I was facilitating a training on teamwork, communication and influencing skills for managers today, and at the end of the session, one of them started a conversation with me wanting to find out ways to manage someone in her life. She felt that she finds it so difficult to manage the person, and whatever she said or did, it does not seem to bring any help or change. She is very frustrated and could not for the life of her figure out why the person is behaving in that way.
We tried to look at the models which I have shared during the session, but after an hour of trying to understand her predicament, it began to sound more and more like a classic case of self-victimization.
I recognized it because like what I had blogged about a week ago—Do You See Yourself as a Victim?—where I was watching a Korean drama and found the whole drama quite frustrating because almost every character was self-victimizing themselves to the core, when she described to me how the person had been behaving, it began to sound so familiar, and I found myself inferring to the drama describing to her what self-victimization looks like.
Little did I know that it pays to watch Korean dramas sometimes!
I advised her to read up about the behaviour and I did some search for it myself and found this excellent paper published by INSEAD: Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome? (2012)
It is a very informative paper. It describes the behaviour, provides a checklist that can be used to identify the sufferers, describes the concept of secondary gain (the "benefits" people get from perpetuating a problem), the developmental origins of the victim mind-set, and advice on how to help people who suffer from the victim syndrome.
The world that these people live in appears to be filled with victims, victimizers and rescuers. They are usually victims by choice and they fall into a spiral cycle of repeated playing the game of being a victim, becoming a victimizer of others, and looking for rescuers but ironically refusing to be "saved".
In my last post, I said that those who have this syndrome will never realize it until someone points it out to them. But now I think even that is a very challenging thing to do. It will take a lot for them to realize and admit they have a problem.
The article says, "People who like to play the victim must challenge their ingrained beliefs, and learn to assume responsibility and care for themselves, rather than look elsewhere for a savior...what helps victims best is the development of a healthier self-concept."
They need to own their own lives and be honest about themselves, and that, is a tall order.
If you have such a person in your life, and more so if that person is someone important to you, much care is needed in looking for the best way to get to them to make them realize the vicious cycle they are in.