Yesterday I mentioned how some victims of abuse might twist their experience into self-justification. By leaning into their righteous indignation, they will try to dismiss any wrongs that they themselves do. They have created in their mind a sense of blamelessness, such that no matter what they do they cannot be held be accountable for it. The world was terrible to them first, after all, so any wrong they do now is just a well-deserved retaliation.
This is the angrier side of victimhood. It is not the only warped perspective that can be developed, though. There is also the sad, depressed option that we will discuss today.
This sort of victim can be described as being fundamentally broken. After suffering pain at the hands of another they go back and highlight their own failings, convincing themselves that they in some way deserved the pain that they received, justifying the abuser’s crimes for them. They might even call up transgressions that were totally unrelated from the abuse, assuming some cosmic power had been tabulating all of their secret, guilty deeds and sent the abuser as a force of karmic justice.
There are also victims who do not consider themselves as being particularly guilty before the abuse, but now, because they were a participant in such a violent or dirty experience, they feel forever tainted by it. They feel as of some sort of evil was transferred to them by their abuser. Thoughts, once innocent, are now overrun with horrible memories and images. They may be horrified by these images, but they self-identify with them still the same.
Divorced From Reality)
Whether such a person thinks they earned their suffering beforehand, or whether they think that they have been permanently scarred after the fact, the intense demoralization leads them to accept or seek out further injury, because that’s just what they think they belong to now. This creates a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, where they really do become responsible for the continuation of self-harm, reaffirming to themselves that they just aren’t any good. Thus, they become entrenched in this new, corrupted identity. Left unchecked, this cyclical self-harm and self-loathing behavior can take them to all sort of terrible extremes, even to the premature ending of their lives.
But for anyone on the outside, anyone who knew the victim both before and after the traumatizing event, it is abundantly clear that the sufferer is not living in a way congruent with reality. No number of past flaws can justify another person being abusive to you, neither does having evil forced upon you make you evil yourself. What other people have done is what they have done, it justifies or condemns them and no one else. In an ideal world, suffering and abuse would have absolutely no bearing on how the victim views themselves.
Of course, the victim might even know all of this in their head as well. They might know that they shouldn’t blame themselves, they might staunchly stand in defense other victims, but knowing something in one’s head and treating others a certain way does not mean that the same goes for what’s inside. The victim can believe in their head that they are innocent and deserving of love while feeling the exact opposite in their heart. It isn’t a matter of needing to be convinced, it is a matter of needing a transformation in the heart.
Of course, even if the victim sets aside all the false narratives and self-deceptions, the truth that takes their place is still bleak and tragic. Their heart is broken. Their innocence is gone. They have seen the evil world, and no amount of knowing that that isn’t their fault will change the fact that they have seen it. They should not blame themselves for what they suffered, but even if they do manage to cease doing so that doesn’t mean that everything is fine now.
We’ve spent some time now examining both the situation of the perpetrator and of the victim. In each case we have seen the tendency for them to have a heart divided from truth and reality. The perpetrator is in denial of his wrong or he makes it his entire identity. The victim feels that he is justified in every bitter, angry thing that he does now, or he feels fundamentally broken. All of these states are based upon the person latching onto a lie at their core.
Neither the perpetrator nor the victim should view themselves as irredeemable or incorruptible. They should be able to hold an honest appraisal of their flaws and virtues at the same time. Getting to this place is going to be a process. Core lies will have to be excised, as if by emotional surgery, and truth is going to have to be applied regularly, like a salve.
We’ve also considered that even when the perpetrator and the victim get past their self-deceit, the truth they are left with is still stark and damning. Yes, it is better to embrace truth than deception, but at this point that still does not amount to healing. It is a step in the right direction, though, but we still need to consider the other steps that follow.
We’ve spent quite some time discussing the problem, the ways that both perpetrators and victims wander into strange, forbidden lands. The following posts will now be dedicated to understanding the journey back to wholeness.