The Victim Role—Common and All Too Easy

Withdrawal SymptomsThe victim role is a common one played out among people with addictions. It tends to pop up frequently during treatment and early recovery. People are still trying to get ‘their heads on straight’ in rehab and just after. And, weeding out thought distortions that are part of an addictive process is a large part of early recovery’s process. One such distortion is thinking oneself to be a victim and so helpless to effect any change in one’s life.

When Life Isn’t Fair

Entanglement in the victim role is a focus upon how life isn’t and hasn’t been, fair to the person who feels victimized. While fairness isn’t really applicable in the grand scheme of life, victim thinking makes us feel we’ve been singled out and are different than others in this regard. It is a type of exceptionalism—feeling one is the exception to the rule, and regarding others as having a better lot in life. It embraces a ‘poor me’ attitude and a pessimistic view of life in general.

The Origins of the Victim Role

One of the most common origins of victim thinking and the victim role is traumatic experiences. Whenever we encounter overwhelmingly adverse events, we are truly victimized in the sense that we are pushed beyond our abilities to cope, are helpless, and are involuntarily exposed to profoundly negative experiences. However, being victimized by abuse, neglect, abandonment, crime, accident or natural disaster and so on is very different than adopting the role of victim as an identity and way of interacting.

Responsibility and Choice

Living with a stable pattern of victim thinking erodes our resiliency, or our ability to meet life on life’s terms and cope successfully. Two very fundamental human characteristics that allow us to cope and succeed are stolen by victim thinking. They are a sense of personal responsibility and the freedom of choice. Addiction certainly takes both of those away; so does any unresolved trauma that continues to affect one’s life long after the adverse event(s) are over.

Irresponsibility is a hallmark of active addiction and a source of frustration, resentment, and anger of those involved with an addict. While the disorganization of addiction contributes significantly to failing obligations and commitments, so does feeling one’s self is a victim who is helpless and powerless.

Treatment and recovery efforts restore personal responsibility and freedom of choice. They empower us to make the kind of life we want to live. Freed of the obsessions and compulsions of active substance use, we no longer are victimized by addiction and no longer have to live as victims. For those who have a history of unresolved trauma, treatment and recovery can empower you to live as a survivor rather than a victim of any past events.