Self-Victimization – Casting oneself in the role of a victim.
Tying Oneself to the Tracks
We’ve all seen a small child do it – crying crocodile tears, pouting or sulking when they don’t get exactly what they want, when they want it. Some folks, however, never grow out of using the “poor me” strategy.
Part of the passage to healthy adulthood is learning to take responsibility for our own situations and our own mistakes, and learning not to blame others for things which aren’t their fault. We also learn that most people can see through insincere attempts at manipulating their emotions.
Some people with Personality Disorders, however, do not achieve this level of self-responsibility and continue with exaggerated, even blatantly dishonest campaigns to arouse the sympathies of others, even to the point of appearing ridiculous to observers around them.
Sometimes, these campaigns continue to get them what they want, as exasperated family members with weak boundaries try to appease them in the hope that they will just give it a rest. This is similar to spoiled children, who learn to get what they want from parents with poor boundaries by throwing tantrums, whining, nagging or making ultimatums and threats.
In some cases, playing the victim is also used strategically by abusers to divert attention away from their own behavior and place responsibility for any wrong-doing on the victim, the government, or some other scapegoat. This is, for example, a fairly common defense strategy for assault and murder trials.
Self-Victimization is also sometimes used quite strategically to elicit sympathy from others and gain their assistance in supporting, enabling or hiding abusive behaviors. This is a common tactic used for proxy recruitment.
It is very common for perpetrators of abuse to engage in self-victimization for two main reasons:
Justification to themselves – as a way of dealing with the cognitive dissonance which results from inconsistencies between the way they treat others and what they believe about themselves.
Justification to others – as a way of escaping harsh judgment or condemnation they may fear from people whom they wish to please or impress.
What it Looks Like
A spouse, challenged over emptying the joint account, complains the other partner is neglecting their needs.
A husband hits his wife and then, when confronted with his actions, complains that he is treated worse in other ways.
A mother beats or neglects her children and diverts challenges about it by only discussing her own medical complaints.
A spouse is having an affair and claims the other partner drove them to it.
A person spreads false accusations about physical or sexual abuse in the home.
A thief caught red-handed tells stories about how they were abused as a child.
A narcissistic boss mistreats a subordinate and then claims the subordinate’s behavior was hurting the company as justification.
A teenager starts a fight with a sibling then complains about the resulting bruises.
A young girl overdoses and then says she did it because nobody listens to her.
How it Feels
If you are in a relationship with someone who plays the victim, it is easy to feel like you are in the classic “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” scenario. No matter how hard you try, how well you behave, or how much you sacrifice, your actions and efforts can never fill the bottomless pit of “need” that is presented to you. . Once you solve problem A, problem B suddenly appears.
This happens because the true “need” is inside the mind of the person who is playing the victim. What they really need is to address their own illness with treatment programs that work, which also requires effort and rigorous work on their own part. It has nothing to do with you. Even if you had the character of Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Saint Francis rolled into one, you could never fill the void – because you cannot change what their mind creates. At some point, you are likely to feel resentment and frustration as you realize your efforts are being consumed and not reciprocated. Worse still, you may find you are the focus of the Personality-Disordered individual’s resentments and complaints.
It is important to understand that getting angry or hitting back is not going to help you – all it will do is feed into the self-victimizer’s scenario that you are unfair or abusive towards them and give them further “justification” to abuse you.
What NOT to do
- Don’t react to every false accusation you hear from a Personality Disordered individual. It just makes it worse.
- Don’t try to justify yourself or your actions to a person who is casting themselves as the victim. It’s their illusion, you do not have to engage with it.
- Don’t admit to or apologize for anything that you haven’t done wrong. Stick to the truth, and say it once calmly and clearly.
- Don’t try to compensate for a self-victimizer’s complaints by increasing your own effort. Spend your energy on what works.
- Don’t give a self-victimizer a “free ride” just because they claim they deserve one. . Everyone, regardless of their personality, gets to deal with their own stuff.
- Don’t retaliate or strike back at someone who cast themselves as a victim. You are just pouring fuel on their fire.
- Don’t assume that everyone who hears a self-victimizer’s complaints believes them. Most people can smell a rat when a story doesn’t ring true.
What TO do
- Try to be as unemotional as possible. Try to judge based on facts rather than feelings.
- Acknowledge that everyone, even a self-victimizer, is entitled to believe what they want without validation or judgment.
- Surround yourself with friends who are not self-victimizers and who can help you figure out what is real and what is not.
- Keep doing what you know is right – regardless of what a self-victimizer tells you.