The Other I

March 15, 2014

How not to be a victim: a demonstration

Knots

Credit: ChristArt

There is a great delight in watching a two- or three-year old stubbornly insist on buttoning his own shirt.  It might be crooked, but he did it.  Or insisting on tying his own shoe laces – whatever the outcome.  Similarly, I remember a student once saying to me about some advice she’d been given by her well-meaning adviser:  ” I might be wrong.  But I’d rather take responsibility for making my own mistakes than to let her tell me what mistakes to make.”

After my post yesterday, it occurred to me that victimhood and smoldering anger are quite similar.   Because they both rob the person of the belief that metaphorically they can “tie their own shoe laces.” They both place the total blame on what has happened to them on someone else, and in the process convince themselves that they are powerless.  Certainly, for better and worse, what happens to us is in part a result of what others do.  But victimhood and long-term anger give away that critical self-determination that is evident in that two-year old with the crookedly buttoned shirt or knotted shoe lace.

I have long thought that anger is one of the most destructive emotions we humans generate.  I’m not talking about that short burst of adrenalin-fired anger that gives us the wherewith-all to fight off danger, but the bitterness and anger that burns relentlessly for years, for a lifetime, even for generations.  What seems to me so destructive about it is that, like victimhood, it too  focuses the blame on  what someone else did, rather than on what we might be able to do about it.  That then degenerates into the pursuit of revenge, the determination to get even.

But ultimately what enduring anger and being a victim do is to rob the life of the angry person.  They come believe they are powerless to do something positive, something life-enhancing, because some opportunity has been robbed from them by somebody else who had no right to take it.

It is true that they may truly have been hit, even are still being hit, by terrible misfortune caused by someone else.  But that does not make one powerless.  It does not mean there is nothing that I can do that is meaningful and which can give me joy or a sense of accomplishment.  My misfortune might even give me insights into how to help others that I would not otherwise have had.

Anything I might say, however, cannot possibly compete with Maysoon Zayid.   She may be handicapped because a doctor in New Jersey was drunk on the job when she was born.  But a victim she is not

http://www.ted.com/talks/maysoon_zayid_i_got_99_problems_palsy_is_just_one

transcript of video

 

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6 Comments »

  1. Thanks for this – I watched the TED talk – she was great. A lot of your post made me think about forgiveness. Someone defined it as ‘when you let something go, and find out it was yourself’ or something. Bitterness is very destructive. It sounded as if Maysoon was never bitter but she questioned how she would have faced up to internet hate if she had grown up with it. Interesting post, thanks.

    Comment by sanstorm — March 15, 2014 @ 9:29 pm | Reply

    • Yes, I have wondered too just how resilient I might have been had I been abused on the internet as I was growing up. The difficulty for children today is so often compounded by the fact that parents generally don’t have any experience of this kind of bullying, and it doesn’t even occur to many very loving parents to explore whether their children are being abused, and how to build up their resilience against it. You are aware of the problem, and would be able to talk with knowledge and sympathy to your children about to deal with this new version of bullying. I’m not suggesting you display your children’s private lives on the internet, but should you have thoughts about how parents can help their children if they are being bullied, I think there are many parents who would appreciate it.

      I personally think that forgiveness involves letting go. But I think “letting go” without coming to terms with it is really merely repression. We also often need to grapple with the issues and realize there is another level to explore besides who’s to blame. We need determined that I will not to give up one’s own self-direction.

      Comment by theotheri — March 16, 2014 @ 1:16 pm | Reply

  2. Hear, hear! I have been observing the corrosive effects of anger in people, in recent years all too obviously in the older generation — slights that occurred sixty years ago as well as truly horrendous abuse from the deep past. In either case an obsession that robs them of the ability to fully enjoy the life they have left.

    But I never saw the effect you point out of making them powerless in the same way victimhood does. Thank you for pointing this out. It puts the phenomenon into a new and clearer perspective for me.

    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — March 15, 2014 @ 10:37 pm | Reply

    • Yes, I too have seen these resentments seeming to gain new energy in the older generation. I’m not a therapist, but I suspect that the fundamental issues were never resolved. Either blaming the abuser or blaming the victim doesn’t show them the way through. And so it festers. Both for myself and for others, I have found it helpful to fully accept the reality of the damage caused by an abuser. The paradox is that abuse creates opportunities for the abused as well as damage. It’s just that it’s difficult to suggest this to someone who thinks this is dismissing the depth or injustice of the wound. But it’s not, is it?

      Comment by theotheri — March 16, 2014 @ 1:01 pm | Reply

  3. I think this is profound. Articulated so well in so few words.

    Comment by tskraghu — March 16, 2014 @ 1:35 am | Reply

    • Thank you for the feedback. So often the only alternative people see to blaming the abuser is to blame the victim. I’m glad to know that isn’t what I communicated.

      Comment by Terry Sissons — March 16, 2014 @ 12:51 pm | Reply


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