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Powerlessness as Power

The Power of the Victim Identity

"I can't help it!" "I had no choice." "You just don't understand." "I didn't mean it!" "You ruined my life!" "You made me do it!" These are the words of someone who has a Victim identity. But while they convey powerlessness, they are actually quite powerful.

They are powerful because other people believe these words have merit. And these people very often take the power that is being handed to them with these words. They are then putty in the hands of the Victim, picking up the responsibility for the Victim's life. But these words are not true. It isn't true that a person can have "no choice." It isn't true that we "can't help" doing what we do. It isn't true that we can do something without at least unconsciously meaning to do it. It isn't true that someone can ruin another person's life. It isn't true that other people can make us do things. And the most powerful words of all--you just don't understand--are meant to put the icing on the cake, for these words say that the Victim is so special that no one can understand his dilemma, which means this Victim wins the Victim contest, hands down.

We've already discovered how the Victim develops the Victim identity; what we need to know now is how it works today. Basically what it does is allow the Victim to disown any responsibility for her life. No. Others are responsible for her life, her choices, her intentions, her ability to get back up after being knocked down, and her ability to have say-so over her own actions. All of these belong to someone else. At least that's the way the Victim sees it. And if the Victim's victim sees it that way too, then the Victim has all the power.

In order for the Victim to begin to stop playing the Victim role and take on a more genuine sense of self, he pretty much has to be surrounded with people who will not be manipulated into being controlled by the Victim's powerlessness. This means that we are going to have to start getting down to the truth when it comes to the concept of personal responsibility. So, let's talk about that.

If I say, "I can't help it," usually followed by "You just don't understand," what I am saying is I have no say-so over my own words, beliefs and behaviors. I am a leaf floating on the surface of the raging ocean, nanoseconds away from being swallowed into the depths. I can't examine my beliefs and decide whether or not they are valid. I can't look at the motivation behind my actions and learn what it is that I'm up to. I can't check my behavior long enough to reflect on what I'm doing. I can't decide on another behavior. I'm a puppet. And I know who is pulling my strings-it is YOU!

But there's a reason why "I can't help it" is followed by "You just don't understand." It's because I know that when I say "I can't help it" you are likely to say, "Of course, you can help it," and then what will I do? But if I say "You just don't understand," I've just thrown down the trump card. Now it doesn't matter what you say, I'll always be able to say that you don't understand. And of course, you don't understand because how could you--who suffers much less than I--ever come to grips with the depths and heights of my suffering? So, no, I really can't help it--and you will never, ever understand that.

Now the recipient of this manipulative effort has a choice. He can cave and just do what it is that the Victim says he needs. Or, he can walk away, telling the Victim, good luck with that. Of course, if one person is not willing to take on the job of taking care of poor Victim, then it's likely that someone else will. But if--by some miracle, or the fact that the Victim has already burned all of his bridges--everyone of any significance to the Victim realizes that the Victim is really just manipulating and refuses to fall for it, then it is possible that the Victim will begin to lay a foundation on which to build his own life.

The same is true of the "I have no choice" mantra. This is a common mantra even for people who don't usually play the Victim. But it isn't true. There are always options. This is a hard one to swallow when we consider that we have laws on the books about provocation, and how a person can be provoked to commit a crime. It's hard to do when we think in black and white categories, so that we think that there's always only one or two choices, and if it's two, well then one of them is the wrong one. But regardless of how hard it is, it can be done--it's our choice. No matter how dire the situation, there are some options.

If someone accosts me in a parking lot and threatens to kill me if I don't get in his car, I have choices. I can get in the car. I can scream. I can fight. I can stand there and tell him that I'm not leaving, so I guess he is going to have to kill me. I can jump and run around insanely so that he won't want me anymore. I can get in the car long enough to get that gun out of my purse, pocket, or bra, and shoot him. That's five options already and there are others. And of course, one would have to be in that situation to assess the feasibility of each option. But there are options. This does not mean that the victim of such a kidnapping or rape or other such assault is to blame for what happened, anymore than the survivor of an auto-accident caused by a drunk driver is responsible for what happened. But it does mean that there are always options. And it also means that once we have survived such an ordeal, we are still responsible for creating a life for ourselves.

So, how can someone else ruin my life? No matter what someone else does, I'm still in charge of what I do with it after that, because it is my life. It belongs to me. We all watched in amazement as Christopher Reeve took back the power to run his own life from his wheelchair. And the truth is it wouldn't have mattered whether it was a drunk man's bus that hit him on the street or a horse-riding accident; he was still a quadriplegic. But he proved to us that our lives still belong to us--no matter what. The only way that someone can ruin my life is if I give them total control over it. And since even if I do that, no one can really take that control, it is not possible for someone else to ruin my life.

"You made me do it?" Seriously? Only if I am your puppet can you make me do or feel or think anything. As we just learned from the previous blog--we have no control over others. Choice is always operative. And it is just as true that others have no control over us.

We have all the power. So the only question left then is, how are we going to use it?

More from Andrea Mathews LPC, NCC
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