I often deal with people in my work life who have been significantly victimized at some point in their lives. They may have been abused as children, or they may have been in abusive relationships as adults, or both.
One of the things that I’ve come to notice is how many people carry that victimization with them every place they go. In doing that they become perpetrators, both against themselves and, in a different way, against those around them.
Believe me, I know whereof I speak. I spent a lot of years dragging around a battered old suitcase packed to the gills with my various victimizations (and it wasn’t even the kind of suitcase that has wheels).
In thinking about this, I think about someone like Nelson Mandela as a bright contrast. He was so mightily victimized in his lifetime, and he survived and transcended it. That he is a survivor does not mitigate the hideousness of his victimization – in fact in many ways it illuminates the despicable behavior levied against him all the more brightly.
When you have been victimized the temptation is to hang onto it, seeking recompense and retribution. I certainly have those tendencies. I used to like to think of it as valuing justice; however, I’ve come to see it as a much smaller, shortsighted, and self-serving thing to do.
There’s also the temptation to relive it. You ruminate. Perhaps current events remind you of ancient wrongs. But the thing is, unless something new and victimizing is actually happening, we were victimized just once in this specific way. The replaying is an unhelpful and self-punishing choice that we make – we are not being victimized again and again and again and again and again.
There’ve been times in my life when my “victimization” defined me. It was bigger in my days than I was. Not only that, but I used it. It entitled me to engage in all sorts of bad behavior – punishing people, not respecting boundaries, and generally running rampant over the landscape of my life.
Why? Because I had been treated badly by someone, sometime.
It’s hard to let go of that kind of privilege. And yet at the same time it is such a dreary and rutted place to live, hanging onto that victimization day in and day out.
As a survivor, I am not defined by whatever someone did or didn’t do to me some decades ago. I choose my own self-definition, proactively and powerfully. It’s a way more exciting and fulfilling way to live then hanging on to the victim’s privilege of punishing and complaining and justifying and rationalizing – and spinning my tires around the same old injustices over and over and over again!
I grow tired of the victims in my life … and of the victim in me. Not denying real victimization here … just sayin’.