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Victim Or Perpetrator Or Neither?


JosephM
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To All,

 

i was thinking this morning that it seems clear to me that as humans we are often caught or seem to trap ourselves in the role of victim or perpetrator or on fortunate occasions we are able to stay free of either in relationships. It seems to me as if it is a repetitive pattern that we (perhaps not all) to some degree unconsciously seem to be looking for. New opportunities to be either victim or perpetrator until a window presents itself and provides a way of escape from this possible pattern in our life. Does anyone else see this pattern in themselves or others and if so, what do you think it is it that wakes us up or gives us the strength to exit such a imprisoning pattern in relationships? How do you avoid getting caught up in such a role? Perhaps this might be a healthy discussion that members can contribute their thoughts on? It seems to me that most all to some minor or greater degree experience this whether on the job or in personal relationships in life

 

Joseph

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Joseph,

 

I am not perfectly clear on what you mean. I think I understand victimhood, but do you think many of us look for opportunities to be (or maybe think of ourselves as) a perpetrator? I think the word connotes negative behavior. Maybe you could give a concrete example of what you mean.

 

George

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Joseph,

 

I think I know what you mean. Yes, I do believe many people fall into these roles almost naturally, whether it is victim/perpetratet, dominant/submissive, martyr, scapegoat other roles. I have seen it in myself and in others. I think the way some people move out of these rolls is when a life-altering event (or series of events) occurs that jolts a change, or at least the beginnings of change. Sometimes, too the relationship, whether personal or communal, determines the roll, and the shift. At other times, a change in role comes about when there is a change in the makeup of the community. I'm not a psychologist, but IMO it all has something to do with the anima/animus and shadow and group dynamics.

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George,

 

Yes my personal view is that it is negative behavior. Yes it also seems to me that to some degree many of us participate , perhaps even unconciously, in such roles but i am interested in other opinions rather than my own.

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I would say that's life. I am not entirely comfortable with putting every encounter in 3 boxes.

 

The idea of victim / perpetrator is fogged by ones perception. I have seen encounters where both parties feel like victims. I have seen people who constantly view themselves as victims when those around them see otherwise. I have seen people I view as victimized who don't view themselves as victims.

 

I think we all have been in situations where we can look back and wish we had been more gracious to someone who may have felt victimized. And thought I should have stood up for myself.

 

All life lessons

 

steve

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Steve,

 

Do you think that the idea of whether one is victim, perpetrator, or neither is fogged by ones perception or could it possibly be that one's perception may be the root of acting out the role of either rather than accepting neither? Would there in your opinion be a difference?

 

Joseph

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George,

 

Yes my personal view is that it is negative behavior. Yes it also seems to me that to some degree many of us participate , perhaps even unconciously, in such roles but i am interested in other opinions rather than my own.

Joseph,

 

What I wondered about was the idea about affirmatively seeking to be a perpetrator of harm to others. I would see it less as affirmatively seeking to do harm but more of failing to resist the temptation to do something that may result in harm to others (collateral damage). I also have some doubt about whether we have some propensity to envision ourselves as doers of harm .

 

Maybe I am too naive.

 

George

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I think that, as a general rule, people should strive to be more aware of how power relations in society are organized. I live in the US, which means I live in a society that to some degree privileges & marginalizes individuals based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and religion (to name a few key characteristics). I think it is important, if often uncomfortable, to see how one's actions & inactions help reproduce illegitimate forms of inequality.

 

I personally lean away from a discussion of this in terms of perpetrator / victim for several reasons. First, I think it is overly individualist. If there is an individual person here who is a victim, and another person there who is the perpetrator, then we're not discussing the social structure that encourages a pattern of inequality & domination. Second, IMO, it risks conflating agency & power, such that perpetrators are those who act, and victims are hapless and passive. It doesn't necessarily, but I think it's important to recognize how the privileged may be passive, and the marginalized may be extremely active in their attempts to resist (or at least survive). Third, it is a highly moralistic discourse, explicitly looking for individuals to blame. There are evil people in the world, but the road to Hell can be paved with good intentions, and assigning blame to evil perpetrators is not enough. To use current examples, punishing Wall Street and fixing Wall Street are not the same thing, even if one believes (as I do) that our economic system, with its obsession over financial markets, is creating massive amounts of economic inequality, marginalization, and exploitation.

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What I wondered about was the idea about affirmatively seeking to be a perpetrator of harm to others. I would see it less as affirmatively seeking to do harm but more of failing to resist the temptation to do something that may result in harm to others (collateral damage). I also have some doubt about whether we have some propensity to envision ourselves as doers of harm .

 

Maybe I am too naive.

 

I don't think that humanity is quite as sadistic as the statement, "we look for opportunities to harm others" would suggest. However, I do think that people's actions often involve violence, or indirectly support a social order that runs on violence & inequality. In such cases, I think people (both as individuals and groups) often come up with rather elaborate ways of denying their actions are associated with power on any level, or that their use of power is justified in some fashion.

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Perp/victim is much too narrow a definition of what is actually the unit of study in a number of very broad and deep areas within Pyschology.

 

We all, ALL, fall into developing patterns of response and interchange, series of 'scripts' we fall into and play out over and over, as we interact with others in trying to get our needs met and what we want. Problem is, even those that worked, were effective, in the circumstances and time in which we formed them, don't work, may be entirely inappropriate in others and with people other than those we originally developed them "in partnership with."

 

Even greater difficulty occurs when two or more people are all trying to play off their own different patterns, their own scripts, that serious mismatch those of other "players". Ever had the frustrating experience trying to communicate and relate to another, that the two of you are not just on the same page, you aren't even reading off the same script?

 

I've known people that grew up in homes where parents were naggers, nag nag nag about things the kid did or didn't do, but never actually took real action, that have serious problems in relationships, marriages, when they follow that same pattern they learned as a kid, with a partner, spouse, that doesn't play that game. The no-nonsense partner expresses a behavior is unacceptable, will not be tolerated, the 'just keep getting away with' partner just keeps on, and is then is truly shocked, just can't believe its really happening, when the other has enough, ends the relationship. I've known men that really believed every thing could be make ok again, even after repeated discoveries of adulteries, by just being extra sweet and helpful for a while and bringing wifey candy and flowers! Such tactics worked with their mommies when they got in trouble as kids, it should work now too! And, they may go on to repeat the same cycle again with the next partner. That's just one example of this kind of mismatch.

 

Or, one person has 'normalized' constant bickering and arguing, encounteres someone that hasn't, and doesn't. One person may be easy going and not get bent out of shape over every day petty annoyances, another blows up about every inconsequential inconvenience. I hate riding in a car with angry drivers, that go off on a rant everytime a traffic light is 'slow' to turn or another car won't give them a break at the freeway entrance ramp. I've been known to demand they let me drive or I won't go! People like that tend to do the same thing to others in relationships, as well. To them, its normal and reasonable, to me, I'm not going to choose to be around it.

 

Another way such a cross-script mismatch happens is when something in the present triggers a response to a very different past situation, that is entirely inappropriate in the present one. For instance, a man that grew up in a home where there was a financially irresponsible parent and frequent fights over money, maybe then falls into repeating that pattern himself, marrying a woman irresponsible with money, that keeps them constant financial trouble, even bankrupcy, and the marriage fails because of it. But then, thinking to be more careful, he does remarry, to a financially responsible woman. All is good, right? Except that every time he thinks she makes a purchase he doesn't understand or agree with, or on even a rare occasion, miscalculates her checkbook balance and has an over draft, he goes ballistic, to the other partner's perspective, to an entirely inappropriate degree. Or every time unexpected expenses make money tight, he launches into blaming her 'over-spending' and 'mismanaging."

 

So yes, there are patterns of behavior, but its not a simple thing.

 

Jenell

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To respond to something more specific, do people sometimes go around looking for opportunities to hurt someone else? Yes, I don't think we can deny there are. Whatever is going on with them, they are so full of anger, hate, maybe hurt, themselves, they just seem to have to constantly look for 'target' to let fly at, usually justifying to themselves with really absurd, even silly reasons, at least to the rest of us. I've known such people, that seem just, as I've come to call it, "get a mad on," and going about looking for the least excuse to blow up at someone or something, often over nothing kind of things, or imagined/invented 'offenses' by others. Dysfunctional, to whatever degree they exhibit it.

Are their people that seek that out? Probably. Pretty much all games people play have counterparts to play with them.

 

Jenell

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Joseph,

 

What I wondered about was the idea about affirmatively seeking to be a perpetrator of harm to others. I would see it less as affirmatively seeking to do harm but more of failing to resist the temptation to do something that may result in harm to others (collateral damage). I also have some doubt about whether we have some propensity to envision ourselves as doers of harm .

 

Maybe I am too naive.

 

George

 

I don't know George. I am not measuring perpetrator against victim or making a judgement between the two. I see in essence no difference. To me they are both negative behavior. There in my mind can not be one without the other. It seems the roles are often reversed. To me they seem one and the same. I was not necessarily referring to violence or physical harm but rather in a broad sense the roles that both Yvonne and Jenell have described and i have also found in myself.

 

Joseph

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Joseph wrote: I am not measuring perpetrator against victim or making a judgement between the two. I see in essence no difference. To me they are both negative behavior. There in my mind can not be one without the other. It seems the roles are often reversed. To me they seem one and the same. I was not necessarily referring to violence or physical harm but rather in a broad sense the roles that both Yvonne and Jenell have described and i have also found in myself.

 

 

Joseph, i do have to take some strong difference with your here... while in the literal sense, pertaining to any incident or action, yes, perp/victim both exist, its the very basis of what happens, so yes that can not be one without the other.... but I cannot agree how you think there is no difference, they are both negative behavior, and even more non-sensical to me is your "it seems the roles are often reversed."

You seem to be suggesting someone cannot harm another, perpetrate a harm against them, without that other's, the victim's, cooperation or acceptance in some way. That just doesn't make sense. And certainly I can't agree 'the roles are often reversed', those that have been victimized certainly do not usually turn around and offend.

 

While i can agree someone can be a persistent 'perpetrator', repeatedly inflicting harm on others, I can't see that repeat offending in any way is neccesarily connected in any way to corresponding 'victim' behavior. If some goes out and murders ten people in a murder spree, no way can I see those 10 victims were ncessarily in role relationships with the perp.

 

Now there are certainly those for whom one of the 'life games' is using playing the victim role to manipilate others, that doesn't neccesarily mean there are consistently any corresponding perps involved at all. We've all probably known people that dealt with every problem, from losing their job to relationship break-up, on another, make the other look the 'bad guy', to get people to feel sorry for them, not hold them accountable for their own actions, etc.

 

And, there are those that play games that instigate reactions from others, so they can cry victim and get another in trouble or get favor for themselves...who hasn't seen one kid pick pick pick at another until the other reacts, cold-cocks him with a toy, who them goes running and crying to mommy and daddy. But I wouldn't consiider that actual perp/victim scenario.

 

Jenell

Edited by JenellYB
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There are two books I can't reccomend highly enough, for everyone, in helping recognize and understand this kind of stuff in both oneself and others....they are old books, but I know of none better on this topic, for personal application. I have pulled my copies our and re read them again many times over the years. they are

 

Games People Play by Eric Berne

and

The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-defense by Suzette Haden Elgin

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Joseph, i do have to take some strong difference with your here... while in the literal sense, pertaining to any incident or action, yes, perp/victim both exist, its the very basis of what happens, so yes that can not be one without the other.... but I cannot agree how you think there is no difference, they are both negative behavior, and even more non-sensical to me is your "it seems the roles are often reversed."

You seem to be suggesting someone cannot harm another, perpetrate a harm against them, without that other's, the victim's, cooperation or acceptance in some way. That just doesn't make sense. And certainly I can't agree 'the roles are often reversed', those that have been victimized certainly do not usually turn around and offend.

 

(snip)

Jenell

 

Jenell,

 

That is quite alright. i wasn't looking for agreement but rather different views. It does appear to the thinking mind that there is no connection between the two as you say but there is in my own experience a connection seen. Perhaps some biblical writings allude to it.... "he that lives by the sword, dies by the sword" and better yet "with what measure you mete, it shall be measured unto you", " we are forgiven as we forgive others" , "with what judgement you judge, you shall be judged", and other spiritual laws that can be known only in Spirit. My experience indicates to me that there are no unwilling victims in spirit. It is as if when we perpetrate we are setting up ourselves as victim which usually comes at a later date in time. It seems as if it is at the same time in spirit but in time it shows up at a later date. i don't expect agreement because it cannot be seen in the flesh but i was wondering if someone else was going to mention something similar. If it makes no sense , just ignore or dismiss what i have said as i would not argue the point because i will be the first to admit that there is no way for me to prove such a statement that i have shared.

 

Joseph

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Steve,

 

Do you think that the idea of whether one is victim, perpetrator, or neither is fogged by ones perception or could it possibly be that one's perception may be the root of acting out the role of either rather than accepting neither? Would there in your opinion be a difference?

 

Joseph

I think in general the more fogged ones perception , the more likely one is to experience an unhealthy relationship. This fog may actually be necessary. So Yes I think ones perception can be and often is at the root. Yes I think there is a difference and is dependent on each situation and individual.

 

steve

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Jenell,

 

Perhaps, it could be associated or connected that way but i am not aware that i am speaking of karma per se. or maybe i am? I did just recently read this today concerning Jung.

 

Some thinkers, like Jung and Sheldrake, see individual human consciousness like an island in a huge ocean in which there are countless other islands. Above the surface of the water – waking self-awareness – there is a sense of separate existence, with definite boundaries where the shore meets the sea. Beneath the surface however, one island is connected to all other islands. The land stretches away under the waves and rises here and there into other islands. So, it is thought, personal awareness, beneath our everyday consciousness, shades off into a connection with a collective unconscious we all share. Through this connection we may be able to arrive at insights into other people otherwise denied to us.

 

Now if this is so, then it seems to me to the collective unconscious, nothing is hidden. We are all connected. In reality then, nothing really happens without our deeper sense of knowing even though we see no connection with our waking conscious. This would confirm my subjective experiences that show me that there is nothing hidden to my innermost being and a divine cooperation in this melodrama we call life here that includes the roles of perpetrator and victim. I am not saying this is the way it is. I am saying that this is how it appears to me.

 

Joseph

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Joseph, now this, I'm relating to. This model of a greater conciousness, and our inter-connectedness at a deeper level, is actually how I have had to, in my own intellect, conceptualize how this odd sort of what I've written of before on this forum, of what I call my called 'gift/curse of empathy' I experience, of actually experiencing within my own body and emotions, the something of the physical and emotional things that 'are not mine', but I somehow percieve from others around me or personnally connected to me, often even without my having conscious knowledge or awareness, in any 'normal' sense or means, are experiencing. I've enough empirical experience 'validation' of its reality to have had to accept it as something 'real', even while my rational mind cannot explain it through any 'laws' of our present concept of material reality.

 

So it seems to me now, what you may be saying is the perp/victim relationship or roles may not neccesarily involved two different actors, or interactions between two different actors, but may be present in the one individual? That even as person A causes harm to others, person A will be harmed through feedback by his own actions? By an inner, psychological/emotional/spiritual self-wounding? I can comprehend that, as I have realized that when we do harmful things, we do suffer damage to our own mind, emotions, psyche.

 

But also that you may be saying that even if at an entirely unconscious level, person A, for whatever reason, goes out with intent (even if unconscious) to cause someone else harm, out of some of his own inner hurt or anger, and through that deep level unconcious level of connection, somewhere, person B, quite unawares conciously, happen to 'choose' to set out upon a course that will lead him to cross the path of person A as just the opportune time?

 

This last one kinda like the incident I related awhile back about me and my daughter driving along talking abot being out of hay to feed my horse, then 'coincidentally' came across the bale of hay on the road, where someone hauling a load had aparantly missed a loop while tying it down? And set out to drive just as timing was right to drop it in front of us? the 'ask and ye shall recieve?'

 

Jenell

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