This is going to be the final blog in this series. I want to address something that is going to be uncomfortable for many readers: attachment to victimhood. This subject can be raw, and it can trip a wire that may bother people who have not faced that attachment in themselves. It is crucial to recognize that I am using the term “victim” in a spiritual sense—not in terms of physical or emotional events, but in terms of how we see ourselves. The point is how we attach to, recoil from, or generally identify with the word “victim”.
The further we shrink and objectify ourselves, the more we become victims. Even bullies see themselves as injured or deprived, so we all self-identify as victims. The victimization we seize on may be concrete or abstract, physical or emotional, but we all have a relationship with victimhood. It is a vicious irony: we dream of unity, and achieve a mockery of it by being united in aggrieved victimhood.
Here is a simple foursquare to start working with this dynamic:
|Victim||Assertive / Powerful|
|Innocent / Not accountable||Bully|
Self-identified victims—we could call them career victims—think of themselves as good, caring, deserving, nice people. Above all, they are right in their thinking. Yet if we are really honest, when we are around people who primarily see themselves as victims, we feel them radiate something other than goodness or innocence, and we find ourselves put off. How many times have you been around a victim and found yourself inexplicably angry? There is a reason for that. Victims are great haters.
And victimhood has its appeal. The more objectified we are, the less accountable. If we act out of a sense of victimhood, we automatically feel we are justified. As recent events have shown, even the police now see themselves as victims. In situations for which they are not prepared, they fear for their lives. Then, out of a sense of self-preservation, they shoot to kill. It is clear that they have not been properly trained to discern the difference between a misunderstanding and real danger.
We now inhabit an atmosphere suffused with threat. So in order not to appear as a threat to ourselves or others, we assess ourselves as victims. As victims, we arm ourselves against the world—unwittingly becoming threats. Everything is geared toward terror, so we fear for our lives and shoot.
This is only one example of how we now live in an emotionally heightened environment. All around us, especially in the media, emotionality rules the day. Even our news reporting is governed by emotion. Emotionality is equated with authenticity. We see emotion as the seat of our true subjectivity; as a result, the person in the most dramatic emotional state is seen as the most “real”. And our designated victims get a free pass. At the same time, the ideal of heroism has been reduced to surviving a situation in which we might have been more completely victimized.
We have cultivated around the world a support system that idealizes victimhood. Not only the media but also many in the “helping professions”, various forms of activism, and political groups maintain the focus on victims and our obligations to them. If you can stake a compelling claim to the role of victim, then anyone who disagrees with you is cast as the bully.
And what is perhaps most disturbing about this is that we have so cheapened victimhood that the real victims suffering right now go unnoticed, or are given brief spells of attention before being trumped by other self-appointed or media-appointed victims. Our attention lasts the duration of a hashtag.
At a deeper level, the self-identified victim spreads hate. Career victims hate, and they want the rest of us to join their family. Hate binds us together tighter than love. They encourage us to take sides inappropriately, to resonate with their violence, to participate in their self-centered worldview.
Again, there is a difference between people who are being victimized and suffering and those who cling to their victimhood and use it as a power play. The question is not whether someone has physically or emotionally victimized you at some point; it is whether you are going to insist on being identified as a victim afterward.
Anyone tempted to cling to victimhood in this way should consider that to identify yourself as a victim may give you leverage with some people, but in a more real sense it is to give up your agency. To become human is to recover your agency by letting go of all victimhood. But with agency comes accountability. Rather than be accountable, many people see more advantage in being victims.
We don’t have to operate this way. Each of us must work to give up our own sense of victimhood. Until we do that, we will remain caught in the ugly cycle of victimhood, hate, and violence. Love is the only answer. Not the love that opposes itself to hate, but the Love that transcends all separateness—the Love that has no interest in victims, and produces none.
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