The Victim: Habitual Calls for Help
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | August 23, 2019
We learn patterns of engagement. Transactional Analysis defines many of these patterns, giving greater clarity to misguided human transactions. The perpetual victim often overlooks avenues of escape, relying on superficial support for strokes of attention. We can recognize these patterns and provide a more healing response.
This darn life delivers more than we can bare, at times. Travelling these dusty paths alone proves unmanageable. Overwhelmed and exhausted, we call for help— all we need is the gracious gift of a friendly smile or a helpful hand. We intuitively know (and science supports) the benefit of connection to helpful others. We seek companions to join in our travels. Our hearts leap with excitement when joined by another. Our biological systems yearn for connection, but our conniving mind settles for counterfeits. When authentic support is scarce, we settle for less, grasping at anything that simulates support. Sadly, for some shallow connections become the norm, providing emptiness and thwarting opportunities for the real gift of love.
#psychology #wellness #help #flourishinglife
The rules of true connection are set—empathy, compassion, reciprocity, commitment and predictability. Without adherence to the rules, closeness can’t be achieved. We don’t need perfection just actions that are good enough to allow roots to take hold so the plant can grow. Most people survive childhood learning just enough to continue development throughout life. Unfortunately, some don’t, moving into adulthood blind to the intricate behaviors essential to create a network of loving support.
Even without an internal map for connection, those with developmental relationship injuries still feel lost and alone. They reach into the darkness, hoping to discover that something that they don’t entirely understand. Instead of openness and honesty, they utilize the relational games they learned from their lost mothers and fathers. They adopted dysfunctional relating skills to obtain human strokes of attention necessary for survival.
Even without an internal map for connection, those with developmental relationship injuries still feel lost and alone.
The hollow gestures of caring procured through simple games of interacting ultimately fail to create healthy bonds. Sadly, we see the brokenness all around. With a little attention, we see the numerous attempts to connect. The lonely scattering crumbs to entice others, beckoning for connection. Yet, their broken lives, void of healthy connection, lack the skills that nourish a relationship that crosses their path. They make contact but then fearfully retreat.
This is not a critical condemnation of the needy. Blaming the victim is wrong and should poke are sense of decency. We want to reach out and help those in need—and we should. The problem arises when the aide we give doesn’t match the festering wound. Normal adult to adult interaction proceeds smoothly, with natural and expected responses. This creates predictability and comfort. Broken lives, however, didn’t experience the luxury of painless honesty in childhood. Normal interactions were laced with hidden burrs that pierce tender moments. These children implemented protections to survive. For them, human discourse is accompanied by faulty thinking, defensive narratives, and self-preservation. The mindsets that push growth-oriented thinking away, leaving the victim alone and disconnected.
Over the past decade of running a wellbeing blog (Flourishing Life Society), I have received thousands of calls for help, programmed to respond, I reach out. Most of us would do the same—that is what we do. Unconsciously, patterns of interaction are established—both by the victim and the rescuer. Oh, you need help, here take my hand. The social transaction is normal and predictable. We call for help when we are hurt. Others reach to help. These patterns provide lessons, we learn that statements of brokenness attract attention from helpful others. However, the healthy interaction is often spoiled by the introduction of vulnerability. The momentary good feelings of attention are quickly contaminated by fear, intruding and ruining the normal communicating of an adult exchange.
Eric Berne refers to these transactions as games.
Games: A patterned and predictable interaction with concealed motivations that lead to well-defined and predictable outcomes.
Berne introduced Transactional Analysis to the public with his best-selling 1964 book Games People Play. Transactional Analysis vernacular was quickly adopted by pop psychology and still is common in conversations today. “He’s using mind games to control you.”
Unhealthy and healthy paths diverge when feelings become uncomfortable, protective mindsets intervene, and bonding behaviors fail to gain traction. If we act just good enough (utilizing rules of connection), we develop deeper friendships and easily find new connections. However, those with attachment injuries miss most these opportunities, failing to seize on the moment.
Those severely broken struggle with early exchanges (transactions) quickly reverting to scripted games, calling for help but running when help arrives. We see this when well-meaning suggestions are rebuffed. The person initially calling for help shifts from a position of victim to the persecutor of the rescuer. Berne illustrated this as a psychological sweatshirt, reading “please love me” on the front, but when the wearer turns around it reads, “not you, stupid.” Calling for help is a learned behavior with a notable payoff—rescuers come running; but receiving the help is too painful. The protective self quickly takes center stage, knocking the needy self from the spotlight. The payoff of relationship strokes is limited to the superficial first response. “I hear your cry, let me help.”
Childhood emotional injury is the prime suspect leading to shame-based identities. A past that slapped and damaged the developing soul. Alone and afraid the victim still knows something is not right and calls for help. Yet they fails to recognize the behaviors that fuel the cycle and perpetuate disconnection; unrecognized and unaddressed their behaviors remain and disrupt closeness.
A victim orientation to the world is when life happens to you rather than being an active participant in making it happen. The perpetual victim is trapped in helplessness, powerlessness and hopelessness. (Weinhold and Weinhold, 2014; Location 41).
A victim consciousness defaults to defensive responses that dodge responsibility. For every suggestion, there is a counter excuse. This hurtful narrative is pervasive, inflicting countless victims, preventing an accessible escape (see Learned Helplessness). The only avenue of joy available arises from the shallow attention received from empathizing others. Their approach to life is bogged down with protections and blinders, obscuring effective cures. The end story is: “My life sucks and there is nothing anybody can do about it; but please keep trying because the attention kind of feels good.”
Nathaniel Branden suggests that we support the victim mindset by focusing on external causes.
“A culture in which human beings are held accountable for their actions supports self-esteem; a culture which no one is held accountable for anything breeds demoralization and self-contempt. A culture that prizes self-responsibility fosters self-esteem; a culture in which people are encouraged to see themselves as victims fosters dependency, passivity, and the mentality of entitlement. The evidence for these observations is all around us.” (1995, p. 297)
In the popular book Triggers, the author suggests a growth mentality is aided with daily active self-examining questions. “Active questions reveal where we are trying and where we are giving up. In doing so, they sharpen our sense of what we can actually change. We gain a sense of control and responsibility instead of victimhood. (Goldsmith, 2015; location 1766).
While the beckoning for help may be expressions of those suffering from chronic victimhood, the method is not to maliciously deceive. The entire pattern of interacting (the game) isn’t a conscious construction. The calls are sincere expressions of a blistering shame bursting forth from the bosom and begging for help. They hurt and want to be soothed. We must understand this dynamic and not simply ignore cries for help, soothing our guilt by labeling them as a victim of their own choosing.
This is not a cold-hearted attack on the victims. Shame identities are the essence of brokenness. As empathetic listeners, we want to help, but often our help is misguided, directed at external causes, missing deeper underlying injuries. We respond with practical advice, treating brokenness as if a simple adjustment will cure—a sliver that just needs removing. Oh, I wish healing was so easy. If only addictions, anxiety, and depression were fixable with only a slight adjustment.
Our call to action isn’t to stop reaching out. The call is to adjust our response. Perhaps, we should give less advice and offer more kindness, understanding our limitations to cure deep seated ailments in others. But for a brief moment, we can hold a hand and carefully walk a few steps with them, letting our actions show that they are not alone.
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Berne, E. (1996) Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis. Ballantine Books.
Branden, N. (1995) The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field. Bantam; Reprint edition
Goldsmith, M. (2015) Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts--Becoming the Person You Want to Be. Crown Business; First Edition edition
Weinhold B. K. & Weinhold J. B. (2014) How to Break Free of the Drama Triangle & Victim Consciousness. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1st edition