Traversing the Inner Terrain

The search for the Authentic Self.

The Victim Identity

The allergic reaction to personal responsibility means a difficult life.

Many of us whine for a minute when things don't go our way. We need a little grief time, a little time to gather ourselves back together again, renegotiate our hopes and dreams more in alignment with reality, and then we're back in the saddle again. The time it takes for us to do that varies with each individual.  Many people feel a tad embarrassed when they whine this way because, well, it feels to us as if we are on the pity-pot. And, you know, maybe for a minute we are.  But really, don't we all just need to go there sometimes?

That temporary state of self-pity, however, is a drop in the bucket compared to what happens when we are dealing with someone with a full-blown Victim identity.  A person with a Victim identity is someone who has identified with whatever crises, traumas, illnesses or other difficulties have occurred in their lives, particularly those that began very early in life.  They did this as a survival technique. Better to go ahead and just realize that life is a long fight with City Hall that you always lose, than to get your hopes up that you just might win every now and then. Hopes can be smashed and a person can be devastated by such dashing. So, why not just avoid the whole mess altogether by just being a perpetual victim.

The belief systems of the person with a Victim identity fall along these lines:

  • Life is really, really hard.
  • Don't get up, you'll just get kicked back down again.
  • Beware, always beware of trickery; it's around every corner.
  • You can't trust anyone.
  • I can't.
  • You just don't understand how hard it is for me.
  • Everyone is always picking on me.
  • "They" are always bigger, badder and smarter than me.

These belief systems are in place to protect the Victim from ever having to really engage life and hurdle its hurdles. Doing so is just plain too risky.  No, the best way to cope is to just stay on the down-side of life, and never, never, never expect more.

The Victim will definitely complain and even whine to others about how hard life is. But if anyone ever offers him some options for changing that life, the Victim classically comes back with a long list of "Yes, but's." If we ever have the heart and temerity to confront him with this fact, he is liable to begin to cry and tell us repeatedly that we just don't understand how hard it is for him. Life is just harder for him than others-he doesn't know why-but it is.  He may attach all kinds of rationales for that statement, but the truth is that he must keep believing that life is hard, or it might just get a whole lot harder. 

She will beg you to fix her life, then when you offer the fix, she'll either find a way to sabotage your fix or she'll complain that you did it all wrong, and what's the matter with you! OR, she'll refuse your fixes altogether. You'll be frustrated and try all the harder to get her to see she needs help or some solution to the problem and you'll stay hoping against hope that she'll get it. 

Of course, the secondary gain for the Victim is in the fact that he can get people to stay and take care of him in just this way-for who could ever really leave the poor Victim without feeling terribly guilty. In this way, Victims often bully others into all kinds of care-giving, running the gamut from providing financially for poor Victim, to literally making all of his choices for him.  The Victim typically knows exactly what buttons to push in others to get them to begin or continue to take care of him. Indeed, quite often the Bully identity lurches backward into his shadowed Victim identity, as a means of justifying his abuse of others.

An even more difficult consequence of living out the Victim identity is the fact that many Victims actually do attract Bullies as their partners. This is because the Bully is often looking for those of whom she can take advantage. But it is also because the Victim doesn't believe she will ever get anything or anyone better. This isn't, however, because the Victim feels she doesn't deserve better, it is because she must believe that life is hard or it will get a whole lot harder. This belief is the magical thinking that appears to her to have kept her alive all this time. Of course, it isn't the life force that she believes it is, but she can't see that, because to see that would mean taking responsibility for her own life and she must never, ever do that, for fear that things will get a whole lot harder.

It is usually quite difficult for the Victim to come to see that he is living out of the Victim identity instead of living from the Authentic Self, because there is shame attached to their efforts to manipulate and their history of failures. But if he can come to see it clearly and hear the messages it gives him, he can begin to recognize that this mask and costume was never real in the first place, and that there is someone within who is strong and capable and on whom he can rely. 

So, how does that happen?  Next blog. 

Andrea Mathews, L.P.C., is a Cognitive and Transpersonal Therapist, internet radio show host, and author of Restoring My Soul: A Workbook for Finding and Living the Authentic Self. more...

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