The post How Ingratitude Leads to Genocide goes into particular detail regarding the victim mentality inherent among the WWII Nazis.
But now I want to revisit the topic with a more personal spin.
This is an issue I’ve thought about a lot because growing up liberal and secular in America's Eighties, we were conditioned to think according to the victim mentality.
And it wasn’t just that we were supposed to consider ourselves as victims, but we were also conditioned to look at “the story” motivating anyone who committed terrible acts.
Any kind of therapy or mediation always encouraged the victim to “understand” and eventually forgive those who’d victimized him or her by realizing that the abusers were once victims themselves.
And as a victim, any deed is excusable—or even heroic in some cases—including murder.
Victim or Victimizer? You be the Judge!
Murderous Terrorist or Nice Girl? It All Depends!
In a deeply pained voice, the resident said, “Why did they have to kill her? I knew her and she was such a nice girl! She didn’t mean anything by it, she wasn’t going to hurt anybody. Why did they have to kill her?”
Well, Mohammad, they killed her because that is the appropriate response toward anyone who is threatening to plunge a butcher knife into your own personal flesh.
Or, in Leftistspeak, she was violating the soldiers’ “safe space.”
Only someone with a victim mentality would see a knife-wielding Jew-hater as the victim instead of the perpetrator.
Anyway, he headed straight for a nearby candy display, flipped open the lid of one of the clear plastic containers, and grabbed some toffees.
“No,” I said. “That’s stealing. No-no. Assur.”
Then I picked him up and put him back in the grocery cart seat.
His reaction was to start hollering because he was always like Rambo since he was very young, and Rambo wouldn’t take such treatment lying down, either.
My son was clearly not in any pain or trauma, but just outraged at being restrained from his toffee target.
(Think how Rambo might feel if he was restrained from gunning down Commies.)
Anyway, I was uncomfortable with my child making a scene at the grocery store, but I didn’t see what other choice I had and I knew these things happen sometimes and that it would be over soon.
In other words: No big deal.
But at that moment, a teenage boy dressed like those scary ghetto gangstas sidled up to me and mumbled, “Let ‘im down, why dontchya? Let ‘im go. C’mon! C’mon, be nice. Can’t you see he’s cryin’? Why you pickin’ on him like that? Let ’im go right now!”
His friends gathered around behind him.
This was really intimidating, but I went to school with some kids like them and I knew what he was thinking: Mean mommy—just like mine!
Because they hadn’t seen mothers discipline children—they’d only seen mothers abuse their children—they couldn’t see that I was actually being good to my child.
So I gently (and somewhat naively) explained to the hapless gansta that I wasn’t forcing my child to sit in the cart for no reason, but that my son tried to snatch some candy and needed to learn not to do that. “I want him to learn from a young age not to steal,” I concluded.
But the young gangsta gave me a quick and confused sneer before whining out, “Whaddo I care about that? I don’ care ’bout that! Whad ’re you sayin’?” and then continued to whiningly mumble at me to release my child.
It was weird; it’s like he didn’t hear a word I said. He kept on this long stream of whiny monotone “C’mon, just do it…whadda you care? Jus’ led ’im go, eh?,” etc.
I started to feel bullied at that point. And bullies always tick me off.
“He’s not allowed to steal!” I said. “He’s a good boy and he needs to learn not to steal. He’s not in pain or agony, he’s just mad because he wants the toffees. That’s why he’s crying.”
But the gangsta-wannabee just kept up his monotone mumbling, lifting his chin and jutting out his lower lip as he did so.
Now, even though I was starting to get angry, I was also kind of nervous because I didn’t know if they would hit me or push me and I was wondering how long I could stand my ground before I would be forced to release “Rambo” from the grocery cart to avoid assault from his clueless supporters.
Fortunately, the thug gave up before I did, shot out a few choice words my way, then he and his friends sidled off.
My first thoughts were: “Whew!—Thanks, God!” and “I’m never shopping here again!”
Okay, so any objective observer would describe the situation as a young mommy being harassed in front of her young child by a group of unsavory young male bucks. In addition, their behavior would traditionally be considered unmanly and unchivalrous by any civilized person.
But they clearly saw themselves as brave activists standing against the abuse of a helpless child.
Why? Because that is how they see themselves. They are victims, they are themselves powerless children—even though at their age and size, they could kill anyone who tried to hurt them.
But they are the innocent powerless victimized children.
So that gives them (in their mind) the right to gang up on a young mother who is calmly yet firmly inculcating necessary values into her child.
The Line between Victim and Victimizer
And this is very, very important to note:
All the evil people you can think of have been traumatized.
Serial killers, dictators, sociopaths, and so on—they’ve all experienced poor parenting, abuse of some kind, and so on.
The problem is that at some point, they crossed the line between being a survivor struggling against PTSD and a victim who then turns into a victimizer, using his or her victimhood to justify the victimization of others.
We can have sympathy, compassion, and support for people who have been traumatized and struggle with unwanted yet triggered emotions.
But when those same people act on those emotions to target people who have not and will not hurt them or anybody else, then they’ve crossed the line and have become a victimizer and a bad person.
(Yet they can always cross back and hopefully they will.)
I have one final very sharp story about this.
Killer or Savior? When the Victim Turns Victimizer
How did this happen?
Well, he’d grown up with horrific abuse of all kinds, like he was violated by his stepfather when he was only four. And not just one time, either.
Tragically, this man married a woman just like his horrible mother and they had a daughter together. He saw that his wife was neglectful and abusive and kept trying to get help from the various social services that are supposed to help with these situations.
But no help was forthcoming.
(Likely, they saw his situation as less urgent because they are dealing with many cases in which the child has no caring adult around and he, the father, was obviously caring and involved, so his situation wouldn’t be an immediate priority for them.)
One day, he came home from work to find his baby daughter screaming in her crib with a soiled and overflowing diaper. When he picked her up, he noticed a red handprint on her back, clearly slapped there by the mother. And the mother was nowhere to be seen.
Filled with his own pain at all the abuse he’d suffered and desperate not to let his daughter suffer the same, he killed her on the spot with his bare hands.
During his court trial, he was asked what was running through his mind at the exact moment he’d killed his baby girl?
He replied with complete sincerity and tears, “That I loved her.”
Well, he got 25 years, which was a very light sentence considering the crime.
Now, I think we’d all agree that until the crucial moment, he was a decent father. I don’t know all the details, but he was clearly looking to protect his daughter and get help, he was aware that the mother’s behavior was unacceptable, and he was trying to change the situation.
So why did he kill his baby girl?
Because he couldn’t stop seeing himself as the victim.
Inside the head of this fully grown and able-bodied man, he was still that victimized little boy with no one around to rescue him. There is no question that his was an ugly and painful situation to be in. Who can deny that? But in seeing himself as a victim, he couldn’t see himself as a potential hero—or even as someone who could at least somewhat improve his and his daughter’s situation—which meant that he couldn’t see any other options for how to care for and protect his daughter.
Ultimately, this led to him committing infanticide on his own child.
(Note: The Rambam says that as long as one is alive, one should try to atone for even the worst sin, including murder. This means that if one took life out of the world, then one should do something to bring life into the world or to save lives. For example, if a person took another person's life and was not punished with execution, then that is Hashem's way of allowing for some kind of atonement. Such a person could become a doctor, a midwife, a paramedic, build a hospital, donate generously to Efrat the Jewish pro-life organization, etc., to atone for having destroyed a life.)
Replacing a Victim Mentality with Emuna - Or At Least Trying To
Realistically speaking, I do not know if all trauma can be healed.
And certainly, no human being can ever be perfect. We all are going to fall on our faces at times, no matter how hard we try.
Furthermore, genuine victimization exists.
A person being mugged at gunpoint, a wife or child being beaten, an employee faced with being publicly and unjustly harangued by a superior or being fired, an "infidel" being pursued by a determined terrorist (or by weapons of terror)—these are all examples of genuine victimization.
But victimhood as a set mentality ultimately leads to the worst.
Because of this, it’s important to fight it—and find alternatives to it, like developing an emuna mentality—as much as possible.
May Hashem grant each of us the ability to see the world through eyes of emuna and not through the eyes of a victim.