I’ve noticed something lately. I used to think people were “playing the victim” to be manipulative or to get attention and/or sympathy, but I think there is more to it. When you are the victim, you don’t have to change – you are doing nothing wrong. The bad thing is happening to you because someone else is doing something mean or evil or wrong or mean to you. They are the ones who need to change their behavior or be punished. You just get to be you.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times someone is doing something to you that is horrible and undeserved and you did absolutely nothing to bring it on. That sucks. I get it. But, and here is the big but, you decide what you are going to do about it and how you are going to recover. You get to decide if you are a victim or a survivor. There is a lot more power and control over your life as a survivor than as a victim.
If a man beats a woman – that is terrible. He is a reprehensible human being and deserves to be punished within the fullest extent of the law (and maybe a little bit more). This woman has experienced something tragic and painful and, undoubtedly, feels scared and betrayed. Labeling her as “the victim” means she has no power over what happens to her next. It limits her. If she views herself as a victim, she may feel vulnerable. If she is a survivor, she can stand up and get out of the relationship. She can heal her body, mind, and spirit and rebuild her life.
If a child grows up in a home rife with abuse, he or she can be a “victim of child abuse” or a survivor of child abuse. Can you imagine how people selecting those two different labels might view themselves and their experiences? One is empowering while the other seems to minimize their power.
This isn’t just about abuse. We can become so firmly entrenched in bad or unfair things that are happening to us that we don’t look for a way out. The weight of the “bad” holds us down and almost smothers us. It is important to look around you to see if there is any way to make the situation better and, if not, how to find an exit strategy. A client of mine recently told me about the difficulties he was having with his supervisor at work. He felt she was unjustifiably critical of him and often ignored his requests for assistance. He reported feeling trapped by her and saw no way to “make her change”. We began to explore their interactions (through his report, of course) and he discovered he has a tendency to be defensive, argumentative and passive-aggressive with this supervisor. We discussed how his style of communication might be contributing to her treatment of him. This was not all on him – at least it didn’t seem so, but once we could identify how he was exacerbating the situation, we could problem-solve ways to (hopefully) improve their relationship. My client had been so stuck in his self-identified role as the victim of his mean supervisor he had not been able to recognize his own behaviors. He could not change what he did not recognize. When we become so firmly entrenched in our position as the victim, we cannot acknowledge changes we might make to improve the situation.
Let’s sum this is – if you are in a problematic relationship, look for ways you might be able to make It better. If this isn’t possible, look for your way out. Life it is too short to be miserable. You are a survivor.