“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.” Shakespeare was the most revelatory of writers, employing theatrical scenarios to cast light on the darker side of human nature, including victimization. His victims have in common a sense of impotence that makes their lives unbearable; they feel disempowered and, in effect, erased.
Does the cloak of victimhood sit neatly upon your shoulders? Or do you have no desire to wear the victim’s cloak because it does not belong you: it is not your size, colour and is made of material that is inferior to you?
You may be surprised to discover every person has the victim archetype within them. But don’t be misled by the name of this archetype. Author, Caroline Myss, writes: “When properly recognized, the Victim can alert you to the possibility that you are about to let yourself be victimized or are already doing so, whether through passivity or inappropriate actions. It can also help you recognize your own tendency to victimize others to control or obtain power over another.”
The victim archetype presents in two forms: ‘victim in the shadow’ and the ‘victim in the light.’
In its shadow manifestation, the victim tells you that you are always taken advantage of and it’s never your fault. We may like to play the victim at times because of the positive feedback we get in the form of sympathy or pity. Our goal is to learn how to recognize these inappropriate attitudes in ourselves or others, and to act accordingly. We are not meant to be victimized in life, but to learn how to handle challenges and outrun our fears.
So, let’s look at ways the victim manifests in our life, how we struggle to get out of the role of the victim, and how we flounder around in the shadow of the victim archetype.
It starts with survival
When we are in a state of threat, this oldest part of the brain (located at the bottom of our skull) allows us to react in an immediate and automatic way, without the rest of the brain processing information, thus gaining a split second that has safeguarded our existence for millions of years. This is the ‘reptilian brain’ at work. It takes over and takes us to a threat response – that is, fight, flight, or freeze—to facilitate our survival!
Fight. Facilitates an ‘upping’ of the situation. It is normally about obtaining power. You may get ‘bigger’ and become dominating or aggressive. You can also fight passively: exaggerating, broadcasting to others, or wallowing in self pity (this singles out the other person as the bad person and your team gathers in ‘defense.’)
Flight. Facilitates an escape from the situation. It can present as a physical need, such as to run, or a desire to ‘create distance’ through withdrawal. You may also internally retreat, becoming emotionally unavailable. This is ‘victimizing oneself.’
Freeze. Facilitates a ‘downplaying’ of the situation. This often involves ‘playing dead;’ numbness affects our ability to speak up and defend yourself.
PONDER: How do I respond to…
- Physical threat? These tend to be life-threatening situations.
- Emotional, intellectual, or verbal threat (energetic)? This may be how another person behaves toward us, bullies you with their energy, makes you feel small, brings in doubt and hopelessness.
Take a moment to recall a time when someone close to you made a comment that sent you into threat response. Now imagine that you have moved through fight or flight or freeze and however that presented. What happened next? Yes, you looked for someone to blame! This is a way of externalising the threat or trying to make it so that it doesn’t happen again. It usually sounds like this: “this was not my fault” “why did they do this?” “I don’t deserve this” “the other person needs to be truly remorseful” “they need to be punished.” This is all shadow victim behaviour that has the objective of reasserting power; ensuring you come out on top.
Boundaries may not be serving you
The focus on boundary setting has emerged over the past twenty years or so as a way of taking back control. It is helpful, but it may also become a way of victimising others by asserting power over the other. It can quickly become a process of crossing boundaries and dictating how others must behave.
When a boundary is put in place, it can be awkward and uncomfortable at first—both for the person setting the boundaries and the one receiving them. When it comes to physical boundaries, it is easier to define—someone has hurt me, therefore I will keep them at arm’s length. Energetic boundaries are trickier, because it is not easy to clearly define where one person’s “space” begins and ends, and how can we be sure any of it is true!
Wait a moment…what was that—? When we are attacked energetically, we tend to believe that the other person has malicious intent towards us. This is called ‘magical thinking.’ Ultimately, we have no clear evidence from the physical world to prove that we are under attack. There is no way to pin it on them or make them apologise; and if you try, they will deny it. Likewise, there is no way you can prove that you are not ‘projecting’ your own self-criticism or insecurities into the situation! So, if you are thinking that your partner sits around all day think bad things about you, where is that coming from? Your own fears! You can see how we get into a lot of trouble trying to prove the present of this kind of injury.
If you are an empath, heightened sensitivity to other people’s energy fields may prove to be a significant challenge. For example, you may find yourself in the role of victim and feel compelled to put in place boundaries without really understanding what other people’s intentions are! Worse case, you become hypervigilant and force yourself into their space (in a bid to get ahead). This comes up as telling others how they need to behave, how they should talk, how they should treat you. Dr. Fred Luskin (2009) calls these the ‘rules’ that we expect the other people in our life to abide by. And they are an infringement of the other person’s space!
PONDER: How do you feel about your ability to set energetic boundaries? Do you have rules that you expect others to follow? Who has broken your rules recently? How did you punish that person for breaking the rules? (Think back to the fight, flight, and freeze responses)
Pause for a moment. It is common for self-judgment to come up at this point. You may feel some of these emotions…
- Guilt: The feeling you did something wrong (requiring repair).
- Humiliation: The feeling someone else did you wrong.
- Shame: The feeling you are inherently wrong.
Breathe…and only if you are ready continue in…(Part 2)