Monday, September 6, 2010
Warning: Avoid the Perpetual Victim
Let me be clear at the outset: I am cognizant of the fact that there are victims who are, truly, victims. Sometimes bad things happen to good, strong people who don't choose to take on that role. These are the people who, as quickly as possible, throw off the role of victim, recover, reassert themselves, and get on with their lives--the genuine survivors among us. They have the fortitude to rise above whatever it was that temporarily shook them to the core. This blog post is NOT about these admirable people.
No, I'm talking about the perpetual victims, people who choose and seem to revel in that role. They never rise above it. Instead, they learn to use their status as victims to manipulate other people and to get their own way.
And here's the key point I want to make about these folks: when they don't get their way with YOU, they thrust you in the role of "abuser" or "liar" or "oppressor" or "user"--ie, just another person who has victimized them yet again.
I'm thinking about this today because my mind keeps going back to the trial last week and something I didn't mention in my last post. It's this: the defendant we found guilty clearly did not think she'd done any wrong. Here she had injured two men for life, but she had so divorced herself from any responsibility in the matter that when she testified on the stand, she talked about the incident with an utterly flat affect, emotionless. She called the accident "horrible." And in the same breath she spoke of it as having happened TO her too. She was just as much its victim as those two men she hurt, not to mention the emotional damage done to one of the men's little girls, who had been standing off to the side with her mother, watching her father be hit and thrown almost into traffic before her very eyes.
In her mind, this woman was the victim of migraines, the victim of depression, the victim of some bizarre reaction that happened in her body that she wasn't responsible for and shouldn't be held accountable for.
It's typical addict behavior. We're NEVER responsible for what we do. Things just ... well, they just happen to us. Everything is always everybody else's fault.
I played that game, too, when I was drinking. My "victimhood" was, indeed, justification for my drinking. Every time I did something that I secretly loathed myself for or that flew in the face of my own word or my own values, I unloaded the responsibility onto others or onto circumstances beyond my control. Nothing was ever my fault, except beyond maybe a wry "I guess I should've known better, but I thought so-and-so wouldn't do that to me."
But it's not just addicts and alcoholics that do this crap. Actually, society is a damn addict. If it's not alcohol or drugs, it's gambling, sex, work, shopping, food, nicotine, you name it. Most all of us have a hole of some kind that wants to be filled. At some point, each of us lands on something that makes us feel better by stuffing that hole with it. Relationships: that's another one. Do you know somebody who just CAN'T be alone? Their life is a string of one relationship after another, with virtually no time off between them? Or when they're alone, it's only against their will; they feel "incomplete," and everything they do seems geared towards finding someone new? Then there is a relationship addict, somebody who feels so unlovable that they NEED someone else attached to them in order to feel lovable.
It doesn't work. And when that honeymoon periods wears off, or it's the next day hangover, or it's staring at the empty bank account, or whatever--that's when the addictive thinking kicks in. For some reason, we never seem to point at the substance or whatever we plugged the hole with as the problem. (Why would we? Then we'd have to give up our substance or practice.) So we look for things outside of it to blame.
And I suspect this is how the pattern of thinking "I'm a victim" kicks in.
That slot machine was rigged. That girlfriend or boyfriend led me on, told me he/she loved me when he didn't (heaven forbid they woke up to the truth that you're a loser). My boss is a control freak asshole so left me no choice but to quit. My body had a weird reaction to drugs I've been taking for twenty years and I couldn't have done anything about it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
It's my sad thought that the woman we found guilty will continue to cling to the belief that she did no wrong when she got behind the wheel of her minivan while she was high. It's my sad thought that her defense attorney took on the role of enabler, offering for her excuses for what she did. It's my sad thought that we on the jury are now seen by her as idiot pawns of a system that has wronged her. It's my sad thought that she may learn nothing at all.
Do you know someone who never takes responsibility for anything, whose bad choices are always attributable to either somebody victimizing them or involving them in circumstances beyond their control? If at all possible, steer clear. They'll love you while you're giving them what they want. But the moment you wise up and they can't manipulate you to give them what they want anymore, YOU will be their next "abuser."