Monday, March 8, 2010

Victim Identity: I'm Not Okay, You're More Not Okay

From time to time we find an article that speaks to the issue of what this blog is all about, victims of crime, their rights, how they can cope, find hope and overcome.  The following is such an article.

From Psychology Today

Dr. Steven Stosny, Ph.D.

Victim identity beats no identity at all.

Two subtly intertwined evils plague modern relationships. The first is emotional abuse of loved ones. The second is victim identity. They are intertwined because one causes the other.

Victim identity is identification with bad treatment you have suffered. It is focus on perceived damage at the hands of someone else or on personal weaknesses you feel were exploited by someone else. Damage and weakness become an integral part of your identity.

Victim identity carries a retaliation impulse that eventually rises to the level of revenge, enacted either passively (negative attributions and sabotage) or dramatically. All abusers and violent criminals suffer from victim identity, which, in their minds, justifies their abuse and crimes. The retaliation motive of victim identity is so great that you can reliably use the following as a guideline: If you feel chronically like a victim, you are most likely abusive in some way.

Victim identity locks the parties into a reactive narcissism that prevents them from seeing their partners apart from their emotional reactions to them. When I feel good, I put you on a pedestal; when I feel bad, you're inadequate or abusive. The negative emotional states of one feel like abuse to the other. Like the more severe forms of narcissism, this special reactive kind is a failure of compassion for self and other. What they really feel is, "I'm too hurt or vulnerable to recognize your hurt or vulnerability." But it comes out as, "I'm hurt, therefore you're bad, crazy, or abusive."

Victim identity not only worsens abusive relationships, it keeps people stuck in them: "The only way I can feel okay is if you get over your self-obsession and make me okay."

The Diagnosis Duel

When I was an intern in relationship therapy many years ago, dual diagnosis cases - an emotional disorder with concurrent substance abuse - were the most dreaded by young therapists. Since then, effective treatments have emerged for most dual diagnosis cases. Now the more intractable problem is dueling diagnoses. That's when each partner diagnosis the other with a personality disorder or some kind of addiction, brain disease, cognitive deficit, or childhood trauma that explains why he/she is such an idiot.

There are plenty of self-help books that feed the dueling diagnosis syndrome with oversimplified checklists that take behaviors out of context. (It's distressing to see that this website has added a couple of victim identity blogs that tell readers, in effect, you're not okay because you're married to someone who's more not okay.) Partners who diagnose each other often rely on the same self-help checklists or Google searches. Many abusers read the checklists out loud to their partners during arguments to prove how screwed up he/she is. They very commonly rely on their less than ethical therapists who diagnose the partner without even meeting, much less examining and testing him or her. You'd be shocked to see how many therapists married to other therapists engage in the diagnosis duel. More shocking is how often a therapist or psychologist uses "superior knowledge" or "professional expertise" to diagnose a partner - a particularly insidious kind of abuse.

Dueling diagnoses are always inaccurate and abusive because they are neither motivated by objective scientific inquiry nor by a compassionate desire to understand. Rather, they are motivated by a need to feel morally superior and to justify failure of compassion. Such self-righteousness in reaction to a partner's hurtful behavior is understandable, maybe even natural as a defense - it does give momentary relief of pain, anxiety, and depression. But the temporary relief of distress comes at a high price.

Healing vs. Keeping the Wound Open

The mere impulse to justify contempt or failure of compassion (e. g., diagnosing pathology in your partner) tells you that you are violating your deepest values, which creates a war within you. Thus contempt of a loved one causes self-contempt: "He/she is so crazy or abusive that I was such an idiot to believe and trust him/her." Your relationship may have wounded you, but patholigizing your partner keeps the wounds open and infected.

If you want to heal, recover, or prevent getting into a bad relationship in the future, see victim identity for the cancer on your soul that it is. Renounce it along with the self-help books and blogs that encourage it. Focus on your resilience, strengths, and your capacity to deeply understand your hurt and the hurt and vulnerability of the people you love. Respect your self-healing capacity; that will make you respect the self-healing capacity of prospective lovers and get you out of the dangerous need to rescue or be rescued.

Self-value, self-respect, and compassion will make you feel more valuable and reduce the need for idealized value from others. It will reduce the likelihood that you will project idealizations onto potential lovers and tolerate any bad behavior when the idealizations dissipate. Fidelity to your deepest values will make you whole and keep you safe, by helping you see yourself and those you love more compassionately and realistically.

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  1. This is a fantastic, It is glad to see this blog, nice informative blog, Thanks for share this article.

  2. "if you feel chronically like a victim, you are most likely abusive in some way"...what a deplorable comment. If I have read this article correctly, it merely revictimises the victim...the article also appears to be imbued with passive agressive tones, and therefore contains ambiguity...I would go so far as to say it is a form of "gaslighting"...does anyone else feel this way?

  3. I agree with anonymous on 3/9/2010. After reading the article, I once again feel confused by the pathological I was beginning to heal from. Victim identity as a "cancer in my soul" - geez! how am I ever to recover and heal from such emotional and psychological abuse? That is a very cruel label. The reason I was such an easy target was because I have so much compassion. For him to suggest that I lack compassion for self and others is an outrage!!! I do not seek revenge, I just want to heal and live a healthy life free of the pathological man whose deceit was very deep and calculated.

  4. I am outraged by this article written by Steven Stosny. While I take full responsibility for my recovery from an intimate relationship with a pathological liar, I do not, for one second, believe that I deserved to be lied to, cheated on, or in any way brought this into my life willingly. His words are very hutful and archaic.

  5. I am curious "how often a therapist or psychologist uses 'superior knowledge' or 'professional expertise' to seemingly be unethical enough to write an article such as this, which in and of itself appears to be "a particularly insidious kind of abuse". Would you please elucidate me with your 'expertise' Mr. Steven Stosny, Phd?

  6. Dr. Stosny's article feels belittling to me, if I am reading it correctly. As an abused woman, I am NOT an abuser, nor am I "stuck." Merely trying to survive, thrive, and be aware that there are devious characters lurking out there. I will do everything in my power to seek knowledge, heal from this abuse, and help others. I will not be silenced, marginalized, ashamed, or belittled anymore.

  7. First of all those of us forced to diagnose a spouse with NPD do not do so based on a few checklist. The last thing a victim of a pathological person wants is to admit to themself that the relationship is hopeless. I suppose we should wait till the disordered one lands on Steven's couch so he can diagnose them. I am sure he has diagnosed just about no one with npd because they just don't present for treatment. What is this rediculous duel diagnosing he is talking about. I think he just made that up. I don't need to be called abusive for the 2 years I studied and read book after book to get the information I needed to leave my psychologically abusive NPD husband. I bet I have a much greater understanding of this disorder than Steven. I have a 27 year "doctorate" from a lifetime of abuse in this disorder not some 6 month study of it he might have. I couldn't be more contemptous of him and this foolish article filled wih gobledy gook. Another thing psychology is pretty much not based on his scientific inquiry anyway. Don't let this person call you an abuser because you refused to be abused anymore and put a name to the disorder that your abuser is afflicted with. A person who is being abused by a pathological person can't afford the luxury of compassion! Because they will use that compassion to mame, mentally break you down or even kill you! No more Guilt trips Steven!

  8. Agreed to what everyone here has said, that this is a spectacular Blame the Victim manifesto, belitting, and wildly out of touch.

    It is fucking idiotic to tell someone in an abusive relationship to have "compassion" for their pathological abuser.

    It is fucking idiotic to tell them anything other than "get out, now". A person's likelihood of 'fixing' their partner's personality disorder, even with the pathological partner's extremely rare cooperation, is marginal at best. It's fucking idiotic to cling onto and work toward the hope that a narcissist/psychopath/borderline, etc. will change.

    Simply, the cost of such fantasies is far too fucking high. Your efforts are *FAR* more likely to end in misery. To hell with self-sacrifice for a pathological person.

    Labelling is a very empowering tool that I highly encourage all people in abusive relationships to employ. Knowledge is power. Historically, perceptive ones have understood the power of words. ...That, in putting a name to something, you take away its power -- You understand it, you learn tactics for defusing it, and the power that was taken away from you by your abuser is restored.

    Not the best example, but the one most universally familiar: in the Harry Potter universe, the whole wizarding world is deathly afraid of speaking the name of the Dark Lord, Voldemort. But the brave ones, and the ones finding their courage, the ones who will fight and overcome his evil, began first by seeing it for what it is and speaking its name.

    By the way, I would like to point out that having a couple of letters after one's name does not mean that one has credible insight or experience above that of the actual victims and survivors of abuse. Just as in the Special Education field, very often disordered individuals are drawn to the field of psychology or social work in an attempt to explore and understand themselves. Even if they are fairly competent and objective in assessing others, it's shocking and darkly hilarious how extremely many psychologists can't manage their own lives.

    - Lily West


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