How long can you claim victim status?


I readily admit that I am, by nature, a contrarian. You say ”black” I immediately think (though as I have grown older fortunately not always out loud) “white”, “not always black” “depends on the context” .. . Well, you get my drift.


This well honed, natural, and long experienced thought process is probably why I found myself thinking contrarian thoughts about the whole #MeToo conversation.


The first thought I had was, “I wonder, if someone gets paid several million dollars for (presumably) keeping quiet about inappropriate sexual behaviour on the part of some celebrity, does that mean s/he gives up all claim to being a victim?


This question, when posed to other female friends of mine (all of whom stated that they had either been molested or experienced sexual harassment at work) gave rise to a variety of responses.   Some, like myself, believe that a woman gives up all claims to being a victim if she accepts payment to keep silent.  Others believe that feeling like a victim is a function of what was done to you, and you are, therefore, always a victim.


I will accept that the latter is true for those who believe it  (the issue was not about which belief is right or wrong but rather a conversation and discussion).  The question for me that arises then from this conversation is “When, then, does a person ever stop being (or feeling like) a victim”?


Therapists who work with patients who have been sexually abused face a difficult challenge when they try to help these people move from the understandable feelings of victimization toward a healthier self concept. Many patients believe that somehow they had a role to play in the abuse.  “IF” is a big word in their vocabulary.  ”If I hadn’t worn that outfit,”; “If I hadn’t had that last drink”; “if I had only left whenever everybody else did”.  There are no end to the personal recriminations, and they are sustained by a strong basic belief that “if only I was better, none of this would have happened”.


The reality, however, is that shit happens.  Bad things happen to good people.  Millions of people are caught in war, famine, floods, earthquakes or any number of man-made or natural disasters.  They are tragic, heart breaking, devastating, and often incomprehensible.  But at the end of the event, the difference between the victims and the valorous seems to be the strong belief of the latter that they can learn from the experience without an accompanying feeling that they were somehow responsible for the experience.


It seems that victims can forgive neither themselves nor their abusers.  Not only that, but they tend to replay the trauma vividly in their mind and memory.


I had an Armenian taxi cab driver one time who railed against the Turks for the genocide committed against his people, about 100 years earlier.  I suggested that in the New World we tried to forget ancient hostilities and learn to live with others whose ancestors (but not them) may have been bitter enemies.


“How can I forget” he exclaimed passionately.  “My grandfather did not forget.  My father did not forget.  I cannot forget.”  He is absolutely right in one respect.  If the trauma is told and retold down the generations, the sense of victimhood will be passed along as well and neither he nor his kids will ever forget.


So, in order to become more resilient, and shed the victim mentality, what might you do?  Step one is to stop reliving the pain and the painful  experience.  Do something different by changing your current activity to something that you find absorbing or interesting, Stop thinking about it – not always easy to do but essential.  Distract yourself by doing something for someone else, taking a fitness break, anything except going over and over and over the event in your mind.


Silence the little voice in your head, that little critical voice that claims you were victimized because of something that you did, that you invited.


Ask yourself. “Am I feeling hurt or am I feeling angry?”  People who feel hurt hold on to victim status much longer than do those who feel angry about being victimized.  People who feel hurt feel powerless (the victim condition) while people who feel angry look to take action.  Just don’t feel angry at yourself.  People who feel guilty (as irrational as it seems this includes those who have nothing to feel guilty about ) never do things they enjoy because they believe they do not deserve to feel good. Take care of yourself by allowing yourself to do things that bring you joy.


Accept empathy but stay away from sympathy.  The latter reinforces your victim status.  The former provides support and understanding.


Forgive yourself for NOT being perfect.  After all, nothing bad EVER happens to perfect people, right?


Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent“.  Are you consenting to let yourself feel like a victim?