Archetype of the Scapegoat / Martyr

As explained already, all of the archetypes are embodiments of behavioural stances that humans have developed, or established patterns in nature. Such patterns were originally in a primal state, but over millennia have refined in extraordinary ways. Countless people have lived out the various modes of behaviour, everything from hermit to leader, saint to horrific and malefic destroyer. Each of these depict a direction each of us can go in making choices in life. Perhaps we only embody an archetype such as that of the sadist for moments, or perhaps our whole life is given to it. Whichever it is, our personal life and what we do, is still only a tiny portion of the immense range of behavioural possibilities even within that one stance.

P. W. Martin, writing in his book Experiment In Depth about archetypal influence and how it overpowers the person if they are possessed by it, says, ‘A man so driven will not necessarily be self-regarding in his action. He may be completely disregardful of his own personal interests, a fanatic, a martyr even, for the cause. But archetypal energy is inherently ambivalent, as destructive as it is constructive, a dynamic which in the end is self-annihilating.’

The archetype of the scapegoat has, like all the others, different aspects. One can be a martyr in giving oneself to a cause, or one can be a martyr in that one forever feels one is being abused or used by others. There may be a sense of being asked too much by those around you or by the events of life. In such martyrdom there may be a hidden belief that if one does what is asked, if one sacrifices ones life for another, then one will be appreciated and loved. If one gives enough, maybe one will be recognised and rewarded.

Parents, but especially mothers, often have a sort of inbuilt martyr at work in them. It is from this they manage so many years of self giving. At one side of the martyr archetype there is the power of enormous self transformation; the development of the ability to go beyond ones own personal needs, decisions and awareness and enter another life through action and love. The other side of the archetype is the dark world of fanaticism and self glorification. The seeking of pain or even death as a means to fame or renown or regard in the eyes of ones peers. Such might be the drive in suicide bombers.

Martin’s whole theme in Experiment In Depth, is that there is a way between the opposites of being possessed by an archetype, or living a life in which there is a connection with wider energy or real individual creativity. Finding this balance is particularly relevant to the martyr archetype. See: processing dreams; therapeutic use of dreams.

But another important point is stated in Identified Patient in Wikipedia, and says, “The term emerged from the work of the Bateson Project on family homeostasis, as a way of identifying a largely unconscious pattern of behavior whereby an excess of painful feelings in a family lead to one member being identified as the cause of all the difficulties – a scapegoating of the IP.

Examples –

  • In a family where the parents need to assert themselves as powerful figures and caretakers, often due to their own insecurities, they may designate one or more of their children as being inadequate, unconsciously assigning to the child the role of someone who cannot cope by themselves. For example, the child may exhibit some irrational problem that requires the constant care and attention of the parents.
  • In the book Dibs, an account of a child in therapy, Virginia Axline considered that perhaps the parents, “quite unconsciously…chose to see Dibs as a mental defective rather than as an intensified personification of their own emotional and social inadequacy” (Thanks A)

Useful Questions and Hints:

Do I feel others have abused me?

Am I happily self sacrificing, or do I try to get acclaim or love in that way?

Am I ready to die for a cause – if so what cause or belief?

How would I describe the martyr in my dream. Try Talking As and Dialogue with a dream character.


-Joy Rains 2010-09-30 2:33:49

Is the masochist archetype similiar to the scapegoat?

    -Tony Crisp 2010-10-05 11:33:52

    Hi Joy – The masochist is defined as someone who goes out of their way to find pain, often for sexual gratification. Whereas the scapegoat is some who feels rejected and isolated by their situation. The scapegoat can be someone chosen by a group and punished in some way – perhaps for no other reason that their skin colour or religion.

    I haven’t written up a feature about masochism. But here is an interesting quote from Reich’s book The Function of the Orgasm.

    “The task confronted me with the question of why the masochist converted the otherwise clearly understandable desire for pleasure into a desire for unpleasure. A drastic incident freed me from the false line of questioning which had led psychology and sexology astray until then. In 1928, I treated a completely crushed individual who had a masochistic perversion. His incessant complaining and his demands to be beaten blocked every attempt to get through to him. After months of the usual psychoanalytic work, my patience gave out. When he once again demanded that I should beat him, I asked what he would say if I granted his wish. He beamed blissfully. I took a ruler and gave him two hard whacks on his buttocks. He let out a terrible yell. There was no trace of pleasure, and that was the last I heard of such demands. But he continued to complain and make reproaches.
    All at once I understood that pain and unpleasure are not at all, as is contended, the instinctual goal of the masochist. When he is beaten, the masochist, like any normal person, experiences pain. The question remained: if the masochist does not strive for unpleasure, does not experience it pleasurably, why does he feel compelled to be tormented? After a great deal of effort, I discovered the fantasy which lay at the basis of this perverse conduct. The masochist fantasizes he is being tormented because he wants to burst. Only in this way does he hope to attain relaxation”.


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