You can either be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It all depends on how you view your life.
~ Paulo Coelho
The state of deliberate victimhood has much to commend it. Choosing to remain a victim does come with benefits, and do not pretend it doesn’t.
Now by “victim” I don’t mean those who find themselves oppressed by circumstances over which at the moment they have no control. There is nothing good about a situation like that. You could argue that pain and suffering build character and will pay off later, but “pay off later” are the key words here; there really isn’t anything desirable about pain in the here and now unless you’re the evil sadist causing all the pain.
So let’s start with how victimhood gives you a break from the obligations of life. If your house burns down, you’ve been unjustly condemned to prison, you’ve lost a loved one, or you’ve been mugged, decent people will cut you some slack. For at least a little while you can avoid doing those things you had to do but didn’t especially want to. You can wait a spell. This is a good thing.
So is the fact that someone will (or should) rush to comfort you. We all need human kindness, and sometimes being a victim is the only way to get it. Sucks, but there it is. It’s one reason why many people deliberately try to remain sick, depressed, imprisoned, or drugged up even when offered a means of escape.
Then there’s the glamour. Being a victim grants a certain panache. The tragic elegance of tea beside a rained-on window, listening to sad songs in a torn wedding dress, eyes bright with tears . . . victimhood’s imagery has an air timeless mystery. You can even glamourize such unsavoury circumstances as homelessness, alcoholism, and broken dreams. Those of us who haven’t much to endear us to the world can usually count on misfortune to grant us at least a smidgen of allure.
Victims are often in line for legal settlements. Winning such settlements depends on proving significant amounts of pain and suffering, so it’s best to appear to suffer as much as possible in order to guarantee a win. No pain, no gain. Those piled-up settlement sums are not for the stoic.
Victimhood can also be a great way to hurt your opponents, because opposing or persecuting a victim nearly always makes people look bad and brings them social disapproval. (How dare they turn down your request for a loan! Don’t they know you have a terminal illness?)
Victimhood invites rescue. Well, not really; your knight in shining armour is actually more interested in nailing an heiress than he is in saving your sorry arse from the dragon, but myths die hard. Stay a victim long enough and some poor sucker may just want to save you and even stick around until they realize they’re doing all the giving and getting nothing in return.
Victimhood can be a a great way to defend your vices and avoid accountability. You’re addicted to crack because your girlfriend dumped you, you rob convenience stores because your stepfather beat you, you shoplift because you were molested, etc. Many people will excuse you for your evil deeds and leave you to your destruction. Isn’t that what you wanted?
Victimhood can help you get away with being a schmuck. This strategy was writ large in the story of Cabbagehead, a character invented by the eighties comedy troupe the Kids in the Hall. Cabbagehead was a professional victim if ever there was one; he used the fact that he was born with a cabbage for a head as an excuse for his extreme rudeness. And if that failed to help him get sexual favours from women he would claim he’d had a hard childhood.
Even more impressive is victimhood’s power to victimize. Remember that Zeus nabbed his main wife, Hera by pretending to be a cuckoo bird with a broken wing. When he’d won her sympathy and tender care he seized the opportunity to violate her and force her to become his wife.
If you can live with yourself after committing this kind of ruse, perhaps it behooves you to cultivate the appearance of victimhood. Of course the downside of victimhood is that it becomes your prison, endangering your survival, reining in your independence, halting your personal growth, reducing your self-actualization, and squelching your inner power, which only comes from standing on your own two feet and fighting your own battles.
But why bother? With so much to commend it, why not just remain a victim?