The Draw of Being the Victim in a Relationship

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Victimhood Implies Innocence

At the conscious level none of us want to be victims. Being victimized means getting damaged emotionally, psychologically, or physically and being powerless to stop it. Who in their right mind would want that? Yet the truth is that many people secretly or vocally do fancy themselves the victims in one or more of their close relationships and are just fine with it.

This is because while being a victim implies the inability to ward off painful inputs it also implies innocence. The victim cannot, by definition, be the perpetrator. This is the draw of being the victim in a relationship. Inhabiting the victim role allows people to place the brunt of the blame onto the other for the creation and maintenance of problems in the relationship.

The Burden of Responsibility is Usually Shared

It takes two to tango, and except for very rare pathological cases of psychopathic sadistic abuse both parties share the burden of responsibility for unhealthy circumstances. Both are doing things to help the relationship that are getting ignored or minimized by the other and both are doing things to harm the relationship that are getting noticed and amplified by the other. The standard psychological mechanism that allows for both of them to falsely inhabit the role of innocent victim is projection. They unburden themselves of psychic discomfort by placing all the responsibility for current and past problems onto each other and in the process they start to see each other as ill-willed or even monstrous.

Sustained Victimhood Means Surrendering Power

What people need to come to see is that while fancying themselves as innocent victims might make them feel better momentarily, this defense mechanism perpetuates the vicious cycle of destructive behavior and virtually guarantees that the relationship will remain distressed. Choosing to be a victim means choosing to surrender power, it means choosing to leave any chance to improve things squarely in the hands of the other. And the other is doing the exact same thing. Where is the improvement going to come from then? Will it just magically appear?

A lot of people equate being ‘responsible’ with being ‘guilty’ but the existential way to understand responsibility is simply the ability to respond. Responsibility is power. The more power we have the more responsibility we have. This insight is how positive movement starts to occur in distressed relationships. One person finally stands up and decides to stop projecting, to stop blaming, to stop being the victim, and to instead exercise his or her human power to rise above and be more compassionate, more understanding, and more forgiving.