A good scapegoat is nearly as welcomed as a solution to the problem.
The concept of scapegoating, a unified dislike or hatred of one member by the majority of the group, is often misunderstood as a phenomenon that is done "to" a member of a group rather than a collusion between a group and a member's defensive patterns (Gans, 1989). The role of the scapegoat is often placed upon a group member by the remainder of the group as a way to disavow negative thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that they may be experiencing. For the scapegoat, unconsciously eliciting this hostility may be in the service of avoiding positive connection and often is a replication of his or her family-of-origin negative relationship patterns. If the scapegoat is allowed to take all of this projected hostility, the group members will run the risk of becoming stuck in the split and not working with their own negative thoughts and feelings. The member who is scapegoated will often simply flee the group.
The technique of bridging in group psychotherapy has been described as "any technique designed to strengthen emotional connections between members, or to develop connections where they did not exist before" (Ormont, 1992). As group therapists, we know that the more we are able to stimulate interactions between members, the more we create potential for therapeutic work in the moment and in the future life of the group. Bridging is often used to move the focus from the leader to the members of the group. It is especially useful when a group is ready to move from its nascent stage of leader dependency into a more mature work group. But bridging is a technique that may be used throughout the developmental phases of the group. The following intervention demonstrates how bridging may be used to avoid a potentially destructive scapegoating situation during the later phases of group development.
I inherited a group patient, Doug, from an associate of mine who, for a variety of reasons, was terminating an existing group. Doug had been in four previous therapy groups, always finding himself the target of anger and hostility in the group. Although he did not see the pattern, this phenomenon was always brought about as he cavalierly brandished the tale of his multiple marital infidelities, his excessive gambling with his inherited wealth, and his ultimate declaration that he truly loved his wife. Upon entering my ongoing weekly group, this attractive and very verbal man began, almost without invitation, to tell his "story." As I watched the group's reactions I could see the self-righteousness in the other married men and the hostility from the women. I quietly observed Doug's reaction to some of the initial comments of the group. Statements such as "I can't believe your wife has stayed with you. I would have left you" were made from one woman with the nodding agreement of the others. One man responded with a lengthy narrative on the "moral commitment of marriage" and was met with approval from the group. Doug immediately launched into an emotionally defensive speech, rationalizing his actions. I began to feel the scapegoating starting and knew that the patient would be both relieved and disappointed that we would end up being the fifth group to "fail" him if I did not find a way to successfully intervene.
I knew that he could easily maintain the scapegoat role if I made a direct intervention. He would dismiss the group as not understanding him and begin to split me from the group as I would be the only one who truly understood.
So 1 chose the woman with the most outwardly virulent response toward his story and addressed the following comment, "Barbara, you certainly have reasons from your own history to feel such anger
Bridging Asa Tool to Avoid Scapegoating
and hatred toward Doug, but I wonder if there is anything else you think Doug is trying to accomplish tonight?"
Barbara was a beautiful, sensual woman in her early thirties who had often found herself in relationships where infidelity was present in her partner. The less obvious connection was the strong need that initially drove her into these relationships. Since her teens, she had used her beauty and sexuality to keep adoring men around her, flaunting them and playing with them to avoid the emptiness she felt inside. Men became expendable objects and relationships often had little reciprocity. The few occasions she engaged in what she believed would be "rescue-type Cinderella relationships," she was predictably met with infidelity. This would create yet another bout of loneliness, isolation, and despair and set into motion another assault on the hapless men in the city.
After my comment, she was quiet and reflective and then was able to say to Doug, "I know how scared and empty you must feel because when I fall back on my conquests, I am scared and alone. I hope this group can help you be brave enough to let us meet the real you sometime." This comment took the wind out of Doug's sail. He was speechless for the first time in the group. Another group member picked up the new theme and stated, "You have lived a soap opera-shallow, meaningless and always looking for the next ratings. That is incredibly sad for you."
The group let Doug be silent and absorb the abrupt change in the direction of the group. Many of the members joined in to talk about feeling scared to open up in group and scared to live their lives as themselves and even all the ways they had tried to make the group hate them or punish them. Eventually, Doug expressed his anxiety around not knowing what to do or say. This was met with approval from the group. The man who had been the most self-righteous and "moral" said, "Welcome to the real world, buddy."
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