Sweetie and I are both Aries. Though we appear to be quiet, we both have fiery personalities. I remember this most when we have little fights. Our emotions are hugely powerful, the energy in the room snaps with tension and the need to be heard.
I grew up in a family that forbade open fighting. If my sister and I argued, we’d both get in trouble and sent to our separate rooms – so this drove the fighting underground. I don’t know why this happened, but I’m sure it had something to do with parents wanting to protect their kids from conflict. Every family has it’s dynamics, this was ours: still waters have a damn powerful undertow. My emotion was something to hide and strategically release later on.
Sweetie grew up in a large family with FOUR older brothers. As the youngest by 12 years and the only girl, she had to learn to SHOUT to be heard. When we got together, these differing styles of reacting to conflict came into sharp relief. My icy silence with her volume. We both had to move towards the middle.
I brought the silence through my adulthood. I *never* fought in any of my relationships prior to being with Sweetie. She had to actually teach me HOW to fight. And I had to teach her how to bring it down a notch. I think that ultimately, when you both want to be together, you’re both equally motivated to figure shit out.
A few weeks ago, Sweetie said something to me that probably would have blown up into a massive fight had she said any sooner:
“You position yourself as the victim. When you do that, I am the asshole, and that’s not fair to me.”
This may have been said at a loud volume.
It was a completely silly mini-fight, we were both tired and I was snippy because I’d expected her to realize I needed help with the groceries and skipped the part where I should have asked nicely. I went straight to cranky. Sweetie will throw cranky right back into my lap, she doesn’t take that shit from me for a second.
A few years ago, accusing me of “positioning myself as a victim” would have deeply upset me. I would have felt *wounded*. You know, victimized. I would have allowed the hurt of this statement to injure me and my pain would be proof of my innocence and status as a victim in this fight.
As soon as she said it, I could see she wanted to grab the words out of the air and stuff them back into her mouth. The words stopped our fight dead. I was stunned.
She was right.
In that moment, I realized I utilize my own sense of victimization to elevate myself in any conflict. I am the one done wrong here, I’m a good person with good intentions, therefore I *can’t* be the one at fault here. It’s this other person who’s doing me wrong.
I had no idea I was weaponizing my own victimization! And how messed up is that??? It’s probably the most toxic guilt trip you could ever throw at a loved one.
I’ve been thinking about it for weeks now, and I’ve started to see this tactic at play in other areas of my life. If and when someone positions themselves as being victimized by me, there’s not much I can do about it… Except feel victimized! For example, our previous landlady felt victimized by our use of the shared washer and dryer. To keep the peace and avoid conflict, I started to bike as big a bag of laundry as I could carry the 30 minutes into town to process it at the laundry mat. Talk about a martyr complex. I hate conflict so much, I’d rather bike in the rain with garbage bags of my clothes and spent an extra $40 a month so I can avoid one more conversation, feeling angry and victimized the entire time.
It’s interesting how two people can weaponize victimization in a single conflict. In grief, there is sometimes terrible fallout for families after losing a loved one, particularly a parent or child. I’ve previously talked about the very common question that comes up during readings: Does ____ see how ____ is behaving?
There is so much pain behind that question.
I’m working my way through the book “Nonviolent Communication”. I’m still learning how to shift my own tendency to position myself as a victim, and instead ask “What is my unmet need? What is the unmet need of this other person?”
The answers are not always obvious, and sometimes, we’re limited by the actions of other people. Like Sweetie & I are motivated by our mutual desire to get along and work things out, it’s hard to set aside your own power of victimization. Although Sweetie managed to perfectly time her illumination of my own victim complex, if she’d done that any earlier, I probably would’ve been mighty pissed. You can’t just take away someone’s weaponized victimhood. That would only super-charge it.
I really like Catherine’s comment in the previous entry. She said: I tend to diffuse potential heated confrontations nowadays by simply stating that I am unwilling to get into an argument, we have differing opinions, I respect theirs and we’ll have to agree to disagree. It’s like a firework being drenched in water : it fizzles out very quickly!
This is great in situations where you can walk away, where agreeing to disagree is an option. It’s a viable option in a lot of long-term relationships… but hey, I can only affect my own sense of victimization. I can only choose to disarm my own victim weaponization. If someone else wants to hold on to their own sense of injury because it helps them to feel more in-control, more powerful, well, the only thing we can do with that is not be victimized by that action. Break the cycle of weaponized victimization.
Lay down arms, accept, and observe. Maybe set up some boundary patrol.
Does this all make sense you guys? Have you ever caught yourself weaponizing your own victimization?
10 thoughts on “Weaponized Victim Power!”
Really agree with you about Catherine’s comments in the preceding post. I want to read them again. I think this post is powerful and well written ….. very brave. I am sure that I weaponized my victimhood in the past. Less so now that I am older. I don’t need the drama and I have developed a pronounced aversion to futility. I have fewer relationships these days and I can live with that, but that doesn’t work for everyone. I do have reason to believe that my dog likes me …… so there is that.
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Your dog loves you so much 🙂
“A pronounced aversion to futility” – I hear that! I think the ability to identify futility is a wisdom that comes with experience.
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I guess you and I have more in common that the same root name, Kate ! Weaponizing my own sense of being victimised was me all over for decades ! And you are right : it allowed me to feel that I was a good person, it wasn’t my fault, and the other person was in the wrong. I had to laugh at your description about getting in a mood because you expected your other half to read your mind and know, without you having to ask nicely, that you needed help. Been through that same scenario so many times with my ex-husband (and if it wasn’t the groceries, it was doing the dishes, or something to do with the kids, etc., the list is endless). To be fair to me, in the initial stages I did ask nicely, but it repeatedly fell on deaf, unwilling ears. As I was a non-confrontational person, I quit asking or trying to communicate with him and my sense of being victimised grew stronger over the years – and so did bitterness and resentment….. It does take two partners willing to work together and compromise to make a romantic relationship work…and that was clearly never going to be the case in my marriage. Where I went wrong, I feel, was in allowing my sense of being a victim to carry on, grow over the years, and feel superior to him. Guess it validated me in my own eyes as being a good person, sacrificing my needs, etc., etc. My ego must have fed on that for years ! Had I had enough courage, I should have called it a day long before he walked out of our marriage (yep, imagine how VICTIMISED I then felt !!!!!). I did use my sense of having become a victim against him to make him feel guilty – and I am ashamed of that. Yes, he was grossly in the wrong on many levels, but I did not have to play the victim for years – that was my choice ultimately. Kate, you are right, the way I mentioned how I approach diffusing potential heated confrontations is great when dealing with situations where you can walk away. Not so simple in the context of an actual relationship. Looking back, I think the victim aspect of my personality sprung from being compared one too many times to my sister whilst growing up, who was often cited as an example to aspire to. It wasn’t said maliciously but it cut deep and made me feel like I was lacking somehow, wasn’t good enough. Playing the victim allowed me to feel good about myself, I’d almost reached a sense of martyrdom after 18 years of marriage ! (yikes, that sounds crazy, but I have to be honest !!). Since all of the above, I have learnt to a) ask for help when I need it, b) listen to others more and consider their point of view, c) insist on discussion/communication when there is a problem, but will nip it in the bud with as much love as I can before it escalates (i.e. firmly agree to disagree), and d) try and stay true to myself, recognising what is and what is not good for me.
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“My ego must have fed on that for years!” – YES, mine too! Oh what saintly, self-sacrificing, under-appreciated and misunderstood pure spirits we are, eh??? 😉
I love your coping strategy:
a) ask for help when I need it – WHY IS THIS SO HARD!? I will be tossing the dishes into the sink like they’ve just insulted my mother and Sweetie comes down “Uh, do you need help?”
b) listen to others more and consider their point of view – Yes. I find this one easier to do, but I feel victimized if the other person isn’t interested in doing the same. It sneaks up on ya!
c) insist on discussion/communication when there is a problem, but will nip it in the bud with as much love as I can before it escalates (i.e. firmly agree to disagree). – Insist on discussion… wow. Yeah, I really have to ovary-up and do this. It’s incredibly challenging when you’re working with people who are experts at shutting down a conversation before it begins. It takes two (or more) to have a conversation… but you can shift the energy on your own. I’m just downloading a series of meditations aimed at shifting negative energy dynamics in relationships… I’ll write about it if I like it. I’m not a big “guided meditation” fan, but this one just fell into my lap.
d) try and stay true to myself, recognizing what is and what is not good for me. – Yes. And not feeling like a heel for prioritizing your needs over the needs of others (who may be loudly expressing their needs!)
Still learning how to balance assertiveness and advocating for my own needs while reasonably allowing for the needs of others. I wonder if you ever really figure it out… I guess it’s a skill you get improve upon with practice.
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Just to mention …. in a conversation with my mother through Jamie. She stated quite clearly that one of her biggest mistakes in life was not clearly expressing her needs and insisting that they be respected.
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Isn’t it so funny how we carry through our feeling/communication patterns from our early family relationships through current relationships? *cough* *cough* I say this facetiously as we all do it. 🙂 Teal Swan (a spiritual teacher I resonate with) says that a problem/pattern that is created in relationship (e.g. victim/”oppressor or any other roles that we weaponize) can only be healed in relationship. So we often take a dysfunctional emotional pattern learned in our early years and re-create them in relationships in order to heal them. And sometimes this takes many many relationships to work through!
I love NVC for expressing facts, feelings, needs, requests. Have you also heard of John and Julie Gottman, the couples therapists who have run a Love Lab for decades to study the communication of couples? They have some great information, which I’m sure you can Google.
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I have taken a screen capture of the “my shit their shit” comment and its going to be my new screensaver for a bit.
I will google!
What a great post, Kate, and such a useful insight! I think all of us do this periodically, but there are some who definitely turn the victim into their entire identities, where it can be particularly destructive. I feel fortunate to have met a few of these teachers in my life, who have left me on alert for this behaviour in myself. I always find it so funny when I catch myself weaponizing my victimization (GREAT PHRASE!) in my relationship, because it’s so clearly just an ego-tool that has no bearing in reality. In our home, by default, I have ended up the cook and cleaner. There are times when I feel the whole history of feminism behind my resentment of this work (though most of the time I’m completely happy with my conscious choice to take on that role) and it bubbles over into “I’m another woman doing 80% of the housework! Where is DH?! Why does he get to goof off and relax while I’m here doing dishes and making dinner after a long day, AGAIN?! Why am I so unappreciated?! I am the martyr here…pay attention to me!”
Though sadly, I have not yet learned to just ask for help in these times (eyeroll), I do find Byron Katie’s questions extremely helpful in these moments, even informally. It doesn’t take many minutes of asking myself “is it true that I do all the work around here?” “is it true that I am unappreciated?” for me to see the absurdity of my little ego games and to find forgiveness for myself (who is likely feeling tired, in need of a hug, etc) and for my partner, who does a fully equal (if not more) share of the care and keep of our home. It’s always amazing to me how, once an ego game is identified and forgiveness offered, all that sense of indignant self-righteousness can so quickly melt away…
Totally true, BackyardFeast, and for what it’s worth, those dynamics are just as prevalent in same-gendered relationships! Except I don’t get to put the whole history of feminism behind my resentment! (THAT was a great phrase!)