Undoing Shoulds: Being a Victim
Seeing oneself (or one's group) as a victim is our most coveted status
We may not use the word "victim," but that's the status we are including ourselves, someone else, or some group within whenever we designate someone else or some group (or even ourselves) at the bad guy(s).
I was a victim of the bullies in my elementary school.
My mother was the victim of my father. My father was the victim of my mother.
My client is the victim of her sister who wasn't fair as the executor of their parent's estate.
My Chinese friend is the victim of her mother who keeps insisting that she get married.
Another Chinese friend is a victim of her son who doesn't study hard and get good grades.
A former client is a victim of her former boyfriend who didn't defend her when his family was rude to her.
I was a victim of my former wife when I tolerated listening to the arguments she had with her son.
My friend felt so betrayed when she found out her husband slept with her best friend.
My former colleague felt he was treated unfairly when he was passed over for promotion because he was black.
Another client is a victim of her daughter who complains about how she's a victim of her brother.
Another Chinese friend thought it was unfair that her brother was treated more special than she was.
My clients in America who supported Biden feel defensive and righteous with Trump and his supporters.
My clients in America who supported Trump feel the election was stolen by the Democrats.
My Jewish friend felt he was a victim of some of his anti-Jewish classmates (who beat him up).
And those anti-Jewish classmates saw themselves as victims of my Jewish friend and his kind.
In WWII, the Japanese, the Germans, and the Italians saw themselves as the victims of the Allied countries.
In WWII, the Americans, the British, the Chinese, and others on the Allied side saw themselves as the victims of the Axis countries.
My client is a victim of himself when he blames himself for not having gotten his back taxes filed earlier.
Being a victim is a story we make up, not an assessment of facts
Holding oneself or others as a victim is a mindset, not an assessment of an in-the-world condition, such as having been raped, having been stolen from, having been killed, having someone blame you, or when you’re suffering some other perceived wrong-doing. Whether one has a non-victim or a victim mindset is not necessarily tied to any external world condition. A victim mindset usually includes self-pity and blame, either towards others or oneself. It places the responsibility for being okay in the world outside of oneself and often feeds on gaining sympathy from others “taking one’s side” or joining with other righteous believers to protect some other victim or group of victims. It basks in a sense of powerlessness to be able to address the issue, except by making others hurt or change (or even making yourself hurt). You can even be a victim of another seeing themselves as a victim or you thinking that others are being victimized.
Playing both the bad guy and the good guy
The most insidious form of victimhood is when you are both the victim and the perpetrator. This occurs when one part of you (for example, your Next) blames the Now part of you by saying, “You’re lazy! And you just ate that junk food!” It can also occur when your Others blames your Oneself as in, “Don’t be so selfish! You should not disappoint them.”
The victim mindset
Let me share with you two incidents that illustrate the distinction between the victim and non-victim mindset.
I made a Kindle purchase on Amazon.com. They made a mistake and overcharged me by $3.25. I could have argued that the smart thing to do was to just forget about it. Maybe I could have done that, but it seemed that I would still feel like the victim if I just accepted that loss. (Later I saw that I could have done that by just accepting, as part of the cost of doing business, things like this can happen from time to time. And be happy that, overall, it’s such a low cost compared to all the benefits that I get.)
No matter what I did, it seemed it was still unfair
But I also saw myself as a victim if I spent my valuable time calling them to get the charge reversed (I didn’t know how to do that with their website). I was suffering. Recognizing how I was “being the victim," I came up with a new approach where I wouldn’t see myself this way:
Doing it a fun way
I called customer service. I was able to get the charge reversed, no problem. At the end of the call, the service representative asked me, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I replied, “Yes, there is. I don’t know if you can do anything about it. But let me explain. I value my time at a minimum of $100 an hour. All together, I will have spent about seven minutes getting this refund handled. That means I have spent almost $12 of my time to get a $3.25 refund. Somehow that doesn’t seem fair to me. What do you think?”
No matter her response, I already felt okay
Just saying this to her, in a non-blaming way, made me feel okay about the whole situation…even if she was unable to do anything about it. But then I got a nice surprise.
She put me on hold for a minute and returned to inform me that her supervisor had authorized a $17.22 credit to my account for my troubles. She then also showed me how, in the future, I could easily reverse an invalid charge using their website.
Miracles can happen when you step outside of being a victim.
My girlfriend was raped
Even if you’ve never been raped, you’ve probably heard stories of rape victims being left feeling scarred, violated, ashamed, and alone...with a sense of violation often lasting for years and even affecting the level of safety and intimacy they felt capable of with their possible or actual sexual partner(s).
He broke into her window, wielding a knife
I was 26 and my girlfriend was 24. We both lived in New York City (she lived in Brooklyn). I don’t know how the conversation started, but she told me about an incident (roughly 18 months prior) when a strange man broke through her bedroom apartment window. Of course, she was frightened. He flashed a knife, threatening to cut her if she did not submit. She submitted. He raped her. Then he left.
I was ready to feel sorry for her
“Oh, my God,” I said, “Are you okay!?” As I asked her questions, and she told me more about the incident, I became aware that it really meant nothing to her (except perhaps as an interesting story to tell). It meant nothing to her or about her. She didn’t like it. She was thankful that she wasn’t physically hurt. But it just occurred to her as, “Well, it rained on me that day.” She was rather proud of herself for the way she handled herself and the way she saw it afterwards.
Unlike many rape victims, she did not see herself as a victim. She did not generalize from that one incident that she was not safe or that she was alone. She didn’t take it personally. As a result, she did not feel ashamed and, if anything, her sense of self-worth increased, instead of decreasing (from how she handled the event).
You may think I am insensitive to those who do feel violated, unsafe, alone, ashamed, and whose self-esteem has suffered after being raped. Of course, what they feel is real suffering. All I am addressing is the fact that suffering is always created by our interpretations, most likely our default interpretations; it is not necessarily created by what happened. What happened (after it happened) cannot be changed. But our interpretations of it can.
Personal note: if she had not told me this story, I would have never suspected she was raped from how she was with me when we made love together.
Whether you see yourself (or others) as a victim is entirely up to how you interpret the circumstances.