The “Pleasure” of Being a Victim

It’s wrong and irrational to pretend that you’re a victim when you’re not; but it also serves an emotional purpose, for many people.

By “emotional” I mean irrational. It’s not that emotions are always mistaken or irrational, but in this case they are. But just because something is irrational still doesn’t mean there are no explanations, or reasons, for the existence of the emotion.  There are many reasons why someone might enjoy feeling like a victim. For example, it provides a sense of visibility and attention not found elsewhere in life. This is particularly true in the present cultural era. In the present cultural era, victimhood is almost a status symbol, assuming you’re the politically or otherwise “correct” type of victim, of course. There are a lot of people out there who are, quite frankly, suckers. Their hearts bleed for the tale of a victim, and they don’t think critically about what the person claiming victimhood is saying. “I was wronged,” the victim will say. The suckers will reply, “How awful. How mean people can be!” There are no critical questions such as, “How do you know you were wronged?” Or: “Please explain.” To the suckers, these don’t matter. Why not? Probably because they’re interested in validating their own view that they’re victims too.

Another reason some people like to be the victim, even when they’re not, is to correct past wrongdoing done to them. Maybe their parents were physically or sexually abusive. Of course this abuse was wrong. Of course no parent has a right to be this way, and of course no child asks to be born into, nor in any sense ever deserved, such treatment. But it is what it is, and people respond to abusiveness differently. Some grow up and think, “It’s unfortunate my parents were like that. But I don’t have to be like that, and I don’t have to willingly spend time with anyone else remotely like that.” And they proceed to lead the benevolent and peaceful lives that their parents, in their earlier years, denied them. Nothing will get them back their childhoods; but at least they do what they can, as adults, not to extend or prolong their own victimization.

This isn’t enough, for some people. Some people “need” to stay angry their whole lives. They know their claims of victimization by others, in their adult lives, are false or exaggerated. But they make those claims anyway, to themselves and possibly to others. Why? What are they getting out of it? Most likely, a sense of justice. It’s a sense that, “I can’t get back at my parents (or whoever the victimizers were), but at least I can get back at this person.” This “get-evenism” matters more than even the truth. Is this right, rational, or in any way excusable? Of course not. Does everyone victimized in their childhoods act this way? No; in fact, I don’t think that even most do. But this is simply to explain what some people feel they’re getting out of being victims. Does it get them what they want? Absolutely not. Because advancing false or exaggerated claims does nothing to change the past. The past cannot be changed, no matter how much you lie, distort or manipulate in the present.

More psychotherapists than not perpetuate this problem. This is because, frankly, most psychotherapists are suckers. They encourage people to not only acknowledge the truth of past wrongdoing against them, but also to make that wrongdoing vivid and alive in the present. “Let’s talk about that past wrongdoing, and nothing else, once a week for years.” They fail to ask, “That’s awful, those things that happened to you in the past; but what now, for yourself?” They feel like it’s cold, cruel or even unprofessional to ask such a thing. They feel like it’s blaming the victim. But there’s no blaming the victim in telling him or her, “What happened to you was awful. But life is better than that. And you’re better than that. Are you willing to believe this — and act on this belief?” One cannot snap one’s fingers and change a feeling, of course. But aren’t these the kinds of questions and challenges psychotherapists should be posing to their clients and patients? Rather than simply nodding “ummm hmmmm” and implying agreement with everything a client says and does? That’s no help!

Personal human relationships, as a general trend, have so far not been a whole lot to write home about, for the human race to date. Human beings have a LONG way to go before they can enjoy better relationships than most have enjoyed up to now. Most are not abused by their parents, but more people than not leave childhood with a less than satisfied feeling about their overall experience. A lot of this is because of the ideology of self-sacrifice, something that nearly all religions and modern ethical approaches preach. Children are taught not to live for themselves, but for others. The implication is that they’re supposed to live their lives pleasing mommy and daddy, rather than doing what makes rational and objective sense for their own benefit more than anyone else’s. Pleasing trumps thinking, according to what most children are taught. And we wonder why self-esteem problems, family dysfunction and even physical/psychological abuse run rampant, even in advanced and economically well-off societies such as our own.

So long as you have a mind, a body and at least a little free will that you’re willing to exercise, no amount of victimization from your past need have any profound power in the present. There’s no such thing as being “damaged human goods” — unless you view yourself that way.