The Victim’s Veil)
In my last post I discussed the reasons why an addict who has hurt others will avoid facing the realities of his crimes. I discussed the difficult questions that come up when one contemplates the wrongs that they have done and what those actions imply about them. I also suggested that while the truth might be grim, it is nonetheless necessary to embrace it if the addict is ever to reclaim their soul.
And I don’t think that anyone would disagree with me on any of these points. I think we can all agree that the perpetrator of abuse is clearly in the wrong and needs to own up to his mistakes. All of us wish that the people who have hurt us would do exactly that.
But what I believe is less universally recognized is that the victim is often also detached from reality. Suffering at the hands of another is a profound experience, one that often shatters the victim’s worldview and introduces some false perspectives that, just as with the perpetrator, divorce the victim from truth and healing.
A common theme in this series is going to be that both the perpetrator and the victim have a different, yet parallel journey to walk. Both need healing, both need reconnection to their Maker, both need to be saved by grace. Many victims might initially balk at the idea that they need to do anything as a result of being hurt by another. They don’t have any guilt in the matter, so why do they have to make any change? This is a completely understandable reaction, and there is great need to be sensitive in these matters, but just as the perpetrator must face the reality of their situation, no matter how unpleasant it may be, so the victim must as well. At least they must if they ever want to be whole again.
Today we will look at one broken worldview that the victim might hold. It may not apply to all victims, but it certainly applies to some. Today we consider the danger of vilifying perpetrators and viewing victims as being incapable of any wrongdoing.
We Are All Perpetrators, We Are All Victims)
I mentioned yesterday how we tend to divide humanity into different groups, and how the most fundamental division is into people that are good and people that are evil. We all have our personal rubric by which we decide which people go into which camp, and I pointed out that perpetrators avoid facing the reality of their sins because their actions have betrayed their own rubric, so the moment they face the full weight of those actions they have to start realizing that that means they are one of the bad ones.
In the victim, these divisions of good and evil are perhaps even more pronounced. Clearly, their abuser is in the camp of the evil, and since they view themselves as being the opposite of their abuser, they must be on the side of good. They may not think this consciously, but the fact that they suffered at the hands of evil becomes an evidence to them of their own rightness and virtue.
But I think all of us can appreciate that this is a grossly oversimplified view of the world. One example that shatters this black-and-white sort of thinking is the fact that “over 75% of serial rapists report they were sexually abused as youngsters.” All of us have our heart go out to those who are abused as children, and rightly so. At the same time, most of us passionately condemn those who forced this abuse upon the children. But rarely do we consider the fact that there is a massive overlap between these two parties. How do you resolve the fact that the poor, victim child is also the sinister, abusive villain? At what point do you stop caring for him as the victim and start hating him as the perpetrator instead?
One example of this blended reality is when we see perpetrators of abuse justifying their behavior by bringing up their own suffering. They had a hard life, they weren’t raised in a good home, they were denied the opportunities that others had, they were victims of family, friends, and society. In the most extreme cases we see people using this sense of victimhood to try and get out of literal murder!
Even without going to such extreme cases, we probably all know people who dodge every-day criticism by holding up a shield of “well you can’t talk, because you haven’t gone through what I have!” They view themselves as above reproach. Their suffering has given them a lifelong get-out-of-jail-free card.
Another example of how we ignore the connection between victimhood and abuse came to me as I served a mission for my church in a foreign land. One day I watched a mother beat her toddler son. I asked her what she thought of boys who grew up to strike their wives and children and she suggested a very particular form of dismemberment for them! I then asked where she thought they learned to hit people that were smaller than them in the first place. She had no answer for me.
The simple truth is that all of us have suffered at the hands of others and all of us have made others to suffer as well. We make a mistake when we view these at two separate camps. Really they are one unified whole.
Two Sides of the Coin)
None of which is to suggest that we excuse acts of abuse. None of what I have said means that the victim should not feel hurt, or that the perpetrator should not face justice. Wrong still remains wrong, and the fact that the perpetrator was wronged before does not justify the wrong that he then perpetuates upon others. But we cannot point out the fact that there are perpetrators who inappropriately justify their crimes by their past victimhood, without also proving that there are victims today who are starting to inappropriately use their pain as a shield as well. The two notions are inseparably linked.
Just as the perpetrator is at risk of living in denial of his past wrongs, the victim is at risk of minimizing their future wrongs. Each of them need to be able to face the abusive transaction between them and make space for the pain that was endured, but do this without enmeshing it with their personal sense of rightness.
The victim that feels justified and exonerated because they have been the sufferer of abuse must recognize this tendency of thought and deny it. They must embrace a broader, truer view of themself and the world, one that allows for both justice and pity for all people, whether they are perpetrator or victim or both.
Of course, there is also the matter of the victim taking the opposite path, and viewing themselves as fundamentally bad and broken because of the abuse they suffered. Tomorrow we will consider this form of disconnection from reality, and how it is just as disastrous.