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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

The rise of victimhood and the culture of complaining

Tue, 09 Jul 2019 13:30:00 +0000 Published in Diario Montañés and Las Provincias

Victimhood is the tendency of a person or a group to pose as a victim, more or less consciously. It complains about a supposed aggression or contempt and blames it on a certain social environment, from which it expects compassion and reparation.

In this topic "victim" is often confused with "victimhood", although it must be recognized that in some cases the distinction is difficult. For example, in a humorous cartoon by Forges, a character says: "I am free. I can choose the bank that squeezes me; the television channel that stultifies me; the informer who disinforms me and the politician who disillusions me. I insist, I am free. Is he a victim or a victimizer?

The quality of victimhood often arises in an unforeseen way. For example, when we have experienced the care and protection of very charitable and loving people during an illness, we run the risk of becoming accustomed to it, to such an extent that after healing we may succumb to the temptation to continue living with the same "needs". By becoming chronic victims we change our identity.

In 1994 Robert Hughes published "The Culture of Complaint", a denunciation of victimhood. In that work he formulates some "prophecies" about what will happen to the peoples who have adopted victimhood that are already being fulfilled. One of them is the conflict of the state with some of its territories that consider themselves attacked.

The victimizer finds pleasure in appearing as a victim to others. Being a victim is usually socially acceptable. But this should not hide from us that there is always the risk of becoming a pathology: that of paranoid personality disorder. It is characterized by unjustified distrust of others, attributing malicious motives to them. Nor should we forget that victimhood often mutates into a political ideology that claims the ignored alleged rights of the victims.  

Daniele Giglioli, in his work "Critique of the victim", analyzes the victim ideology with these words: "The victim is the hero of our time. Being a victim grants prestige, demands to be listened to, promises and promotes recognition, activates a powerful generator of identity, of rights, of self-esteem. It immunizes against any criticism, it guarantees innocence beyond all reasonable doubt. The possibility of declaring oneself as such is a casemate, a fortress, a strategic position to be occupied at all costs. The victim is irresponsible, does not answer for anything, has no need to justify himself: it is the dream of any subject of power".

Victimhood is now a new way of life, both for individuals and for social groups and peoples. We are living the culmination of a historical process that emerged in the mid-twentieth century, with the great increase in the influence and power of victims and those who pretend to be victims, in very diverse social spheres. This power comes above all from the audiovisual media, with their constant dissemination of news and images starring victims.

The rise of victimhood in the 21st century shows that it is not just a fad, but a dominant and persistent mentality.

 For Maximiliano Hernández, the most distinctive feature of the current victimhood is the withdrawal of the meritocratic mentality and of the culture of duty of the individual to himself and to society, to be replaced by the culture of debt and of the compensatory obligation that, supposedly, society would have contracted with each individual and collective mistreated.

I agree with psychologist Daniel Molina that it is normal to show our disagreement with certain things we do not like, but without mortgaging our life or subordinating it to complaining. We must not fall into the error of disturbing others with our own victimhood and negative view of life. We must take an active and optimistic stance, based on decisions and not on simple reactions.

It is also important to grow in assertiveness: to defend one's own ideas and opinions while respecting those of others. Continuous complaints keep us anchored in the problems, without the possibility of advancing towards possible solutions. The victimizer believes that his role as a victim justifies everything he does or does not do, so he does not admit the smallest financial aid or criticism.

It is very difficult to guide those who live as chronic victims, because if their complaints are not shared, they will add one more complaint: that they are not understood. We have to tell them that we do not intend to help them solve the problem they pose, but the one we see. The testimony of some real victims who, moreover, do not complain, can be decisive.