Is ACFJ Guilty of Promoting a “Victim Mentality”
Recently at our ACFJ Facebook page a critic claimed that we are guilty of encouraging abuse victims to remain paralyzed in the role of “victim.” I went to a dictionary and checked out the definition. Just what is a “victim”?
- a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency: a victim of an automobile accident.
- a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency: a victim of misplaced confidence; the victim of a swindler; a victim of an optical illusion.
Abuse targets are indeed victims. They have suffered injury. They have been deceived and cheated. The abuser is dishonest and does capitalize on our ignorance of the nature and tactics of evil. Abusers are swindlers and those who marry them are victims of a cheat.
So what is a “victim mentality”? Those who make that charge and claim we are promoting it are largely people who either through ignorance or through willfulness do not understand the trauma abuse effects on its targets. They don’t understand it and therefore they want victims to “just get over it and move on.” But you don’t “just get over” trauma and PTSD in a moment of time. First, you have to come to understand what has happened to you. Then you have to talk about what happened to you and talk about it with someone who understands what happened to you. Someone who validates you. Often this recovery talk needs to go on for quite a long time. Most people do not understand it and so they grow tired of hearing about it. “Why do you keep talking about these things? Why do you dwell on what he did to you? Let’s just not talk about it today and have a good time.” That’s the kind of thing people who don’t understand abuse say. Helping abuse victims isn’t for everyone, even if they have “certified counselor” nailed on a shingle outside their door.
So these critics who claim we promote a “victim mentality” are really saying that we need to be pushing harder for victims to “just get over it.” To tell them to quit dwelling on the past and move on with their lives. I suppose they would say, if pressed, that we should just shut down this blog or at least change the entire nature of the posts we write. “Stop talking all the time about this negative stuff. Write mostly about positive things so that these people can give what happened to them closure.” You see this attitude in the roll of the eyes – “Oh yeah, here we go again. He’s going to talk about abuse.”
But recovery from trauma does not take place in such a moment of time. It is a long process. In fact I suppose it is accurate to say that in some ways the effects of abuse will never go away in this life – not entirely. And you know what? I don’t think that is a bad thing. Why? Because a person who has been an abuse victim and who has come to understand what it is and who has moved ahead in recovering from the effects of this evil, is a wiser and better person than they used to be. Think of the people who are the very best counselors and helpers of victims. Who are they? They are people who have been abused themselves and thereby have come to understand this wicked thing and its effects. They will never “get over” what happened to them and if they did, they would lose their ability to minister to other victims.
Now, I propose that there is a more proper name for “abuse/victim mentality.” I agree that there is indeed a condition or state that is negative and harmful to which some people who have been abused run to and remain stuck in – to their own harm. I have only come across about three such cases in these past five years of ministry to victims. The name I assign to these people is “martyr syndrome.” Somehow in the experience of being abused, and often through some wrong twisting of God’s Word in their thinking, they choose to remain in “suffering.” And they talk about it and write about it. They are characterized by an ascetic (self-abuse as a route to supposed holiness) attitude and talk quite a lot about their suffering. They see themselves as martyrs for the faith, as people who are pleasing to God because they are suffering these evils. Just as a classic ascetic whips his back as a supposed means of “overcoming the flesh,” these martyr syndrome people intentionally continue to make themselves targets of abuse (and eventually in some cases that abuse becomes exaggerated or even imagined).
Now, we must take great care here. Remember, leaving an abuser is no easy thing. Just because a victim has been with her abuser for a long time and still hasn’t left does not mean she is guilty of this martyr mentality. It takes a long, long time in most cases to even recognize you are being abused. And then there are the children, and the finances, and the fear and…..on the list goes. Oh, and don’t forget the churches who forbid divorce for abuse.
So let me make a suggestion. It is not WE at ACFJ who are promoting a martyr syndrome. Who is? It is the typical professing Christian of our day, the pastor, the church member, the seminary professor, the “biblical” counselor, who is telling abuse victims that God’s will is that they remain with their abuser. They say that remaining in the abuse and patiently enduring it is pleasing to God. They say….well, they say….”here is a whip. Keep lashing yourself and even if you die your martyrdom for the Lord will bring you great reward.”
There are the culprits.
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