By Dr. Laurel Schwartz
In life, unfortunately there is such a thing as a real victim. Indeed the title of Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" clearly makes that point. People can be the victim of an accident or crime. People can be a victim of weather as Hurricane Sandy tragically demonstrated. Sometimes we’re even a victim of our own stupidity or momentary lapse in judgment. All it takes is a second to make a bad call, or not pay attention with terrible consequences.
However, there is another kind of victim – a person who has decided to see themselves as a victim, regardless of life circumstances. According to principles of social psychology, children are brought up to see the world as a good or bad place. A person, who sees them self as a victim, sees the world as the former – a bad place. They walk through life carrying these expectations. For example, if there is a table full of deserts and someone eats the last éclair, their favorite, they will bemoan their loss and claim it was deliberate. Being a victim becomes this kind of person’s very identity. This behavior is a first cousin to an “injustice collector,” which is someone who carries around a mental sack and fills it as often as possible with the injustices to which they feel they are being subjected.
So why would a person behave this way? On the surface it seems like a very unhappy existence. Dennis Prager in his book "Happiness Is a Serious Problem" cites several reasons a person might choose victimhood. One reason is that it is easier to blame others than to confront oneself for one’s own unhappiness. He also suggests that feeling victimized is easier than taking control of one’s own life, which can be a pretty scary business. Sometimes, I’ve seen people with a desire to punish themselves, which is often unconscious. Other times, it can be learned behavior. Perhaps they grew up with someone who behaved this way and so they are just continuing the “family tradition.” Another reason to consider, is that it can make a person, in a funny way, feel special.
Another problem in taking the stance of a victim, is that it often disrupts one’s relationships with other people. Most people try to create as much distance as possible from a person who lives within the framework of victimhood. Unfortunately this only makes the “victim” feel more victimized.
At the end of the day, how happy we are has a lot to do with separating fact from fantasy and approaching life with a positive attitude. For some people this may not come naturally. It takes practice.
For more information you can reach me at 203-539-1255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.