The Victim Problem
I’ve listened to many wives and partners of men called sex addicts give passionate speeches about how they most certainly are not victims. Realizing you are one can be one of the most demoralizing and humiliating moments of your life. And I’ve read lots of articles (especially since #metoo) written by women wringing their hands over the prospect that with so many women telling the truth about what men did to them, the female experience is being too closely aligned with victimization. Then add in another bunch who like to blameshift by suggesting women like to be victims. There’s nothing easy about the idea of a female victim, or the real possibility that you might be one.
Here’s the definition that pops up first when I google “victim”: “a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.”
Working with a definition of “victim” can help everyone to see that while many of us don’t want to be a victim, many of us are or have been one. Sometimes women like to say that the disrespect they have experienced in inappropriate touching, comments, or attitudes is “just how it is” and has not harmed them. But the normalization and acceptance of disrespectful actions, words and attitudes based on your gender as female is evidence of the harm! And now who becomes in charge of the limits on that disrespect? Not women!
Accepting that we have been harmed, especially when it happened under our nose, is difficult. Like the old wisdom tale of putting the frog into a pot of cold water and gradually bringing it to boil so it doesn’t realize its danger, and instead keeps acclimatizing until it is too late—that’s how it is to be raised in a society that has normalized the disrespect of women. Sometimes that is accomplished by controlling and narrowing the definition of respecting women, so that (for example) you “put women on a pedestal” to avoid respecting them the way you expect to be respected as a man. Or, male sexuality used as a weapon against women in the daily-ness of women trying to do their job, pay their bills, raise their children, etc. is so commonplace that no one objects anymore. Just think about Sally Field as Forrest Gump’s mother giving the principal oral sex to keep her special needs child in school to realize what truth means for the daily-ness of many women’s lives. The plausibility of that scene was grounded in something everyone knew was true, and that’s the only reason it could be there in the story. There are victims that are not in extreme situations. They are just daily life victims. And they are women.
But it is the most soul-destroying thing to realize you are one, after years of believing you are strong and intelligent and have a healthy sense of self-respect, and others believing it, too. To learn you unwittingly exposed yourself to STD’s/STI’s and now may have one or two, because of trusting someone who took those risks to your life without thinking twice—that is a hard pill to swallow. To learn how much of your money he squandered on his sexual and sexualized activities while you and your children were living simply in order to save for family goals is infuriating. To realize he never kept any of his marriage vows while you were keeping all of yours, is humiliating. To discover the lies he told others about you to gain their loyalty along with the daily lies he told you is soul-destroying. My journals from the last eight years of my life reveal the torture of these truths. I struggled with becoming aware and conscious of how I was slowly and continually manipulated into the victim role by him, and his covertly incestuous mother, too. Sometimes it was a real tag team effort! Knowing this now cuts me to core. Every effort I made to get through “our” challenges was really just me trying to get through their abuse.
Like most women, I never imagined myself as a victim of anyone. But I was groomed by social, family and religious norms, and was served up ripe to two people who did this as their own way of surviving, but presented themselves as something else altogether. I have been ashamed of my own life wasted for three decades being tortured under the tyranny of love’s commitment. I have been demoralized and unable to trust myself to know how to live my life. I have been humiliated before friends, colleagues and family who find it easier to imagine it was my character deficit or my conscious mistakes that generated this outcome for me. Being a victim is no picnic. No wonder women don’t want to go there.
When Dr. Barbara Steffens' published research demonstrated that 70% of wives and partners of men called sex addicts met the criteria for PTSD, “sex addiction” as a victimless experience went out the window. Also, let’s realize that the remaining 30% had many PTS symptoms, just not the full slate for a PTSD diagnosis. I began to identify men called sex addicts as overt and/or covert abusers. And I was one of the first to do it online. It’s not enough to identify victims. You have to find out how they became victims, and who, if anyone, is responsible. The prevailing treatment model for these men likes to use terms like “trauma-like symptoms” for the wives and partners in order to avoid having to connect all the dots and blow their treatment model out of the water. But the research is clear and the data is right there in the clients. If you don’t treat it as trauma, your clients don’t get better and they often bail on the recovery program because they know it’s bogus. Most of my clients have many stories to tell of their abusive experiences in these treatment programs.
And here’s the good news. Yes, there is good news! The sooner a women sees the ways in which she was victimized, the faster she ceases to be a victim. The most dangerous thing a woman can do to the socializing, normalizing and entrenching aspects of male abuse is to recognize she’s been a target and that some of the volleys found their mark. This is the power of speaking out about it, even if it's just to yourself. The moment you accept yourself as a victim, you can cease to be one anymore. You were a victim. Now, you are a survivor. And as you reject those things that victimize women, you become a heroine of your own life. You save yourself. And there is no shame in that; only the glory of honoring the sacred worth of your being.
So, if you really want “being a victim” to disappear from an alignment with female identity, replace it with being a survivor, and then a heroine in your own life. Disempowering victimization doesn’t come with denial, it comes with revealing. And whatever story you have to tell, your story is safe here.