The Invisible Scapegoat

You don't have to scapegoat them, they do it to themselves

A couple of recent conversations with colleagues have been really impactful. Some aspects of what Seth Godin calls ‘practical empathy’ had escaped me.

I had forgotten that the people I work with and the people I serve don’t know what I know or think what I think. I had taken my expertise for granted much to the detriment of both myself and my clients.

This is part three of what started as a five part series that is now six. Here, I’m exploring my personal, practical knowledge and why it enables me to help people build more resilient businesses, relationships, and lives by connecting better with themselves and the world around them. My hope is that from reading these, you might see yourself in some of my stories. Perhaps you’ll find the courage and humility to get help and become more resilient in all aspects of your life.


These Sunday posts are becoming the first draft of my second book. The Book of Wrong Answers Volume 2 - Exploding Canaries.

Last week, near the end of my post I had this line:

I’m not always acceptable to everyone in the world. But now? I’m accepting of myself.

I was writing about scapegoats and exploding canaries.

Scapegoats are everywhere. I’ve played that role in my family, in communities, on teams and in learning environments. Escaping the role of the scapegoat can be a tricky dance. It’s even trickier when this is a role you take on yourself and keep inside.

I’m talking about the invisible scapegoats - the kind of canary that implodes.

The invisible scapegoats are those of us who on the outside appear fine.

Invisible scapegoatsrarelyget blamed.

Invisible scapegoats frequently appear successful and powerful.

I mean they look like they really have their shit together. 

And on the surface? They do. But if you lift up the cover on the golden cage one of these canaries builds for themselves, it is piled high with hot steamy messes.

And the story in their head, the voices they hear when they’re alone with their thoughts are the critical chorus of an itty-bitty-shitty-committeel. To the CEO, President and VP of their itty-bitty-shitty-committee, they’re never enough. Their story is one of being a total failure - even when they’ve been successful.


Revenues up? Costs down? Never enough.

Coming in at 8am? Arrive earlier.

Leaving at 7pm? Stay later.

What about the children?

What about the husband?

Friends? What are friends?

Want to do more.

Sleep? What is sleep?

Yoga. Gym. Work out. Diet. New clothes.

Car broken.

Don’t forget the hostess present.

Plan the party.

Coach the team.

Time? What is time?

Invisible scapegoats are invisible because they scapegoat themselves.

Without clear goals, they have no idea if they are successful or a failure.

When in doubt?

It’s not enough.

Constantly driven from one thing to the next, they struggle to bring things to completion to their incredibly high standards. After that, they experience swinging spirals of shame and guilt.

Invisible scapegoats are great if you need something done.

They’re super efficient at getting your stuff done for you, regardless of the personal cost.

Where a typical scapegoat, like me, requires a group to pin the shortcomings of the masses on them, the invisible scapegoat has the superpower of taking this aggression out on themselves.

It would be difficult to be more vicious to an invisible scapegoat than they are with themselves.

Invisible scapegoats are different from people pleasers. People pleasers run themselves ragged and come up short. Invisible scapegoats? They have endured some utter garbage in their lives. This garbage? Likely overwhelming to the point where the invisible scapegoat was utterly powerless. What’s worse? They were invisible. No one knew that they needed help.

Unseen and powerless is a pretty shitty hand to be dealt. It’s about the worst. As such, the invisible scapegoat at a very young age jumped to an ugly conclusion: 

If things are this bad and no one sees me, all of this mess must be my fault.

With the huge unfinished to do list, the invisible scapegoat gets to recreate this pattern over and over again. They get to feel overwhelmed, out of control and powerless.

All of this while knowing that they were the ones who put themselves in the situation to begin with. 

All of this becomes self hating violence directed inward.

People do something to harm an invisible scapegoat? They pile on with the perpetrator. 

If they hurt me, I must have deserved it. I did something wrong. It’s all my fault.

With a therapist, invisible scapegoats learn to be easier on themselves. They also can learn how to create boundaries and act in ways that turn their itty-bitty-shitty-committee outwards in ways that are impactful and effective.

Most of all invisible scapegoats can make things easier for themselves so that they don’t create insurmountable piles of work for themselves. They can get more clear on what they can control and accept those things beyond their control. They can learn to set goals and get more done by doing less. That way, they finish with the provide of a bang, rather than a whimper.