A significant study from Duke, out today, provides the best evidence we’ve had thus far that bullying in childhood is linked to a higher risk of psychological disorders in adulthood. The results came as a surprise to the research team. “I was a skeptic going into this,” lead author and Duke psychiatry professor William E. Copeland told me over the phone, about the claim that bullying does measurable long-term psychological harm. “To be honest, I was completely surprised by the strength of the findings. It has certainly given me pause. This is something that stays with people.”
I’m less surprised, because earlier research has shown that bullying increases the risk for many problems, including low academic performance in school and depression (for both bullies and victims) and criminal activity later in life (bullies). But the Duke study is important because it lasted for 20 years and followed 1,270 North Carolina children into adulthood. Beginning at the ages of 9, 11, and 13, the kids were interviewed annually until the age of 16, along with their parents, and then multiple times over the years following.
Based on the findings, Copeland and his team divided their subjects into three groups: People who were victims as children, people who were bullies, and people who were both. The third group is known as bully-victims. These are the people who tend to have the most serious psychological problems as kids, and in the Duke study, they also showed up with higher levels of anxiety, depressive disorders, and suicidal thinking as adults. The people who had only experienced being victims were also at heightened risk for depression and anxiety. And the bullies were more likely to have an antisocial personality disorder.
The researchers also checked to see if the variation among the groups could be attributed to differences in socio-economic status, or family dysfunction/instability, or maltreatment (which they defined as physical or sexual abuse). All three groups—the victims, the bullies, and the bully-victims—had higher rates of some type of family hardship than the kids who didn’t experience bullying at all. For the victims, the risk of anxiety disorders remained strong even when taking into account family problems, though the risk of depression did not (it dropped just below statistical significance if the victims came from a stable home, Copeland said). For bully-victims, the risk of both anxiety and depression held, and for bullies, the risk of antisocial personality disorder did as well. In other words, these results suggest that bullying scars people whether they grow up in a home with two functional parents or with frequent arguing, not much parental supervision, divorce, separation, or downright abuse or neglect. It’s a finding that’s in line with other work, for example by Judith Rich Harris, who in her book The Nurture Assumption, shows that kids are very much influenced and affected by their peers.
Why does bullying have such far-reaching impact? Copeland and his team suggest the experience may change kids’ physiological response to stress, and their ability to cope. This looked especially stark for the bully-victims. “It was definitely the case that chronic bullying led to worse outcomes, but much more the case that being a bully-victim was associated with really significant problems,” Copeland said. The biggest cry for help is coming from that group. Fortunately, it’s a smaller number than victims overall.” Bully-victims, Copeland and others have found, have more problems at home and the most trouble with impulse control and aggression. Sometimes they do the dirty work for popular kids who bully to curry favor with them. “I don’t think things are working out socially for them in a lot of ways,” Copeland said.
It’s important to point out that Copeland and other researchers don’t define bullying broadly, in a way that encompasses a lot of mutual conflict among kids, or one-time fighting. Bullying is physical or verbal harassment that takes place repeatedly and involves a power imbalance—one kid, or group of kids, making another kid miserable by lording power over him. As Dan Olweus, the Scandinavian psychologist who launched the field of bullying studies in the 1960s, has been arguing for many years, this is a particular form of harmful aggression. And so the effort to prevent bullying isn’t about pretending that kids will always be nice to each other, or that they don’t have to learn to weather some adversity.
If the results of this study are dismaying because they indicate that bullying is permanently scarring, the findings also strengthen the argument for prevention. Copeland underscores this idea. “Consider me a reluctant convert, but I’m starting to view bullying the same way I do abuse in the home,” he said. “I honestly think the affects we’re observing here are just as potent. And that’s definitely not the way American researchers look at things. They want to know all about what parents are doing at home. Peers aren’t considered a priority. But these days, with all the time they spend on the Internet, kids are spending even more time with their peers, and that’s a factor we need to pay more attention to.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
With all the violence in suburban schools, there has been increased curiosity about the sources of social ostracism among youth, painful facts of life about the healthiest and, we presume, happiest of our kids. The focus of this article is on teasing, an almost universal experience with implications far beyond the attention we generally give to it.
Most of us can sympathize with the child who complains miserably of being teased or bullied. Our advice is usually simplistic: “Try to ignore it,” on the theory that the teaser will get bored and drop it when the victim does not react. But this discounts the reactions of the other participants, the onlookers or the audience for whom the bully is performing and who reward the scene with their attention. Besides, none of us is good at ignoring our own feelings, and the feelings that can be triggered by teasing are more powerful and painful than we like to admit, perhaps because we feel powerless to protect our children from this kind of an attack, ubiquitous as it is. The two primary feelings involved are often topics of discussion in the therapy session: shame and anger, or in their extreme: humiliation and rage.
Looking back on it, it seems to me that the relationship between shame and rage should be obvious. When something or someone makes you feel powerless, terribly hopelessly powerless, the thing you crave most is something that will help you feel powerful, or at least safe. We don’t like to talk about these disturbing feelings. Shame is something we hide, or minimize, because exposing our shame only seems to make it worse. So the impact and consequences of teasing, shaming and excessive
criticism remain obscure for many of us. And the resulting rage catches us by surprise.
Many things can make us feel powerless. Whenever we experience animportant loss or disappointment, we feel powerless. When we are shamed, teased, criticized or bullied, we feel powerless. When we are ignored, we may feel powerless. When we are sick, tired, or hungry and as a result, confused, we may feel powerless.
When a young child craves power, there are only a few options. He can reach out for the loving protection of a comparatively powerful parent or caretaker. He can practice those few things that give him a child’s sense of mastery and control. He can exercise power over someone or something smaller or weaker. He can imagine fantasy scenarios of power, or revenge.
Babies are good at reaching out for protection. Though some may be fussier than others, most babies have a powerful way of making most adults feel nurturing and protective toward them.
A toddler is experimenting with a growing repertoire of
movement and communication skills that offer a sense of mastery and control over a small part of his universe. But if you speak sharply to a toddler, you will see the downcast eyes that represent the classic posture and facial expression of the primary affect of shame. Some anguished sobbing will usually follow, and it is not unusual for
the anguish to be followed by rage, as the toddler regroups and assaults you with the worst insult in his vocabulary.
The surge of aggression following the shame of defeat is part of our emotional evolutionary heritage. The two feelings are hard wired together, the sequence normal and unavoidable. But we do have some choice in what to think and how to act in response to the feelings, and these choices are learnable and therefore teachable.
The parent who finds a toddler’s tantrum cute and laughs at it, or the parent who finds it intolerable and punishes it, will see the child’s shame and rage reenacted immediately. With a few repetitions of this scene, the child soon develops a memory for the experience of helpless rage. Another alternative for the parent in this situation is to help the child release the shame and rage, and to begin to learn how that is done. By listening seriously, and labeling the feeling, the parent can accept the expression of emotion, while firmly limiting any dangerous or destructive behavior. Understanding, accepting, and labeling the shame and anger (and predicting that it will soon pass) reassures the child of continued respect and love; these responses help the child learn to get past the feelings of helplessness sooner, an important emotional skill to learn.
A five-year-old entering school is suddenly faced with a much larger world full of dangers and chances to feel powerless. What has he learned about this painful and confusing feeling and what to do about it? If he has not learned how to recover from shame and rage fairly quickly, he may be in for a crash course. Before long, he will encounter a disapproving adult or a competitive peer who will trigger feelings of shame and helplessness, followed by some feelings of aggression or rage. He will practice one or more strategies for dealing with this situation and choose one as his favorite. He may try to bury the rage by taking it out on himself in a damaging flurry of self-criticism. He may fantasize about revenge, and even plan and execute some form of retaliation. He may take his aggression out on someone else, seeking a way to restore status by teasing or harassing another, or by shifting blame. Or he may find a supportive listener with whom to work out this problem, though this requires skill and sensitive communication from the child and the listener. There are so many such episodes in his young life, that a preference for one of the strategies is soon established. It may work well enough in the short term to hide the helplessness and take the shame inside, or to gain back a sense of power. But often it may result in some unreleased shame or anger that grows into a chronic expectation of social danger.
The adolescent lives in a world in which the option of reaching out for protection from a loving adult becomes enormously more complicated and difficult. Even the need to seek understanding and help from an adult can be the source of embarrassment or shame when the primary psychological task is establishing independence. Competition for status within the all-important peer group often takes the form of teasing or hazing, where one youngster seeks to make himself the center of attention by making fun of another. It is a universal game, and within limits, can be a healthy kind of flexing of social muscles. But the limits are not well known, and therefore easy to cross. The young person who is the butt of the joke is in a poor position to define the rules of this game. Shame and hurt rule in silence, and the inevitable anger soon begins to grow. The young person may direct this anger at any of a number of targets. He may define himself as a loser and experience anger
at himself, eroding his self-esteem. He may become angry with the adults of the world for not protecting him, or with the “winners’ of the game for their cruelty or insensitivity. This anger is difficult to express, especially toward the teasers who provoked it. So it is more likely to be turned inward and become the stuff of self-hatred or angry fantasies of revenge. Fortunately, many kids find some way through this minefield without significant scars. But many others do not. Eating disorders, adolescent depression, and oppositional disorders all share a chronic expectation of criticism or shame, with chronic anger focused either on the self or the outside world or both. For some the anger fuels constant fantasies of getting even. Their angry demeanor subtly repels some of their peers, leaving them more isolated, and angrier. They find sympathy with angry lyrics in songs, angry images in movies, and a few angry friends, their fellow misfits. Academic and social failure and isolation add to the shame, and to the rage. Emotion “motivates” us to act. And rage motivates angry or violent behavior, toward oneself or the outside world.
Some have noted a pattern of suspicion followed by silence among those who knew something about Sandusky’s behavior with young boys. Those who work with survivors of child sexual abuse know this pattern all too well and are often angered by it. How do we explain the reluctance of people to talk about their suspicions openly so that something might be done to stop these atrocities?
One of the explanations suggested is that the abuser is a person of power or status who could use that power to punish anyone who dared talk about what they suspected or knew. Though there is some truth to this, especially in the minds of the young person who has been manipulated and sometimes threatened into silence, I think there is a more basic explanation that comes clear in an understanding of the nature of shame and our responses to behavior that evokes shame.
Shame is one of the powerful survival emotions with which we are all hardwired. It is the emotion that compels us to surrender and try to hide when we are faced with an overwhelming threat or defeated in competition. It can save our lives in a primitive battle over status, and it has a complex function in forming our consciences and guiding our moral awareness. But although we use the word in a way that has many complex connotations, it is a fundamental and powerful basic emotion, and shares some characteristics with other survival emotions.
1. Shame compels an immediate behavioral response. Fear compels us to freeze first, then run. Anger compels us to attack. And shame compels us to surrender and withdraw, averting our gaze and trying to hide. We want to become invisible, and anything that draws attention to us makes the shame stronger. So when someone tells an inappropriate joke at a party, everyone wants to crawl under the table. And when someone in your group is behaving badly, no one wants to be the first to call attention to the problem. “For some people, the subject is literally unspeakable.”
2. Shame is contagious. Like the panic triggered in a crowded theater when someone shouts fire, or the rage evoked in a mob when it is focused on a target, shame over someone’s exposure evokes an emotional response in all of us. Depending on our relationship to the person shamed, the emotional response can be one of shame or anger, but if the person is a member of your family, tribe, or a group with which you identify, the shame will come first. When Dad is drunk and making a fool of himself, everyone in the family wants to leave the scene. A secondary
reaction of anger may set in soon, but the initial response is shared shame. If our political leader makes a gaffe, we all groan inside before we go into defensive action.
3. Shame is followed by anger. But the anger may be expressed toward almost anyone. After feeling the sting of shame, we may be angry at ourselves, we may be angry at the world, we may be angry at the easiest person to be angry at – which maybe the victim of the abuse – or we may fear the anger of others that we know is likely to emerge if we make a lot of noise about the shameful situation. So family members enable the alcoholic rather than confront, institutions shield and hide the abusers in their midst rather than share the shame of exposure, and people with suspicions of others, particularly leading members of the group with which they identify, keep their mouths shut and their heads down (the classic posture of shame). The fear of angry reprisals can extend to fear of legal action against the institution involved. But underlying this fear is the naive wish that it will all just go away if we can cover it up or keep quiet about it.
Understanding the nature of our powerful survival emotions, how they compel us to freeze, run, attack, or hide, can help us resist the self defeating behavioral responses that can arise in response to emotionally loaded situations and help us solve problems sooner. Wishing the problems and the feelings would just go away only prolongs the damaging situation.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
New research on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers challenges popular assumptions about the origins and trajectory of PTSD, providing evidence that traumatic experiences in childhood — not combat — may predict which soldiers develop the disorder.
Psychological scientist Dorthe Berntsen of Aarhus University in Denmark and a team of Danish and American researchers wanted to understand why some soldiers develop PTSD but others don’t. They also wanted to develop a clearer understanding of how the symptoms of the disorder progress.
“Most studies on PTSD in soldiers following service in war zones do not include measures of PTSD symptoms prior to deployment and thus suffer from a baseline problem. Only a few studies have examined pre- to post-deployment changes in PTSD symptoms, and most only use a single before-and-after measure,” says Berntsen.
The team aimed to address these methodological issues by studying a group of 746 Danish soldiers and evaluating their symptoms of PTSD at five different timepoints. Their study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Five weeks before the soldiers were scheduled to leave for Afghanistan, they completed a battery of tests including a PTSD inventory and a test for depression. They also completed a questionnaire about traumatic life events, including childhood experiences of family violence, physical punishment, and spousal abuse.
During their deployment, the soldiers completed measures related to the direct experience of war: perceptions of war zone stress, actual life-threatening war experiences, battlefield wounds, and the experience of actually killing an enemy.
The researchers continued to follow the soldiers after their return home to Denmark, assessing them a couple weeks after their return, two to four months after their return, and seven to eight months after their return.
What Berntsen and her colleagues found challenges several widely held assumptions about the nature of PTSD.
Rather than following some sort of “typical” pattern in which symptoms emerge soon after a particularly traumatic event and persist over time, Berntsen and colleagues found wide variation in the development of PTSD among the soldiers.
The vast majority of the soldiers (84%) were resilient, showing no PTSD symptoms at all or recovering quickly from mild symptoms.
The rest of the soldiers showed distinct and unexpected patterns of symptoms. About 4% showed evidence of “new-onset” trajectory, with symptoms starting low and showing a marked increase across the five timepoints. Their symptoms did not appear to follow any specific traumatic event.
Most notably, about 13% of the soldiers in the study actually showed temporary improvement in symptoms during deployment. These soldiers reported significant symptoms of stress prior to leaving for Afghanistan that seemed to ease in the first months of deployment only to increase again upon their return home.
What could account for this unexpected pattern of symptoms?
Compared to the resilient soldiers, the soldiers who developed PTSD were much more likely to have suffered emotional problems and traumatic events prior to deployment. Childhood experiences of violence, especially punishment severe enough to cause bruises, cuts, burns, and broken bones actually predicted the onset of PTSD in these soldiers. Those who showed symptoms of PTSD were more likely to have witnessed family violence, and to have experienced physical attacks, stalking or death threats by a spouse. They were also more likely to have past experiences that they could not, or would not, talk about. And they were less educated than the resilient soldiers.
According to Berntsen and colleages, all of these factors together suggest that army life — despite the fact that it involved combat — offered more in the way of social support and life satisfaction than these particular soldiers had at home. The mental health benefits of being valued and experiencing camaraderie thus diminished when the soldiers had to return to civilian life.
The findings challenge the notion that exposure to combat and other war atrocities is the main cause of PTSD.
“We were surprised that stressful experiences during childhood seemed to play such a central role in discriminating the resilient versus non-resilient groups,” says Berntsen. “These results should make psychologists question prevailing assumptions about PTSD and its development.”
D. Berntsen, K. B. Johannessen, Y. D. Thomsen, M. Bertelsen, R. H. Hoyle, D. C. Rubin. Peace and War: Trajectories of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Before, During, and After Military Deployment in Afghanistan. Psychological Science, 2012;
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The dictionary defines a victim as “one who suffers from any destructive or adverse situation or agency.” When the destructive or adverse situation or agency exists in the real world, the victimization occurs in reality. However, when the destructive or adverse situation exists primarily or entirely within the sufferer’s mind, the victimization is more imagined than real. It is real to the sufferers and their pain is legitimate and valid, but they are in distress more than is needed. We need to identify the source of this excess suffering so that we can relieve it in the right way. When we do not know what the right way is, we are liable to relieve it in the wrong way, which will only make the suffering worse. It is not our fault that we do not know what the right way is, they do not teach it in our schools.
Millions of children are victimized by their parents, not because the parents are “bad” people but because they feel inadequately prepared to cope with the demanding tasks of parenthood. These children acquire the victim role early in their lives. This childhood role will not end on the individual’s eighteenth birthday. These children carry their perception of themselves as victims into adulthood where it interferes with their relationships at home and at work. It creates problems for them that they do not know how to solve.
It is important to realize that not all children of victimizers come to perceive themselves as victims. An older sister may emerge from childhood perceiving herself as the nurturer of victims, an older son may adapt the role of the super-responsible rescuer of victims, while the baby of the family may learn to use charm to ward off the victimizations that he has learned to expect from life. It may be that the middle child is singled out to receive the brunt of the abuse and becomes the designated victim of the family. This is the child who will carry the victim role into the future.
All of these children were victimized, but the dynamics of the family constellation has prevented them from playing identical roles. Each child has found a unique “solution” to the victim problem. Yet, these children will become impaired adults also. The big sister will not be compatible with healthy men, only with victims who “need” her nurturing. Her children will learn that it doesn’t pay to be healthy. She will pay little attention to healthy children, only those who need her nurturing. The super responsible son will be compatible with irresponsible, inadequate people who need his problem solving capabilities. If they have no problems, he will be out of business. They will see to it that he is kept busy. The baby will be compatible with people who will take care of him forever.
A significant variable here is the creative power of the individual; some children can use their creative power to solve the painful problems that victimization by loved ones can present. Other children become discouraged and stop using their creative power to solve these problems. Creative power, is a function of the child’s self-respect. Children who find ways to hang on to their self-respect will have more creative power available to them for problem solving. Children who take their victimization as an invalidation of their personal worth, and most of them cannot take it any other way, come to hold themselves in contempt. By extension, they come to have contempt for their problem- solving abilities. They resign themselves to a lifetime of playing the role of the “useless,” “worthless” victim.
Some children are victimized by a tragedy that takes away a mother or father suddenly, permanently and without warning. The child may not have been physically injured in the accident, but they will carry the emotional scars of this deprivation into the future. A few “lucky” children do not seem to be victimized at all. Their childhood is ideal. For them, life is pleasant when things go their way. Their friends envy their good fortune and happiness. However, these people are poorly prepared for the ups and downs of life. For them, the other side of the coin is that life is very unpleasant when it doesn’t go their way. They perceive negative events in their lives as unacceptable deviations from the norm, which is not a norm at all, they only believe it is. They take each disappointment of everyday life as if it were victimization. In time, these “advantaged souls”, too, join the ranks of victims waiting for the next victimization to happen. We tell them to “count their blessings,” as if their assets in the present could undo a negative lifestyle perpetuated from childhood.
Bad things happen to all of us, but those of us with self-respect do not perceive them as personal affronts or punishments from God. They can say to themselves, “Tornadoes, floods and earthquakes come and go, but I am not a Victim, I am still me.” However, those individuals who have learned to play the “Victim” role early in life are not so fortunate. They perceive every reversal, major or minor, as if the Fates for a special hell were singling them out. They have carried their Victim role and its component attitudes from childhood into adulthood. They are viewing life through victim-colored glasses.
For instance, victims are predisposed to perceive adverse situations where no adverse situations exist — “How come Angelina Jolie never returns my calls?” “she hates me, I just know it.” or to exacerbate the adversities of everyday life into full-blown catastrophes (“Other people can drive 90 miles an hour on the sidewalk and get away with it. But not me. Oh, no, I get a ticket. Why me?”). Cliff has been getting away with his wrongdoing for years. However, all the other times when he did not get caught for speeding did not offset in any way his underlying conviction that he is a victim this time. When he sees other motorists pulled over to the side of the road and getting a traffic citation, he does not empathize with them as a fellow sufferer. “Serves him right, the jerk.” No one is a victim to Cliff except Cliff. Cliff’s childhood attitudes exist below the level of his conscious awareness, where events in the real world do not affect them. These attitudes were learned emotionally and cannot be unlearned intellectually or experientially in the present. Neither can he “will” these silent attitudes out of existence.
Unself-respecting individuals are more vulnerable to the victim syndrome than their self-respecting cousins. Since unself-respecting people do not have mature identities as human beings, they can only play the roles that they learned as children and never outgrew. Although “victim” is a noun, these people do not experience themselves as living their lives. They are not the subject of the sentence or even of their own life; they do not take initiatives; they do not act. All they can do is react to what is done to them, they are on the receiving end of life. They live their lives in the objective case. They are the object of their own verb, to be; and their being is always negative.
Victims do not live in the indicative mood, in the world as it is. They live in the subjunctive mood, the world of “shoulds” and “as ifs.” They behave “as if” things were true that are not true at all. They even wonder, sometimes, why they have such an uphill battle coping with the world as it is. They attribute their difficulty to the “fact” that they are Victims of Life, which of course they are not. It is their attitudes towards themselves that predispose them to behave as if they were.
These are some of the major components of the residual anger that victims carry with them wherever they go:
1. As previously mentioned, Cliff often perceives victimization when no victimization is intended. He has no feedback system that will tell him that his perceptions are mistaken, so he continues to believe that he is correct. His perceived victimizations make him feel as angry as if they were real ones: “I should have gotten that raise. I’ve been here three days longer than that guy!”
2. Cliff often feels that it does not pay to protest his victimization. It will only lead to further victimization. He suppresses his anger until he can’t stand the pressure.
3. When Cliff does try to protest, he often does it in a self-indulgent, counter-productive manner which only results in a confirmation of his prediction of victimization: “You’re stupid, Boss.” His boss’s negative response compounds the anger that he had in the first place. He does not see how his inappropriate behavior contributes to the “victimization” that he is complaining about.
4. Cliff suppresses his anger without even realizing consciously that he is doing so. As a child, his attitude became, “Why get angry, what good would it do?” He defines “good” as if it meant changing another person’s mind in his favor, and he “knows” that that is hopeless. That is not the “good” that expressing appropriate anger accomplishes, but Cliff has had no experience with competently managed anger. The concept is foreign to his upbringing. On a deeper level, Cliff is “allergic” to doing anything constructive on his own behalf because it would be inconsistent with his role as a victim. When the pressure of his mismanaged anger becomes intolerable, he explodes. The consequence of his mismanaged anger is often another “victimization” and he does not “deserve” that one either.
5. Cliff is sensitive to the unfairness of life, especially as it impacts on him. He suffers from the mistaken conviction that:
(a) life should be fair;
(b) life is fair to others;
(c) life is not fair to him;
(d) that fairness means sameness;
(e) that he is an objective arbiter of these matters.
All this unfairness makes him very angry. He is the victim of unfairness and he cannot understand why he is being singled-out for victimization. “Why me?” He does not “deserve” this abuse because he is a “swell guy” if he says so himself. His present definition of fairness is the same one he had when he was four years old. “Everybody gets the same size present.” That is not fairness, it is sameness. He doesn’t know the difference. He also defines fairness as “getting my way.” When he doesn’t get his way, it is not fair. According to his self-serving definition, bad employees like himself should get the same consideration as good employees. His boss does not share his definition. When they argue, they are not on the same wavelength, but neither one knows why.
6. Allergic To Cooperation – Cliff tends to confuse requests for cooperation with demands for submission. These “demands” make him angry. When he refuses to “submit to his boss’ invitation to cooperate as an equal,” he sets himself up for the disaster that he has predicted for himself.
7. Control is very important to Cliff. He is a controller. Unfortunately, he does not know what control really is nor how to get it. He can only control in negative, destructive ways. Cliff defines control as “preventing bad things from happening.” His built in scenario has several components:
a) “I predict that I will be victimized in the future as I have been in the past.”
b) “This prediction is scary and painful. It is my responsibility to relieve this pain in any way I can.”
c) “If I can prevent the victimization from happening, I won’t get hurt.”
d) “I will try to prevent bad things from happening by increasing my knowledge of what is going on.”
e) “It is important that I know what people are thinking. If it is bad news, I can try to head it off at the pass.”
f) “I must know what is going to happen in the future by asking questions in the present. Knowledge is power. When I do not know the future, I feel painfully powerless and out of control. I must find a way to relieve this pain.”
This multi-faceted scenario is not conscious or rational. It has nothing to do with solving real life problems in the present. Since Cliff feels inadequate to cope with life in the present, “control through knowing” is his way of overcompensating for his perceived deficiencies. His solution to this problem cannot work. His problems do not get better, they get worse, and they ultimately turn into a crisis. His life is one crisis after another. When he learns how to cope with life as a self-respecting human being, his crises will come much farther apart. Since Cliff cannot know what people are thinking or what the future will bring, he cannot control his life or prevent the disasters that he predicts for himself. He feels out of control most of the time. He has set himself up for a lifetime of anxiety.
8. Anxiety is a feeling of dread, that something terrible is going to happen at any minute.
As a victim, Cliff lives with anxiety. He is not aware of his anxiety as such because he has become used to it over the years. These are some of the basic assumptions that contribute to anxiety:
a) Cliff feels inadequately prepared to take life as it comes.
b) He lives his life on other peoples’ terms. Since we cannot really know what their terms are, his life is going to be unpredictable and insecure.
c) Since he has no hope of success, he can only predict disaster in the future.
d) He lives in the future in order to keep the feared disaster from happening.
e) He defines security in terms of external and internal defense mechanisms which do not work in the real world.
f) He defines control in bizarre ways that leave him more out of control.
g) Cliff’s anger is out of control. When his anger is out of control, he is out of control. He experiences his out of control anger as anxiety.
9. A major component of Cliff’s anxiety is his anger at himself. When bad things happen, not only does he perceive them as a personal victimization, but he is angry at himself for failing to prevent them from happening in spite of his intense but useless efforts to do so. This anger at himself is out of his conscious control. He is not even aware that it is down there. He is preoccupied with his conscious anger at the source of his current distress, i.e., his boss. This preoccupation keeps him from identifying his self anger. It never goes away. He displaces his self anger onto other people who do not deserve it. Sometimes they displace it right back, confirming his victim role and perpetuating his anxiety.
10. Humorlessness – As with many victims, Cliff makes the twin mistakes of:
a) Taking people seriously when he should not,
b) Not taking them seriously when he should.
He does not have a sense of humor because a lifetime of anticipating victimization precludes the luxury of lightening up and appreciating the absurdity of the human condition. He lacks the adult judgment to discern when people are kidding and when they are not. As a consequence, he reacts inappropriately to most situations and is then victimized. Perversely, he sees humor when other people are victimized. He feels superior to them; he is relieved that it wasn’t him this time.
11. Inappropriate Responsibility – As the victim child in his family, Cliff assumes so much inappropriate responsibility for warding off victimization that he neglects his real responsibilities. Once again, the consequences of his misplaced priorities will be negative. He then assumes responsibility for his victimization, but in the wrong way. “I should have seen it coming,” he says. He feels guilty and angry at himself. He does not learn the right lessons from these disasters, he merely reinforces the wrong ones, over and over.
His wife, Naomi, is an irresponsible victim. She spends her life seeking exemption from her appropriate responsibilities because she feels that she will only fail anyway, so why bother? She “forgets” to pay the bills because she “knows” in advance that she will make a botch of it. She is incapable of seeing how these exemptions from her household tasks may be contributing to her victimization. When Cliff complains about her carelessness, she feels victimized. She says, “It’s not my fault! You made me forget.” This is the flip side of the fault coin. She denies “fault” because she imagines that as long as she remains “faultless” she cannot be punished. This technique, too, works in reverse. It makes Cliff angrier than he was before, and he feels entitles to punish her for making him angry.
When these two fight about finances, they imagine that the issue is money. Money is only the occasion for the real issue, which is preventing spousal victimization. When Naomi asks for food money, Cliff feels taken advantage of, unappreciated and threatened with loss of control over his paycheck. When Cliff says, “No,” Naomi feels forced to submit to his control, as she had to submit to male tyranny in her childhood. She resents it now as she resented it then. She protects, defends, rebels, all in vain. Her coping techniques are no more successful now than when she was nine. These two become super angry at each other without even knowing why. Their perception of victimization arises out of an issue that lies still farther down, their contempt for themselves and for each other. “Anyone who would pick me out is worthy of my contempt and deserves to be treated accordingly.” Their relationship is based on mutual contempt.
Cliff cannot be happy. It would be inconsistent with his role of the victim. He has learned that, for him, happiness is only temporary, so why bother? Not only is happiness short-lived, but Cliff has also learned that it always ends in disaster and that he will be the victim of it. Therefore, he cannot enjoy his brief moments of happiness when they come because he “knows” that they will end painfully at any minute. When his wife tries to make him happy, he sabotages her every time. This is another technique that he uses to prevent disaster. Since Cliff “knows” that his happiness is going to end in disaster anyway, and the suspense is killing him, he brings about the disaster he expects in order to “get it over with,” sooner rather than later. When it happens, it confirms his prophecies of disaster (“I told you so. I knew it was to good to last”); it confirms his role as the victim. It is the only role he has. He has maintained his consistency once again.
12. Super-Sensitivity – When Cliff receives criticism, he mistakenly confuses his personhood with the imperfection being criticized. He may, for instance, confuse his boss’s criticism of his tardiness with the invalidation of his worth as a person. Invalidation is very painful. His super-sensitivity to slights is supposed to be a defense against being hurt, but like most of his “solutions” to his problems, this one doesn’t work, either. Cliff is so busy seeking solace for his wounded feelings that he fails to change the habits that get him in trouble. He is setting himself up for still another “victimization” the next time he is late. He thinks that he is “sensitive,” when in fact he is insensitive to any pain but his own. He confuses his vulnerability to overreacting with “sensitivity”.
13. Fortune-Telling – Cliff, like most victims, spends much of his life in the future:
a) He defines control in terms of preventing bad things from happening; tomorrow,
next week or next year.
b) He consistently prophesies disaster for himself. He does not “deserve” to expect
anything else. He tries so hard to prevent disasters from happening that he fails to live his life in the present tense.
c) He predicts that he is going to be victimized. He can not stand the suspense, so he
arranges to speed the process up. When it does happen, he says, “I knew it would happen.” He cannot see how he arranged to fulfill his negative expectations. It would ruin the whole scenario if he did
Cliff tries to ward off anticipated victimization by pleasing others in the hope that
they will not hurt him. These others sense and resent his ulterior motives in pleasing them. They hold him in contempt and victimize him for his pains. He consistently tries to please the people he shouldn’t please while neglecting to please those he should, such as his employer and his family members.
14. Suffering Pays – Cliff has learned that happiness does not pay. What does that leave? Suffering. At least suffering doesn’t end in disaster and there is no painful suspense. To him, these are all “advantages.” Moreover, Cliff has learned to use his suffering and make it pay-off. It is all he has going for him. If they ever take away his suffering, he would be in big trouble. He would not be able to trade on it; he might even be happy and he “knows” how that would end. This is his private logic and we cannot argue with it. It wouldn’t help if we did.
One negative payoff for his suffering may be the attention that he receives when he suffers. Another payoff may be his feeling of “moral superiority” over those who have not suffered as he has. This type of suffering victim is called “the Martyr.” Some victims use their suffering to exempt themselves from the tasks of life. They feel inadequately prepared to cope with the adult responsibilities of life and can only predict failure for themselves. Their agenda is to prevent their failure by getting out of their responsibilities before it is too late. They want to exempt themselves from their assigned duties and yet still receive the benefits from them. They malinger, they go on sick leave, they do not make him happy, they are the misery that he prefers to the even worse nursery of trying to succeed and failing. Many of them succeed at this for a time. When they fail, it is through the fault of others. In the meantime, they are exempt from guilt, fault, blame and responsibility. It is not their fault that they have this “condition.” They really do not see how they arranged all this as their solution to problems of daily living.
We have made the understandable mistake of taking this victimization or grievance more personally than reality requires us to take it. Our perception of ourselves as a helpless, “stupid” victim results in a dangerous loss of self-worth. We cannot respect people who allow these tragedies to befall them. It happened in our world, so it is somehow our fault, our responsibility. This is a carryover of our childhood feeling of egocentrism, when we stood at the center of our world as we perceived it. This inappropriate attitude from the past sets us up for more pain that we need to feel. We need to sort out the pain that is real from the pain that arises out of mistaken attitudes and other childhood vulnerabilities.
The antidote to this aspect of our suffering is to regain the self-respect that we had before the event. Perhaps our self-respect was built on a shaky foundation. “I can respect myself as long as I don’t encounter any problems that I cannot handle.” According to this self-imposed condition, we can no longer respect ourselves under the present circumstances. We need to replace that definition of self-respect with one that is less conditional and less porous. We need to find a way to experience ourselves as worthwhile human beings in spite of our faults and imperfections, one of which is that we are constitutionally incapable of being in two places at the same time or that we lack the courage to beat off three muggers with loaded guns. These imperfections in our nature are acceptable and we can accept ourselves in spite of them. No one has ever told us that; we must tell ourselves.
As one step in the healing process, we need to regain control of our rage. We can begin to manage our anger by writing an anger letter. It does not matter if someone reads it. It is not for their benefit but for ours. Afterwards, we will be in a stronger position to write the next anger letter, which is harder. The next letter is to ourselves. We need to start writing a letter to ourselves and to see what we bring up from the depths. We can identify specific criticisms that we have towards ourselves, which makes them easier to put in an appropriate perspective. We can use our rational faculties now to see that we are not guilty of being incapable. We need not be angry at ourselves at all. We are angry that it happened and at the undeserved, unfair changes that it makes in our lives. We can choose to write it down and get the anger out before it turns to poison and spreads.
The last stage of the anger management process would be to forgive those who caused this pain. We often balk at forgiving the perpetrator, for we “do not want to give him the satisfaction,” or we do not wish to “condone” his behavior. We may even imagine that we can prevent a repetition of the crime by harboring a grudge against him forever. We cannot forgive because what he did was “wrong;” if it were “right,” we wouldn’t have to forgive him at all. These are all faulty attitudes from our childhood, which impede the healing process. They are based on the false premise that the process of forgiveness is for another’s benefit, which it is not. He will never know about it. It is to help us recover our sanity sooner rather than later.
And who else must we forgive? We must forgive ourselves for our “failure” to foresee the event and prevent it from happening. This anger at ourselves is based on absurd premises, but it is very real. Our emotions do not care whether they are based on solid ground or not. They have no eyes and they cannot see; they have no brains and they cannot think. We have brains and we must think. We must use our adult judgment to make appropriate choices. Then, we must put our choices into action.
One action we can take is to write our forgiveness down in a letter so that we can validate our experience and make it real. Writing it down helps to bridge the gap between our head and our heart. It helps us to repair that which has been torn apart. We need to take action in the real world on our own behalf. If we do not, no one will. In writing our forgiveness letter, we are doing something that victims cannot do. Victims have no power to forgive, self-respecting people do.
Common self-defeating attitudes
1. “It would be terrible to be rejected, abandoned, or alone. I must have love and approval before I can feel good about myself.”
2. “If someone criticizes me, it means there’s something wrong with me.”
3. “1 must always please people and live up to everyone’s expectations.”
4. “I am basically defective and inferior to other people.”
5. “Older people are to blame for my problems.”
6. “The world should always meet my expectations.”
7. ‘Other people should always meet my expectations.”
8. “If I worry or feel bad about a situation, it will somehow make things better. lt’s not really safe to feel happy and optimistic.”
9. “I’m hopeless and bound to feel depressed forever because the problems in my life are impossible to solve.”
10. “I must always be perfect.” There are several kinds of perfectionism that can make you unhappy.
Common forms of Perfectionism
Moralistic perfectionism: ‘I must not forgive myself if I have fallen short of any goal or personal standard.”
Performance perfectionism: To be a worthwhile person. I must be a great success at everything I do.”
Identity perfectionism: “People will never accept me as a flawed and vulnerable human being.”
Emotional perfectionism: “I must always try to be happy. I must control my negative emotions and never feel anxious or depressed.”
Romantic perfectionism: “People who love each other should never fight or feel angry with each other.”
Appearance perfectionism: ‘l look ugly because I’m slightly overweight (or have heavy thighs or a facial blemish).”
Keep some persepctive;
1. Rating your self or your you- ness is an overgeneralization and is virtually impossible to do accurately. You are (consist of) literally millions of acts, deeds, and traits during your lifetime. Even if you were fully aware of all these performances and characteristics (which you never will be) and were able to give each of them a rating (say, from zero to one hundred) how would you rate each one?; for what purpose?; and under what conditions? Even if you could accurately rate all your millions of acts, how could you get a mean or global rating of the you who performs them? Not very easily!
2. Just as your deeds and characteristics constantly change (today you play tennis or chess or the stock market very well and tomorrow quite badly), so does your self change. Even if you could, at any one second, somehow give your totality a legitimate rating, this rating would keep changing constantly as you did new things and had more experiences. Only after your death could you give your self a final and stable rating.
3. Although rating your performances and comparing them to those of others has real value because it will help you improve your efficacy and presumably increase your happiness, rating your self and insisting that you must be a good and adequate person will (unless you, again, are perfect!) almost inevitably result in your being anxious when you may do any important thing badly, depressed when you do behave poorly, hostile when others out-perform you, and self-pitying when conditions interfere with your doing as well as you think you should.
Change what you tell yourself:
You are not worthless even if important people in your life reject you.
Doing badly never makes you a bad person — only imperfect. You have a right to be wrong.
Separate the rating of your behavior from the rating of your self.
You have put up with disappointments all your life; you can tolerate this one too.
Not getting your way is only disappointing or sad—not the end of the world.
You don’t have to have everything you want. The world was not made just for you.
In order to achieve pleasant results, I often have to do unpleasant things.
Yes, it is a pain to do this now, but I’d better. Yet it will be much harder and I’ll get worse, results if I do it later.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We respect problem-solvers in this country. We do not and cannot respect people who fall down elevator shafts or slip on banana peels. We fault them for their obvious lack of wisdom and foresight. We find their predicament improper, even absurd. Our tendency to “blame the victim” is an approach that is acquired in our childhood. We remember being told to stop crying, “Oh, quit bawling. You probably had it coming. It’s your own fault. I told you not to play with the big boys.” According to our all-knowing parents, we have brought our victimization upon ourselves. This is how our parents solved the “crying child” problem. They blamed it on the child! They were off the hook. They have taught us to blame ourselves for our own grief.
These parental interventions do not help at all. They are not constructive and do not lead to enhanced family relationships between people who are supposed to love and respect one another. Now, when our child cries, we do the same thing to them. Why do we do it? We do it because our child’s misfortune presents us with an unexpected problem, with which we feel inadequately prepared to cope. As parents, our feelings of inadequacy are uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. We are angry with the child for this insult to our sense of competency.
Our child will grow up with the outlook that, “Victims bring it on themselves and I am one of them.” Such children grow up with a negative developmental experience. They feel bound to live out their parents’ expectations. They will arrange to be victimized and then blame themselves, as they were taught to do in childhood. They are not masochists and do not enjoy doing this to themselves. They are merely perpetuating the role that they learned to play as children, maintaining the consistency of their lifestyle and “obeying” their parents’ implied command to fail and blame themselves. As miserable as this obedience makes them, it is the misery that they prefer to the even worse misery of disobeying their parents. They would feel guilty, but even worse, they are afraid that they would not know what would happen next.
Some “victims” reading this will say, “So it is my fault after all. I do bring this on myself.” They may even perceive these words as yet another victimization. But it is not their fault that these powerful desires from the past rise up in the present and trip them up. These feelings shape their responses to situations and influence their expectations of themselves and other people. It is not a matter of fault or guilt, it is a matter of human imperfection. Some victims, as we have seen, “bottom out” and come in for help. Others are too far gone in their self-contempt and cannot bring themselves to do so. They do not “deserve” to be helped or are too afraid of the consequences. It is not their fault, but there will be very negative outcomes for them. It is regrettable that this state of affairs exists, but “blaming” is useless and counter-productive.. For example, Sara was twenty-eight and was having difficulty in her marriage. She has little or no interest in sex and her husband is finding it impossible to offer her any affection. As often happens, the couple’s sexual adjustment was satisfactory during the early stages of their relationship. After the honeymoon was over, something from the past bubbled up to ruin their happiness.
For his part, her husband Mike was used to getting his own way. He does not cope very well with disappointments, for they are not supposed to happen to him. His counter-productive demands for intellectual explanations, reasons, excuses and accountings do not endear him to his distraught wife and they are growing farther apart every night. Sara realizes that she brings her baggage of self-blame to her marriage. However, her husband Mike is all too happy to agree that their problem is all her “fault.” Mike knew when he married her, that Sara had been raped when she was seventeen. They had talked about it rationally and maturely. If anything, their objectivity bordered on the clinical. Mike felt that his enlightened approach to this trauma had relieved any negative beliefs that his bride might have had toward the gender to which both he and the perpetrator belonged. He was right. Gender was no longer the issue. Victim hood was.
Sara was raped by a boy she met in her dorm. He was a little older than she was and he seemed charming and self-assured. She found out at the trial that he had been raping girls for years and getting away with it. She, of course, like most victims, blamed herself for being so “stupid” as to let it happen. Her disdain with herself has not gone away and she has carried it into her marriage. Now, it is preventing her from accepting the happiness that her husband is trying to share with her. Victims do not “deserve” happiness. However, there is still another impediment further down.
Sara focused on her friend’s reaction to her rape story. She remembers stumbling out of the park into the local hamburger hangout, all dirty and bloody, her nose broken and dress torn, pouring out her narrative and fully expecting her companions to raise a posse in defense of her honor. There was no such response. Her chums looked at each other and without exception, offered their counter-explanation of what had occurred, “Oh, Sara’s at it again. She’s making things up. It couldn’t have happened that way. You probably pissed him off and he beat the crap out of you. You can’t be raped unless you want to!”
These invalidations of her grief almost hurt worse than the attack itself. She had trusted these people and she thought they trusted her. Their denial of her validity was a double betrayal, 1) of her trust in the people she was close to and, 2) of her own judgment in choosing to trust them in the first place. Compounding Sara’s anger at her betrayers and at her own poor judgment was her rage at the unfairness of this tragedy. She had been the “responsible older sister”; the “good child of the family.” However, her lifetime of goodness had failed utterly to protect her from this devastating, unmerited, physical and emotional debacle. She felt “good for nothing.” She was angry with herself for wasting seventeen years of being good. She could just as well have been a hell-raising witch for all the good it had done her. The fragile foundations of her life fell apart that night. No new foundations have been laid in the past eleven years to take their place.
Now, here is her husband asking her to trust him and herself and let life happen. She has never forgotten what happened that night when she let go opened her to life and made the mistake of trying to be happy, like other people. She is not about to make that mistake again. How could she be sure that her husband would not betray her and then blame her for anything that went wrong; as he was already starting to do. No. Her distrustful behavior was her way of “control” by “preventing” bad things from happening again. “After they happen, it’s too late.” To her, this approach made obvious sense. She was not going to be reasoned out of it by her pseudo-logical, super-rational husband who had his own self-serving reasons for wanting her to loosen up.
As part of her counseling, Sara worked to understand why her friends unanimously pounced on her and blamed her for her own victimization, why they denied the evidence of their senses and overrode her account with a fictitious account of their own. It made no sense to her. She could not get on with her life until she sorted out these ragged loose ends.
This group of horrified teenagers must have felt totally inadequate to solve Sara’s problem. Their feelings of inadequacy were compounded by the shock and horror of what they heard and saw. As imperfect human beings, their first priority was to defend themselves against the pain they were experiencing in their own hearts. These are some of the components of their seemingly “heartless” response:
1. It is not enough to say that they “denied reality.” The question is why? When reality makes us feel painfully inadequate, we relieve the pain by canceling out the stimulus that is causing it. People who respect themselves and feel competent to take crises as they come, are less likely to deny reality.
2. The teenagers sought to minimize their pain by “demoting” Sara to a lesser status, that of a “trouble-maker” who is by definition “unworthy” of the care and concern, which they felt inadequate to provide. Since she is inferior to them, they are now “off the hook,” they are not responsible for solving the problem.
3. Problem-solving is an important part of our self-respect. When we cannot solve a problem, we feel inadequate. We relieve our distress by imagining a solution to the problem, even if it is not the problem that was presented to us originally. Sara’s problem was not the problem anymore, they had their own problem and they felt compelled to solve it.
4. Now that Sara is denigrated as a victim of her own provocative behavior, they are able to feel superior to her. Their momentary feelings of inadequacy and inferiority are now overcompensated for and need trouble them no further. Their “superiority” is part of the anesthetic that they need to relieve their own pain.
5. We all need closure. We cannot live our lives with all those loose-ends dragging behind and tripping us up. We like neat, tidy endings; not bloody, gaping wounds. When our coping techniques are inadequate to provide realistic closure, we sew-up our crevices with sutures of our own devising. Very often, these pseudo-closures are enough to get us out of the immediate danger zone to a safe refuge where we can collect our thoughts. For instance, we “forgive” our perpetrator too soon. This is not emotional first aid; this is more like putting a band-aid on a fracture. Some of us regret, forever, our failure to go back and obtain more effective treatment for our wounds when we had the chance. Our short-term good intention for ourselves will turn out to be self-destructive in the long run.
This analysis of the “Blame the Victim Syndrome” helped Sara to put this aspect of her trauma in a more realistic perspective. She had been faulting herself all these years for her “naiveté” in trusting those people and for trusting her own “stupid” judgment. She can see now that these young people had their own constellations of vulnerabilities and imperfections that prevented them from being more responsive to her assault than they were. On the basis of these insights into human imperfection, Sara is working through her legitimate anger at those people who let her down. She has written them a “gang” letter, which helped her to sort out the many facets of her rage.
She also uncovered her terrible anger at herself, which she relieved by writing herself an anger letter. While she was at it, her old anger at the rapist surfaced. She didn’t know where he was anymore, but she wrote him an anger letter, too. Even after all these years, she was surprised at the intensity of her emotion as it spilled out onto the pages. She felt much better afterward. She knows now that if these angers well-up in her again, she can write more anger letters. Now that her anger is in control, she feels in control.
The following are sample questions that can be used to generate discussion about a traumatic event:
I. Fact Questions
- How did you first learn of the incident?
- Where were you when the incident occurred?
- What did you see?
- In what way were you involved in the incident?
- Who told you about the incident?
- What were you doing at the time of the incident?
II. Thought Questions
- What was your first thought when you learned, saw, heard, about the incident?
- What were you thinking when the incident was occurring?
- What did you say to yourself?
- What have you been thinking/saying to yourself since the incident happened?
- What thoughts keep coming back to you?
III. Reaction Questions
- What is the worst part of this incident for you?
- Which part of this would you most like to change?
- What about the incident makes this such a difficult situation to handle?
- What are you having the most difficulty handling?
- What is the strongest reaction that you are experiencing?
IV. Symptom Questions
- What, if any, physical symptoms have you experienced?
- Has anyone experienced sleep disturbance?
- Has anyone’s appetite been affected?
- What “out of the ordinary” physical symptoms are you experiencing?
- What is your body telling you about this incident?
V. Relationship Questions
- How has this incident affected the people closest to you?
- What have others said or done that upset you?
- What have others said or done that has been helpful to you?
- Has it been helpful to talk to others about what has happened?
- Do you have people that you can speak to about the incident?
VI. Recovery Questions
- What are you doing to manage the stress that you are feeling?
- What are you doing to cope with the incident?
- What are you doing that’s working for you?
- What are you doing that’s not working for you?
- If someone else were in your situation, what would you advise them to do?
- What are you going to do to take care of yourself?
- What things have you done in the past that helped get you through a stressful event/period?
- What things do you have planned in the next several days that will help you in dealing with this stressful situation?
Shock and Numbness
At first you may be in a state of shock and may feel numb and confused. You also may feel detached—as if you are watching a movie or having a bad dream that will not end. This numbness protects you from feeling the full impact of what has happened all at once.
You may feel overpowered by sorrow and grief. As shock begins to wear off, it is not unusual to feel intense grief and cry uncontrollably. While some parts of our society frown on emotional behavior, this emotional release is an important part of grieving for most people. It is unhealthy to hold back or “swallow” your painful feelings and can actually make the grieving process last longer. If you are uncomfortable with these feelings, you may want to seek help from a counselor or minister or other victims who understand what you are going through.
You may feel intense fear and startle easily, become extremely anxious when you leave your home or are alone, or experience waves of panic. Someone you love has been suddenly and violently killed while going about his or her daily life. You had no time to prepare psychologically for such an incident, so you may feel intense anxiety and horror. You may be afraid that the attacker will return and harm you or your loved ones again. Crime shatters normal feelings of security and trust and the sense of being able to control events. Once you have been harmed by crime, it is natural to be afraid and suspicious of others. These feelings will go away or lessen over time.
Victims who were injured in the traumatic disaster want to understand why the crime happened, and families wonder why they lost a loved one. Some people find it easier to accept what happened if they can blame themselves in some way. This is a normal way of trying to once again feel a sense of control over their lives. Victims often feel guilt and regret for things they did or did not say or do and that they should have protected a loved one better or have done something to prevent his or her death. Survivors spend a lot of time thinking, “If only I had . . . .” This guilt does not make sense because the circumstances that lead to terrorism usually cannot be controlled and are hard to predict. Get rid of imagined guilt. You did the best you could at the time. If you are convinced that you made mistakes or have real guilt, consider professional or spiritual counseling. You will need to find a way to forgive yourself. Feelings of guilt can be made worse by people who point out what they would have done differently in the same situation. People who say such things are usually trying to convince themselves that such a tragedy could never happen to them.
Anger and Resentment
It is natural for you to be angry and outraged at the tragedy, the person or persons who caused the tragedy, or someone you believe could have prevented the crime. If a suspect is arrested, you might direct your anger toward that person. You may become angry with other family members, friends, doctors, police, prosecutors, God, or even yourself and may resent well-meaning people who say hurtful things and do not understand what you—as a victim—are going through. Feelings of anger may be very intense, and the feelings may come and go. You also may daydream about revenge, which is normal and can be helpful in releasing rage and frustration.
Feelings of anger are a natural part of the recovery process. These feelings are not right or wrong; they are simply feelings. It is important to recognize the anger as real but to not use it as an excuse to abuse or hurt others. There are safe and healthy ways to express anger. Many people find that writing down their feelings, exercising, doing hard physical work, beating a pillow, or crying or screaming in privacy helps them release some of the anger. Ignoring feelings of anger and resentment may cause physical problems such as headaches, upset stomachs, and high blood pressure. Anger that goes on a long time may cover up other more painful feelings such as guilt, sadness, and depression.
Depression and Loneliness
Depression and loneliness are often a large part of trauma for victims. It may seem that these feelings will last forever. Trials are sometimes delayed for months and even years in our criminal justice system. Once the trial day comes, the trial and any media coverage means having to relive the events surrounding the traumatic disaster. Feelings of depression and loneliness are even stronger when a victim feels that no one understands. This is the reason a support group for victims is so important; support group members will truly understand such feelings. Victims of traumatic disaster may feel that it is too painful to keep living and may think of suicide. If these thoughts continue, you must find help. Danger signals to watch for include (1) thinking about suicide often, (2) being alone too much, (3) not being able to talk to other people about what you are feeling, (4) sudden changes in weight, (5) continued trouble sleeping, and (6) using too much alcohol or other drugs (including prescription drugs).
You may feel that you are different from everyone else and that others have abandoned you. Terrorism is an abnormal and unthinkable act, and people are horrified by it. Injury by terrorism carries with it a stigma for the victim that can leave him or her feeling abandoned and ashamed. Other people may care but still find it hard or uncomfortable to be around you. You are a reminder that terrorism can happen to anyone. They also cannot understand why you feel and act the way you do because they have not gone through it.
Physical Symptoms of Distress
It is common to have headaches, fatigue, nausea, sleeplessness, loss of sexual feelings, and weight gain or loss after a traumatic event. Also, you may feel uncoordinated, experience lower backaches and chills/sweats, twitch/shake, and grind your teeth.
Feelings of panic are common and can be hard to cope with. You may feel like you are going crazy. Often, this feeling happens because traumatic disasters like terrorism seem unreal and incomprehensible. Your feelings of grief may be so strong and overwhelming that they frighten you. It can help a great deal to talk with other victims who have had similar feelings and truly understand what these feelings are all about.
Inability To Resume Normal Activity
You may find that you are unable to function the way you did before the act of terrorism and to return to even the simplest activities. It may be hard to think and plan, life may seem flat and empty, and the things that used to be enjoyable may now seem meaningless. You may not be able to laugh, and when you finally do, you may feel guilty. Tears come often and without warning. Mood swings, irritability, dreams, and flashbacks about the crime are common. These feelings may come several months after the disaster. Your friends and coworkers may not understand the grief that comes with this type of crime and the length of time you will need to recover. They may simply think it is time for you to put the disaster behind you and get on with normal life. Trust your own feelings and travel the hard road to recovery at your own pace.
Some individuals will experience no immediate reaction. They may be energized by a stressful situation and not react until weeks or months later. This type of delayed reaction is not unusual and, if you begin to have some of the feelings previously discussed, you should consider talking with a professional counselor.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We’ve all known at least one person whom we would call a victim: Someone who has actually been victimized by someone else, or for whom “life has been hard.” And we don’t want to give them a bad rap, I mean, really, they’ve had it hard, right? So, we tolerate their inability to get up in the morning, or their constant or convenient references to their hard lives, or even their abuse, while we sigh and try to be understanding and say, “Yeah, but she’s had a hard life,” or “Yeah, but he’s been through a lot.”
Now, I don’t want to come across as an unsympathetic person here, but with regard to the victim role, it can turn on a dime into the bully role, if we’re not watching. See, there’s a difference between someone who occasionally has a victim thought, and someone who is living the role. Anyone can get on the pitypot now and again. Anyone can fault life circumstances with life choices. Sometimes it’s hard to reverse that and fault life choices with life’s circumstances. I mean that means taking personal responsibility! But if we are going to finally arrive at acceptance of any particular given circumstance, be it an abuse or an accident, illness or a “bad” job or relationship, we are going to have to take personal responsibility. And those of us who do finally move to acceptance over that given circumstance, have learned to take personal responsibility over the choices that we made. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us is within the power of our choices, but it does mean that we have choices about how we are going to respond to those events over which we have no control. And it does mean that we have much more say-so in our lives than many of us would like to admit.
For someone who has opted to live out the victim role, this means all but never being the cause to your own effect. The mantra of the victim is filled with phrases like:
“You just don’t understand how hard it is for me!”
“I had no choice!”
“I was out of control!”
“I was overwhelmed!”
“She or he made me do it!”
“I can’t help it!”
I could go on, but you get the idea. This person lives out of what we, in the mental health field, call externalized locus of control. In other words, they locate their controls outside of themselves. They truly believe that their own actions and even their thoughts are controlled by something or someone outside of themselves. The very idea of challenging themselves to do something different than they’ve always done, hoping for different results, is foreign to them. They cannot even imagine that they are responsible for life choices. It’s their parent’s fault for not loving them enough; it’s their teacher’s fault for being bad teachers; it’s their brother or sister’s fault, their wife or husband’s fault; it’s the driver of that car’s fault–THEY ruined my life!
Ever heard someone say, “He/she/it ruined my life?” At the very least you were listening to someone who is in the throes of a victim seizure, if not someone who lives entirely out of the victim role. Let me be absolutely clear here, before we go into any further depth: NO ONE can ruin your life but you. Take note, there was a period at the end of that sentence. Regardless of what happens in our lives, we still have loads of options, and still are in charge of what we do with it. But the thinking, the belief system of the victim finds this thought unbearable.
Why would such a seemingly hopeful belief be so unbearable to the victim? Because it means taking responsibility for life and life’s choices. Taking responsibility to them means several things. It means:
Bearing the burden of this awful life.
Holding myself accountable.
Fear, terror, blinding terror!
You see, how we interpret makes a huge difference. I interpret taking responsibility for my life and the choices I make as grandly hopeful. I interpret it to mean that nothing, NOTHING can keep me down. But this concept is foreign to the victim. The victim thinks: If I take responsibility for my choices, my responses and very often the actual circumstances themselves then I’ll have to feel this enormous guilt. I’ll have to be ashamed of myself for all the things that I’ve done. My response to that, of course, is well, that’s your choice. You don’t have to choose guilt and shame, but of course, you could if you want.
Victims think, but I should add here that they only think these things on an unconscious level, for to think them consciously might be to recognize what they are up to. Victims think that life is, indeed, awful and that they could not bear to imagine being responsible for such an awful thing. My response to that is, again, that perspective is a choice. Very often, when one of my client’s is in the throes of a victim thought, I will ask her (let’s say it’s a she this time) how yesterday was and she’ll give me a litany of the terrible things that happened yesterday. Then I ask, “what else happened?” The best she can tell me is that “Oh everything else was just okay.” But I’ll insist that she be more specific and tell me about what else happened and what she felt about each specific thing. I’ve yet to have a single person who is not able to come up with some really cool things that happened that day. Things that he or she had not noticed because s/he had been so busy thinking about how bad the day was. For someone who is not identified as a victim, this switch helps them to buoy the other upsetting things that happened. And it helps them to build hope that there are always some good things going on. But for the victim, and this has been almost diagnostic for me, this discussion will cause great consternation and even irritation. The victim will avoid, change the subject, criticize me for being Pollyanna, just plain deny that anything good happened, or if they can admit that they had a good experience or two, they will “yes but” it to death before it reaches the true light of day.
Persons who are identified as victims simply do not want to realize that they are responsible for their own attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, and ergo, their emotions. They don’t want to do the work of realizing that beliefs create attitudes, mantras and eventually emotions. They want to believe that their moods are just related to bad things that have happened to them, or to swings. Victims will often say that they need a medication adjustment when in fact what they need is an attitude adjustment. But the medication, being an external control, is held accountable.
The really bad thing about all this is that in the process, victims get themselves victimized. They get involved with bullies all too often. Why do they do this? Well it isn’t because they are masochistic. It’s because the bully will help them stay in the victim role and for some reason this victim role seems to work better for them than anything else. Not being responsible somehow makes them feel safe–even if in that safety they are getting the beatitudes kicked out of them. This is where the terror of changing out of the victim mask and costume becomes apparent. Even though the victim role may be killing them, in the most extreme cases, they will hold on to it for dear life, for the prospect of living without it is more terrifying than death.
I want to be clear here that not everyone who is being abused is living out the victim identity. Some, who are being abused are living out the scapegoat identity in which they feel guilty and responsible for others’ behavior; some are living out other roles we’ll talk about later. But when victims are living in an abusive situation, it is because it makes it possible for them to maintain the victim identity.
The other really bad thing about all this is that very often the victim flips over to the opposite side of the coin and actually becomes the bully. In fact, many victims bully others with their victimness. It works like this:
“I’m so sick, you have to take care of me, and if you don’t I’ll show you in some way that you really are going to have to come up to it.” Maybe they will do this by getting sicker, maybe by attempting to force your hand in some manipulative way.
“I need you; you can’t leave me.” And so the victim holds his or her victim hostage to this desperate need.
“He/she/it ruined my life. Now it’s up to you to fix it.”
Again, I could go on, but you get the idea. Anything within the life of the victim can be used to scare, cajole, manipulate or abuse another person, who is perceived by the victim to be the next best “mama.” Very often the victim will accuse those, who don’t do their bidding, of abandoning them. When I am working with a client who is being so manipulated by a victim, I will very often inform them that adults can’t abandon other adults. When we were children, our fear of abandonment was justifyable since we were utterly dependent on our caregivers for sustenance. But the growing up process means becoming more and more accountable for our own choices. Adults are responsible for their own lives–which means that they don’t need a primary caregiver anymore. The very notion of abandonment implies that the person left behind is not capable of caring for him or herself. But, you see, for victims, everyone else is responsible for their well-being, because they are absolutely NOT.
So, how do we deal with victims? Well, first we recognize the victim thoughts which hold us victim. We need to be able to see the ways that we are thinking like victims before we can recognize it in someone else. And while we may not be living out the victim role, we must fully understand that we are 100% accountable for our lives to this point and after, in order to be able to recognize and deal with a victim identity in another. Why? Because the victim will be very good at talking you out of thinking that s/he is responsible for his/her own life.
Second, because we are now clear that we are not responsible for their lives in any way, shape or form, we can walk away from that responsibility. This may or may not mean walking away from the victim, but it will mean walking away from taking any form of responsibility for them, their lives or their choices. And that clarity about who is responsible, which we learned in the first step, is going to keep us from feeling guilty when they deliberately take a turn for the worse, or get themselves victimized again, hoping we’ll come to their rescue. That also was their choice.
And third, we can take complete responsibility for how we react to their manipulations and machinations to get us to renew our commitment to being responsible for their lives. This might mean confronting ourselves about what secondary gain we get out of rescuing victims.
Will they get it? Occasionally to rarely. But that’s their choice. Most often I find that victims have this really cool cat-like feature. They always, somehow, land on their feet. Often this means that they will find someone else to hold hostage to their refusal to take responsibility for their lives. But I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that if enough of us take 100% responsibility for our own lives, the victim will find no one out there on whom they can utterly lean for their lives, and the whole victim identity will one day fade away.
Until then, I intend to be responsible for me…not you!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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