In recovery circles, being a "victim" is frowned upon. Decades ago, when I heard people say they were no longer a victim, I had no idea what they meant. Actually, a victim is an individual who has been fooled, hurt, or harmed, due to his or her own emotions or ignorance, an unfortunate event, or the actions of someone who deceived, cheated, injured, or killed him or her.
Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT is a marriage and family therapist. She is a relationship expert and author of "Codependency for Dummies" and "Conquering Codependency and Shame: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You," as well as five ebooks.. Her articles have been published widely in professional and popular periodicals. She has worked extensively in the field of addiction and codependency. Her philosophy is to encourage each person to determine their own abstinence and treatment objectives.
At the time, I really was a victim. I was in a relationship where I experienced systematic, emotional abuse, but due to my ignorance, I didn’t know it. Many people, particularly codependents, are in relationships with addicts or abusers, including relationships with partners or parents who have mental illness, such as a bipolar mood disorder or borderline, sociopathic, or narcissistic personality disorders. They suffer from frequent and often malicious verbal and sometimes physical attacks, betrayal, manipulation, and other forms of abuse that can alter their perception, self-image, and ability to protect themselves.
Many victims in abusive relationships don’t recognize it as such, because it’s reminiscent of the shame, neglect, or other mistreatment they experienced in their families of origin. As children they were unprotected victims; hence, they didn’t develop adequate self-worth or learn how to stand up to abuse.
There’s a saying in Al-Anon Family Groups: “There are no victims, only volunteers” – meaning that when you tolerate unacceptable behavior, you volunteer for it. Learning that I was being verbally abused was enlightening. Before that, I brushed off painful epithets and criticisms by rationalizing and minimizing them. This is called denial. Once I faced the truth in an assertiveness class, I found the words and courage to name the abuse and say how I felt about it. To my surprise, the verbal abuse reduced stopped, with only an occasional slip-up. I learned to disengage and walk away from potential attacks before they escalated. This process took time. I was becoming empowered, and no longer behaving like a victim.
There are other forms of “playing the victim,” such as blaming your unhappiness on your job or inaction on physical or emotional circumstance. The common denominator is putting the responsibility for your circumstances outside of yourself or beyond your power. Someone else or some circumstance is preventing you from achieving what you want.
Learning the Role of Victim
Contrary to the Al-Anon slogan, being a victim isn’t a role anyone wants or consciously chooses. No one enjoys feeling powerless and hopeless. There are unconscious forces at work that usually are determined by beliefs learned early in life. For example, if we have a shamed-based self-concept that we’re a failure or unworthy of happiness, we’ll likely prevent ourselves from achieving success or happiness, no matter how hard we try.