The Career Within You

Finding the perfect job for your personality

What Does Calling Someone a “Victim” Mean?

“Victim” as a habit is unhealthy; “victim” as a weapon hurts.

A victim is a person who has been hurt or taken advantage of, which most of us try to avoid. Some people hit others over the head with this word. Some seem to like being victimized; some almost compete over who is the biggest victim. What is it about this word?

KINDS OF VICTIMS

• Unfortunates who had a meteor fell on them, for example.

• The Human Condition. Being a person is rewarding but not easy. All of us can feel justifiably like victims because we know we're going to die and we must feel the pressures of growing from dependent children into responsible adults. We were adolescents once. That alone makes us victims (joke).

• People who use victimhood:

Here's an example of someone who didn't learn how to be a responsible adult and played the victim instead. Charles Laughton, as the father of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, got people to feel sorry for him in the movie, "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" (1934, starring Norma Shearer and Frederick March). He controlled his disabled daughter by acting like a pitiful old woman. I knew a young man in college who had also mastered the art of acting pathetic. When he succeeded manipulating with this, he'd get over it right away and look proud that he'd gotten away with something.

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• All of us when we regress now and then:

I can understand when people feel vulnerable they might fantasize they need someone (a parent substitute) to come and rescue them. The unconscious wants to magically recreate something that worked a long time ago. A better solution would be to try to fix what is hurting, however: a loss to mourn, a relationship to improve, something to repair in the person's life.

• People who can't stop complaining and make life hard on those around them:

When people habitually feel they've been hurt or taken advantage of, there's a huge chance that it's not true. Most of the complaints you hear from this "repeat victim" are not real injustices. Imagined perpetrators are usually too busy with their own concerns to set out to victimize another. If these are not real victims, a good idea would be for them to figure out what in their lives needs changing and do something definite about it. These people are often passive; it hasn't occurred to them to take the bull by the horns and change their lives for the better.

• "Victim" - a word used to hurl hurt:

Recently I overheard a couple in the café arguing about which one was a victim. He told her she was always complaining about her friends. "You're a victim," he chastised her. She said she could not deny that she might unconsciously be a victim, but not consciously. He looked as though he were about to explode in rage when she got back at him by calling him one.

This is not an empty word. We all felt comforted by our parents when we skinned our knees as children. That memory stays inside our psyche. We want to be 100% strong as adults but we feel hurt sometimes and we regress. Then we try to soothe ourselves somehow so we can be our adult selves and go on. I hope the couple looked deeper into the concepts they were bandying about and added the ingredient of compassion to their discussion. I wonder if exploring that word could help them understand each other...

Taking the bull by the horns
Taking her life by the horns.
Elizabeth Wagele

Elizabeth Wagele is the co-author with Ingrid Stabb of The Career Within You: How to Find the Perfect Job for Your Personality.

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