Blog Short #18: How should we handle victimization?
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
Today’s post is inspired by the book called “The Gift.”
The Gift was written by Dr. Edith Eva Eger at the age of 93. In twelve outstanding chapters, she lovingly imparts her wisdom and advice for handling adversity and victimization in a way that leads to growth and freedom.
Dr. Eger was imprisoned at Auschwitz when she was 16, along with her younger sister Magda and her parents. The year was 1944, and the Nazis had invaded Hungary, where she and her family lived. Carted off in a cattle car, the family was taken to Auschwitz, where she would be held for the next year. Her parents were murdered in the gas chambers immediately after their arrival.
Over that year, Dr. Eger and her sister were left to deal with the horrors and abuse dished out by the Nazis and to do their best to survive until their release in 1945.
In her words:
“Each moment in Auschwitz was hell on earth. It was also my best classroom. Subjected to loss, torture, starvation, and the constant threat of death, I discovered the tools for survival and freedom that I continue to use every day in my clinical psychology practice as well as in my own life.”
After her release and in the years to follow, Dr. Eger married, had children, and completed her doctorate in clinical psychology (which she did at the age of 52.) For the last 40+ years, she has provided psychotherapeutic help to others who have dealt with all manner of victimization, depression, anxiety, and the like.
What I found most inspirational about The Gift (and Dr. Eger herself) was the foundation she laid out in the first chapter, where she talks about victimization. She starts with this statement which sets the tone for the entire book:
“Suffering is universal. But victimhood is optional.”
From someone who suffered so much, this is a profound statement. And it’s one we can all use and learn from.
What it means is this:
- It’s not possible for any of us to avoid being victimized or hurt. There’s no way to escape pain. It’s a part of life that can’t be sidestepped.
- What we can do is choose our response. We can either work through the pain associated with these experiences, learn and grow from them, or take on the “victim” identity and stay there.
This second choice sometimes comes about because it feels like home. It’s familiar. It’s safer to stay in the role of “victim,” even though we wish to avoid the pain of it.
By doing so, we don’t have to do anything about it. We don’t have to stand up for ourselves. We don’t have to face our true feelings. We don’t have to choose freedom and take on the responsibility to move forward. We can stand still.
The Prison of Victimhood
The shift from being victimized to being a victim is subtle, and often it happens without awareness. It may originate in our families of origin and be built into our psyche through years of abuse, neglect, criticism, or oppression. This sometimes leads to becoming a “victim” permanently unless we face it, deal with it, and redefine who we are in light of our experiences.
This is what Dr. Eger calls the “prison of victimhood.” The victimization felt early on moves into our identities and takes up residence.
The alternative is to take on the process of what’s called post-traumatic growth. We face the reality of our victimization, feel our way through it, release it, and transform ourselves based on what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown.
This doesn’t mean that we’re not changed by painful experiences. We are, and to pretend otherwise is to take flight from reality. The work is to accept that we can’t always avoid suffering or adversity, but we can use it to transform ourselves in ways that acknowledge our worth, our responsibility, our accountability, and our freedom.
People who use adversity for growth “may remain emotionally affected, but their sense of self, views on life, priorities, goals for the future, and their behaviors have been reconfigured in positive ways in light of their experiences” (Joseph, Stephen. What Doesn’t Kill Us. Basic Books.)
This is what’s meant by post-traumatic growth and the personal transformation that follows traumatic victimization.
By the way, victimization doesn’t need to be severe to be felt, and it’s not always at the hands of someone else committing some type of abuse. Loss of a relationship, loved one, or even a job feels like victimization and, in fact, is. Any time you feel emotionally sucker-punched, you have a choice to cave into the victimization or make use of it to regroup and transform. Everything that happens to us in life can be used for our personal evolution.
To facilitate the growth option, Dr. Eger advises us to start with the right question:
Instead of asking “Why me?”, ask “What now?”
Then go about sorting through your emotions and your thoughts (all of them – no suppression), and finally release them. Use everything you’ve experienced to examine where you are and what’s next for you.
Now For You
If you think you’re stuck in a victimization mode, I would highly recommend reading The Gift. Even if you aren’t, read it anyway. It’s very therapeutic!
You may also wish to read What Doesn’t Kill Us by Stephen Joseph, especially if you’re struggling with post-traumatic stress.
For a quick article on victimization, you might like Victim Consciousness: 6 Ways to Overcome It.
Lots of food for thought today! Have a great week!
All my best,