Pitying ourselves may feel very gratifying, but it’s a very unattractive trait, so how do we identify it in ourselves and avoid falling into this problem?
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stood before the house and relayed that Congressman Ted Yoho had called her crazy, dangerous and disgusting along with a few other pejorative terms.
“These are the words that Representative Yoho levied against a congresswoman.” Ocasio-Cortez paused for effect. “A congresswoman who not only represents New York’s 14th congressional district but every congresswoman and woman in this country. Because all of us have had to deal with this in some form, some way, some shape, at some point in our lives….
“And that’s when we start to see that this issue is not about one incident. It is cultural. It’s a culture of lack of impunity, of accepting of violence and violent language against women, an entire structure of power that supports that.”
Strange that one man’s words to one woman somehow became emblematic of every man’s treatment of every woman in the entire country, if not the Western world.
Douglass Murray, journalist and author of The Madness of Crowds, explored this prevalent mentality among many ‘progressive’ women, in particular analyzing Marilyn French’s book The War Against Women (the title explains all you need to know).
He notes toward the end of his insightful study, “Over the last decade we have seen the entry into everyday public discussion of a range of slogans such as ‘male privilege.’ Like most slogans it is easy to spout but hard to put a finger on. For instance, it might be said that the preponderance of males in the position of Chief Executive Officer is an example of ‘male privilege.’ But nobody knows what the preponderance of male suicides…, deaths in dangerous occupations, homelessness and much more might mean.
“Is this a sign of the opposite of male privilege? Do they even each other out? If not, what are the systems, metrics or timespan for doing so? Nobody seems to know.”
Given the enormous privileges most women have in the Western world, it’s remarkable how many eagerly leap to label themselves society’s victims.
Who Is a Victim and Who Isn’t?
The definition of “victim” is simply someone who has been subjected to mistreatment or hardship. By that description, everyone has been a genuine victim at some point in their life. Our lives have all been negatively impacted by either other people or society at large to some degree.
The gap between someone who has survived terrible circumstances then gone forward with their life and someone who has a victim’s mentality about their past, however, is noteworthy.
Pastor Bob Millsaps, founder of the Fountain of Life Christian Center, described the victim’s mentality as having two main forms.
1. You blame others for the majority of the bad events in your life. You’ve done your best, but everyone around you just seems dedicated to beating you down. You’ve never had a chance.
2. You believe that the future only holds bad things for you. Someone else will always get the promotion the rightfully belongs to you or receive credit for your hard work. No matter how loving or kind people seem, they have ulterior motives, and they’ll probably turn on you if it benefits them to do so.
One benefit of being a perennial victim, as Millsaps points out, is that it usually gives someone attention and validation when people are concerned and try to help out.
This perpetual pity party also excuses the individual in question from taking reasonable risks and allows them to avoid doing the hard work of learning from failures or persisting through challenges.
The most insidious form of this mentality uses its self-victimization to manipulate others into overlooking the victim’s actions that are actively harmful. This is the classic ‘I only hurt others because I’ve been hurt, so you can’t judge me.’
Those who avoid being swallowed by victimhood are almost always those who are able to look up and trust that God has a plan for them that may include hardship, pain and unfair circumstances. Rather than becoming obsessed with the past or particular interactions with others, they choose to rest on the fact that God moves differently through people’s lives.
Is this fair? No.
If God is utterly sovereign over the world and both holy and loving, though, he doesn’t need to be fair; he only needs to do what will bring us closer to him and require us to rely on his promises and desire him above all else.
How to Cure the Victim Culture
David Wilkerson spent much of his time working with individuals and communities caught in terrible circumstances. Here people struggled with addictions and with histories of abuse.
He wrote urgently about the way to escape a victim’s helplessness in a newsletter, “A beautiful young couple, both spiritual children of mine, recently fell into sin and were forced to resign their ministry…. They felt abandoned by God, betrayed by friends, and useless to themselves and the kingdom of God.
“The suddenness of it all, the harshness, the apparent lack of compassion, left them full of bitterness and resentment. The Holy Spirit revealed to me that the young minister's sin of returning to heroin was not the problem. Drug abuse was the fruit of something much more grievous in the sight of God, and that was bitterness.
“All the counseling in the world cannot help a person held in the grip of bitterness. Prayer cannot break it. Bible study cannot in itself cure it. The root of bitterness must first be recognized, then plucked out.
“The word that came to me for him was simply this: ‘Son, you can love your way back to freedom.’ I implored him to fall on his knees immediately and call on God for supernatural power to love and forgive everyone he was bitter against. The Holy Spirit lovingly warned that he must quickly forgive and learn to love those he considered enemies or else lose his ministry and his marriage.
“What a joy to see him fall on his knees with his dear wife at his side and cry out to God for supernatural power to love and forgive all whom he had grudges against. It had built up in him over a period of seven years, and now it came gushing out in torrents of tearful repentance and godly sorrow. He hugged me as the joy of the Lord flooded back into his being. Their marriage experienced a tremendous healing as the wall of bitterness crumbled.
“But still the healing was not complete. The freedom was not yet full and final. Restitution had to be made. Willingly, he called everyone he had ever been bitter against. In true humility, he asked their forgiveness….
“He was amazed by their response. They still wanted his friendship. They freely forgave and offered their continued love and support.”
Freedom Waiting on the Other Side
Today’s incredibly popular victim culture must be challenged because it warps our core identity and removes freeing forgiveness from the picture.
Michael Ramsden, President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, said, “Let’s take an extreme example: rape. When someone has been raped and they are a rape victim, how do you council them?
“You don’t council them by saying, ‘Look. Pretend it didn’t happen.’ That isn’t helpful, and it won’t do anything positive for them at all…. But here’s the interesting thing. You train them to say, ‘I am not a victim.’ That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Because they are. They are a victim. Why do you train them to say ‘I am not a victim’?
“The reason they get trained to say that, what you’re saying to them, ‘What happened to you doesn’t define who you are. This terrible injustice you suffered in the past doesn’t define you. You are more than this.’ …[Y]ou’re saying to them, ‘What happened in the past cannot dictate your future. Do not allow what this person did to you…to rob your future as well.’
“As long as we hang on to that historical grievance, it defines us and it shapes everything we do…. That doesn’t have to be true.”
Building our identity on Christ and his words about who we are will open the door for freedom from our pasts and pain and abuses. Forgiveness is the most expensive thing we can do, but the peace awaiting us on the other side is more than worthwhile.