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Why Do We Blame Victims?

Posted Nov 23 2009 10:01pm
You hear it in New Age circles, therapy groups and arguments between "friends" (I've done it myself) all the time: "Stop being such a victim!"

This stance smacks of a current, odious trend of faulty reasoning: if something bad happens to you, "you must have attracted it."

Why has victim-bashing become so fashionable? It may be due to a misinterpretation of karma, the spiritual law of cause and effect. A simple example of karma: if you stick your hand in a fire, you're going to have a burnt hand; if you break the law and you go to jail it was your own doing; you may be happier for continually helping little old ladies and blind men to cross the street than if you ignore them or run them over with your car.

The more complicated way to see karma—and a convenient way to blame victims—is to say, "If you fell into the fire and got burned, you probably did something to deserve it." According to this theory, your thinning hair, your low-paying job, your inability to find a life partner, the fact that you were raped, or your having being born with HIV in a rat-infested third-world prison is your fault. You have no right to complain! Find your part in your pain and unhappiness and move on! There's not even a remote possibility that life isn't always a bowl of cherries except for you screwing things up for yourself.

Why are we "spiritual" and "personal growth" types so intensely down on victimhood? Whatever happened to "we're all one and it's all good?"

I think it's because victims make us afraid. We fear them because we fear our own inadequacies.

Let's first look at the dictionary definition of "victim."

VICTIM (Noun)
1. One who is harmed or killed by another: a victim of a mugging.
2. A living creature slain and offered as a sacrifice during a religious rite.
3. One who is harmed by or made to suffer from an act, circumstance, agency, or condition: victims of war.
4. A person who suffers injury, loss, or death as a result of a voluntary undertaking: You are a victim of your own scheming.
5. A person who is tricked, swindled, or taken advantage of: the victim of a cruel hoax.

No one can sanely deny that the blameless kinds of victims exist (definitions 1-3 and 5). What seems to make us so uncomfortable is not victims of disaster (we feel great about people like that because we can play superhero and help them) but the "victim mentality," the assumption that because something terrible has happened, that things will always be terrible. Those who we call victims appear to live out of fearful stories of the past. "I just lost my home to a hurricane" = acceptable victim. "I lost my home to a hurricane, my wife left me, my child is sick, I have no money and I can't get a job" = somewhat more difficult to deal with victim. "I've tried everything and my luck has run out" = VSM (Very Scary Victim).

VSMs bring out many unquestioned assumptions and fears in the suddenly ineffective, thwarted hero, such as
"They want something from me."
"They are blaming me."
"I have to make it better for them."
"They're not doing enough to better themselves."
"They should be more positive."
"They pretend to be weak."
"They brought it upon themselves."

Barbara Ehrenreich has recently written a book about the cult of positivity . Curmudgeon though she may be, I think there's a lot of truth in what she says. Some of us don't pursue happiness for the joy of it but as a way to avoid pain. There is nothing wrong with that as long as a) you know what you're doing and b) you don't disdain another's (perhaps more realistic) path.

If your life is going great, or if you yourself have overcome great obstacles and found some measure of hope, you may find it hard to believe that this may not be available to everyone. If you feel your own happiness is on shaky ground, it may be especially hard to be around someone who is often fearful, angry or feels hopeless. We don't want them messing with our vibe. We don't want to see that, at any moment, we too could come down from our self-realized high. We don't want to acknowledge any family resemblance.

There's a Byron Katie quote that's become a big favorite among those who who are uncomfortable with others' unhappiness: "Victims are violent people." It's important to understand the spirit of this quote: it was never meant to blame the victim. Katie says this when she sees people lashing out at themselves or others...not to tell them not to do that, but to provide insight that may lead to a lessening of suffering. It's true that we are sometimes violent in the name of "violence was done to me." That's the nature of war.

When we inquire into our stressful thoughts about our own victimhood, we see where we have been overly harsh with our victimizers, with ourselves, with those we perceive are not helping us enough or at all. This is the first step in getting free of suffering. It's not something to prescribe to VSMs and even if they take the suggestion, it doesn't mean that these perceived victims will suddenly rise and shine and prove your spiritual theories of unlimited abundance to be correct, that they'll get happier so that you can feel better around them, or that they'll never ask you for anything that you don't feel like giving them again.

So that leaves us, the ones afraid of the VSMs, to do more of our inner work. Someone should stop being such a victim—why? Can you know what is best for them in the long run? If they did what you wanted, what would you have that you don't have now?

When you complain about someone being a victim, what are you reacting to...the victim, or your fear of being...victimized by them?

Could it be that the Very Scary Victims, like others we fear or resent, are here just for us, to take us ever closer to Home Sweet Home?


©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.
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