Think back to when you were a trouble-making, devious kid—maybe you stole a cookie from the cookie jar, or stayed up past your bedtime, or watched a movie deemed inappropriate and off limits. Chances are, you did everything you could to avoid getting caught and being punished: which means that you probably placed the blame on someone else.

Be it your kid-brother, your older sister, or just another random kid in your class. It didn’t matter to you, you just wanted to save yourself from being put in time-out or sent to bed early. You’re probably laughing and thinking, “Kids will be kids!” And hey that’s true—but what you might not realize is that you were demonstrating the classic act of scapegoating, which can actually be a major issue for all involved.

In sum, scapegoating is placing blame on someone (the scapegoat) for something that he or she had no part in. Sure, telling your parents or your teacher that it was the other kid who broke the crayons or wrote on the wall isn’t super problematic—but assigning blame can extend beyond that and really take on a life of it’s own. For example, imagine that you have a huge deadline coming up at work—it’s the night before your presentation is due, but you’re feeling good because you worked really hard on it. The only thing you’re a little worried about is your coworker, who was supposed to provide the visual. But you give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he pulled his weight. The morning comes around and you walk into work ready and excited to present—only your boss and the rest of your company aren’t there. You find out from a friend that your boss cancelled the presentation because it was incomplete… and your partner told him that it was all your fault.

In this scenario, you are the scapegoat—and it doesn’t feel good, does it? You did everything right, but you’re blamed for everything that went wrong, which could potentially hurt your career and your work relationships. As for your partner who scapegoated you? He suffers as well. The guilt gnaws away at him and eventually causes him to quit his job.

3 Reasons Scapegoating Isn’t Helpful

1) It leads to feelings of guilt.
Sure, you’re relieved the instant you dodge a bullet and for a good minute feel like an absolute genius. But after that, feelings of guilt take over and you no longer feel so great about yourself—you just put someone in the very undesirable position you were trying to avoid.

2) It creates a whole new problem.
It’s not as easy as simply saying someone else is to blame—now you have to keep up this whole act. Refer back to the scenario at work: your partner must’ve done some major convincing to get your boss to believe their claims, without first hearing your side of the story. And it’s still not over. Now they have to keep their story straight and continue insisting it is the truth, which is what led to their resignation.

3) You start to perceive yourself as a bad person.
While we all have different morals, I think most of us can agree that placing blame on others is morally incorrect. And when we start going against our morals, we typically start to view ourselves in a new light, which may even prompt further problematic behavior. So while it’s normal to throw the blame at someone else, it’s important to realize that it is not helpful in the least.

Instead of Scapegoating You Should…

  • Be respectful of others. You know that old saying, ‘Treat others the way you want to be treated?’ This simplified version of the golden rule is one to live by. Would you want someone else to place blame on you?
  • Put yourself in the scapegoat’s shoes. Think about how you would feel in their position. This one shouldn’t be too difficult, as you’re putting them in the very position you want to avoid—so it must not be all that great.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. Ultimately, it all comes down to taking responsibility for your actions. If you get yourself into a sticky situation, you need to acknowledge what you did wrong—not only to yourself but to all parties involved.
  • Avoid putting yourself in a problematic situation in the future. Moving forward, you can avoid this whole fiasco by staying true to your morals and resisting troublesome temptations (like forbidden cookies). But if you do find yourself in the opportune position to scapegoat somebody again, remember: it’s a bad idea! Say no and take the high road.