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Vogel, E.F. Bell, N.W. (1960). The Emotionally Disturbed Child as a Family Scapegoat. Psychoanal. Rev., 47B(2):21-42.

(1960). Psychoanalytic Review, 47B(2):21-42

The Emotionally Disturbed Child as a Family Scapegoat

Ezra F. Vogel and Norman W. Bell

The phenomenon of scapegoating is as old as human society. Sir James Frazer records, in The Golden Bough,2 numerous instances, reaching back to antiquity, of public scapegoats, human and otherwise. He views the process of scapegoating as one in which “… the evil influences are embodied in a visible form or are at least supposed to be loaded upon a material medium, which acts as a vehicle to draw them off from the people, village, or town.”3 The scapegoat's function “… is simply to effect a total clearance of all the ills that have been infesting a people.”4 Frazer was dealing with the phenomenon at the level of a society, tribe, village, or town. It is the purpose of this paper to examine the same phenomenon within families, by viewing an emotionally disturbed child as an embodiment in visible form of certain types of conflicts between parents. This pattern is a special case of a common phenomenon, the achievement of group unity through the scapegoating of a particular member. It is perhaps more widely known that a group may achieve unity through projection of hostilities to the outside,5 but there are also a large number of cases where members of a particular group are able to achieve unity through scapegoating of a particular member of that group. Thus the deviant within the group may perform a valuable function for the group by channeling group tensions and providing a basis for solidarity.

The notion that the family is in large part responsible for the emotional health of the child is a compelling one in contemporary behavioral science.

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