In meetings, being a “victim” is frowned upon. Decades ago, when I heard people say they were no longer a victim, I had no idea what they meant. A victim is someone who has been fooled, hurt, or harmed, due to his or her own emotions or ignorance, an unfortunate event, or the actions of someone who deceived, cheated, injured, or killed him or her. But in recovery circles, “playing” or “being” a victim, means blaming your unhappiness on some else or your circumstances. The common denominator is avoiding responsibility for your life and the belief that someone else or some
circumstance is prevents you from achieving what you want.
Being a victim isn’t a role anyone wants or consciously chooses. No one enjoys feeling powerless and hopeless. There are unconscious forces at work that usually are determined by beliefs learned early in life. Many people, particularly codependents, are in relationships with addicts or abusers, including relationships with partners or parents who have mental illness, such as a bipolar mood disorder or borderline, sociopathic, or narcissistic personality disorders. They suffer from frequent and often malicious emotional abuse and sometimes physical attacks, betrayal, manipulation, and other forms of abuse that can alter their perception, self-image, and ability to protect themselves. Many victims in abusive relationships are in denial about it, because it’s evocative of the shame, neglect, or other mistreatment that they experienced in their families of origin. As children they were unprotected victims; hence, they didn’t develop adequate self-worth or learn how to stand up to abuse.
Learning the Role of Victim
Low self-worth is learned growing up in a dysfunctional family. Abusive relationships are closed systems. Often abusers try to exercise exclusive control over their partner with direct threats or through subtle manipulation, such as guilt or undermining, in order to keep their partner from talking to others or receiving outside information and help. Parents do this, too, to hide their shame and keep up appearances, using overt threats of punishment if the abuse is recounted to others, or with sayings, like, “We don’t share our dirty laundry,” and “Blood is thicker than water.” Victims may not know that there’s help or how to access it, and may fear for their life or loved ones if it’s reported. Using the children to blackmail a spouse is not uncommon.
Steps to Self- Empowerment
Becoming empowered and leaving victimhood behind is difficult and extremely hard to do on our own. It’s a process that takes time. There are suggested steps to achieving this freedom, not necessarily in the following order:
1. Learn all you can about your situation. Information is power. Read my blogs on abuse and books on codependency.
2. Get support from a therapist, experienced life coach, and/or a 12-Step Program.
3. Objectively observe others’ undesirable behavior and your reaction. Does your reaction make you feel better or stop the unwanted behavior? Do you also do some of the objectionable behavior? Experiment with other responses, including none, and see the result.
4. Are you aligned with your goals and values? What steps do you need to take to be in alignment?
5. Start meeting your unmet needs. See the list in Codependency for Dummies.
6. What beliefs hinder you from accomplishing your goals. To change shame-based beliefs, follow the steps in Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You..
7. Take responsibility for your choices. What feels different when you say “I want to,” instead of, “I have to,” and, “I don’t want to,” instead of, “I can’t?” Taking responsibility helps you accept your
choices and initiates the opportunity for change.
8. Take action. Acquire the necessary skills and resources to achieve your goals. For example, if you’ve been nagging your partner to repair or clean something and s/he continually refuses to do
so, either get the skills to do it yourself or hire someone who will. If lack of training or education stops you from pursuing a career you want, sign up for the requisite classes–even if it will
take a several years.
9. Learn to be assertive. This empowers you to be authentic, set boundaries, and to build your selfesteem. Read How to Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits and watch How to Be
10. Take responsibility for your happiness, unhappiness, and any part in disagreements and problems in your relationship, whether or not your partner does the same. Make amends for your contribution.
Darlene Lancer, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, author, and expert on relationships and codependency. Contact Darlene at email@example.com. Find full versions of her blogs at www.whatiscodependency.com and get your free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.” Follow her on Twitter @darlenelancer, Facebook
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