This looks like a highly provocative and paradoxical title, and so it is. What we present here is an outworking of Ofer Zur’s article (2006), The Pathology of Victimhood.
Zur argues that the tendency to ignore the psychology of victims arises from a fear of blaming the victim. In doing this, the role of the victim in repeated abuse is prevented from being understood, and thus treated.
What happens is that the victim is labelled a victim, and this label then prevents a move into a new empowerment, hope and responsibility for the future, which could potentially break the labelling and perpetual victimhood.
We also tend to live in a western culture which blames those who attribute blame, and to avoid personal blame.
It is true of course that a child cannot be responsible for the various predisposing factors indicated, but an adult can.
Society therefore has a responsibility to help. But what if the society in which the victim is engulfed, is socialised into the selfsame attitudes of blame avoidance and narcissism? Can such a society help to break the label of victimhood, if its own labels block the way?
Victim labelling is extremely strong. As small a thing as ticking a box on a questionnaire has been shown to decrease performance amongst older people and Black people.
This is not a popular message in western culture, where a tobacco company can be sued for causing illness to smokers, who refuse to accept blame for their part in their own illness.
Accountability is rarely a convenient case of 100% victim or 100% abuser. That is far too simplistic. Indeed, as Raj Persaud notes (Staying Sane), it is in the counter-intuitive notion that in facing complexity that mental health is found, not in seeking simplicity. This is because facing complexity helps to develop an inventory of problem-solving skills, while the reverse leads people to stand still in terms of psychological health, or even regress.
As Zur notes, there is a continuum of victim, abuser responsibility and accountability, and there are situations where the victim may also be the abuser. Completely random acts of abuse are of course outside of the victim’s responsibility.
But when a victim makes themselves vulnerable through (say) a voluntarily-chosen drunkeness, then some of the responsibility is theirs. In other situations, a victim might be much more responsible, as for example, if someone knowingly joined the Nazi Storm-troopers, and, like leader Ernst Rohm, only to be murdered by Hitler.
Putting this more technically, responsibility is relative to consciousness.
The more knowledge a person has, the more accountable they are. If people refuse to seek the help of external agencies, then a therapist needs to know why—and so does the victim.
As Judith Lewis Herman, in her excellent book, points out, survivors tend to be prosocial in outlook. Has utilitarianism, because of a ‘You deserve it!’ culture, therefore played a dysfunctional part in the healing of victims?
If such ‘me first’ culture has encouraged victims not to see their part, however small, in their abuse, then this a recipe for continued dysfunction, anger, bitterness, and other pathologies of persons and society who are victims.
For healing has to come through a journey into darkness and pain, before an emergence into the light and wholeness can begin.