In a comment posted on a previous blog, “Dealing with Defenses”, the commenter posted:
” When one moves from the victim stance, one often moves to the victimiser stance first, as the pendulum swings;”
I’ve written a previous blog, “A Dark Reflection” that discussed how I had recognized in myself how I went from being oppressed and abused to oppressing others and abusing them via my words, approach and opinions. I had not been permitted to voice an opinion and once I was out of the abusive environment, I felt that I had the right to just tell everyone, anyone, what I thought, what I believed to be right, how I felt, regardless of whether they solicited my views or not. I wasn’t intentionally being abusive, but I certainly was bullying and abusing people with my personal views and opinions.
The reason I titled this blog “A Matter of Perception”, in fact, the reason I decided to write this blog at all is because I was made aware, during therapy of a situation many people who are healing encounter, I was warned about it, seeing as how I tend to take responsibility for the way everyone feels. I was told not to allow myself to fall into this trap.
Often when people begin to heal, when they start to take back control of their lives, become free from oppression and abuse and begin to establish boundaries, people around them become frustrated, as their friend or family member doesn’t react the same way they had become accustomed to.
Ex: Darla doesn’t drive, but needs a ride to work. She asks Jane if she can temporarily drive her to and from work. Jane doesn’t want to see Darla lose her job, knows the trips will be out of her way, but she agrees. After a couple of weeks of driving Darla back and forth Jane asks her if she’s talked to anyone about car pooling. Darla tells her she’s asked a couple people, but no one has gotten back to her. She assures Jane she’s going to find a ride, it will only be a short time.
Jane continues to drive Darla to and from work, weeks become months. Her car requires some additional maintenance and she begins to have car trouble. Again, Jane talks to Darla, explaining that her car may have to go into the shop, has she talked to anyone else about car pooling. Darla tells her she’s looking for a different job, closer to home.
Jane has her car worked on, scheduling the repairs for Saturday. On Monday she explains to Darla that she’s just made costly repairs to the car and she’s sorry, but she simply can’t keep driving so far out of her way to get Darla back and forth to and from work. She tells Darla she will continue to provide transportation for two weeks, but after that Darla is going to have to figure out her own transportation.
When Jane picks up Darla for work the next morning Darla won’t speak to her. She looks out the window, avoiding eye contact. When Jane picks her up from work that afternoon Darla tells her she can’t believe Jane did this to her. She can’t believe Jane ‘stranded’ her. She berates Jane saying she should never have agreed to drive her if she wasn’t willing to do it until she found someone to ride with. She feels lied to, betrayed and abandoned. Darla sobs saying she wishes Jane would make up her mind.
Jane had to think of wear and tear on her car and her financial situation. She had a habit of ‘saying yes’ and when she realized she could no longer accommodate her friend, she decided she had to do what was best for her own situation, she set a boundary. Darla played the victim, as if Jane had deliberately set out to hurt her.
I was warned that once you start changing, once you start establishing boundaries and honoring them, once you begin to change your own behaviors, people who have been accustomed to taking advantage of you, bullying you, who are accustomed to your old habits, will be frustrated, angry, upset and feel let down, they will resist your changes and try to guilt you back into old behaviors, back into their comfort zone. They will assume the role of victim.
I was also warned that friends/family who react as described above will never take responsibility for their own feelings. It will be your fault for having changed, regardless of your reasons for making the change.
I think this is one of many reasons why so many folks who begin the difficult work of ‘healing’ tend to slip back into familiar and comfortable roles/behaviors. They meet a significant amount of resistance and a lack of support. People who are uncomfortable with your changes exploit your vulnerability, in my case, my desire to help and please others. Rather than have to adjust their own behavior or perhaps explore their own ‘dysfunction’ they try to maintain the status-quo.
It is for this reason that setting boundaries has been so difficult for me. I’ve experienced this reaction from others too often. I was lucky enough to experience this the first time while in therapy, so that I was able to review the situation with my psychologist, to discuss how I’d reacted and whether I could have handled it differently. I was quite discouraged, but had the support to keep moving forward.
If you are making changes, establishing boundaries, other people aren’t going to appreciate it, they are going to be expecting your typical behaviors and if your changes interfere with their needs, expectations, routine, they are going to resist by assuming the role of victim, trying to guilt you into known behaviors.
I’ve tried to establish boundaries and make changes several times in the past, but I always give up. I don’t want to feel that I’m hurting anyone else, especially not my immediate family. I can be very good at ‘guilting’ myself. Because I’ve given up in the past, because I’m quickly approaching 50 years old, because I’ve finally decided ‘enough is enough’ I’m really working on my personal issues, learning about boundaries and determining how to best create a healthy environment around me, to keep myself from continuing old patterns, to start to take care of myself.
I try to consider the feelings of others when I have to enforce a boundary for myself, so that I feel confident that I’m not purposefully hurting others, or giving them reason to feel victimized. I am still new to ‘enforcing boundaries’, so I’m in ‘explanation mode’, trying to explain to folks why I’m making the decision I’m making, though therapy teaches you that you don’t owe an explanation to anyone, so that’s another aspect of growth I am still working on.
I suggest being careful in assuming the blame when someone begins to play the victim. Rather than taking a look at their behavior, first evaluate your own behavior, could they be justified in feeling a wrong has been done to them? if not, then you should consider if there is something they gain by playing the victim. Above all else, be honest with yourself. If you do think they may be justified in feeling hurt, then you have to examine your boundary, why and how you set and enforced it.