Why Are You A Victim? (or, rather, a volunteer)

Nov 25, 2019 | abuse, abusive relationships, codependence, codependency, featured, victim, victimhood, women

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Author, Attorney, Podcaster, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, and Creator of the World's Most Successful Breakup Program. 

  • Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
  • Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
  • Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
  • GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019) 

Backstory to this post:  Someone emailed the Mean Lady Talking podcast to say they heard me say “Take the V off your forehead” on a podcast.   Since that request, I have reposted other “victim” posts, but receive this request quite often. If you listen to the Mean Lady Talking Podcast Episode 1, you will find out why the members of the FB group, those who have done this program for a while, are not giving you “there there’s” and “oh poor baby”‘s when you get here.  NO ONE GETS BETTER THAT WAY. 

Here is yet another de-victimization post after another request:


There are reasons why you are the way you are and why your life is a mess but there are no excuses. The time is NOW to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and GET ON with the business of making your life better.

Too often lately I have heard people say to me, “But you don’t understand…” “I can’t…” “This terrible thing happened to me and I can’t get over it….”

My answer to you is: NONSENSE. YOU CAN TOO. I did it. YOU CAN DO IT.

If you want to be a victim, someone that life happens to rather than someone who makes life happen, have at it. Just don’t have at it here. Come back when you are ready to face your life, face all the wrongs that were done to you, feel about it, write about it, scream about it if you have to, but work on MOVING PAST IT and building a life SECOND TO NONE.

Not being a victim DOES NOT MEAN not feeling about what was done to you: on the contrary, you HAVE TO GET MAD AND SAD…you have to FEEL about it and maybe spend a small amount of time feeling sorry for yourself, but it DOESN’T HAVE TO BECOME WHO YOU ARE. You are a person who was hurt, not a hurt person and that is ALL that defines you.

Allowing that to continue to define you MAKES YOU A PROFESSIONAL VICTIM.

Refusing to do anything about your pain makes you a professional victim. Choosing the pain of chasing after someone who doesn’t love you instead of putting the work into raising your self-esteem and choosing the good things in life, makes you a professional victim.

Many people take the pain of their life and turn it into a crusade, a cause and a challenge. What happened to them changed the course of their life but after they’ve felt the hurt and the anger, they get up and DO SOMETHING WITH IT…they become locked into a goal of helping others and bringing meaning to their bad experience, not letting the bad experience dull and narrow their life. You can’t help that bad things happened to you but you can help what you do with the experience.

Both attorneys and psychotherapists have been accused of perpetuating the shroud of victimhood. As someone who is an attorney and a psychotherapist, I take issue with that TO A DEGREE (there are many people who deserve a day in court who don’t get it and many cases that go the wrong way…but the crazy lawsuits are the ones that get attention and NO the McDonald’s case was NOT a frivolous lawsuit, I’m talking about other craziness like the judge and the drycleaner). 

I was in foster care for a long time. My biological parents went on to have other children (not together) while I while’d away in foster care – unloved, abandoned and forgotten. I was eventually (at the age of 8) adopted into an alcoholic, abusive home where there were 3 biological children and my parents’ marriage fell apart 2 years after my adoption.

It had never  been good but suddenly I was blamed for it. I tried to be a good kid and took the test to get into a good Catholic high school in the Bronx and did just that. I loved the school I chose out of the 4 that I had applied to.  Drugs were rampant and the Bronx was, indeed, burning. It was not a great time to live in New York City but it was my city and I loved it and never wanted to leave. 

In 9th grade I was the ONLY Freshman who made it onto the school newspaper. I was the only freshman (and a very short one at that) to make it onto the Varsity basketball team. I was on the track team though I was felled by shin splints (a condition that bothers me to this day) and I was on the field hockey team. It was okay.  But the next year, things really took off for me. 

In 10th grade, I got involved in my Catholic high school’s glee club. You had to try out for it and I was surprised when I made it.  We had a great time. We sang at the MetLife building on top of Grand Central. I was elected to Student Council and was elected vice president of my 10th grade class.  We formed a band from the glee club and competed in the battle of the bands. We won 3rd place and felt really great about our group of friends.  Despite the bad, drug-addled time of the 70s, we were alcohol and drug free.

I was 15 and it was the first and only time I could remember being happy. I mean, really happy. I loved my high school and spent HOURS after school practicing with the glee club, hanging out with my friends. I didn’t come home until late. I was having a GREAT time – alcohol free, drug free


THEN my mother decided to move me between 10th and 11th grade to a public high school an hour away.

My grandparents were getting too old to stay in the crime-ridden Bronx neighborhood and my brother kept getting mugged. I was doing well, but no one cared about me. They were moving me – in the middle of high school.  No one was traumatized by the move except me and I kept being told to suck it up. My father didn’t even get to high school and my mother left in the 10th grade. 

What the hell was I complaining about? I was told to shut up and put up. No one cared how I felt. I was a 15 year old whiner according to them. I had no sense of gratitude for being adopted. 

Yet, to me, it was TRAUMATIC.  My grandparents never moved with us (my grandfather passed and my grandmother grew sickly so the little cottage on the property was just a party house for my brother who turned it into a place where people watched porno – I was horrified about it but never told on him).

I truly stopped caring.  Being “good” was for naught. I got involved with the wrong crowd including a homicidal, felon boyfriend who I fled with to Georgia when it seemed like he was facing a long prison term for a robbery.  I came back and was manipulated back to a relationship with a high school boyfriend who would be my first husband. 

He became abusive and unfaithful, blaming everything on me.  He said he never abused a woman before and people had abused me so it must have been ME.

It had ALWAYS been that way.  Everyone blamed me for their bad behavior and I was drowning in self-pity when I met my therapist who told me to take the V off my forehead. With MY particular story I thought I had a RIGHT to self pity. 

I thought I had a RIGHT to feel sorry for myself.  Damn.  Wouldn’t YOU????  No.  Self-pity is NOT the way to heal.  It is NOT the way to a healthy life. You take responsibility for your actions. There are REASONS but NO EXCUSES. I was full of excuses and I had plenty of reasons.  My therapist had a lot of come-to-Jesus meetings with me that said “KNOCK IT OFF” and she once said to me “Stop with the self-pity or DIE.”  It was true. I was NEVER getting better with self-pity.  And neither are you. I had to take responsibility for my life.  For what I had done wrong and to work through the wrongs done to me and to raise my self-esteem and to erect strong and healthy boundaries. 

There are many people who seek help, real help, in the mental health system, not just someone to feel sorry for them, and work their butts off to get better.

But when I was a practicing clinician, other therapists who seem to spend their entire time enabling professional victims was one of the things that drove me NUTS about the profession. A lot of times clinicians would tell me it was simply to cover their own butts and/or to avoid a lawsuit. As a lawyer (mostly defense) I do see the other side of frivolous lawsuits. But in each case, the therapist and the attorney NEED to have a victim in front of them, someone willing to play.

And in both cases, there are people there who want to / demand to be coddled and patted on the head and told “poor baby” even though they should be moving on with their life and taking control of their life from this point on.

Again, I don’t say this to blame the victim but there is a certain amount of power one gives up when something bad happens to them and they continue to USE THAT bad event as a reason for doing nothing with their lives.

I was a victim of abuse for many years. This is NOT about blaming the victim, but telling people who continue their “poor me, poor me” attitude and behavior after they are shown it DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.

I tried to hold onto the warm cloak of victimhood myself. There was a PAYOFF for me when people felt sorry for me. There was a PAYOFF when people RECOGNIZED how hurt and mistreated I had been. The payoff was one of attention and comfort in that attention.

But that payoff doesn’t last. You have to find more people and go through worse situations for people to feel sorry for you. After a while people say (rightfully) “Well, when are you going to learn?”

When I was married the first time, we bought a 3 family house and our friends rented the first floor apartment. They had two young children the same age as our two young kids. After we lived there about a year my husband and I had gotten into a HUGE altercation and I was left bloody and bruised. I sought refuge in the apartment downstairs and the woman’s mother worked for a divorce attorney and they set me up with an appointment and the lawyer was willing to take payments instead of a retainer (something most lawyers don’t do). I went through the motions for a while but then my husband did his sob story, and “I’m so sorry” and it will change and blah blah blah and I returned to things as they were before.

My friends were incensed with me. They stopped speaking to me and moved out because they could not listen to the insanity that raged above their heads on a daily basis. I didn’t understand. But I was the VICTIM…how could they NOT speak to me????

Well, they had tried…done everything they could for me, but I returned to my abusive marriage.

A few years later when I was almost ready to get out, I had a mean therapist who told me I was not a victim, but a volunteer. Once I knew that the way he acted was wrong, that I deserved better and I chose to stay, I was a volunteer.

I also had to see that being a victim didn’t GET me anywhere. Yes, terrible things happened to me. Yes it had been horrible being a foster child and then adopted into an alcoholic home. Yes, I had been in abusive relationships with men since I was twelve. Yes, I had caught A LOT of bad breaks. Yes, things had happened. All that was true. ALL THAT WAS TRUE. I really WAS victimized. I really was.

But in the end the question remains “SO WHAT?” So do something about it. Throw off all that crap…recognize the hurt and the pain and mistreatment…and then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

The first thing to do is STOP FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF. The second thing is to STOP WANTING OTHERS TO FEEL SORRY FOR YOU. People’s pity is not helping you…it is making things worse…and at the end of the day, it’s not WORTH anything. It is counterproductive.

The third thing to do is to start working on self-empowering affirmations….throw off the warm blanket of victimhood and tread carefully into empowered person territory. It will be scary and it will not be comfortable, but if you want to CHANGE YOUR LIFE, you must do it.

The fourth thing to do is to start surrounding yourself with can-do people….people who believe in you and believe you can do it….find a therapist, support groups, 12 step programs…and get to the bottom of all this.

If you have a fear of success, go to therapy and DEAL WITH IT. If you are DEPRESSED, get an evaluation and get medication. NOT BEING A VICTIM ANY LONGER MEANS DOING WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO MAKE THINGS BETTER. No matter what that is. SO DO IT.

Take responsibility for your own life.

We all need to work through the hurt and the anger when something terrible has befallen us…something we didn’t ask for and didn’t deserve….I was MOLDED to be an abuse victim by the circumstances of my early life. I was set up to be what I was…but after a while I was CHOOSING to stay in a bad situation and then afterwards had the “oh poor me” persona going for a time because my marriage ended, I had no job, no place to live
and 3 kids. Yes, I had the hard luck story of the world (sniff sniff) but luckily I had a mean therapist who told me I was no longer a victim but a volunteer and a friend who told me, “If you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it in the dictionary between shit and syphillis.” I needed those buckets of reality thrown at me.

If you’ve been victimized, that is difficult and I’m sorry you went through this…but the longer you wallow in your victimhood, the more power you give to your victimizers. You need to pick yourself off, brush yourself off and DECLARE TO THE WORLD that you are NOT a victim and TAKE CHARGE of your own life. Stop wallowing in misery….choose life….choose to be empowered and the architect of your own destiny.

Stop seeing life as what happened to you and start seeing it was what you make happen.

Refuse to be a victim.

Stand up and be counted.

Go out and make it happen.

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