Exposing Scapegoating

During my first term at Secondary School I noticed that one boy was getting into more trouble than anyone else. I saw him protest to the teachers when the other boys blamed him for various incidents. Sometimes he became angry and his behaviour was used to increase the case against him. Whenever there was a problem in class this boy would be implicated, sometimes by teachers and sometimes by pupils.

 A scapegoat is forced to shoulder the blame. Attention is drawn away from underlying causes, tensions and conflicts which become less visible. Instead the scapegoat’s professed shortcomings are highlighted. Any disquiet, anxiety, fear, anger, and so on that people are experiencing due to the initial situation is attributed to the scapegoat. The focus is upon their alleged guilt, whilst the reality of their predicament is largely unseen. Thus, both the scapegoat’s painful position and the original issues are masked.

This might happen in a family where there is a delicate, unspoken issue, for example the husband’s long-term unfaithfulness to his wife. One person, perhaps their teenaged daughter experiences the uncomfortable atmosphere. She finds the silence intolerable and eventually she speaks out.

Both parents are disturbed, they start picking on their daughter for small things, she is told off and criticised, bearing the brunt of their underlying anger towards each other. The teenager reacts with her own anger, she becomes uncooperative and is viewed as the family problem. The ‘problematic’ teenager is visible, whilst the husband’s unfaithfulness and what might lie behind his behaviour has dropped out of sight.

Scapegoating tends to be initiated by one or more people with authority. This might be a person with status in a peer group, parents, teachers, tutors, bosses, and community leaders. Amongst those who witness scapegoating and those who are drawn into it there may be some recognition of what is happening. There is generally a great deal of fear. Some people withdraw from the situation whilst others join against the scapegoat. It is rare and it takes great courage to stand beside a person who is being scapegoated within a group. Nobody wants to be the next target.

The trap

 Imagine being unfairly accused of something and unable to convince others of your innocence. Anything that you try to say or do is used against you. The usual rules of justice and compassion no longer apply. Reasoning, arguing, shouting, fighting, panicking, having an anxiety attack and withdrawing are all twisted to prove the original accusations and to add to them. There seems to be no way out.

Scapegoating is a form of bullying and can include criticising character and competency, shaming, mocking, excluding and ostracising. This wears away at a person’s confidence and self-esteem, undermining their sense of self. In this very vulnerable state it is extremely difficult to put protective boundaries in place.

Victims of scapegoating may come to believe some of the accusations and criticisms against them. Perhaps they feel that there is some shame in their predicament. Shame may prevent them from telling other people about their current situation and asking for help.

Escaping the trap

A person who is being scapegoated might think there is something that they can do or say to change attitudes against them. In my opinion this is unlikely since a scapegoat’s enforced role maintains and increases the power of those who already have status and authority. Others in the group tend to be obliging as they are afraid of becoming the next victim.

It seems to me that there is only one way of changing the situation, and that is to leave. This might happen as a matter of course, for example the boy in my year group left at the end of his secondary school education. Sometimes perpetrators recognise that the situation has gone too far and that there may be some repercussions for themselves. A way out of this is to find, or to create reasons for ousting their scapegoat from the group.

Sometimes the abuse becomes too much to bear and a person is unable to continue in this situation. Bullying can result in psychological damage, suicidal feelings and the taking of one’s own life.

If possible, making the decision to leave oneself can be empowering. Sadly, this might mean giving-up something precious such as being part of a family unit, a job or an important course of study.

Recognising Scapegoating

 Speaking with trustworthy people who know you well can be illuminating. They can remind you of your strengths, and point out discrepancies in other people’s perceptions of your character and behaviour.

Counselling is an opportunity to explore your experience in depth. Going over the whole situation, perhaps several times, can bring fresh insights that reveal the reality of your experience, whether a single event or a long term situation.

Dyspraxia – a Hidden Disability

In spite of numerous symptoms Dyspraxia is sometimes referred to as a hidden disability. This blog is my attempt to understand why we are not more aware of Dyspraxia and its effects.

Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder, also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder. Whilst the exact causes of dyspraxia are not yet fully understood, it is thought that parts of the motor cortex in the brain are immature and consequently messages to the body are not sent out in an efficient manner. Developmental Dyspraxia is present from birth.

Adults and children with Dyspraxia struggle with everyday tasks that others manage easily. Physical movement, behaviour, social interactions and emotions can all be affected by the condition. Added to this some people feel anxious and depressed as a result of the difficulties that they experience. 

Dyspraxia is not very visible in the sense that you would not know a person has the condition by looking at them. Their intelligence would also be unaffected. Whilst Dyspraxia is becoming more widely known and better understood, adults who were not diagnosed as children may still be unaware of why they struggle in so many situations. 

People with Dyspraxia might try to hide their differences, adding to the lack of visibility. Rather than letting others see that ‘simple tasks’ such as doing up shoe laces, reading a map and following directions are beyond them, they might prefer to wear slip on shoes and avoid visiting places which they cannot find. 

Some people hide their condition by steering clear of compromising situations for example discussions, interviews and public speaking where they might suffer the embarrassment of struggling to express their thoughts coherently. 

The symptoms of Dyspraxia and their severity vary from person to person. Certain symptoms might become less challenging as individuals learn to adapt over time. A person with Dyspraxia is more likely than average to have other neuro-diverse conditions. Neuro-Diversity is an umbrella term which refers to conditions that affect literacy, numeracy, memory, organisation, concentration, behaviour, perception, listening, communication and social skills. Perhaps Dyspraxia is obscured by the variations and adaptations as well as overlaps with other conditions. 

At the same time it seems to me that many of the symptoms of Dyspraxia are noticeable and not very easy to hide. In the past Dyspraxia was called 'clumsy child syndrome'. It was evident that children with the condition are prone to tripping over and bumping into people and objects. This is due to poor spatial awareness, poor coordination and weak balance. Dyspraxia continues into adulthood although over time some people become better at managing their clumsiness. 

For some Dyspraxic people running and walking looks awkward due to poor integration of the right and left sides of the body. In my view it is probable that others do notice these traits because they are difficult to miss.

Social awkwardness can also be apparent. This can include misunderstanding what is being expressed due to literal thinking. With literal thinking it is also difficult to get jokes and therefore to react appropriately. People with Dyspraxia might mistakenly interrupt others in a conversation because it is hard to judge when someone has finished speaking, this is particularly challenging in groups.

In general, some of us are more accident prone than others, not everyone has a good sense of direction, or clear handwriting. Occasionally we might fumble with small motor movements such as inserting a key in the correct position and then manipulating it to unlock a door. In order for Dyspraxia to be recognised as a disability it is important to understand that it is distinguished by the level of difficulty and the number of areas affected.

It seems to me that whilst Dyspraxia is to some extent hidden, there are also many signs of its existence. I wonder whether it is sometimes missed because we might see an aspect of Dyspraxia, say a person finding it impossible to park their car between the two lines in a designated space, without realising that this is the symptom of a disability. Dyspraxia is within our sight but we do not always know what we are looking at.

The joys of networking and what I have learnt

After qualifying as a person-centred counsellor I felt ready to start a private practice. At that time the main networking avenues were advertising in telephone directories, writing endless letters to doctor’s surgeries and schools and putting leaflets through people’s doors. Some of this was expensive, all of it was time consuming, and none of it brought me much work, just a trickle. 

It made sense to stay in my job as a nursery school teacher whilst continuing to see clients in voluntary placements. I recognized that working with a variety of client groups was broadening my counselling experience and at the same time I was eager to move on. My supervisor and I sat with the dilemma of wanting to do something practical towards building my private practice, whilst not knowing what to do.

Through our discussions I became more accepting of my situation, I felt calmer and able to empathise with my frustration and sense of stuckness. Inwardly this provided some extra space for fresh ideas to emerge. I could approach networking with interest and curiosity, I had a new enthusiasm for it.

I left supervision sessions feeling more grounded and optimistic. Amazingly I would return home to one or two enquiries left on my answer phone. This occurred enough times for me view it as one of those strange and mysterious things that tend to happen when something within me changes.

Discovering how things seem to work

Gradually my private practice built up. Most of the people who approached me for counselling had heard about my work from fellow trainees or former clients. I began to get an overall picture of how connections can result in an enquiry and that connections can go back many years, I still have a few recommendations from parents whose children were at the nursery school.

The internet allows for numerous connections. People landing on my website might be dismissed as a slight and fleeting moment. Nonetheless, in that moment a photo or a few words may catch their interest and perhaps they will return. I find that it helps to be visible in several places, my website, appropriate directories, Twitter, Pinterest and my Facebook business page. Then people can build up a picture of who I am and the therapeutic services that I offer. Contacting a therapist or supervisor can be daunting and I hope that with all the personal information available online this becomes a little easier.

I enjoy connecting with colleagues both online and offline. I like being sociable and there is great scope for supporting and learning from each other. This includes therapeutic theory and practice as well as understanding social media and how to use it for networking. I have found groups that are relevant to me through my professional organisations, friend and colleague recommendations, Facebook and LinkedIn. 

Coming across Onlinevents  https://www.onlinevents.co.uk has added to the richness of my learning and networking experiences. They are a brother and sister team offering wonderful learning resources for people who are working in the counselling / therapy field. Resources include online groups, free online CPD with therapy, networking and social media topics. They also run an online library with a collection of video interviews, workshops and conference presentations.

Social networking continues to develop and change, so when something new becomes available I have learnt to check my personal and professional boundaries to decide whether or not I want to engage with it. I take into account how much time it might require and whether this is something that I could enjoy, as well as the networking potential. Before posting something on social media I always reflect upon its possible effects for clients, supervisees and Focusing students.

I have discovered the joys of networking. For me it is a creative and sociable activity. I find that I can be openly myself whilst also taking care to post sensitively. I enjoy developing relationships with peers that are mutually supportive and helpful.

The felt sense, a true story

As I walk along the street all is as it should be. The soft blue sky spreads out peacefully above me and the early morning sun shines warmly on my back. The street is quiet, apart from a myriad of birds chirping back and forth among themselves. I walk slowly taking it all in and sighing with contentment.

Feeling relaxed and dreamy I continue at a leisurely pace, noticing the brightness, and that the brightness has a certain quality to it, a promise of good things to come. I am peaceful and optimistic.

The early morning silence is broken by a few birds still calling out to each other. I delight in being a part of this tranquil scene. At the same time I am vaguely aware of some slight discomfort.

Perhaps it is to do with the brightness there is a sort of stillness to it, and an intensity that feels a little unsettling. Then I notice again, how pleasant it is to stroll along with the sun’s soothing heat gently warming my back.

I realise that if I look ahead towards the brightness I get a funny, uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, a nervous, fluttery, edginess that becomes a rather sharp ache. There is something about that perfect brightness, a kind of atmosphere, something unreal. The word ‘artificial’ comes to me, it seems to resonate. I stay with the word and what emerges is a sense of shadows lurking behind the brightness.

Quite uneasy now, I calm myself by breathing in the comforting smell of heat on paving stones.

I shiver. There are still a few birds chattering reassuringly and I try telling myself that all is as it should be. However my body knows better. It is fully alert.

What was that noise….that faint rustling? I walk a little faster….not too fast….its probably a bird….my ears are straining, searching for the faintest sound.

The hairs on the back of my neck are literally standing on end….and then I hear footsteps behind me….I am almost running now…. a hand clasps my shoulder….Something crude is whispered in my ear.

I scream and scream
‘Okay, okay’ he hisses.
Then I run in one direction and he runs in the other.


I remember this incident vividly, even though it happened some years ago. I can see now how my vague sense of discomfort developed into a definite awareness of danger.

Eugene Gendlin discovered Focusing, he devised the term ‘felt sense’ to describe an unclear, intricate ‘bodily awareness’. (p.10)

Focusing is a process of deepening my connection with this bodily sense. It is a process that might occur naturally and it can also be learned.

I can focus alone or with a Companion. To begin with I am just trying to get a feel of something faint and delicate. Slowly and gently I build up my connection with it by describing and acknowledging everything that I notice. Because the felt sense is very fragile I need to be sensitive. If I am impatient and try to hurry things along it will disappear.

 Gradually the felt sense becomes stronger and more fully formed. Meanings contained within it can emerge, deepening self-awareness and personal insights.

A Counsellors Perspective

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. Yeats

These two lines speak to me of the relationship between client and counsellor. How vulnerable a person can feel when talking openly about them self, and how essential it is to respond with respect and sensitivity.

Dreams have a delicacy about them, they are real in our hearts and yet they have not happened yet. Our dreams for the future are not always fully formed in our mind and they might change. It is important that I do not try to shape yours by imposing my own agenda and ideas about what is best for you. Equally I do not want to tamper with your memories or their significance for you.

Treading softly requires my full attention and presence while we sit together. It is my intention to provide an open space, by this I mean an opportunity to move at your own pace and in your own direction. For example instead of encouraging you to explore your childhood or to concentrate upon one topic at a time I prefer to go with your flow.

Interrupting you and trying to take you off in a different direction is too tricky. If I urge you to go down a particular path, then I risk sending you off course or to areas that you are not yet ready to navigate. You are in the unique position of knowing what is going on from the inside, so I’ll take your lead. Perhaps you see an obvious route or you might only know your next step as you are taking it.

I hope that you will feel supported. It seems to me that support can include various qualities –acceptance of you just as you are, nurturing, holding, comfort, containment, encouragement and validation. There are times when support is what we need in order to move forward in our lives and in our deeper explorations of self.

At the same time, too much support can stifle development. It can become crushing rather than liberating. When I pay attention, by listening both to you and to my own intuition, I find that I have a better chance of providing support that includes space for growth.

Sometimes people tell me that their concerns are small compared with the suffering of others. My own opinion is that suffering is not a matter of comparison. It is what it is for each of us. At the same time I understand that for some people, looking at themselves and their situation in a wider context can put things into perspective and that this can be useful.

 You are the person who has come to see me and I am interested in whatever it is that brings you to therapy. This might include particular issues, your distress, a wish to explore and gain insights, a sense of something quite vague that needs your attention, decisions, hopes, dreams, and more...

Therapy is not always an easy option, looking at ourselves and our lives can take some courage. It seems to me that if I can understand how things are from your point of view, then I will have a better idea of what hurts and what matters to you. This will help me to be present with you and to tread softly.

Being sensitive towards you and your concerns is important if I am to become a person who you can trust. Considering trustworthiness further, I would say that it is to do with genuineness. For me this is about being as honest as I can in every aspect of our relationship, from explaining and keeping confidentiality to being genuinely myself, a person who you can get to know and with whom you can feel a connection. This for me is in contrast to putting up a professional barrier.

Having an awareness of my feelings and emotions allows me to be authentic and sincere in my relationship with you. When I am in touch with the sadness that you are feeling I hope to communicate my empathy, so that you know I am with you.

I am concerned with recognizing anything that gets in the way while I am counselling you. This might be a situation in my own life, or maybe a desire to point you in the ‘right’ direction which would do more harm than good. Whilst I can identify certain areas that need my attention there are others that I am unaware of.

I find that Focusing helps me to notice subtle experiencing that can be easily missed. A slight fluttering in my stomach can hold a wealth of information. When I pause and begin describing the feeling it becomes more solid. There is space for different facets of my experiencing to emerge – memories…emotions…understandings… unspoken feelings…something happening between us when you spread your dreams under my feet…more…

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven by William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.