Why Being a Victim Should Not be a Life Sentence

Diane Gibson

by Diane Gibson, M.A., Registered Provisional Psychologist

I have had many bright-light moments in my professional life, especially those moments that would open my mind and change my thinking forever.  I hold a great deal of gratitude towards the families and couples that have allowed me into their intimate stories and to those who continue to do so. Through these moments, I have seen how forgiveness may be challenging but can yield life-changing benefits.

Dr. Karl Tomm, a local, world-renowned family therapist, challenged his students and current client to think of how being an unfortunate victim could lead to a comfortable status preventing the client from moving forward.  Most of us have experienced the victim-status ourselves or know someone who has become comfortable being a victim and cannot imagine the positives of forgiveness.

Those people who retain victim-status may feel entitled to the following, which may result in barriers to forgiveness:

  • The Right to Criticize - the victim may experience a healing component when criticizing the perpetrator for his or her behaviour.  It helps to protect the victim from self-blame and possible shame.  However, there is a possibility of the criticizing becoming a habit leading to generalizations and confining him or her to re-live the negative action over and over.  This criticizing habit may seep into other areas of the victims life which would serve no positive purpose.

  • The Right to Retaliate - many emotions and feelings may contribute to retaliation towards the perpetrator.  Friends and family of the victim may find it difficult not to support the retaliation of a wrong-doing.  However, this would feed the negative loop that the victim is experiencing.  It is very difficult to forgive someone when you have a strong desire to make the perpetrator pay for his or her actions.

  • The Right to Seek Compensation - “you owe me” can be a harmful mantra in preventing forgiveness.  It can inhibit the victim from taking steps for her or his own happiness and contentment. The victim may feel that it is the responsibility of the perpetrator to make sure that they continually pay for their wrong-doing for as long as the victim wishes. 

  • The Right to Hold Moral Advantage - when we are a victim, we have been wronged in some way.  It was likely experienced as an unfair situation.  There is comfort in feeling we did nothing wrong.  Victims must be aware and be proactive to prevent falling into the pattern of colouring all wrongs or injustices with the same paintbrush, thereby, creating a recurring victim status.

Victims can strive to become survivors and move forward with their dreams and goals for the future.  Survivors can use the power of forgiveness to no longer allow the perpetrators to negatively influence their lives.  More importantly, forgiveness does not mean forgetting; it means having a new, compassionate understanding of the perpetrator and oneself.  This will result in a brighter future with less anger and a decreased will for retribution.

If you are stuck within a victim status, seek out therapeutic help in taking down the barriers towards forgiveness.  A well-trained therapist is very mindful to not minimize the experience of the victim but to empower them to forgive and bring them to a place of peace.  This will allow him or her to move forward; a common goal in therapy.



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