When people are scared, hurt, or confused it can be natural for them to lash out. Do you know where the term “scapegoat” comes from? It’s a religious tradition; people would “put their sins into” a goat, and then release that goat, chasing it away from their village. The idea was that the goat took with it the sins – and the blame.

That can seem absurd by modern standards, until you realize that people do that all the time. If someone is scared or hurt or confused, all you have to do is get close enough and the scared/hurt/confused person can lash out and heap a bunch of blame on you while simultaneously chasing you away. This doesn’t do much to solve their problems, but it does satisfy some inner desire to be free of a sense of ill will. If that’s all it did, it would actually be okay! There’s nothing wrong with a ritual to make us feel better – except if it happens to you, it can make you feel… scared, hurt or confused!

You see, when people did this to a goat, it didn’t matter. From the goat’s perspective, a bunch of humans said a bunch of words and then let it go. Cool! No sweat off the goat’s back, right? If anything, great for the lucky goat. It certainly didn’t create any cycles of harmful behavior. But when a human becomes a scapegoat, that human is now experiencing the very conditions that create the need for a new one.

Another unfortunate aspect of this is that “proximity” to a person experiencing the negative emotions is more likely if it’s someone you care about, someone you interact with frequently. So it’s not uncommon for colleagues, friends, family members, or other close people to lash out in exactly this way.

And you don’t want to blame them! After all, you care about them. And you understand everything they’re experiencing is natural. Fear and pain and confusion are unpleasant stimuli. Lashing out in this way is so natural that we have a whole word for it, going back to parables in the Bible. This isn’t healthy, but it’s perfectly understandable.

So you don’t want to continue the cycle by passing it on to another, and you don’t want to be mad at the people who passed it onto you. So what do you do?

Let people be hurt, scared or confused. Let them come to you. Be understanding; they’re only human, just like you. Help them find a solution if they really want one, let them vent if they don’t. If it becomes necessary, walk away – some people may not give you any other option. But above all else, love your neighbor. Because no one else can carry your pain but you – not even goats. But lots of people can carry your love with you, if you share it.

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