Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Psychology Behind Blaming the Victim...

On Wednesdays I usually write a fiction piece for the WoW group, and today will be no different, but first I really wanted to write this blog post as this is something that has been playing on my mind this morning since receiving yet another judging commentary to a blog post.

First of all, I'd like to say the word, 'victim' does not sit well with me. I tend to think victimhood is a state of mind which can be overcome even after experiencing the worst atrocities, and I have seen and read many accounts of people being horribly tortured and refusing to view themselves as victims, all the same. For the purpose of this post though, the concept of victim, is that of a person who has experienced an unenviable outcome which is mostly or wholly not of their planning or intention.

Have you ever had a conversation with a four year old which went something like this.

'Honey, you can't run off at the shops like that! What if you got lost or someone tried to take you home with them and we couldn't find you?'

'I'd karate chop them in the head until they were dead!'

A four year old will always have an answer for how a bad thing could never happen to them, don't they? No matter what scenario you pose for them, they will counter it with their super-human strength and ability to outwit several people who are bigger and more world wise than themselves. Come to think of it ten year olds do this, too.

A day or so ago, I read this article about a woman who found herself homeless. She never thought it would happen to her. She thought homeless people were homeless because they made bad choices and/or suffered addiction.

She was a bit like the four year old whose plan was to overwhelm their grown assailant with a karate chop.

Recently, I have found myself trying to describe the difficult position my husband and I find ourselves in at the moment, and while the vast majority of people have been sympathetic and supportive - people who know us and speak with us frequently, either in person or on social media. There have been people who have made sport of extrapolating our entire personalities and traits from the few words they find written on this blog.

These people who have oversimplified our situation and criticised our poor choices have upset me a fair bit. Then this morning, when it happened again, I had an epiphany... This is all 'blaming the victim', and the psychology behind blaming the victim is fear.

There are two base emotions in life. Love and fear. From these base emotions emerge a variety of other emotions. From love you have compassion, support, contentment and optimism. From fear you have despising, contempt, judgement and a strong sense of 'that would never happen to me!'

Yep, the psychology of blaming the victim is based in the fear of not having control. If you can blame the victim, if you can say, 'That person is an idiot who made stupid choices.' Then you can reassure yourself that the same situation will never happen to you, because you are wiser, you are more diligent, you are more resourceful, you are smarter, you are stronger, you are better than that.

People who blame the victim don't like to acknowledge that sometimes other people around the victim act unpredictably and outrageously. They do things like offer the victim a job because the victim has already proven they can do the job and then rescind the offer because the victim is honest and reports an underlying condition that does not affect their ability to work.

People do things like not taking no for an answer.

People do things like take money from the Government to employ a person with a disability, then after the person has worked for them for a month, refuse to pay them their due wage until forced to do so by the Australia Taxation Office six months later.

Lots of people are reasonable and work within loosely defined social norms. These people are predictable and as good as their word. Unfortunately, not all people are like this. Sometimes the only thing you can blame the victim for is not having an omnipotent ability for predicting outrageous behaviour.

If it makes you feel safer, blame the victim. Just know, it can happen to you, too.



Jayne said...

Well said. Victim blaming is insidious and occurs so widely across the board. Fat people have no self control. Women who were raped were asking for it due to the rapists and observers perceptions of the meaning of clothing, people with mental illness who cant work due to the chattering voices or the fear and paranoia are lazy bludger, single parents should have thought better abut who the procreated with, Indigenous people should just suck it up and quite being such alcos, refugees should be punished for getting on leaky goes on :(

Anonymous said...

Interesting post! I think a corollary of what you are saying is that people also want to believe that the good things that happen to them happen because they deserve them, not because they are just lucky. I think it's a matter of balancing luck and personal responsibility, i.e. I am lucky to be born in a country with free education but it is my responsibility to access it, I am unlucky if my house is struck my lightening and burns down but it is my responsibility to install smoke alarms and insure my things. I think you're right, people always seem very ready to take the credit for things that they have simply due to luck and blame being unlucky for everything they don't have. We need to stop judging others and just take some personal responsibility for ourselves.

Sif Dal said...

Although, even in your example, anonymous, not everyone can afford insurance, and installing smoke detectors may save lives, but not necessarily property. Of course, lives are more important than property, but a life which is suddenly homeless is a much for difficult life all the same.

I consider myself a very lucky person. I have always considered myself to more lucky that than the average person. Despite many challenges I've lived quite an enchanted life with doors opening up to me just when I needed them to. I used to boast to Dh that we need never worry because the Universe always provides. We have never been financially well off by Australian standards, but we've always had enough.

It is perhaps this belief in my own good fortune which has led to me not taking the precautions I needed to take. I have never been a great believe in controlling my destiny. I tend to be that control is an illusion.

In direct relation to having always felt very fortunate, enchanted, lucky, I have to admit I've come to feel more and more unlucky over the last three years. I have attempted to take some control, but some things are not mine to control - the things I believe would change our luck. Things have happened I had no control over. Things I could not have seen coming. While other things I have seen coming I have not had the power to prevent, nor the power to cause others to prevent.

In a panic, I have acted rashly. People under stress do that. it is easy to stand outside a dire situation and know the rational thing to do. More difficult when you are in the dire situation and you simply can't see straight.

Anonymous said...

Yes, very true. Judging (yourself or others) is so easy when you can step outside of the situation. And totally agree re personal responsibility, clearly someone cannot be responsible for insurance if they can't afford it. Similarly, you can't judge refugees who get into leaky boats if that is their best option for fleeing oppression/famine/war etc. People can only be responsible for making the right choice given the realistically available options, and like you said stress/emotion etc can often get in the way of good judgement.

Sif Dal said...

I've been battling with a person of superior judgement to myself on my blog about a rainy day all day. I take personal responsibility for my choices. I was taking personal responsibility for my very short sighted choices earlier this year in that very post. This is just not enough for people, they don't care if you have 20/20 hindsight. They expect everyone else (because apparently they always make the right decision in the moment) to have 20/20 foresight like they do.

I guess I'm just not perfect enough for some readers.

Veronica @ Mixed Gems said...

An insightful post and I'm sorry to hear you are still being harassed. You are right. We never know what will happen in the future. Empathy...."Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”. I commend you on keeping your head and general positivity despite some of the challenges you and your family have faced.

Sif Dal said...

Thanks so much Veronica, I honestly do the very best I can. I've just written a manifesto for this blog which I'll post as a post tomorrow so people hopefully notice it. I don't remember ever suggesting that I am some sort f role model for how other people should conduct their lives.

Good Job!