There are a lot of circumstances and people that can cause us to be a ‘victim’, some real and some imagined within our own minds. This post is not to make light of the kinds of traumas that can happen to us, but to suggest the importance of living in a way of increased freedom based around forgiveness and embrace of our lives as they are lived in reality. Once we have embarked on a journey of blaming others for offenses and slights done to us or those close to us, we enter the role of ‘victim’, a role quite difficult to change.
Recently I was reading a devotional entry in Every Moment Holy, a beautiful series of liturgies around daily circumstances of life. On page 48 of Volume 1, as part of a prayer offered, a phrase especially stood out to me. I will put that phrase in bold print.
‘I offer you all that I have: my talents, my training, the years spent honing and crafting and creating, my passions, my personality, my history, the many sacrifices I and others have made in order for me to be here.
I give you even my brokenness, of which I am also a steward.’
To be a ‘steward of my brokenness’. We perhaps hear of the importance of being stewards of our gifts, taking good responsibility for what we have been entrusted with. And working to be the best equipped we can be in whatever strengths and skills we develop. Yet to be stewards also of our brokenness means to embrace the good, bad, and ugly of our lives. It means that we accept our limitations, our failures, our past sins and imperfections. All of it, even the places of struggle in our lives, has gone into who we are today.
This includes also things people have done to us, or what we have allowed to be done to us. Being a steward of our brokenness involves the costly work of forgiveness, both forgiving others as well as ourselves.
To walk in this kind of understanding is to work against the soul-suffocating rhythms of blaming others that turn us into the ‘victim’. Yes, others may have done much against us. That may be very real. There are times when we need to seek justice, while also loving mercy and walking humbly with our God, as the prophet Micah in the Old Testament exhorts in chapter 6, verse 8. But even if we seek justice for ourselves or others, we do so needing to be aware that we are still stewards of that inner life brokenness that brings increased humility and love.
Once we have fallen into a trap of being the victim and blaming others, it then can become easier to ‘play the victim’. Using this phrase is not to lessen the seriousness of being a victim, or to imply it is all a game we are playing. Rather a definition of ‘playing the victim’ means ‘to fabricate or exaggerate our victimhood for a variety of reasons, such as to justify abuse of others , to manipulate others, a coping strategy, attention seeking or diffusion of responsibility. A person who consistently does this is known as a ‘professional victim’.
It is a fine line between being a genuine victim in our lives and falling into a habit pattern of ‘playing the victim’, where we victimize others out of our own places of pain. Blogger Christian Maciel identifies fourteen signs someone is playing the victim. (I have adapted them slightly.) This list is not given to batter or accuse someone with, but rather to let it speak to us where we may fall into some of these attitudes or behaviors and seek to change. Here are the fourteen:
- They don’t take responsibility. This might be the responsibility, however difficult, to forgive others or ourselves.
- They are frozen in their life. I call this being ‘stuck’.
- They hold grudges. Sometimes for a lifetime.
- They have trouble being assertive.
- They feel powerless.
- They don’t trust others.
- They don’t know when enough is enough, or how to embrace limitations.
- They argue a lot.
- They feel self-pity. Things are always being ‘done’ to them by others or life circumstances.
- They constantly compare themselves to others, as well as blame often from those comparisons.
- They see life as always lacking.
- They are critical of others and themselves.
- They think they are perfect.
- They cut people out of their life.
I can see many of these fourteen have been in my life at times. Do you see them in your life? Instead of allowing my identity to be a ‘victim’ or fall into the trap of ‘playing the victim’, I want to be a steward of my brokenness’.