“I wonder if there are too many things more seductive and poisonous than grasping at victim status.”
This comment was made “off the record” (read: this person knew this was a volatile conversation and wanted to tread lightly, but still wanted to have the conversation with me) as a part of my post-racial church discussion. The word victim come directly from the Latin victima, meaning “person” or “animal killed as a sacrifice”, or “any sacrifice”. There’s a difference between being the victim of abuse and having a victim mentality, a balance of what is true victimization and what is excuse making for poor choices and poor behavior. Choices and actions are somehow absolved because they aren’t actually your fault, but the fault of some outside … other. As if you had nothing to do with your situation, but rather you were the victim of (insert boogeyman of choice).
I also understand that it’s a dangerous road when a person or a minority group starts buying into certain beliefs about themselves. Yes, it is hard to blame the victim, but it’s just as unempowering to BE (and more importantly, remain) the victim. Your life becomes about finding new abusers, as if it’s some club to be a part of. When people so believe they are a victim that they then use that status to avoid confrontation or dealing with their own problems and mistakes. So we must leverage excuse making versus personal responsibility. But I didn’t want to go off half-cocked on the subject, so I turned to one of the voices of wisdom in my life, Carole McDonnell, to get her take:
There can be a need for certain victims to seem guiltless. To be guiltless absolves us of taking responsibility for our own actions. There’s pity for victims and many victims rise above the pity and learn to take charge of their lives again, but some are so wounded they A) can’t deal with their own imperfection B) can’t deal with being seen as imperfect C) confuse the pity and acceptance they receive as love, D) make the pity status permanent.
The victim status is seductive because while we’re in the painful situation we fall into self-pity. We use it to hammer or silence other folks who have not experienced the pain we’ve had. Why rid one’s self of an illness if one becomes utterly identified with it? What is one without the illness? “It’s not my fault; it’s my genes, etc.” And why fight fair when one can say to someone, “I’ve got depression, why are you talking to me like this?”
On the other hand, we live in a very individualistic society and people often tell the victim to “get over it.” That’s because we’re tired of hearing of their pain and our inability to change their situation. Or because we can’t sympathize anymore. Or because we’re cold. Or we fall into comparison mode and say, “If I were in your position, I wouldn’t be behaving like such a victim as you are.” Or we have weird ideas about how a noble victim should behave. So I don’t believe we should tell folks to “get over it.”
As a Christian we’re supposed to bear each other’s burdens and to take care of folks who are victimized. We aren’t supposed to be weary with their pain. Yet at the same time, we are to cover their heads with the helmet of the hope of salvation. The devil works through despair, bad memories, etc. We’re supposed to think of whatever things are just (not what is unjust) and we are to live in hope and the belief that Christ working in us will enable us to overcome the world as He did. I guess there are good ways of reacting to being victimized but I suspect God wants us to see ourselves as victors. We have triumphed or we will triumph. The meditations of our hearts and the words of our mouths cannot and should not be of moments when God seemed to fail us, or when injustice seemed to have triumph. We can say, “Such and such happened to me, but it will not happen again. I have become stronger because of it. I am becoming stronger because of it. If I look to God He is able to make me triumph over this through being able to comfort those who have been wounded as I have been.