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Above, Sigmund Freud


"The victim role is the hardest to give up," claimed a Freudian analyst in my psychiatry residency training.  That assertion has stuck with me, and I've seen its truth in myself, associates, and the world at large, especially lately.

It seems there is enormous competition to be the biggest victim.  Although the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not list "masochism" or "sadism" as diagnoses, Sigmund Freud and subsequent psychological literature have addressed and analyzed these traits.  The upshot is the masochist cannot or will not accept responsibility for personal circumstances or events, and seeks to blame outside forces or other people for his/her plight.  "Blame" is the key word here.  "Blame" becomes a coping mechanism, a self-defeating one, that keeps the victim in a perpetual underdog position.  This is easier than taking personal responsibility for one's life and choices.  To grow beyond the victim role--without succumbing to the opposite trap of cynical sadism--is an empowering challenge for those who dare to risk it.

Another masochistic trait is provocation, such that the habitual victim will provoke the perpetrator into a sadistic response.  One strategy is to "push buttons," until the other person is enraged enough to retaliate.  In cases like this, the innocent-appearing victim can point fingers of blame and receive the gratification of sympathy and support from others.

I claim that we live in a sado-masochistic society, stuck in Freud's anal-retentive stage of psycho-sexual development, emotional two-year-olds.  The sado-masochistic mindset leads to power struggles between top-dog and under-dog, with the baton of power passing over the table and under the table from one to the other. Addiction is one possible example of the power struggle between the overly controlled vs. out-of-control behavior that characterizes the addict.  Call me a masochist for drawing fire by making these claims, but consider these examples.

First, let's look at the US Congress.  Stagnation, blame, and personality politics rule the day. Where is the maturity we hope for and expect from our leaders? Who is saying, "Yes, we have problems. Anyone could have caused them, but we can all learn from them, and let's work together to solve them or at least learn how to cope with them."

Look at our rule-bound society that claims to be free.  While many would argue for rules and laws, to control the other guy, how many of these people believe they need the laws to control their own behavior?  "I'm fine," the thinking goes.  "It's the other guy who needs to be restrained."

Every law limits freedom and creates outlaws.  In a sense, then, laws cause crime. It is said by some that Prohibition gave rise to organized crime.  Drug laws now may reflect the government's fear of individual freedom and of the individual's rights of self-determination.

The Freudians will tell you about "identification with the aggressor," such as the abused child who grows up to become the abusive parent.  In cases like this, the child knows nothing else, so assumes (unconsciously or otherwise) that abusive or violent behavior is normal for adults. Maturity often requires us to un-learn what we were taught, by words or example, as children.

The masochist, who often cannot oppose abuse directly, may cope by passive-aggression or passive-resistance to authority.  A child will "act out," for instance, by misbehaving at school.  A teenager will drink or use drugs, get in trouble with the law, or drop out of school.  An adult may sabotage his company's success, or steal from the workplace.  With masochistic personality traits, they want to be caught and punished.

We are victims or masters of our own choices, individually and collectively.  It is arguable whether I chose to be born in this place and time, but as long as I'm here, I have to deal with it the best way I know.  I like believing I am growing beyond the sado-masochistic dynamic that surrounds and infects me with its vitality-depleting parasitism. Those who seek to judge and control are acting out of their own fear and insecurity, I figure, and it's best to avoid or ignore them.  It helps to maintain a sense of humor, limit toxic infection from the frenzy of Humanland, and look to nature for peace, tranquility, and guidance.


Stone-Eater Added Jul 5, 2017 - 1:51pm
Those who seek to judge and control are acting out of their own fear and insecurity, I figure, and it's best to avoid or ignore them
Key note....problem is when they get too mighty it's difficult to avoid or ignore them...;-)
Autumn Cote Added Jul 5, 2017 - 2:04pm
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JJ Montagnier Added Jul 5, 2017 - 5:51pm
A lot what we see in society today are components of ant-social disorders or worse. I believe the reason is that deep self-development has lapsed as a practice. So internal structure is lacking, making a lot of room for all of these negative elements to grow - there's nothing countering it in the psyche of individuals. Added to that society has given up value systems - rules of conduct considered to be "proper": ethics, morals, integrity, honor, etc. In addition, there are no more strong, positive role models who embody these values. 
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Jul 5, 2017 - 11:38pm
JJ writes "In addition, there are no more strong, positive role models who embody these values." 
Personally I believe that this factor is responsible for the rise of the superhero in modern popular culture. A few of us have always been interested in the entertainment and excapism value of comic book superheroes, but it wasn’t until very recently that this became a mainstream thing in films and the like. Superheroes embody the kind of near perfect role models we no longer see in the real world. This also perhaps explains the failure of the film Batman V Superman, because therein we saw the darker side of heroes. No one wanted or needed imperfect immoral heroes. So despite the overall quality of the film, it flopped. Role models are badly needed today. 
As for victimhood a wise man once said, there are no victims, only volunteers. I'm of that philosophy. 
Katharine Otto Added Jul 6, 2017 - 10:08am
Thanks, all, for reading and for your comments.  
Stone-Eater, I agree they can be hard to ignore, especially when they band together to force their point of view.  
Autumn, Will do.
JJ, I believe all social change begins with the individual, as you indicate.  That includes deterioration, degradation, and war.  As Jenifer also notes, we are at a loss for role models, even though we have lots of examples of what not to do.  I do believe the psyche of individuals does have the ability to counter the negative, but we can't appreciate what's there until we look for it.  
Have you heard of the Senoi tribe in Malaysia?  They were wiped out with the European invasion, but they put enormous value on dreams, individual and group dreams.  They used this technique to solve problems, heal disputes, and to guide their individual and collective lives.
As a Jungian, you might find this concept intriguing. Suppose like minded individuals practiced dreaming up solutions, such as a society in which people actually liked each other, maybe this would open up positive potentials in our psyches.
You make good points about the comic book superheroes.  This expectation of perfection is a child-like fantasy, I suspect, and we are on the verge of growing up (I hope).  Yes, Jesus was supposed to be perfect, but I contend his best wisdom has been compromised by those who followed.  I don't see many Christians giving up what they have and living on faith.
It's another case of putting faith (and responsibility) outside oneself, a victim stance.  I don't enjoy suffering, but it's hard to see others suffer and feel helpless to alleviate it.  It seems our modern angst has grown out of proportion to the problems, and that's what cripples us the most.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jul 6, 2017 - 2:11pm
Katherine - you wrote:  Those who seek to judge and control are acting out of their own fear and insecurity, I figure, and it's best to avoid or ignore them
I would say it is difficult to avoid or ignore them when they hold the reins of power in the country.
Enjoyed the read.
mark henry smith Added Jul 6, 2017 - 2:47pm
The child mind is a mind of constant want and it is the mind of a society that relies on advertising to disseminate it's social messages.
The modern world is a cesspool of advertising. Anyone who studies the messages of advertising knows that ads feed insecurities to motivate the recipient to fix them. It is a recipe for masochism, convincing people to hate themselves so a product can save them. Then we have the opposite happen, that people refuse to hate themselves no matter how reprehensible they may be. They want to be respected.
Well, how can I respect a person who is two-hundred pounds overweight with diabetes, and still eats junk food and drinks soda everyday. I can't respect either their inner masochist or sadist. Like love and marriage, horse and carriage, you can't have one without the other. A successful masochist either becomes a successful sadist or becomes dead.
The fact that our politicians have become ads rather than real people is a natural result of a populace raised poached in advertising manipulation. They don't know what to believe, so they give their support to what feeds their insecurity. Now this seems counterintuitive, that you would vote for someone who makes you feel weak and helpless, but it motivates the sadist to react, and that make you feel powerful.
The fact that nothing gets done to fix real problems doesn't matter as long as the inner dynamic, masochist vs. sadist, feels appeased. We ignore this condition at our peril, since a sadist who has no understanding of what or who caused the feelings of weakness, can lash out at anyone the fickle finger of fate points at.
Immature, masochist-sadist motto: I want it all and I want it now.
Mature, emotionally secure motto: I can wait to get what I want, but I will fight to get what I need. Thanks Katherine et al.       
JJ Montagnier Added Jul 6, 2017 - 3:15pm
do believe the psyche of individuals does have the ability to counter the negative, but we can't appreciate what's there until we look for it.
- Katharine, well said - I think that's it in a nutshell.
The saying "know thyself" is as old as the hills. Explore thyself would be even more apt. People are living in (mobile) pin-ball arcades 24/7 - from when they wake up to when they go to sleep - they are caught up in multiple events happening in a virtual digital world that preoccupies the mind - even when they are not staring into their mobile screen and browsing profiles or typing messages,
they are thinking about what is happening on social media - I think humanity has never been this distracted in its history. 
There is no free mind-space or free time left to reflect or introspect. Boredom actually used to have an important function - we had no choice, but to sometimes face the deeper aspects of our selves  (there was nothing else to do). Those days are over - and I think we can see stinted development and regression due to that.  
We all have a universe inside of ourselves, but how many of us will discover it today's world? 
I have not heard of the Senoi tribe in Malaysia - thank you for mentioning them - I will have look them up.
Yes, I fully agree and believe that Vision Questing is absolutely what we need to do to bring the world we wish for about - and then put it into practice: without practical application, nothing happens and it stays a dream. 
Dino Manalis Added Jul 6, 2017 - 3:30pm
Personal responsibility comes first with good morals and values!
Katharine Otto Added Jul 6, 2017 - 8:12pm
Even a Broken Clock, That is a dilemma, isn't it?  I still haven't figured out how to circumvent the power brokers who have guns and attitudes.  Let me know if you find out.
Katharine Otto Added Jul 6, 2017 - 8:25pm
Mark Henry Smith,  
I agree advertisers prey on weakness.  They make an art and science of it, but those who look outside themselves for validation or approval are easy targets.  
It's hard to respect anyone else if you don't respect yourself.  I suspect the reprehensible ones don't know the difference between respect and fear.  
You say it seems counter-intuitive to vote for someone who makes you feel weak and helpless, but it's pretty typical masochistic behavior.  The masochist can then blame the sadist for not taking appropriate care of them.
I wonder about fighting.  I'm trying to eliminate that word from my repertoire, as it is indicative of the fighting mindset that has taken over our minds.  I will work for, focus on, seek what I need.  If that doesn't work, I will take what's necessary to survive.
I like it that people are beginning to think more deeply about systemic problems.  I believe politicians are followers, not leaders, but it takes enough people talking sense to enlighten them.
Katharine Otto Added Jul 6, 2017 - 8:42pm
Explore thyself seems apt.  Can we ever really know ourselves, one minute to the next?  
It does seem odd that people are so distracted, with all the demands on attention.  I think it's a defense against going within, a spiritual void.  We are in a transitional phase in species growth, so much is fading away or crumbling.  At the same time, the new growth is hard to detect in the rubble.  On my better days, I do believe there is a growing social consciousness.  As frivolous as social media seems now, it is a potential vehicle for inter-connectedness around the world unlike anything we've seen before.
I'm glad you like the idea of group dreams to imagine a better (for me, a friendlier) world.  I'm a big believer in symbolic action to bring my ideals about.  For instance, I'm horrified by all the waste.  I boycott packaging as much as possible, use a re-usable coffee cup and have a collection of re-usable shopping bags. I drive a hybrid (gas-electric) car, but drive as little as possible.  When I'm in the right mood, I interview grocery store cashiers to find out how many people use re-usable bags.  The number is growing.
In other words, JJ, I'm putting my ideals into practice on a daily basis, but other people are slow to catch on.  I figure if enough people do this in the present, we'll one day reach critical mass and everyone will want to be a part of the solution(s).
Katharine Otto Added Jul 6, 2017 - 8:48pm
Dino,  Absolutely, but that is easier said than done.
Mircea Negres Added Jul 7, 2017 - 4:27am
A thoughtful article, Katharine. On the matter of victims and the dynamics of behavior patterns they often find themselves falling into, my view is pretty much this: for as long as victims are denied justice, they will continue to think of themselves as victims and no amount of social exhortations to "pull yourself out of it" or "get over it" is going to change that. After all, you can't push somebody in a swimming pool and expect them to come out dry, now can you? Yet this is exactly what people in general and society in particular expect- that people go through life, touch it, get touched by it and come out unaffected. Um, hello! Anybody ever heard of the Locard Principle? Worse, when some manage to do this, shrinks say there's something wrong with them, that they are "socially indifferent", "potentially dangerous" and so on. You just can't win...
Society has claimed a monopoly on the power to deliver justice and punish perpetrators, but it has a poor record of exercising this. Instead, what it does do is often blame the victims for the results of what happened to them (eg. saying it was the woman's fault she got raped, because she had worn a mini skirt, wasn't a black belt martial arts expert and didn't have night vision-capable eyes in the back of her head to see the stalking rapist who lurked in the shadows) and demand that those who are hobbled somehow develop the means to once more run at full speed as if nothing ever happened, simply because those around the victim and society a large do not wish to be reminded of their failure or to face the consequences of that failure, which are often beyond repair because of the nature of what's been done. Unwilling to acknowledge the debt owed to victims, society has developed a whole host of labels to heap upon these unfortunates in order to avoid responsibility, and one of the most insidious things it does is label as vigilantes those who find the means and courage to do what society has failed, and that is balance the books. Therefore, the toxicity of victim behaviors and the consequences are not the fault of the victims themselves, but of the perpetrators of horrible deeds and societies which fail to deliver the justice they had promised.  
Stephen Hunter Added Jul 7, 2017 - 7:58am
Katharine, great post and so true. It is so much easier to lay blame and people really like to blame a group for the problems. i.e if it were not for those people on the left, our country could return to traditional values. (whatever they are) 
It is much easier to play the victim and lay blame then it is to look inside yourself, comprehend changes, and chart a new course. 
mark henry smith Added Jul 7, 2017 - 1:31pm
Let's be clear here, victim is not just a role. It is a reality for some people and telling them it's a role they've chosen isn't just insulting, it's cruel. I've had some people on this site tell me that whatever has happened to me is my own fault and I find this distressing, because it means that the Jews were responsible for their holocaust, that the American Indians have only themselves to blame, that the perps don't have to feel any burden for their actions.
Yes, there is a mentality of victimization that can lead some people into continually looping self-defeating thoughts and behavior, but I don't think that's the rule. And I don't think the victim role is the hardest to give up. Victims can be empowered by a change in circumstance. I think the hardest role to give up is the cynic.
Katherine, like you, I attempt to live my beliefs every day in a world that has gone mad with avarice. Let me live small, love big, and have my reward be a slow progression of like-minded people working to counter the blind pursuit of expediency, with spiritual messages.   
JJ Montagnier Added Jul 7, 2017 - 2:37pm
Katharine, thank you - yes, I think symbolic actions and routines are very important on a personal level and they also set an example. I's similar for me - I don't drive (I have never owned a car, although I have had some motor cycles in the past). I try to recycle where possible, (but I am not very consistent due to a lack of recycling bins in my area) and I never litter. (However, it seems I am in a minority in my area). Nevertheless we have to live by our principles. 
As for the new growth - yes, it is very hard to detect, because we are still in the decaying stages. 
In terms of victim-hood, there are of course legitimate victims and then there are "professional victims" and this is what you are talking about in your article, I believe. 
As you said, there is a strong trend where groups claim victimhood to gain advantages or privileges by accusing, blaming or shaming other groups - and it has caught on (and I think 3rd wave feminism followed this strategy quite overtly and shamelessly for a long time). For example millenials and SJW's are trying to out-victim each other for sympathy and support, while being from the most privileged generation in history. 
False victims are never prepared to take any responsibility, while genuine victims tend to take too much responsibility.
Katharine Otto Added Jul 7, 2017 - 10:19pm
I think there is a difference between being a victim--which we all are, in different degrees, from time to time--and the "victim role," which characterizes someone who identifies with being a victim and uses that role to manipulate for sympathy, pity, rescue, or other perceived rewards.  Of course every individual is different, so it's hard to generalize.
I was referring more to society at large to point out the sado-masochistic dynamic that seems to have pervaded Western civilization and seems especially evident now. To claim we are stuck in Freud's anal stage of psycho-sexual development is based on similarities between our current culture and the behavior of two-year-olds. This is the age of potty training, the "terrible twos," the acceptance or rejection of rules, fascination with feces and body parts, power struggles with authority.  Maybe I'm alone in claiming we as a society are immature, up-tight, anal-retentive, rule-bound, and involved in power struggles on all fronts.  The dynamic creates victims and perpetrators on a massive scale, and the common denominator is a sense of powerlessness or frustrated self-expression.
Blame is counterproductive on all fronts.  Blaming the perpetrator or blaming the victim doesn't fix the problem, if injustice was done.  A more worthy goal might be to imagine a society in which mature self-control minimizes the need for external authority.
To assume there is a debt owed to victims opens the question of who is responsible for paying that debt? Then you get into the problem of who is the most worthy victim, and the competition begins anew.
For me the take-home message is that if you identify with victimhood as a personality trait, you will act out the role, become a target, and deny yourself the power to act in your own behalf. 
Katharine Otto Added Jul 7, 2017 - 10:24pm
JJ, I like your comparison between "false victims" who take no responsibility and "true victims" who take too much.  I would add that both are out of balance, and taking too much responsibility is another form of self-sabotage.
The Burghal Hidage Added Jul 8, 2017 - 3:52am
Katherine your article is dead on in so many points. Not being a devotee of Freud I'd not have thought of interpreting our ailing society in quite this way, but the conclusions arrived at are correct nonetheless.
I was particularly interested in your thoughts on law. In another forum I have written on the very same ideas. I have tried explaining it in this way:  we have done the same with our laws as with our currency. We have an inflation of law, like our currency, having created so much of it as to diminish it's overall value. Eventually if you write enough laws then you create a society where everyone becomes a criminal at one point or another.
Katharine Otto Added Jul 8, 2017 - 1:47pm
Thanks for reading and for your comment.  I respect Freud for having been a pioneer, and he had some intriguing insights.  Modern psychiatry has turned away from Freud toward a pharmaceutical approach, diagnoses and diagnosis codes.  In my view, it has lost its heart, but that's another issue.
I agree with you about the laws.  It seems odd that Congress believes its job is to pass laws.  The media seems to equate Congressional "productivity" with the amount of laws they can pass in a session.  How odd, think I.  Are you and I the only people who think there are too many laws, that Congress could save us all time and money by repealing a few of them?
The ethanol mandate would be a good place to start, according to me.  But that's a can of worms I won't try to open today.
Michael B. Added Jul 8, 2017 - 10:35pm
I want to lick your clit and have you cum on my tongue! What are your thoughts on that, lol!
Katharine Otto Added Jul 9, 2017 - 8:57am
Michael B,
I'm glad I don't know you in person.
George N Romey Added Jul 9, 2017 - 4:55pm
Lets face it we are losing our individuality.  We are no longer people but a "brand."  Everyone according the LI world is suppose to be an outlandish superstar lest they will never get a good job again. At work we now must be part of the "team." Take a look at some of the job descriptions on a job board.  A data entry clerk is now a "data specialist analyst" but ultimately does the same job as what a data clerk does.  Reading some of these postings for what would be a $40K a year job and you would think the company was looking for the brightest, most abled, and talented person ever put on this Earth.
People just can't be people anymore.  Everyone is required to look like they are reaching for the stars or they must face a life of poverty and unemployment.  If we all must be way about average then aren't we all just average?
Katharine Otto Added Jul 10, 2017 - 10:55am
Maybe individuality grows with age and experience. Those who look outside themselves for validation will never get the satisfaction of believing in themselves, despite what others may think.
Those who conform, of course, suppress their individuality, and there is a cultural belief that this is "normal" or desirable.  I say this is boring, stifling, and regressive.   Unfortunately, the media and the public scorn deviations from the "norm," because so many of those who don't fit the mold resort to extreme or violent means to express their differences.  
The most individualistic people probably don't work in salaried jobs and maybe are loners.  I think of writers or people with special gifts that they can develop in a life-sustaining way.  
Thanks for reading and for your comment.  I do agree that individuality is discouraged in our society and claim that fear is behind it.
Do you feel less of an individual, given current trends?  Ultimately, you have only yourself to answer to, but I'd say this is a time when individualistic people need to celebrate their differences, if only to show that diversity ultimately benefits the whole species.
George N Romey Added Jul 10, 2017 - 11:04am
Katharine individuality is less desirable now but conformity has always been demanded. Society is in flux and no one really knows where we are going.
Katharine Otto Added Jul 10, 2017 - 9:46pm
George, I've thought more about your comments on individuality since responding above.  I've always considered myself very individualistic, but it's lonely feeling so apart from the crowd.  At least conformity brings a sense of belonging.  
While conformity has always been demanded, the mold-breakers re-set the norms.  I like to believe that this state of flux is an opportunity for creative inspiration to take hold and grow from a grass roots level.

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