When we talk about somebody having a victim identity, we tend to think of a case where the person has become quite dysfunctional—a person whose whole character is defined by their sense of being a victim. Some of us have been damaged by the treatment that we’ve received from others and the way we’ve responded to that. But a victim identity isn’t always so apparent or overwhelming. Most of us have at least some degree of “micro-victim identity.” Because the things that have the potential to make us feel like a victim are everywhere. And these triggers for our sense of victimization can be big or small, severe or mild.
So when you forget to call me, don’t respond to the message I sent you, forget my birthday, push in front of me in a line, look at me in a “funny” way, or I misinterpret your tone of voice, all these things can trigger the micro-victim in me. Because I can choose to take any of those things personally. I can use any of them to strengthen my idea that actually you hate me and that I deserve to be hated because I’m worthless.
And what about if I’m faced with bigger challenges? How do I react if you’re repeatedly unfriendly toward me? Or you shout at me? Or you blame me for what happened?
What happens to my micro-victim identity then? Do I choose to take your behavior personally and add more evidence to my sense of being unworthy?
Or is there another way?
How can we accept that somebody has treated us badly?
We can start by entertaining the possibility that what happened couldn’t have been any other way; it’s just what it is. Then maybe I can recognize that to blame another for the pain I feel is at best unfair and at worst an entirely wrong understanding of what happened.
Maybe you didn’t call or respond to my message because you had a sudden emergency? Or your phone stopped working? Or maybe you just forgot? Maybe you don’t actually hate me at all? Maybe you quite like me? It’s just that you have major flaws in your communication skills?
Perhaps I shouldn’t take it all so personally? Perhaps you treated me the way you did simply because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Perhaps I was just unlucky? And maybe this victim identity that makes me feel small or bad or undeserving of love is just my stupid little ego that insists that it’s all about me.
And maybe it isn’t.
The ego actually loves this feeling of having been treated badly. It gives it something to oppose—Little Me against the cruel, uncaring world. This belief in the injustice that I’ve suffered means that my interpretation of life is clearly focused on the central character—me. And because I love feeling like I’m at the center of all the action, I keep this poor-me story alive by obsessively thinking or talking about it. Unfortunately, before long I might view the world only through the lens of my victim story.
Fortunately, our micro-victim identity can be undone.
Simply by dropping the non-acceptance that’s at the heart of it. Dropping my non-acceptance of what you did. Dropping my non-acceptance of how I responded to that. And dropping my attachment to a view of reality that keeps me stuck in a psychological prison.