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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 08-Jun-07


Friday 08-Jun-06

Victim thinking

Both my daughter and my son were bullied at school, as are many, many other children. Bullying and intimidation carries on into adult life, and there is a great danger of those bullied later perpetuating the cycle, perhaps in displaced revenge for their own mistreatment.

Perhaps a controversial view is that the victim is colluding in a social game. There can be comfort in the familiarity of the victim position and the hope for rescue and relief of a drama triangle. Such victim-thinking is seldom consciously or openly thought, which makes it a difficult rut to avoid.

I hope my kids don't fall into this cyclical trap and I don't think they will. They are both considerate and highly self-aware (there's no option in our house!). A trigger-point for my daughter was a conversation with a university lecturer who pointed out the trap of assuming that the only alternatives are aggressor or victim. A third position, which my daughter chose, is ,'not victim'. Now, when others try to intimidate her first to allows her to stand back and effectively say 'I am not going to play you victim, thank you' and also avoid the reactive trap of responding with counter-aggression. She can see the game and the traps into which she is being invited and politely refuse to play.

Games are repeating patterns of behavior in which players take on defined roles in what can be harmless or harmful activities. When they do not realize what is going on, they are perhaps all victims, even the aggressors. Naming the game is the first step to breaking the game. Even then the compulsion to repeat can make it hard for them to clamber out of the rut, and even this can turn into a game ('Help! I can't get out') and if you are helping people out you must be constantly aware of such danger.

The good news, as my daughter showed, is that patterns can be broken, games refused and victims can get away from that painful and awful cycle.

Your comments

Hi David, this is very valuable and helpful information. It never ceases to amaze me how prevalent this destructive type of behaviour is. I have witnessed it in the work place where it seems to be sanctioned by authority and the 'fear' of the individual that their future 'depends' on 'cow towing' to the bully. I wonder if any research has been done into how bully's 'sense' the trepidation of their victims and use this information to select them. Whilst a 'negative' skill it is a skill that needs understanding. I have written a piece called Organisational Ignorance which alludes to this to some extent and is part posted on my blog.


-- Paul J.

Dave replies:
I don't know about research but it certainly is known that it takes two to tango. Teaching people not think of themselves as victims can be a significant thing.

... but there is no black/white boundary, that is so obvious, is there?

There *is* a difference between getting help, and going around looking for sympathy (isn't there?). I find myself being paranoid about appearing "whiney" and "complaining", and this sometimes prevents me from getting help. Where is the balance?

If I go and make the push to go out and tell someone - then I feel a lot better, and the associated pain is significantly reduced, and it helps me move on to other things.
All the same, I still worry about becoming a inconvenience.

BTW - I think this is more likely to occur with men, because of gender roles/stereotypes and all... It is acceptable (and sometimes even encouraged) for a woman to cry/be emotional about stuff, but it is frowned upon for a man to want to talk about their emotions, even though it is about something extreme (death, rape) that would be more then acceptable for a woman to.

-- macmouse

Dave replies:
You're right. There is a wide spectrum of victimhood from truly needing support to self-inflicted attention-seeking games. There are many victims in the world who just need support, both physical and emotional.

There is also a part of this spectrum where you can support victims by helping them think 'not-victim'. A trap is to think that you are either a victim or persecutor. Like the adult position in Transactional Analysis that sits between parent and child, the person who is habitually (and often subconsciously) falling into a victim state can be helped to think differently. I am not saying that victims do not need succour. There is, however a danger that for some victims this can be a subtle encouragement to repeat the pattern.

You can take a similar view with persecutors. Whilst some punishment may be appropriate, the greatest cure you can create is if you can get them off the persecutor-victim thinking. A trap for the persecutor is to think that if they are not attacking others then they will be a victim themselves. This is the basis of the street-wise dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed thinking.

Wow, Dave, what a concept! Not, "I'm not a victim", but "I'm a NOT VICTIM!" But, Hey! There's got to be a better word for it. I'm thinking of WINNER, LEADER, SURVIVOR, DECIDER, SHOT-CALLER, ADULT... Hmmm...any more ideas?

The reason this so impacts me is that I am almost 70 years old and have a long standing romance with that poor me, resentful, why do I have to do it all feeling. What if, when I find myself drawn to that feeling, I choose a higher road... I can feel how wonderful that would be, right now... YUM!

I feel so grateful to you for this possibility. AND I'd love to hear your ideas on other ways to language it.


-- Cassandra

Dave replies:
Hello Cassandra. Well it's good that you're still open and exploring and it's good to hear that something I wrote is helping. It's like you can draw a circle and label it 'victim'. Outside is everything else that is not victim, including winner, etc. as you describe. We draw our own circles and stand inside them. When we think about it, though, we can erase and change our boundaries at will.

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