The Usefulness of Victimhood

Every stance we take, we take it because there is some use to us for it; even being a victim.

For the purposes of this conversation, I am excluding children, the Third World, and war-torn regions… I’m talking about first world adult ‘victims’.

I’m talking from personal experience. There have been times where I liked to think of myself as a victim. If you had asked me, I would have said my position was ‘right’ or ‘true’. Truth is a slippery thing— the more closely I look for it, the more it evades me. Fair enough. Setting truth aside,  I—shortsightedly and conveniently— thought it was the only conclusion. Beware of the convenient conclusion! Eventually, I was introduced to another possibility: that my position was not true per se, nor was it the only position, but it was a useful position. Being a victim, useful? Yes:

‘Being a victim’ had its uses:

  • I got to garner sympathy
  • I didn’t have to consider my contribution the matter
  • I could easily end uncomfortable conversations by playing the victim card
  • If playing the victim card had the opposite effect of inflaming the conversation, that was ok too, because I got to feel ‘right’ and be a martyr

However, it had its downside:

  • It had no forward momentum; it persisted, as the matter was beyond my control
  • In such inertia, healing my hurt became equally difficult, as I waited for who-done-me-wrong to ask my forgiveness. Sometimes that person didn’t even know he or she offended me (I was too afraid to mention it), or if I got up the courage, they may have disagreed with me (I didn’t know how to stand up for myself in a way that created the outcomes I wanted), or they may have had bigger fish to fry than me (my emotional well being was not their priority).

I learned ‘being a victim’ is just one position I could adopt; there are other useful stances. What would happen if instead of ‘being a victim’, I asked myself, “what could I have done (or do) differently to produce a different outcome?” Without negating the hurt I felt, such a reframing placed me in a better position to make a difference.

The downsides:

  • I had to consider my contribution to the matter
  • I had to take action (internally and/or externally)
  • I no longer got to garner sympathy
  • I no longer had an easy way to end a conversation
  • I had to give up being a martyr

The upsides:

  • It placed me in the driver seat, I could create different outcomes
  • Using bad circumstances to guide better future actions is wisdom
  • It opened me up towards having forgiveness, a powerful healing emotion

I used to enjoy ‘being a victim’. Garnering sympathy felt really good, and not thinking about my role in situations was incredibly comfortable. But once I understood the distinction of true versus useful, being a victim became less comfortable for me, as I realized what I was missing out on. I pushed through the downsides of taking responsibility for situations (very uncomfortable!) and was rewarded with new benefits which far outweighed the ones I used to enjoy. Better-the-devil-I-knew was certainly true for me; it took tremendous courage to try the new, vulnerable and scary, but I could not have weighed the relative merits of each stance until I had actually tried both.

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