Scapegoating is the practice of singling out a person or group for unmerited blame and consequent negative treatment. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals (e.g. "he did it, not me!"), individuals against groups (e.g., "I couldn't see anything because of all the tall people"), groups against individuals (e.g., "Jane was the reason our team didn't win"), and groups against groups.

A scapegoat may be an adult, child, sibling, employee, peer, ethnic, political or religious group, or country. A whipping boy, identified patient or "fall guy" are forms of scapegoat.

At the individual level

A medical definition of scapegoating is:[1]

"Process in which the mechanisms of projection or displacement are utilized in focusing feelings of aggression, hostility, frustration, etc., upon another individual or group; the amount of blame being unwarranted." Scapegoating is a hostile tactic often employed to characterize an entire group of individuals according to the unethical or immoral conduct of a small number of individuals belonging to that group. Scapegoating relates to guilt by association and stereotyping.

Scapegoated groups throughout history have included almost every imaginable group of people: genders, religions, people of different races, nations, or sexual orientations, people with different political beliefs, or people differing in behaviour from the majority. However, scapegoating may also be applied to organizations, such as governments, corporations, or various political groups.

Its archetype

Jungian analysist Sylvia Brinton Perera situates its mythology of shadow and guilt.[2] Individuals experience it at the archetypal level. As an ancient social process to rid a community of its past evil deeds and reconnect it to the sacred realm, the scapegoat appeared in a biblical rite,[3] which involved two goats and the pre-Judaic, chthonic god Azazel.[4] In the modern scapegoat complex, however, "the energy field has been radically broken apart" and the libido "split off from consciousness". Azazel's role is deformed into an accuser of the scapegoated victim.[5]

Blame for breaking a perfectionist moral code, for instance, might be measured out by aggressive scapegoaters. Themselves often wounded, the scapegoaters can be sadistic, superego accusers with brittle personas, who have driven their own shadows underground from where such are projected onto the victim. The scapegoated victim may then live in a hell of felt unworthiness, retreating from consciousness, burdened by shadow and transpersonal guilt,[6] and hiding from the pain of self-understanding. Therapy includes modeling self-protective skills for the victim's battered ego, and guidance in the search for inner integrity, to find the victim's own voice.[7]


Unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another who becomes a scapegoat for one's own problems. This concept can be extended to projection by groups. In this case the chosen individual, or group, becomes the scapegoat for the group's problems. "Political agitation in all countries is full of such projections, just as much as the backyard gossip of little groups and individuals."[8] Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung considered indeed that "there must be some people who behave in the wrong way; they act as scapegoats and objects of interest for the normal ones".[9]