After twelve years of marriage, Liz and Robert had learned to attack and control each other with a precision and ferocity that was both fascinating and horrifying, like watching two gladiators at work. Robert was primarily an attacker. He motivated people — including Liz — with the force of his personality and with his anger. Liz, of course, didn’t like being controlled in this way, and she defended herself by feeling and acting victimized. With her words and behavior, she said variations on “Look what you’ve done to me!” many times a day, sometimes several times in a minute. In this way, she could often make Robert feel guilty — or at least irritated — to the point that he’d stop doing whatever was bothering her.
I helped Robert see how unloving his behavior was, and he was a quick learner. He was humbled to realize how selfish and unkind he had been over the years. He freely told the truth about his behavior to Liz and made a commitment to work at becoming more loving.
I tried to help Liz see the truth about her behavior, but that was another matter entirely. Whenever I talked about how she acted like a victim, she immediately said, “But he — ” In fact, at one point, I suggested that we have a conversation about her life in which she could not use the words he, him, his, or Robert, and it was sad or amusing — depending on your perspective — to see that she literally could not speak.
Liz had never known Real Love, so she had learned to act like a victim in order to earn acceptance, power, and safety. She was a master victim, and she couldn’t imagine living another way. The idea of giving up her role as a victim was simply unthinkable, and she saw my discussion with her as a threat to that role. So I became another monster in her life, another person who was victimizing her.
She told me that I had crossed her boundaries. Victims love this word. It protects them from all evil. As soon as something happens they don’t like, all they have to say is that their boundaries have been crossed. Victims put up boundaries everywhere. And therapists buy into this foolishness, actually telling people to establish boundaries to protect themselves. But boundaries only establish atmospheres of fear and defensiveness. They do not promote love, which is the only thing that will make people happy.
I assured her that I would cease crossing her boundaries any time she’d like. I said I was speaking to her only because she had asked for my help. I certainly had no agenda but her happiness. I emphasized that if she didn’t want to talk to me, all she had to do was stop the conversation. But she continued talking, insisting that I stop Robert from hurting her.
“Oh,” I said, “so you don’t want me to cross your boundaries, but you’re eager for me to cross his.”
At this point, Liz actually began to scream at me. She said she was going to report me for abusing her. Robert — who was in the room with us at the time — was clearly enjoying this, because he was getting a break from being the usual object of this behavior.
Welcome to the impossible world of the victim. Liz was following the pattern of victims worldwide. She screamed that she was being victimized, and yet when she was shown a way out of the predicament she supposedly hated, she wouldn’t take it. Her only way of living was to be victimized. She could only function as a victim. She had only one perspective of every interaction: How was she being victimized and who or what was the perpetrator? In the absence of Real Love, she had nothing. But she couldn’t live in a vacuum, so she used her victimhood to get whatever scraps of sympathy, acceptance, power, and safety she could find.
Over the years, Liz had become very accomplished at her craft, and in her defense, she was almost completely unaware of what she was doing. On the other hand, victims keep themselves ignorant of what they’re doing. They refuse to consider that they might be responsible for their own behavior. They must always be right because if they ever stop to wonder if they might be responsible for anything, in that moment they can’t be victims. And that would change everything. If victims ever admit that they might be wrong, they would lose their victim status — which requires that other people be wrong — their very identities, and that would not be permissible.
Liz began screaming at me because my question required that she examine whether her beliefs and her behavior were wrong, and that is intolerable for a victim. I tried in other ways to help her see the folly of her position.
“Liz, no one is paying me to talk to you. I have no motivation whatever here except to help you be happy. And I have considerable experience helping people in your situation. Robert has freely admitted responsibility for his part in your relationship problems. He is angry and controlling. But your relationship won’t change until you tell the truth about your own behavior, and you are just as unloving and selfish in your own ways as he is.”
Her screaming resumed. She said I was “violating her” and that she didn’t have to “put up with this.” She called me names and criticized me personally and professionally. It was not difficult to see why her marriage was a disaster. Ironically, this woman had no clue that her behavior toward me was more vicious than anything she had ever described as coming from her husband. And keep in mind that I was a relative stranger who was there to help her. Imagine how she behaved behind closed doors with Robert.
In her mind, however, her behavior made perfect sense, because, in the world of the victim, scorekeeping is an odd, one-sided affair. When Robert was unkind to her, for example, she put that up on the scoreboard forever, for all to see. If she, on the other hand, was hateful and selfish to Robert, no score was kept whatever, because, after all, she was only responding to what he had done, and he deserved it.
Victimhood is an insidious and destructive disorder. Enormous quantities of patience and reason and love are required to help a victim. If you recognize any of the characteristics of victimhood in yourself, do whatever it takes to address it. Read or listen to the book Real Love and Freedom for the Soul.
Tell the truth about your victimhood wherever possible in order to allow the effects of Real Love to change your life. If you interact with victims — which you do, every day — learn all you can about victimhood, so you can learn the best ways to respond to it. The consequences of allowing victimhood to run its natural course are just too horrible to contemplate, as most of us have already discovered.
Replace victimhood with peace and happiness.
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