“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” – John W. Gardner
As alcoholics, we love to play the role of the victim. And of course we do – pointing towards anything other than ourselves allows us to continue living in a state of utter delusion and denial; allows us to successfully justify the fact that we are killing ourselves at the hands of a chemical addiction. “If you had been through what I’ve been through, you would drink too,” we tell our peers. “You wouldn’t judge me so harshly if you walked a mile in my shoes – things haven’t been easy for me.” Individuals who consistently play the victim role will typically also have a very strong sense of entitlement. Victims tend to be exceedingly self-consumed, and will often go to great lengths to share their misery, negativity, and personal troubles with anyone who is willing to listen. It is very rare that an individual who is accustomed to playing the victim role will call you just to chat or say ‘hello’. Ulterior motives are very often at play, as is deceit and a high level of dedicated manipulation.
In many ways, those who constantly play the victim role are very similar to those who suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. They may engage in conversation for several hours without ever thinking to ask the other party anything about their lives – simply because their worldview does not include anything or anyone other than themselves. They often fail to see or consider the bigger picture, completely consumed by their own thoughts, emotions, and perceived crises.
Victims and Chaos
In fact, most ‘victims’ will only be interested in you (or act as if they are) if you have something that they want. This could be anything from money or drugs to an audience for their drawn-out sob stories. For the individual who is stuck playing the victim role, addictive disorders are not uncommon. Like all mean and women who suffer at the hands of chemical dependency, victims are looking to external forces to heal internal turmoil – they are attempting to alleviate the insatiable need to feel better by drowning or numbing or lessening the uncomfortable feelings of emotional pain and dissatisfaction and self-loathing and isolation.
Victims thrive on remaining in the midst of the problem – they have essentially become accustomed to (even dependent upon) immense chaos. This can be seen quite clearly in men and women who spend years transferring from one treatment center to another, never maintaining any significant amount of clean time. Individuals like this will work tirelessly to keep themselves in the center of every quandary, expertly playing the role of the wronged. They are misunderstood, treated unfairly, abused by staff members or other clients, entitled to better treatment… so long as they remain comfortably nestled in the victim mentality, they never have to take responsibility for their own actions. They never have to take an honest and searching look at the real reason they are stuck in a cyclical pattern of relapse and re-admission.
A Life of Delusion
These individuals are often quite out of touch with the real world, and live amidst their own delusional realities. Resentment is a major driving force in their lives, and they are often motivated by deeply rooted feelings of spite and antipathy. A perspective of fierce duality is common amongst victims, meaning that they get very caught up on cause and effect. They are constantly seeking a specific force to blame or attribute their personal hardship to. This causes that, and because many victims believe that they should have their lives all figured out (as a direct result of inflated ego), having a specific person or circumstance to blame when things go awry is very important to them. The truth of the matter is, of course, that sometimes things just happen. Events unfold as they will, and finding a source of culpability is often exceedingly futile. We are all students of life, and we are all continuously learning as we move through each day; figuring things out as we go. Figuring out who we are, what we want to do with our lives, how to successfully interact with others, how to maintain relationships and pursue goals… all of it.
Breaking Free from the Victim Role
The first step towards making any kind of significant change in life is becoming willing to do so, and acknowledging that a problem does exist. In order for victims to begin breaking free from the ineffective and exhausting role they have been playing, they must get honest with themselves. They must acknowledge that they have been utilizing a victimized mentality in order to reap the benefits that most victims are allotted:
- The displacement of personal responsibility.
Constantly putting the blame on others allows the victim to remain blameless (at least in his own eyes). Everything is everyone else’s fault, and the burden of accepting personal responsibility is not an option. Taking responsibility for our own actions, especially when we are in the wrong, can be tough – but it is an essential part of a well-rounded and spiritually sound life.
- The avoidance of risk-taking.
When an individual plays the victim role, he is usually not risking rejection or failure. However, by refusing to take action, the victim will remain totally stuck in a place of mediocrity and spiritual stagnancy.
- Validation and attention.
As addicts and alcoholics, we crave validation, and most of us live for attention (even if we have a difficult time admitting it). It feels good when others openly care about us and our struggles, and attempt to help us. Of course, for the individual who is constantly playing the victim role, positive attention will often be short-lived – as family members, friends, and peers begin to catch on to the fact that the relationship is entirely one-sided.
- A boost in ego.
By blaming others for his actions, the victim is able to avoid being ‘wrong’ – and constantly feeling right leads to a boost in ego. However, this boost is superficial, and will only last until it is shattered by the blunt facts of reality.
Next, the victim must undergo a major shift in the way he or she perceives events and circumstances. Rather than dwelling in a place of constant negativity, the victim must begin accepting personal responsibility, and slowly move towards living in a place of gratitude and forgiveness. This can be difficult to do, of course, and takes an ample amount of time and practice. One of the best ways to begin moving away from the role of the victim is to spend a fair amount of time helping others – in any way possible. The way that we treat others will often shape the way that we treat ourselves. If we do our best to listen to others openly and assist them when they need a friend or helping hand, we are more likely to adopt an essential sense of personal kindness and self-acceptance.
Resentment and The Victim Role
Working through resentment is another wonderful way to break free from the victim role. When we spend time stewing over past harms, we disallow ourselves the opportunity to break free from an unwavering, negative emotional connection – one that will bind us to the individual we resent until we do our part to dissolve it. When we refuse to forgive someone, we are really only refusing to let go of the power that individual has over us. When we forgive – when we take personal responsibility – we set ourselves free.
We may have lived in a place of constant self-pity and victimization for years, telling anyone who would listen how hard we had it, how many people have wronged us, and what sad, sad lives we have lived. “Poor me, poor me, poor me.” And maybe playing this role served us. Maybe playing this role prevented us from admitting, from acknowledging, from accepting – from hurting. But we cannot hide behind a comfortable cloak of self-deception forever; not if we wish to live joyous, free, and fulfilled lives. Not only does bearing personal responsibility and offering authentic forgiveness provide us with a sense of genuine freedom we never deemed imaginable – but breaking free from the victim role we have long-since played will allow us a quality of recovery beyond our wildest dreams.