Playing The Victim
Playing the victim is a favorite tactic of manipulators. (See pp. 127-128 in In Sheep’s Clothing.) And most time, the tactic goes hand-in-hand with blaming others. (See: Blaming Others Is Not a Defense but a Tactic.)
Relatively well-adjusted “neurotic” individuals hate to see anyone suffer. Moreover, they hate to think of themselves as the cause of someone’s suffering. Manipulators know this. So, manipulating a conscientious person is simple: act like a victim. And while you’re at it, cast the real victim as the victimizer. It’s a great 1-2 punch in the game of power and control.
Do They Really Believe What They’re Saying?
I’m asked all the time whether folks who cast themselves as victims really believe what they purport. And I always answer that most of the time, they don’t. But it all depends on two things: how much conscientiousness they have, and how capable they are of honest self-reckoning. More succinctly, it all depends on where they fall on the character disturbance spectrum. Still, it doesn’t really matter whether they believe what they assert or not. If they have any conscience at all, perhaps they can’t bear to admit the truth. Or, maybe they’ve lied to themselves so much and so often they’ve come to believe their lies. But again, it doesn’t matter. A wrong is still a wrong. And they have to be held accountable. Blaming another, and playing the victim role are insidious ways to avoid responsibility, be it conscious or unconscious.
A Most Egregious Example
I once interviewed a man who had committed a horrendous crime. He, along with two others, bludgeoned his victim. But he engaged in the most and worst of it. Still, when questioned about how he could do something so horrible, he expressed no remorse. Instead, he sought sympathy. He complained that memories of the event still intruded from time to time. And he lamented he’d have to live with them for the rest of his life. So, oddly, for a split second, I found myself tempted to feel a bit sorry for him. That’s what it is to have empathy.
This man’s history was a living testament to his lack of sensitivity and empathy. And he would go on to commit another heinous crime, again without apparent compunction. He was certainly not a victim, but he wanted to be seen as one. And he had brazenly created many true victims. His twisted way of thinking is typical of character-disordered people. (See: Seeing the World as They Want to See It: The Self-Deceptive Thinking of The Disturbed Character.)
Most examples of playing the victim aren’t as egregious as the one above. But the tactic can be effective, especially if done with artfulness. And it helps if the audience being played to is the typical “I just can’t stand to think of anyone suffering” type. Sadly, this type of situation plays out every day in abusive and/or dysfunctional relationships of all kinds.
Remember, most of the time, when the manipulator casts him/herself as a victim, they don’t really see themselves as victimized. They just really want you to see them as wounded, injured, or suffering in some way. They want to elicit sympathy as opposed to taking responsibility. And, they do it by clouding the picture about who the real victimizer and victim is. Directing the blame elsewhere is their companion tactic. And I’ll be talking about the tactic of “vilifying the victim” in an upcoming post.
To become truly empowered, one-time victims of abusive relationships have to see through their manipulator’s tactics. And that’s especially true of the tactic of playing the sympathy card. A key to empowerment is knowing in your heart how to distinguish a victim from a victimizer. (And it’s also knowing how to tell an offense (in all its sometimes subtle and covert forms) from a defense.) Understanding the nature of Character Disturbance and knowing what to expect and how to respond is inherently empowering. And that’s exactly why I have written my books and publish these articles.