The term ‘victim mentality’ is one I don’t use, because I have found the true ‘victim mentality’ is an incredibly rare phenomenon. I would dare to say that what we often call victim mentality is the aftermath of dreadfully under-acknowledged terror and trauma, rather than some notion of ‘wanting to stay there’. (More on what drives this being stuck in trauma later). In 9 years of interacting closely with them, I have watched most victims of abuse move ‘beyond survivor’ to truly thriving, with few exceptions. This includes those who were my clients, and many who were not my clients but stayed in close contact as they worked through their stories with other mentors and counsellors.
At least a percentage of these individuals would have been classed as having a ‘victim mentality’. Always needing sympathy or affirmation — or both — and seeming to feel ‘poor me’ at every turn with everyone around them always being out to do them harm, no one ever understanding them, and ever being on the fringe of an emotional crash (including threat of suicide etc).
Along with this there was, for some, the need to have somewhere between 6 and 8 people at any given moment whom they would hold on emotional string, as I call it, that they could yank at any moment to have people running from every direction to ‘save them’ from themselves. This is exhausting for everyone.
Sometimes we call it ‘victim mentality’ because we are tired, so that we can remove ourselves from the suffering, which is not productive. It is a sign of deep wounds that need healing. And those who have no concept of offering healthy support, make things worse by accommodating every yank of the string. And yet, ignoring them is not the answer; these victims do need support.
What has happened is that their boundaries have been brutally violated in the same act that left these victims of abuse so emotionally/psychologically, sexually, spiritually and often physically devastated. They, therefore, do not know how to respect healthy boundaries, and when their pain surfaces, for many the only survival skill they have is drawing emotionally from others.
We judge them for it, when the reality is that their suffering has never been acknowledged, and no one has ever said, “I’m so sorry. May I just sit with you in your pain, and love you where you are at?”
When we do that… When we stop judging their neediness… When we stop defining their place of suffering as ‘victim mentality’ …. When we pull up a chair at that preschooler’s table – or that pre-teen’s or teenager’s …now that young woman or man – something beautiful happens. They begin to heal.
To offer this support well requires having boundaries. Set specific times to meet. Have a limit on how many texts, emails, phone calls etc, and set time restrictions on how long those calls are. Or you will be consumed, and they certainly will not heal. We enter into their suffering, but must do so with wisdom.
Then, when we have been there with them, in that dark place of their suffering, only then have we earned the privilege of being invited to speak. It’s not a right. It’s a privilege. And the best gift we can give, when we do speak, is an invitation to walk together. An invitation to share with them the Love of One who gives us life and hope. Not an invitation for us to ‘fix’ them. Or for us to help them arrive where we are. But an invitation to meet the One who is our life and hope. The One who defines us.
When we are given permission to speak His life, His hope and His purpose over them, they grow. They learn to trust. They learn to forgive. As we care, they become stronger. They heal. And when they heal, they no longer see only their own pain, but the pain of others.
Some fear healing. It isn’t that they don’t want to heal, most of them. But a few are terrified of healing. If they heal, who will be there? The only connections some have ever had, have been linked to their trauma and need. If they heal, who will be there? If they heal, will they be alone… lonely? And who will they be? They’ve never been anything other than in pain and suffering? What if being whole demands things they are not capable of. More than one survivor of trauma has admitted these fears to me.
It is easy to judge from a distance. It’s easy to say those fears are not reasonable. Yet they are very real for many survivors of terror and trauma. The shift from fear to thriving happens with recognizing we have something to give, that our need doesn’t have to be the source of our fulfillment.
When, having sat with them in their sorrow, we have earned the privilege to speak… And when, having earned the privilege to speak, we have encouraged, and believed, and spoken life and purpose… Then we can ask the hard questions…
What if healing didn’t mean you would be alone? What if healing meant that you could be there for others? What if healing meant that you would be more fulfilled than you ever imagined you would be or could be? What if…?
And when they dare to embrace that challenge, a courage rises up, and they reach out. And in reaching out to others, they are healed. Again. And this doesn’t mean they will never struggle. Tomorrow might be a hard day. Next week they might call their counsellor because they feel lost. Next year they might need someone to ask again, “What if healing doesn’t mean you will be lonely, or alone? What if you keep reaching out to others? What if…?”
It isn’t a victim mentality. Not usually. And we do a lot of damage when blithely we write it off as that. Mostly it is fear. It is the aftermath of deep trauma. It is a failure to thrive because there has been a failure in those of us around them to sit with them patiently in their suffering, and acknowledge it. And it is a journey. A rising and falling. And rising again.
Only when we have walked through deep trauma, or dared to entered into the suffering of others can we grasp that battle.
When we reach out to others in hope and healing,
our healing comes more quickly.
~ Isaiah 58 ~
~ T ~