The truth about playing the victim

We have all heard the term “playing the victim”. I hate this phrase, and I have been guilty of using it a time or two. We use this term to describe someone who in our mind chooses to be victimized or otherwise places blame on others. Someone who avoids taking responsibility. At times it suggests they perceive hurts where there are none.

I am not saying the above descriptions are not true. However, we must tread lightly in assuming others intentionally choose their circumstances. Yes, we have choice and we have power, but sometimes things like trauma (which contribute to automatic negative beliefs and boundaries) get in the way of really seeing (and believing) safe or healthy options.

Trauma, especially when experienced young, steals our power and creates a sense of shame. This powerlessness and shame set the stage for chronic victimization. Shame is the sense that the self is bad, unlovable, or unwanted. Powerlessness is that feeling that we cannot do anything to escape or change ourselves or our circumstance. People who feel chronically victimized often live in “trauma time”. So, the shame and powerlessness that are born in trauma are still very real and true in the experience of the survivor.

If I have believed my whole life that I have no power and deserve bad things then it will inevitably affect my relationships. No power means no responsibility and leads to blame on others. This is toxic to relationships. I will be attracted to those that treat me in a way that is congruent with what I believe. OR I might be attracted to someone who will care for me and rescue me. I polarize relationships with even healthy individuals so that I view them as a perpetrator or a rescuer (more on that later).

I want to dive into how to break this cycle, and I will in my next post (so stay tuned). For now, however, I want to leave you with a few thoughts. For the survivor: You were powerless once, and that was scary and hard. You did not have responsibility then. You did not deserve what you experienced. But that is not now. Now the threat has passed. You are NOT powerless anymore. You do have choices and you can rewrite your beliefs. That is hard and scary too, you can move forward if and when you feel ready.

For those who care: Your role is hard too. You may feel you can do nothing right. You might feel you are walking on eggshells to avoid triggering your loved ones. And when they are triggered it is inevitably made to be your fault. You might feel you are forced to be responsible for their physical and emotional safety and this is not a job you can live up to. When you try to set boundaries, you feel like the bad guy. This leaves you with the choice between stay with resentment or leave with guilt. All this considered: survivors of trauma do not purposefully make life hard. They are not “manipulative” or “needy”. They are operating honestly, in the best way they know how. So hold your healthy boundaries, practice self-care, and seek support. Every interaction is an opportunity to show others something different, something healthy, something they may not have otherwise experienced.

My preacher once said, “I can choose judgement or I can choose compassion but I cannot have both. If I am going to ere I am going to ere on the side of compassion”. So when I feel taxed and manipulated, I can choose to believe the other is operating out of powerlessness and deep hurt—grasping for control or care. I can have compassion because the behavior and belief are NOT about me. I know this is not always true, sometimes people are selfish and irresponsible, but choosing compassion helps me keep my emotional boundaries and frees me from guilt and resentment. Take care, friends.

5 thoughts on “The truth about playing the victim

  1. Another great post! I love the angle you come from. Do you think the one who survives tries to be the one who cares in a way of healing? I’ve met many survivors and it’s like they all have an adept ability to care for themselves as well as others. Let me know what you think!


    1. Another great question. I think it depends on the view of self the person holds after surviving–this affects not only the energy we give to caring for self but also the boundaries we hold. And boundaries are essential for care of self and others! My post the Complicated Nature of Boundaries dives into this a bit. Brene Brown also has some great resources regarding these concepts. Thanks for asking.


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