Victim Role

The victim role is different from the actuality of being a survivor. It is a power behavior that exploits the desire of others to help someone who is in distress. It is intended on one hand to deflect the efforts of the survivor to address issues honestly, and on the other hand, intended to draw third parties into rescuing (relieving of responsibility) the primary aggressor, or even allying with him. Victim role is also based on an external locus of control. It denies choices that do exist.

The basic maneuver is to describe a disliked action of another person, in terms of being injured, usually just when accountability is expected. This works by changing the focus from the primary aggressor's behavior and irresponsibility, and puts focus on other people's behavior. This is more than deflection however. There is a tendency in people to believe that a 'greater' wrong trumps another wrong, so victim role quickly escalates into accusations of great misconduct, which however unfounded, seem to obligate others to respond.

For example, when a survivor expresses a desire or a need that the primary aggressor doesn't want to hear, the primary aggressor may start talking about his needs in a more pressured way. It can be veiled as a compliment. For example, when the survivor expresses the wish to separate, the primary aggressor may say “you made me happier than anyone I’ve ever been with.” This is a guilt trip based on the tendency of the survivor to feel guilty about not meeting a partner’s needs. In any case it focuses attention on the survivor’s self-assertive behavior and frames it as wrong or ‘selfish.’

Survivors may at times fall into a bit of the victim role. However, survivors, in their complaints, tend emphasize a lack of options which while it may be exaggerated at the time is historically accurate. This is an aspect of learned helplessness. Primary aggressors tend to emphasize the inconvenience and frustration they experience when others say 'no', enforce boundaries, or refuse to cooperate with their plans, all of which the primary aggressor views as offenses or injuries.

Victimization is a reality of course. But the difference between that and victim role is readily apparent if the 'victim' is asked to express what they want (versus being asked 'what happened'). A survivor in real need of help will ask for something constructive for themselves or their children: safety, housing, food, transportation, peace and quiet, etc. A primary aggressor playing the victim wants third parties to either inflict the abuse by punishing the the survivor, not believing her, requiring burdensome proof, etc, or to excuse the primary aggressor from accountability.

The most extreme form of victim role is threatening suicide when the survivor wants to or tries to end the relationship. However prepared the survivor was to hold firm, they usually are unable to resist giving in because o the extreme high stakes and guilt.