Category Archives: Victims

Reasons for victim blaming

If you read about people in trouble, or victims of violence or political circumstances… do you find reasons why such things wouldn’t happen to you? “I would have done differently in such a situation”, “If I was her, I would’ve tried to escape”, “It’s their mentality, why don’t they fight against oppression?”, or, in a New Age way, “He probably attracted this by his negative attitude!”

Victim blaming is a common, automatic defense mechanism – an attempt to conquer our fears and achieve a feeling that we are not at the mercy of chance. Feeling out of control of our lives is very frightening and it’s natural to try to defend against it, even if it means employing a very subjective logic.

Unfortunately, this often results in subtle or less subtle blaming of victims of violence, while the responsibility of victimizers can be ignored or diminished. In our need to avoid fear, we don’t want to give much power or attention to a victimizer; we don’t want to feel that we would become just another victim in similar circumstances. We want to feel that we would have been stronger, more special, and so we search for explanations how a victim could have avoided the trouble, but failed because of some mistake (s)he made.

However, even if a victim did make a mistake, who of us doesn’t sometimes? Can you think of situations in which you could have been hurt if people you trusted turned out to be dishonest, or if just a little detail was different? How many times did you take risks knowing that you were taking risks? Can you really live life without ever taking any chance? Even if we consider avoidable violence such as domestic violence, there are often circumstances that are easy to ignore, such as upbringing and family brainwashing. How many of us did really get rid of our own family traditions and old beliefs? For a person who grew up in abusive circumstances, abuse can feel normal and unavoidable.

So, out of a need to avoid our own fears, we can inflict pain on people who already hurt enough, or even indirectly allow violence. We can look down at and be arrogant to people who experienced betrayal, injustice or pain. “Weren’t there any warning signals?” Of course there were, but do you respond to every potential warning signal you feel? If that was so, most people would just avoid each other. Even suspicion has to be treated with suspicion sometimes.

We cannot avoid using this defense mechanism, but we can recognize it and remind ourselves of what it is. We can consciously employ parts of ourselves that are compassionate and responsible. Perhaps we can not only avoid saying such things aloud, but do something that would make unfortunate people hurt less. Victim blaming is easy. Compassion takes maturity.

Are you critical to others?

Criticism can have different causes, but one often overlooked is fear.

Is it difficult for you to set boundaries? Do you have trouble saying “No”, or do you avoid conflicts? If you doubt your ability to defend yourself, you might expect people to know in advance where your boundaries are, and respect them without you needing to remind them. That is very unlikely to happen.

Even if people didn’t have toxic role models (and most do),  our genetic diversity includes different levels of emotional sensitivity or empathy, and different temperaments. What is hurtful to one person might be normal to another. Think about sensitivity to noise: a noise that might be distracting and stress-inducing for one person, might be stimulating or barely even noticeable to another. Emotional sensitivity is similarly different amongst people.

Some people come from families in which raising voices, disagreeing and arguing was normal – most of the time perhaps even friendly. People from quieter families might be totally unprepared for such communication style.

It get’s worse if one’s family was aggressive or manipulative – if a child was controlled through guilt, fear or shame. Anger is a natural, instinctive reaction to guilt, fear and shame. Such people, even as adults, might respond with anger as soon as their guilt, fear or shame threaten to raise their heads. Those emotions might not be realistic – it might just be an automatic reaction to small triggers.

People whose boundaries weren’t respected in their childhoods, will probably have learned to suppress their anger and avoid expressing themselves. Fear and anger in combination may lead to criticism. You might call people irresponsible, rude, selfish or stupid in the privacy of your own mind. You are also likely to resort to passive aggression. Perhaps it is so normal to you that you barely even notice when you do that. Even if you notice, you might feel that there is no other choice.

People cannot read your mind. We are already dealing with so many other influences every single minute of our lives. It’s so easy to be distracted if nothing else. Misunderstandings happen for all kinds of reasons – and if not clarified, can lead to complex, unnecessary consequences.

Also, it seems to be almost an instinct for most people to take whatever they feel they can get. If somebody is pliable, easy to manipulate, insecure or overly generous, few people have the self-awareness and self-discipline to notice when they start exploiting the situation and to stop themselves from doing so. If somebody is more insecure than you, do you feel an urge to dominate? This is an instinct that might be weaker in some people, and stronger in others.

Criticism won’t help. The first step (a sequence of steps, more likely) is to deal with inhibiting emotions from childhood and learn to empower yourself. The second step is to learn new habits – clarity, standing up for yourself, communication skills. This might include choosing new role-models.

The first few times you try a new approach might be frightening. You need to be well prepared for anything that might happen and willing to support and comfort yourself. But you will survive; if you make mistakes you will learn something from them, and each time you will feel stronger and more comfortable, until you feel confident in your ability to cope with people. Perhaps then you will notice that criticism doesn’t feel so necessary anymore, that it doesn’t come so automatically.

The more you feel willing and able to protect your boundaries, the more you can feel relaxed amongst people and even tolerate some of their less pleasant traits. Still, it’s normal to feel some level of discomfort if somebody is behaving in unhealthy or threatening ways. Emotional discomfort is a normal and healthy warning signal. There is a huge difference, though, between adult and childish emotional discomfort. If your emotions are adult, you will be motivated rather than debilitated.