empty lives.

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Kids who are scapegoated with words that cause unbearable humiliation sometimes commit suicide. Freud said the pain of the ego is the worse kind of pain. A supervisor in analytic school told me that kids who are tortured with words are often more traumatized than those who have been physically abused.

It is widely known that people with certain kinds of pathology are brilliant at looking like victims when they are actually perpetrators. They can ruin the life of an innocent person. You can see this on Law and Order, learn it in Psych 101 or know it instinctively.

When you hear a story, consider the narrator. Who is this person? Why is she telling this story when she is? What feelings does she convey when she tells it? If there was true victimization, then the wish to retaliate is utterly understandable. You as the listener may feel like crying too. But what if the true story is not as it seems? You might have a strange lack of empathy. Sometimes people dramatize. Some lie or they feel so injured for rational or irrational reasons that they come to believe their own distortions. There are those who are at peace when they lie and those who toss, turn and torture themselves about doing so. In short, some people lie and some do not.

You might wonder as you listen, is this person truly seeking wellness, self-protection or justice or is the goal to destroy someone else? If a person is lying to hurt someone else it is a very aggressive act and the accuser needs help. Such choices do not foster a healthy existence with generous, loving relationships.

You might hear a tale of woe, and just have the feeling that the teller is not all that woeful. Maybe there is a need to blame or malign for secondary gain: attention, fame, money, importance or drama. Maybe the person is not in touch with reality and is retaliating against an imagined transgression. Some seemingly intact people can have paranoid fears at the core. In order to “defend” themselves they act against others. Maybe the goal is to take someone else down for competitive, regressed, or even unconscious reasons. They just want what the other one has.

Making a false accusation in a public way is an aggressive act. In the movie The Bad Seed, a sociopathic child has an angelic demeanor and manages to destroy many lives. Sweet faces, soft voices and tears can hide sadistic impulses. If you know someone like this, the best thing you can do is steer clear and build up your own life in a positive, separate way. Time takes away the sting, people eventually figure out the truth and recovery is possible. You may be stronger, better, savvier after you get out from under this mess you did not create.

I once attended an event where the speaker said some people are brought into this life to build, others to tear down. 

Carrie Barron, M.D., is a psychiatrist and co-author of The Creativity Cure: A Do-It Yourself Prescription for Happiness, which she wrote with her husband, Alton Barron.

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