The term “victim” has become a dirty word in some circles. Should someone claim they have been injured or victimized in a relationship—especially if their wounds are not physical, they are met with shaking heads or raised eyebrows.
I cannot tell you how many times, when I was reeling in shock, I was advised (often with the best intentions) to “stop being a victim!” This after being left a few weeks before our wedding by my partner of six years.
Yet, discovering I had been living a lie injured me. It undermined my reality, shattered my trust, and stirred depths of pain incomprehensible to me at the time. I needed compassion and understanding more than ever before in my life.
Instead, I was often accused of not taking responsibility for my part in the relationship demise, suspected of wallowing in a “poor me” mindset, and charged with character assassination for suggesting I had been harmed. But, above all, I was chastised for taking satisfaction in taking on a new and exciting identity—as a victim!
Limitations of New Age Beliefs about Suffering
I was quietly reminded, “There is no such thing as a victim.” Or, “Nothing can hurt us but our own attitudes.” I was highly susceptible to believing these attitudes because for most of my life, I, too, felt disdain for victims. I believed I was a psychologically sophisticated person who understood that we are responsible for our own feelings. And spiritually “advanced” enough to believe that we “attract our reality.”
Previously, I had considered myself a resilient person who bounced back with relative ease from life’s slings and arrows. I believed others could do the same if they just put their minds to it.
That is, until this traumatic abandonment and betrayal fractured my world. Then, despite all my efforts to heal, to let go and forgive, I did feel like a victim! For a long time, I could not shake the feeling of shame at having been “used and abused,” in short, victimized. Somehow this unrelenting pain must be my fault.
Now, with the passage of time, I want to take a stand for victimization. I have come more and more to believe that in order to move forward and heal, there are times when we need to stand up and shout, “Yes, I am a victim!”
Victims Reveal our Vulnerability
I began to wonder why we are so anxious to blame victims. To be a victim implies helplessness and acute vulnerability. By denying victim status to those who are hurt by life, we attempt to banish our own fears of harmful events.
We can see how absurd the belief in “no victims” is when we consider natural disasters, war, genocide, rape, epidemics, children abandoned or born into poverty or abusive families. Yet, we still tend to rationalize misfortune when it is close to us, blaming the victim for their plight—even if we clothe our blame in concepts such as sin, karma or the law of attraction.
We like to believe we live in a predictable world, a safe and moral universe where our actions have consequences. If only we live, think and act well, terrible things won’t happen to us. “What goes around comes around” gives us a sense that we have some control over our destiny.
That misfortune is random and can happen to anyone at any time is terrifying. But the truth is that bad things do happen to good people. When we blame the victim, it offers us a last grasp at control. If they had behaved differently (like us), this bad thing would not have happened to them.
At the deepest spiritual levels there may be some truth that the victim of abuse, accident, disease, or crime shares responsibility for his or her suffering. On the human level, however, when we are faced with suffering, these attitudes not only cover fear of our own powerlessness, but shut off our compassion.
Facing the Truth Brings a Deepening, an Existential Crisis
When life deals us, or someone we love, a cruel blow, it shatters naive innocence and trust. Especially if this blow comes through the hands of another we have loved and trusted, we are forced to grapple with questions of good and evil.
Betrayal initiates an existential, spiritual crisis that requires spiritual healing. We have to dig deep inside and dispel many illusions to find answers. We must pass through the dark night of realizing how much we do not know. Most importantly, we need to find our way to a trust in a Higher Power beyond human relationship.
When a traumatic event shatters our reality, we need to come to terms with what happened, against the titanic draw of denial. This includes our victimhood, helplessness and powerlessness. Until we do, we cannot fully grieve what has been lost—our worldview, identity, and trust, to name a few—nor can we fully heal.
I learned that acknowledging “I am a victim” can be a statement of profound courage, compassion and insight. To move forward, first we need to stand on the firm ground of what happened. We need to face the existential crisis the truth initiates. Then, we can find our way to the compassion and strength that goes beyond victimhood. This solid strength endures regardless of what happens to us.
A powerful book that will serve many.—Tara Brach, PhD.