February 25, 2011

Victim?

Sort of tailing on yesterday’s post, I’ve been wondering about casting oneself as a victim. I certainly don’t consciously think of myself as a victim, and just because I acknowledge the challenging parts of life doesn’t make me a victim, I don’t think.

It’s like I tell my husband, it’s important to acknowledge where you are damaged and to try to heal that. Blame does not need to be assigned and another person made out to be evil in order for me or anyone to acknowledge how they’ve been hurt in the past. It’s part of the healing process.

I thought I’d explore that a little today.

To me, a victim is not simply someone who has had a bad thing happen to them. Certainly that’s the strict definition. But when I think of victimhood, I think of people who are perpetual victims, who cast themselves in that role ~ and I’m not blaming the victim here, just pointing out that we all have roles that we’re comfortable in life, and victim is one of those roles. People who think of themselves in this way often blame the world for everything. It’s never their fault and they don’t take control of their lives. They feel they have no power so they take no power. Plus they have a distinct poor-me attitude. Let’s call them Eeyores: “I probably wouldn’t have liked it anyway.” They might be complainers or even bitter and angry.

So where is the line between victimhood and acknowledgement? I’m not sure, exactly. On one end of the scale, there are people who don’t even acknowledge bad things happen, like Dr. Pangloss in Candide or Marge Simpson. This is definitely a coping mechanism. But I think that people who do this suppress anger and healthy reactions to things. After all, what is anger but an appropriate response to being hurt, so if you suppress it, turning it in on yourself, you’re suppressing a healthy emotional life. And suppressed anger turns into depression.

There are also angry people. They also feel no control over their lives, and the hurt is so deep and unmanageable they lash out all the time. In a way, they exhibit victimhood too, only instead of turning the anger inward like the optimists, they turn it outward and hurt other people.

Then there are people, often successful people, who are optimists and but they take control of their lives. They try to balance things, try to be proactive in their mental health, try to be healthy in all aspects of their lives. They have a much healthier balance and stable take on things. This is the person I strive to be.

So I guess the component of victimhood that makes the difference is if you try to do better, try to control things. I don’t think a person should labor under the delusion that the world is totally controllable ~ that leads to its own set of problems ~ but having goals and pushing yourself often gets the healthiest emotional results. An active management of our emotional lives.

Maybe this is just self-justification, as I’ve always tried to be proactive in managing my mental health. But I really have never thought of myself as a victim, and I don’t think talking about and working through your problems are signs of victimhood ~ quite the opposite.

And on a final note, writing is a way to take a proactive approach to past hurt, I think. One of the reasons why people become writers is that they feel they haven’t had a voice in the past, and they write to bear witness to things that went unsaid. It’s a healthy emotionally positive response. Bearing witness is not the same thing as passive, inactive, verbal wallowing and blaming.

Questions of the Day: How do you define victimhood? Do you think of yourself as a victim?

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