Tag Archives: victim blaming

Healing, and playing the victim

Devote too much attention to your experience of being a victim, and someone will come by and knock you back. Wallowing in victimhood, you will be told, is bad, and wrong and just keeps you in that victim place and you should shut up about it and move on. We have a culture that does not give any of us much space for supposed negative emotions – grief, rage, pain, and so forth are to be tidied away and denied. It can also be uncomfortable for people who are fine, to hear from people who are not, because it may challenge assumptions and beliefs, expose vulnerability and/or complicity.

A person who has been a victim – be that of exploitation, abuse, assault, emotional, physical or psychological mistreatment has a process to go through. Abusers tend to be good at victim blaming. There will be reasons for what happened and the victim will have been faced with the reasons enough times to believe them. This happens because you are bad, you deserve it. You aren’t worth a proper wage, or respect, or kindness. You don’t properly qualify as a person so human rights don’t apply to you. Hearing those reasons keeps the victim in a situation. However, oppression can be bigger and systematic – as with racism and sexism. Your people deserve no better. Your gender has less value to this community.

In order to change anything, the victim needs to see their own victimhood. They need to recognise that what happened was not fair or deserved. Often this process means connecting with others who have had, or are having the same experiences. It is easier to see what’s wrong when you see it happening to someone else. In swapping notes, victims gain insight, courage and confidence. At this point, it is not unusual for non-victims to pile in and complain about the pity party, the reinforcing of the idea of victimhood. I’ve never experienced sexism so you other women are clearly the problem. I’ve never experienced racism so I don’t think it exists… and so forth. It doesn’t help.

When people recognise the abuse, and start picking apart the mechanics of the abuse, they become able to make changes. They get out of the relationship or the job, if it’s that easy. They start protesting and demanding equal rights – which evidently takes decades if not longer. There comes a point when the victims start demanding that the non-victims pay attention and make some changes.

If you don’t let people recognise their victimhood, you don’t give them the space to get angry and change things. If you don’t let people swap notes about their exploitation, you don’t let them organise to make change. If you don’t let victims speak about their mistreatment, you will never see what in the system facilitates it. You stay comfortably inside the system that is facilitating abuse. That’s no doubt why it is easier to complain about the pity party, tell people to shut up, and denigrate them for ‘playing the victim’. Otherwise we might have to deal with our own advantages and complicity, and that would be uncomfortable. It is easy to put personal comfort ahead of social justice.

Abuse and exploitation are not things that happen away, in private arrangements. These things happen in the context of cultures we are part of – systems, laws, balances of privilege that we are all upholding. If we make it the business only of the victim to work out how to turn that around and become a survivor, the underlying causes of abuse and exploitation remain, with our tacit support.

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The urge to judge

It’s not a new thing, this idea that, with a casual glance at someone’s life, or body, we can determine what’s ‘really’ going on and judge them accordingly. The notion of the ‘deserving’ poor versus the ‘underserving’ has been with us for a long time. The refusal to accept that most chronic illness means good days and bad days. A person on a bad day is not faking it, what they could do on a good day is not the measure. Mental health difficulties are unhelpfully judged as not trying hard enough, making a fuss. So, why are we so keen to judge based on little or no real insight?

Firstly because it can let us off the hook. If the problem isn’t real then with an easy conscience, we can decline to help. We don’t have to change ourselves or the systems we operate in. It’s a lazy choice based on putting personal ease ahead of other people’s real needs.

We are taught to fear the idea that someone else could get something for nothing. But, it’s the lazy poor we are to be suspicious of. Not shareholders. Not those with big expense claims against the public purse. Not people who inherited and don’t need to work. Those with money are welcome to more money for doing nothing, those with no money we don’t want to move money towards. This is old, and its purpose is transparent as soon as you stop to look at it.

We are more afraid that some people might get something they aren’t entitled to, than we are concerned that people who need help should get help. We are willing to punish the many on the off-chance of hampering a few who want to play the system. Our politicians have encouraged this.

Judging a person with issues and victim blaming is a standard tactic for bullies. If the victim is making a fuss, a drama queen, attention seeking, or anything like that, then the bully has more scope to keep attacking without consequences. Overt judging and shaming of others can be a smokescreen to hide violence, abuse and mistreatment.

In judging people, we can feel superior to them. When life is short of lifts and ego boosts, it can be tempting to denigrate someone else just to feel bigger than they are. If other people support us in this, we can feel even larger and more important.

Those who are poor, ill, and struggling are a vulnerable, easy target for haters and blamers. It’s the demographic least able to fight back, least likely to have energy or resources to take you to court or otherwise seek justice and rebalance.

We like to think we know. We like to think we’re clever enough to see exactly what’s going on in someone else’s life. We think if something wouldn’t hurt us, or make our brains stop working then it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone else either. We are persuaded that our life experience is a fair measure of someone else’s struggles.

What it means, when we walk this path, is that we only judge other people, and never have to judge ourselves.