Victimhood, Victim Blaming, and Moving On
This will be a difficult post to write, because I’m sure some people may take parts of it the wrong way, or be inadvertently insulted or offended, but I mean no insult or offense.
In the past week, at least two blogs I sometimes visit that highlight the topic of spiritual abuse, have featured posts that discuss how spiritual, physical, or sexual abuse in childhood can affect a person even into late adulthood.
I totally agree – things done to us in childhood can indeed impact us into adulthood. (Some of my family members, my father included, do not acknowledge this fact – but that might be another topic for another post to write in the future.)
At any rate, arguments ensued among commentators on such blogs as to if, when, or how, it is compassionate, feasible, or wise, to scold, shame, lecture, or encourage a victim to “move on,” and to do things such as seek out a mental health professional.
There was this post at The Wartburg Watch blog, for instance:
On one blog, one commentator – who is not widely liked, shall we say – jumped into the comments section to basically lecture the original poster (who had been hurt in childhood by aberrant, legalistic Christian teaching) that other people he knows had life worse than he did (including a Holocaust survivor, I believe he mentioned), yet those people moved on, conquered their pain, he said, so the original poster should be able to do so and can just move on, too.
That thread is located here (Spiritual Sounding Board blog):
I have two minds on this.
On the one hand, people who have been hurt or traumatized by something in life do need and deserve empathy and support.
They simply need to be heard – not lectured and scolded. They don’t need a theology lesson in the early stages of their pain and in sharing their story.
Getting through a painful life event can take years.
Many Christians act as though if someone has been hurt by abuse, a death in the family, or by what have you, that the person should be able to overcome that event in a matter of minutes or weeks, which is highly unrealistic.
It usually takes most people years to process and heal from having been mistreated, or from experiencing a loss in the family, or whatever it may be.
Some people do need to seek out professional mental health treatment to move past a hurt or a tragedy, because they cannot, or have been unable to, heal on their own.
Forgiving someone who has done us wrong, if we choose to forgive, is also a process (one that can take years).
Forgiveness is not a one-time event, either.
Many Christians act as though forgiving someone is a one-time thing, which is not so.
The truth is you may have to forgive the same person of the same hurtful event a hundred thousand times over your life time, well into your adulthood.
This next section is one that I would be hesitant to bring up on spiritual abuse sites, forums, and blogs, but that I feel more comfortable discussing here on my own blog.
On the other hand, I have met, known, or come across – whether in person or on the internet – some people who were hurt by someone, maybe years ago, who remain paralyzed from that person or from that incident.
These types of people are “stuck” in pain and anger over that past hurt or trauma, and some of the ones I’ve encountered almost seem to enjoy being in perpetual “Victim Mode,” or who apparently derive pleasure of sorts in holding on to anger at the person who did them wrong.
These sorts of people are comfortable being angry at the world and show little to no interest in moving past the hurt and anger.
I would like to remind any readers I’m sympathetic towards anyone who’s undergone pain in life. I am not “victim blaming” anyone here.
After my mother died several years ago, and I sought emotional support from Christians I thought I could trust – both in churches and among family – I was rebuffed, if not out-right insulted over it.
Aside from being shamed, judged, and criticized over having grief and reaching out for help, I had a steady percentage of Christians who let me know, either sweetly or quite bluntly, that my mother’s death was really not a big deal.
Further, these Christians I went to advised me that I should just “get over it (my mother’s death) already,” because somewhere in the world, someone else had it way worse that I do – such as homeless, alcoholic men down-town living in alley ways, or mal-nourished orphans who live in Africa.
That lack of support from Christians, plus the shaming and minimizing of my grief and pain, only made me feel worse. It did not instill in me a “can-do” attitude at all, which was part of its purpose.
Regardless, I made a choice some years ago, to try to get over my mother’s death.
I did it for me.
I did not want to stay “stuck” in the grief, because I recognized I would be unable to ever enjoy life again.
I would rather laugh, have a good time, than to spend the next 3 decades or so of my life continually curled into the fetal position, sobbing my eyes out over missing my mother.
I was unable to financially afford seeing a mental health professional, so I turned to whatever free resources about grief I could find online. I found lurking at a forum about grief for a time was helpful.
With the little money I had, I was able to order a handful of used books about psychological topics that I felt would be useful, which I then read.
Getting over my mother’s death took a lot of effort and work on my part.
I forced myself to face a lot of painful things, not just about losing my mother, but about related things – like how I was treated by the rest of my family while I was growing up. It was painful, but I made it through.
These days, I’m pretty much fine that my mother is gone. I will always love and miss her, but I’ve moved past the grief – because, again, I made a choice to move out of the pain. I worked at it.
My current hurdle is trying to let go of the huge, huge, (did I mention it was HUGE), mountain of anger, fury, disappointment, shock, and hurt at all the chuckle-heads in my life, (most of whom are self-professing Christ-followers), who should have been there for me at my time of loss, but who were too selfish, lazy, or inconsiderate to do so.
Not to mention the shaming, scolding, and criticisms I got from these oafs, when what I needed was a sympathetic, empathetic, understanding, patient, non-judgmental shoulder to lean on.
I really deeply resent the tendency – and Christians are really bad about this, I think more-so than most Non-Christians – to compare one person’s pain to another person’s, and to dismiss someone’s pain on that basis.
It’s insensitive to say to someone under-going a crisis or painful ordeal,
“Person A had life much more difficult than you, yet they moved on, so Person B, why don’t you just suck it up buttercup, and move on? Count your blessings. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Get off the pity pot.”
Yet, this is the very thing that most Christians do, and they do so constantly.
I had it happen to me often after my mother passed, and it made the pain worse and prolonged the grief. I sure did not appreciate it when it was done to me.
I do think Christians should be patient with people who are in pain, and just listen to them. Don’t scold, lecture, shame, or criticize the person, hand them platitudes, or tell them that someone else has life worse, so they are not entitled to their pain.
I had a full time office job years ago, where I was harassed on a recurrent basis by one of a handful of bosses I had there.
This woman boss singled me out for workplace abuse and bullying. I was her primary target, through no fault of my own. I didn’t instigate anything with this person.
Even my co -workers noticed this woman boss was way harder on me than anyone else there, and they asked me why that was so (I told them I was not sure why, and I still can’t say for sure why I was her favorite target).
I ended up quitting that position because of the harassment (and due to other reasons).
I was eaten up with anger at this boss for many years afterwards. Heck, if I stop to think about her now, I can easily get worked up all over again – so I have to forgive her and let it go, all over again.
I realized years after quitting that job that my continued anger was only hurting me, not that boss. Her life continued on just fine, regardless of how angry I was at her.
My old anger at her was holding me back from applying for new jobs, and so on. So I have to actively work, even to this day, at not staying angry at this old boss of mine.
WON’T MAKE THE EFFORT
As I was saying previously, though, I’ve known or met a few people over my life who did have something legitimately awful happen to them, perhaps in childhood, but these folks make no effort to work past it.
They are only hurting themselves by not working through the pain and anger. They don’t make a choice to let go.
Those are points which I am very hesitant to bring up on some spiritual abuse survivor blogs, because it might be misconstrued by other visitors as being “victim blaming,” or I might be thought of as being a great big heartless meanie.
I do support victims. I have been victim-blamed myself, and I know how much it hurts.
Hopefully, nobody will misconstrue anything I’ve written in this post as being insensitive or as being “victim blaming,” because that is not my intent at all.
However, I think we have to be really honest with each other and ourselves and admit that it’s a sad fact of life that some people do allow one or two painful incidents from their past to define them years later, and to their own detriment.
I’ve known some people who seem to be more happy or comfortable in holding on to anger, bitterness, and pain, than in doing the hard work it takes – (which may involve facing their own demons, confronting uncomfortable truths about their family of origin, perhaps seeing a psychologist) – to get over and through whatever traumatic incident from their past.
I suppose my perspective on this is that it needs to be done on a case- by- case basis, and there’s not necessarily a “one size fits all” approach.
Maybe one would have to know a person really well over the course of several months or a few years to be able to fully ascertain if they are “stuck” in the pain, or to have the “right” to speak to them and say, “I’m sorry you were hurt, but you seem to be ‘wallowing’ in the pain, anger, and resentment, and I want to see you move forward and get back into life again.”
People who have been hurt definitely need to be empathized with and listened to in a non-judgmental manner. It should be recognized that getting over tragedy or pain can take many years – Christians should not always expect an “instant” cure, or pressure a hurting person to get over their pain instantly.
The flip side of the coin are the people who have been hurt by someone else, or by life, and they don’t even try to move past it.
They remain angry at life, at God, at others, at the world.
I don’t know how helpful or compassionate it is to coddle this type of group in their pain and anger and not to push them to get help or move forward eventually.
I know it’s not easy. I’ve been there myself. I’m still working on a few of these areas myself. I’ve been on both sides of this.
I think if someone was hurt in their past, whether long ago or more recently, they need to be very honest with themselves about it.
I don’t think I would feel comfortable telling another person that I think they need to “get over it” (whatever “it” may be) when they are discussing a wound.
If you are someone who was hurt by a circumstance or by another person, I feel you have to be very honest with yourself. Are you choosing to hold on to anger and pain? It’s not quite my place to judge that, or to lecture someone about it, but if you are doing so, if you search yourself and find that yes, you are choosing to hold on to pain and have no intention of seeking help or trying to move past it, I hope you realize that by doing so, you’re only hurting yourself, not the people who hurt you.
If you don’t make a decision to deal with the pain or anger, your life is going to be on ‘Stall,’ and years will drift by.
You won’t be enjoying life, you will be merely enduring it, because you will allow most of your time, thoughts, and energies to be tied up in crying about, or feeling hatred towards, someone or towards a previous incident.
I’ve learned this stuff the hard way (I’ve been there). I’m not writing any of this from a finger-wagging, moralistic type of attitude or intent.
The older I get, the more I understand and appreciate expressions such as (and I am unsure to whom to attribute this expression),
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
There’s a lot of truth in that.
I might slightly re-word it so that it would read something such as,
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you CHOOSE TO react to it.”
There comes a time (and I don’t want to put firm limits on this, it can vary from person to person), after you have cried, felt anger, and grieved over X, you must choose to move on. Nobody can do that for you but you.
As I see it, your only alternative is to hold on to the anger, hate, and sadness and just lament away, or scream at life, at god, at people, and consequently fritter your life away.
Again, I’ve had to deal with this sort of thing myself, so I’m not saying this from an unfeeling, arrogant, ivory tower. It’s easier said than done, too, I realize.
I don’t often see the second half of the points raised on my blog post here discussed or advocated on many Ex-Christian or spiritual abuse sites – I’m afraid it would be perceived as heartless, or as victim-blaming.
That is unfortunate, because maybe some people could be encouraged to seek help if they need it, or to do the work it takes to conquer some past hurt or tragedy. You do not have to stay paralyzed by a past hurt, betrayal, or heartbreaking event.
Other Relevant Posts at This Blog:
This first link is a follow up to this post: