We've discussed the Scapegoat in one of its dual identities, the Scapegoat Priest. For the Scapegoat Priest (remember these are just names to help us differentiate--change the name if you'd like), there is this intense need to live a "good" life, usually by sacrificing the self for others. Now, it's time to talk about the Scapegoat Black Sheep, whose need is to prove existence by eating shame.
We all know what the black sheep of the family looks like. He's the "bad" guy who gets in trouble all the time at school, and later with the law and society in general and still later with the other inmates in jail. She's the wild child who sleeps around, drinks and uses drugs and, like her male counterpart, gets in trouble a lot. These are the kids who tend to embarrass the family of stature by making all of the family secrets apparent to the world. Obviously the family can't be that great if little Johnny grown into Big "Bad" John, is doing dope and dropping out of school and ending up in jail, right? No matter what the family does to undo that image, there's always John to contend with. And how did he grow up so "bad" if he came from such an upstanding family?
Well, it works at first just like the Scapegoat Priest, but there's a special twist here. Scapegoats are generally raised by parents who have a particular issue with morality. Either they are rigidly moralistic and can't abide the slightest infringement, or they are unable to own their own mistakes and wrong-doings. They tend to project these issues onto their children, so that the children are seen as wrong, "bad," immoral or even evil. The child then bargains for the parents' love or approval in some way that seems to work. For the Scapegoat Priest, what seems to work is that the child will take on the "bad," swallow it down into the unconscious, and then work really hard to be "good," by taking on emotional responsibility for the parents, picking up and literally carrying their emotions for them.
For the Scapegoat Black Sheep on the other hand, the bargain that seems to work is to fight for visibility by carrying the "badness" or shame of the parent(s) out into the open. Generally speaking, these children feel as if they are not otherwise visible to the parents. They act out their need to be visible in the way that is likely to get the most attention from the parents. It is as if these children feel that they don't exist if they cannot be visible to their parents. Each time this child does something "bad," the parents notice him and negatively reinforce his behavior through shameful punishment or words, so that the child recognizes himself in this parental mirror. It's as if he is saying: "Oh, I exist now, see how "bad" I am?" Over time and years of adding reinforced behaviors to the list of "bad" deeds, these children accumulate enough external affirmation to form an identity. Now they exist only because they are "bad." They have taken on all the shame that resides in the unconscious of the parents, since their scruples won't allow them to accept such shame into their conscious identity.
In Family Therapy this "bad" child would be considered to be the "identified patient" as family members all point to her as the only problem in the family. If little Mary would just do right, everything would be fine. I've even heard parents say that their marital problems were a result of little Mary's behavior. Actually, just the reverse is true. Little Mary is quite often acting out of the tension she feels in the home. But since this is the only time she feels noticed at all, and since she is negatively reinforced for her behaviors, she continues to up the ante.
Another way that parents unwittingly react to these challenges is to talk to the child about his behavior in a way that makes the child feel as if it is hopeless to even consider changing. Perhaps the parent is sincerely worried about what's going on, without recognizing the unconscious projections that are occurring in their everyday interactions. So they sit down to have a "talk" with little Johnny. They might even show him affection during this talk and look him right in the eyes with a sincere worry about what might happen to Johnny if he doesn't stop. The child, again taking on the emotional content of the conversation as if it belongs solely to him--as the empathic Scapegoat child generally does--assumes that not only is he even more "bad" for worrying his parents this way, but he must be really hopeless if even his parents are worried.
So the Mary's and the Johnny's take on more and more of the reflection they see in the mirrot that is actually their parents' projection. And as they grow up the ante gets higher and higher. They have to do more and more "wrong" to prove that they exist. In fact, the only internal register of their existence is in the intense feeling of shame that they carry around. If one were to be able to remove that shame, the Black Sheep might become invisible to even himself.
It is for that reason that the Black Sheep is often sort of proud of his "bad guy" identity. He'll brag and laugh about his exploits to those who will listen. He'll warn "nice" potential girlfriends, telling them that they deserve better and should move on. But the truth is he feels that without this identity, he wouldn't exist at all. So, we can't just tell the Black Sheep to "be good."
We can't say that she should just stop drinking, drugging, gambling, carousing and getting in trouble with the law. She'll just laugh sardonically. She not only believes that you are just too high-minded, but she also believes that it is impossible for her to change. She's just bad-to-the-bone.
So the first step, about which much more will be said in the next blog, is for the Black Sheep to come to see that this identity is just that, an identity, a mask and costume, put on early in life to cope with the family dynamic. Just that recognition that this compulsive behavior is a mask and costume and not the real deal is very healing for most people who carry a Black Sheep identity. And if they can see that, really see it, then the work of becoming authentic can begin.
But we should be very clear here. We are not talking about making a "bad" person into a "good" person. Just getting into those two dichotomous red zones with the Black Sheep is a losing battle. Authenticity is neither "bad" nor "good." It's just real. And what is real for the Black Sheep is a deep longing to be real. For that reason, working with a person who has a Black Sheep identity can be very profound work.
Stay tuned for on that profound work next week.