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The Victim Identity: 4 Ways To Recover

Victim identity is based on an identification with victim-ness.  This identification unconsciously insists that the person so identified can be nothing else but victim. Life-all of life-becomes defined by the thoughts and emotions of a pervasive as-if victim-ness, even when the Victim is not being victimized. – Andrea Mathews LPC, NCC

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Constantly feeling victimized can heavily affect your mind, heart, conviction and self-respect and most importantly, your life.

“Pain is no one’s fault.” – Wayne Muller

Whether or not you agree with this statement, it’s pretty likely that there has been a time or two, or more, that it didn’t seem true. Who among us has never felt the sting of anger or the desire for retaliation, or the long slow burn of resentment when we have felt wronged or treated unjustly or unfairly.

There seems to be a fairly universal tendency to respond to pain with an acute desire to identify the source of the pain in order to prevent it from inflicting more suffering on us. Pull the hand away from the hot stove, take a couple of aspirin, to ease the distress of a headache, or in the case of a relationship, identify the person whose behavior has caused me pain. Doing so raises my level of vigilance and provides me with the security, or at least a sense of security that allows me to feel less vulnerable to the likelihood of future pain from that person. It’s a reasonable response and is likely to be effective as a protective strategy, but it often comes with a downside that can create unforeseen difficulties.

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It’s difficult, if not impossible to assign the person who we believe to be the cause of our pain without identifying ourselves as the victim of this person. Where there are perpetrators of suffering, there are inevitably victims of perpetration. And this is where the plot can thicken.

It’s a short distance from feeling victimized to becoming an active agent in the dance between heroes and villains. This is not to suggest that cruel or dangerous people don’t exist in the world and that we don’t need to be mindful in regard to whom we choose to trust or not trust. The question is, “Is it possible to be appropriately discerning without taking on the identity of the victim, and what about those situations where we have legitimate grounds to feel victimized; what’s wrong with that?”

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”  —​ Mahatma Gandhi

There’s nothing “wrong” with feeling like a victim, but there are consequences to adopting that identity and relating to the world from the experience of being a victim. By definition, a victim is someone who has been injured, harmed, has suffered as a result of circumstances or what we consider to be disrespectful behavior from others.

While no one really wants to be victimized many of us are quick to adopt the identity of being a victim particularly when others have behaved towards us in ways that are incongruous with our idea of who we are and what how we deserve to be treated. There’s no denying that the world’s population includes a large number of people who cause others, even close family members, harm and pain, and it is necessary to protect ourselves from the possibility of being wounded by them. But there is a difference between being victimized, and identifying oneself as a victim. Even if we never outwardly refer to ourselves as a victim, if we see ourselves as one, we may be setting ourselves up for trouble, and paradoxically, increasing the chances that we will become victimized again, and again, and again.

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Here’s why.

The way in which we see ourselves has a strong influence on what we experience because we all have a tendency to make life choices that reaffirm our identity. Whether our self-perception is good or bad, strong or weak, positive or negative, victim or perpetrator, our tendency is to act in ways that are consistent with those beliefs. This is not a conscious decision but is a manifestation of an unconscious need to reinforce a sense of self that provides us with the feeling of security that we know who we are. Even if the person you “know” or think you know isn’t exactly your ideal self, he or she is familiar to you, and it’s that familiarity that provides a sense of security in a world that is for the most part unknown.

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Linda and Charlie Bloomhttp://bloomwork.com/
Linda Bloom, LCSW and Charlie Bloom, MSW have been trained as psychotherapists and relationship counselors and have worked with individuals, couples, groups, and organizations since 1975. They have lectured and taught at universities and learning institutes throughout the USA, including the Esalen Institute, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, 1440 Multiversity, and many others.  They have taught seminars in many countries throughout the world. They have co-authored four books, 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married: Simple Lessons to Make Love Last, Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth From Real Couples About Lasting Love, Happily Ever After And 39 Other Myths About Love, and That Which Doesn't Kill Us: How One Couple Became Stronger at the Broken Places. They have been married since 1972 and are the parents of two adult children and three grandsons. Linda and Charlie live in Santa Cruz, California. Their website is www.bloomwork.com
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