The scapegoat archetype and the need to be right: depth approaches in organizational cultures.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Education grants (Management)
Scapegoat (Psychological aspects)
Scapegoat (Analysis)
Scapegoating (Psychological aspects)
Scapegoating (Analysis)
Authors: Staples, Michael
Hinard, Valerie
Pub Date: 09/22/2010
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Fall, 2010 Source Volume: 13 Source Issue: 3
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Product: Product Code: 9105113 Institutional Grants NAICS Code: 92311 Administration of Education Programs
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 242897531
Full Text: Abstract

A typical scapegoat scenario assigns ownership of projective material to an "other." The projective material is the result of the compensating mechanism of an excessively one-sided self-interpretation. Content projected (as a result of individual or group self-interpretations that cannot be tolerated) may include diverse features such as sloppiness or an inability to perform those tasks with which a group identifies. The shape of consciousness examined here is associated with High-Reliability Organization (HRO) cultures that cannot tolerate mistakes or inaccuracies. We suggest parallels between HROs and cultural orientations in the medical field.



"The age-old phenomenon of scapegoating shows up everywhere. It causes great anxiety and misery. Scapegoats are found in almost every social context: in school playgrounds, in families, in small groups, and in large organizations."--Brief Outline of the Scapegoat Society (n.d.)

Traditionally, a small movement within organizational development (OD) practices has been oriented toward psychotherapeutic depth work, but on the whole, the United States has looked to behavioral psychologies for its dominant organizational development model. The depth psychological model has been more prevalent in Europe, where researchers and clinicians have been more comfortable discussing the unconscious mechanisms of an organization. Depth orientations are less accepted in America, where behavioral approaches often seem to be more easily aligned with the goals of production. This emphasis has resulted in both individual and group unconscious actions remaining largely unexamined (Stein, 1992), despite the prospect that "meaning-oriented" depth approaches like C.G. Jung's analytical psychology might have much to offer organizational life.

Here, we will be exploring our topic from a predominantly Jungian orientation, acknowledging, however, that other non-behavioral approaches from the field of psychology have been applied to the field of organizational development. Similarly, though our interest here has been narrowed to the specific relationship between scapegoat dynamics and the need to be right in tightly coupled (discussed later) work environment cultures, there are other causes--though the psychological mechanism may be the same--which can result in scapegoating. Our effort here is not to provide a comprehensive analysis of the different approaches to scapegoating or the multitude of causes associated with its dynamics. We are interested in (1) presenting an archetypal-depth background for consideration, (2) demonstrating one way in which that background operates within the dynamic of the need to be right in a tightly coupled work environment culture, and (3) suggesting that holding this background in mind as one approaches the problem of scapegoating in an environment constrained by typical workplace limitations can help to (a) adjust one's intellectual compass in a way that brings depth to one's approach and (b) offer a meaningful frame for understanding complex/irrational behavior, helping to bridge to consciousness the unconscious archetypal pattern.

The Goat

The term "scapegoat" refers to a person who is "blamed and punished for the sins, crimes, or sufferings of others as a way of distracting attention from the real causes" (Frazer, 1950). This experience can be crushing. It can ruin careers. It can devastate one's sense of self-worth. It can land both employee and employer in court.

Responding to an international deluge of comments about her Harvard Business Review article on scapegoating, Gill Corkindale wrote, "What I hadn't realized was just how endemic the phenomenon (of scapegoating) appears to be ... It appears to be happening every day, to a whole range of people, at all levels and in all sorts of companies, from India to Africa, Asia, the U.S., and Europe" (2008). Indeed, no one is immune. Scapegoating occurs at all organizational levels. A selection drawn from the numerous posts sent in by managers from around the world in response to Corkindale's article:

* "This is one of the facts in professional life."

* "One can find this vice practiced all over the world."

* "Scapegoating is becoming the 'norm' in the corporate world."

* "Scapegoating is well known in the health care industry."

* "This is schoolyard bullying in a corporate suit."

* "I don't believe there are managers out there who haven't been targeted as scapegoats one time or another throughout their professional career."

The Mytho-Poetic Structure

"... and the goat will bear all their guilt away into some desolate place." --Leviticus 16:22

As expressed in analytical psychology, the scapegoat complex is a theriomorphic psychological pattern (appearing in animal form) in which unconscious content is projected onto an "other." In projected form, such content has been dealt with historically through rituals like the Hebrews' casting of a goat out into the desert. In Leviticus 16, Aaron is said to have laid upon the head of the goat, Azazel, the sins of the community. The goat was then banished to the desert to die. This was the central theme of the fifth day of Yom Kippur's 10-day New Year festival (Perera, 1986).

For those unfamiliar with the linguistic currency used here, with its references to poetic and literary symbolism, we should point out that analytical psychology considers the deeper layers of the psyche to be formulated around just these kinds of seemingly unscientific constructs. "Knowledge of the mythological layers is instrumental in our becoming aware of the deep levels of the psyche," writes Edward Edinger (1994). Ego consciousness is conceived as a kind of surface rendering designed to function effectively in negotiating our environment, but it represents only a small part of the psyche. Autonomous constructs like the scapegoat archetype are to be read psychologically, as patterns that function in a kind of background matrix, posterior to conscious awareness (Hillman, 1988), to "connect them with living experience so that they are not just remote abstractions" (Edinger, 1994).

Suggesting that collective background patterns (archetypes), though largely unconscious, shape personal perceptions and behaviors, Jung explored these patterns through what we consider to be a predominantly Platonic/Kantian ontological language (Edinger, 1995; Nagy, 1991). More current ontological approaches, however, expressing similar notions, have been the topic of philosophical attention (Dreyfus, 1992) and appear in the works of Klein, Bion, and Money-Kyrle, as well as structuralist thought and biology (Samuels, Shorter, & Plaut, 1992). We understand depth approaches to the psyche, and certainly the Jungian project, as an effort largely directed toward making conscious that which is unconscious. Part of our effort here, then, is to sketch a picture of scapegoating as a collective archetypal pattern. Since these patterns are conceived in analytical psychology as autonomous, they are experienced as happening "to" the person. Familiarity with and awareness of these patterns can therefore benefit those caught up in the archetypal energy. On an individual level, awareness of the archetypal patterns calls us deeper into ourselves and offers meaning to these states of experience.

The Projective Mechanism

From a depth psychological perspective, scapegoat projections signify the ego's inability to tolerate its own shadow material (its sins). Shadow material represents one-sided unconscious psychological patterns antithetical to an ego's idealized self-interpretation. Similarly, the more one becomes consciously identified with being a great athlete, for instance, the more one dis-identifies with being a couch potato--an attribute that is split off and pushed into the unconscious as the shadow of the idealized self-interpretation. The more one identifies with being a paragon of performance and accuracy in an organization, the more the tendencies toward one's lack of performance and accuracy become shadow material available for projecting "out" onto someone or something "other." Projection is a way that intensely felt, intolerable affect has of getting around attempts to ignore or deny it (Samuels et al., 1992).

Considered psychologically, the Hebrew community's shadow was projected onto the goat Azazel, who was then ritually turned out into the desert each year to rid the community of its shadow material. The projection of sins onto Azazel is, then, one example of the process of scapegoating. But the scenario is neither unique, confined to a particular group, nor necessarily pathological. The biblical ritual sacrifice was (unconsciously) designed to benefit the projector(s). Presumably, Jesus was scapegoated to "wipe away" the collective sins of humanity. Ostensibly, Jesus knew what his role was and accepted it. Indeed, all successful scapegoats participate in the process one way or another, although not necessarily consciously. However, that does not mitigate the suffering of the victim. Those scapegoated may not see their situation as the least beneficial.

The Need to be Right

"Every year on the fourteenth of March a man clad in skins was led in procession through the streets of Rome, beaten with long white rods, and driven out of the city."--Frazer, 1950

One way of categorizing organizational cultures is to consider tolerance thresholds. An organizational culture that is trial-and-error and failure tolerant is known as a "Low Reliability Organization," or LRO. This is contrasted by a "High Reliability Organization," or HRO (Roberts, 1990), which generally involves advanced technologies requiring a specialist understanding. Task sets here are usually "tightly coupled." Tight coupling is a term borrowed from the field of mechanical engineering that signifies minimal task interdependence slack between one task and another (Staples, 1989). In tight coupling, one component of a task-set group can immediately and substantially affect the next task in line. If a car assembly line task is missed, perhaps a critical hinge is not assembled at the appropriate time, the next task to be performed, perhaps attaching the door to the hinge, might be held up. The more coordinated the two tasks (the less time between them), the more tightly coupled the task sets. In HROs, issues of tight coupling are intensified by the significance of consequences associated with failure. With the car door assembly line example, the consequences of a mistake are relatively benign. This might not be the case with a mistake made in air traffic control, a military fighter jet, or in the operation of a nuclear reactor, where the prospect of a mistake is serious enough to generate organizational cultures with a strong failure intolerance. With surgical teams, a team member is embedded within a culture interpreting the need to be right, every time, to avoid significant consequences, as a cultural requirement. A scrub nurse must hand the surgeon a scalpel, the right scalpel, quickly and efficiently, every time, or the system's task set suffers and significant (or perceived to be significant) consequences arise. The scrub nurse who hands the surgeon the wrong item too often, hesitates a little too long, or seems just a little too indecisive about what he or she is doing can come to be seen as deviating from the adopted paradigm of efficiency and accuracy. The constellation and enactment of largely unconscious archetypal roles forms the psychological underpinning of an organization's "culture" (Stein, 1992). In some cases, this unconscious cultural platform becomes enmeshed with the failure and mistake tolerance of an organization. Any psychological one-sidedness can create a compensatory projection ripe for re-mapping onto an external "hook" (a scapegoat target). The one-sided need to be right, to be infallible, to be efficient, with little tolerance for failure or mistakes, easily fits this bill. A depth psychological paradigm for this situation would state that however far "one-sidedness" about being right goes, it will be just that far that the compensatory factors pushed into the unconscious will be ripe for projection. All that is required is an appropriate "hook" for the projections where all of the wrongness and fallibilities, all of the inefficiencies and inaccuracies, can be "laid upon the head" of the scapegoat deviant.

The Deviant

"In Siam it used to be custom on one day of the year to single out a woman broken down by debauchery, and carry her on a litter through all the streets to the music of drums. The mob insulted her and pelted her with dirt ... they believed that the woman thus drew upon herself all the malign influences of the air and of evil spirits.--Frazer, 1950

Someone is a counter-role "deviant" when he or she doesn't measure up to the organizational culture's paradigm. One technologist observed over a period of several weeks demonstrated marked aversions to accepting responsibility for even minor mistakes, routinely blaming the manufacturer of equipment, other departments, or co-workers for his errors. He kept a notepad with a log of these foul-ups as evidence to deflect potential accusations that might roll his way. Fighting against being targeted as a deviant, his denials served to drive his shadow (those features he was consciously unable to accept as his own) further into his unconscious, where they merged with his group's collective projective energies searching for an appropriate "goat." In this particular case, an "outsider" could easily see the group's unconscious energies landing first on one person, then on another, until it found someone whose own shadow provided the right opening to accept the role of scapegoat, or someone who simply did not recognize the energies soon enough to deflect them (another reason for bringing the dynamic to consciousness). Once locked-on, projections are difficult to dislodge. The victim is christened a counter-role "deviant." As with the former example, nothing the technologist could do was ever right after that.

Deviations from normative roles are usually interpreted as counterproductive. We rarely see positive features in deviance. However, like scapegoating itself, the role does have positive features. Deviants can expose mis-specified roles or malfunctioning systems. When they help the organization, deviants may be considered innovators. The "goofballs" down the hall at IBM, "wasting the company's time" with something called a personal computer, were walking on thin ice. But their alternative perspectives could have helped the organization adapt to changing environmental conditions if the organization could figure out how to tolerate the deviance within its ranks (Straw & Boettger, 1990). An HRO supporting counter-role behavior, however, is hard to find. Their failure intolerance is prohibitive. The personalities that generally flourish in this environment tend toward homeostasis and strong superego standards that adhere rigidly to the status quo. Innovators rub them the wrong way.

Deviant behavior does not have to be a dramatic corporate anomaly to provide an adequate "hook" for scapegoat projections. The requirements for the "hook" can be subtle. As was the case with the technologist mentioned earlier, when an organization in need of a scapegoat outlet lacks an adequate "hook," one can feel a kind of subliminal "hunt" in progress, searching for that "willing" participant. "When we enter an organization and our unconscious becomes activated by our relationship to its members and structures," writes psychoanalyst Murray Stein, "we typically enter into a state of unconscious identity with some part of it, with a role, a function, or a position" (1992). Passive compliance seems to be part of the pattern, ironically expressed through loyalty to the organization that rejects them. The role is not thrown off; it is accepted.

Containing the Projections

"One of the essential functions of a good organization," according to Stein, "is to contain the spirit of the organization's unconscious and to keep it from devouring its members" (1992). Of course, this would be simple if one could solve the scapegoat problem by simply indicating that a targeted individual does not deserve being scaped on. This rarely works. Unconscious projections are not so easily withdrawn. In addition, the one who intercedes often shares the scapegoat's fate (Leviticus 16:26). This was perhaps the case with the two white civil rights organizers in 1964 who were murdered during their voter registration efforts in Mississippi. Consequently, the responsibility of containing the process often falls to someone with a high enough organizational position (management or a consultant) to be protected from those energies that may be turned his or her way.

Table 1 presents a list derived from a Harvard Business Review article by Gill Corkindale (2008), organized for use as a resource for both people who have experienced being a scapegoat and for those working professionally to resolve scapegoat problems. Several suggestions from depth psychology are included.

Bear in mind that projections resulting from the one-sided need to be right, accurate, and efficient can often appear as the opposite of these needs. A victim will be accused of being consistently wrong, never knowing what he is doing, or perhaps being just plain stupid. Accusations may include generalizations like laziness, an uncaring (bad) attitude, being too slow, or just out of pace with everyone else. The manager may hear about several escalating complaints, all pointing to a "problem" employee. Perhaps the manager notices she is feeling and thinking the same way but also realizes she does not know enough about this "problem" employee--or the reverse, that she may already know this person contributes in important ways to the organization. Either way, awareness of the scapegoating dynamic provides a lens though which the situation may be viewed. The manager's task is then to bring the unconscious behavior out into the light of day (consciousness) for herself first. Sometimes this is enough to defuse the projection. Depth psychology suggests that the power of a complex is inversely proportional to its exposure to the light of consciousness. The sooner awareness is brought into the picture, the better the chance of curtailing the projection. For the scapegoat, containment may well mean backing away from the organization for a time in order to make conscious what had been projected onto the institution or onto some of its members (Stein, 1992).


"The best thing we can do for our relationships with others ... is to render our relationship to ourselves more conscious."--James Hollis, The Eden Project, 1940

The need an individual has for being right, accurate, and efficient isn't quite the same thing as an organization's need for these things. Jobs often tend to be relatively one-dimensional in their need for task-set accuracy, efficiency, and rightness. Individual needs, however, are complex psychological structures generated by self-interpretations, with multiple threads extending into past events and future possibilities. They are meanings comprising "all that," focused into a particular need. A person being "right" can mean being good, being worthy, being a valuable member of a group, or any number of other values, depending upon the psychology of the individual and the group.

Groups with similar needs develop organizational cultures revolving around these needs, pushing psychological antitheses into the unconscious. The need to be fearless among test pilots engaged in U.S. postwar experimental rocket-power, for instance, generated a culture of the devil-may-care "right stuff" described in Tom Wolfe's (1979) book of the same name. Yet, as one-sided as this need for the right stuff became, so the disdain for its opposite grew. Among the Apache Indians, a fearless warrior attitude was highly prized, but any indication of weakness was not only eschewed, it was viewed with scorn and often punished as intolerable.

The scapegoating dynamic described here revolves around the need to be right. This can result in scapegoat complex formation to release the tension of the overly rigid need. Because the complex is an unconscious process devoid of the modulations, the resulting situations can prove traumatic for both the individual scapegoated and the organization alike. The sooner the complex is addressed, the better, and the more likely the projection can be withdrawn or its effects diverted. Managers need to get ahead of the dynamic quickly, and a few specific actions available to them are outlined in Table 1. However, we have also emphasized the importance of reading the scapegoat complex as an archetypal pattern and have suggested that understanding this can both serve to align one's intellectual compass in the "get ahead of the dynamic" process and help to keep those tasked with addressing the issue from being unconsciously absorbed by the complex as well.

The problem with archetypes is that we are all at the mercy of them as long as they remain in the shadows of consciousness. Complexes function best when hidden, deriving much of their power from operating under cover of darkness, and often lose their power when exposed to the light of consciousness. Ultimately, we would prefer to avoid sacrificing the "other" to our own shadow material. We would prefer a new balance resulting in a shift in attitude where patterns that habitually absorb us, "slough off their mythological envelope, and, by entering into the adaptive process of going forward in consciousness ... personalize and rationalize themselves to the point where a dialectical discussion becomes possible (Jung, 1954)." We would prefer to recognize that when we find ourselves energetically seeing the bad or the good in the "other," we may well be projecting what we are not owning for ourselves.

Behavioral approaches do not generally emphasize the role of the unconscious. The depth approach suggests that while specific behaviors might be altered at the surface level, the unconscious content deprived of its behavioral outlet will simply find another way of expressing itself. Accordingly, a group deprived of one scapegoat as a result of managerial containment efforts will simply find another scapegoat (or an appropriate surrogate) somewhere down the road.

A complex is sometimes referred to as a "splinter" psyche. It is usually experienced as a "whole" or complete psyche but is actually much more limited. A person caught in the middle of a psychological complex is reduced to only that which the complex "knows" how to do ... usually something limited, like "get angry" or "be argumentative" or "hate someone." Inside the complex, however, the person caught does not experience this narrowness. To the contrary, he or she experiences the complex as being entirely reasonable, well thought out, and appropriate to the situation.

Depth psychology is that group of approaches in the field of psychology with a focus on the "unconscious," such as psychoanalysis (Freud) or analytical psychology (Jung).


Brief Outline of the Scapegoat Society (n.d.). Retrieved from The Scapegoat Society. Forest Row, East Sussex, RH18 5JF, England.

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Corkindale, G. (2008). Scapegoating. 03/our_readers_respond_to_12_step.html.

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MICHAEL STAPLES is a psychotherapist and a radiation therapist. He completed his undergraduate work in business management and organizational development on a research grant from the California State University, resulting in a series of publications on job design and motivational analysis in the field of radiation ontology. He holds a Master's in Depth Psychotherapy, is a co-founder of the nonprofit organization Sonoma Psycho-Oncology, was a member of the Integrative Medicine department at Sonoma Valley Hospital, and is currently the department manager for radiation oncology at the St. Francis Medical Center in San Francisco.

VALERIE HINARD holds a BA in psychology from the California State University in Sonoma; an MA in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in depth psychotherapy from the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpenteria, California; and was a manager for Birkenstock's world distribution center for 14 years. Recent publications include Threading the Dream: Mercurius as Connecting Spirit in Drinking the Greene Lyon's Blood: Five Women Dream the Transformation of the Inner Masculine: Presentations from the IASD 27th Annual Dream Conference in Ashville, NC, 2010.

1     LISTEN/MIRROR          Recognize that both the
                             scapegoater and the target
                             need to be heard (active

2     ESTABLISH THE FACTS    Establish the facts of what
                             was done and by whom.

3     BE AWARE OF THE        Ask what the scapegoater is
      ARCHETYPAL PROCESS     trying to achieve, but
                             recognize that the dynamics
                             are often (usually)
                             unconscious, and the
                             explanation may not express
                             the deeper roots of the issue.

4     MONITOR YOUR OWN       Build an understanding about
      CONNECTION             what is going on at the level
                             of both content and process,
                             including one's own subjective
                             connection to the issue.

5     MERGE BEHAVIORAL AND   Try to understand what is
      DEPTH PERSPECTIVES     going on from both behavioral
                             and depth perspectives.

6     DON'T ALLOW THE        Make it clear that you or the
      PROCESS TO HIDE IN     group have spotted the process
      THE SHADOWS            and will talk about it openly
                             until it is resolved.

7     ESTABLISH CONCRETE     Help both the targeted person
      STEPS                  and the scapegoater to take
                             concrete steps to change the
                             situation by (a) each trying
                             to see their respective roles
                             in the dynamic and (b) each
                             taking responsibility for
                             their roles.

8     FOLLOW UP              Recognize that complexes are
                             not easily curtailed and find
                             creative ways of resurfacing.
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