Victims Anonymous: A Mentality that can Suck the Life from People with Disabilities

Hello, readers,

Happy Good Friday. As Holy Week winds down, Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection is on the mind of everyone I encounter, including my own mind. And as I started to write this post, it occurred to me: Jesus Christ chose to be a victim so I didn’t have to be one. (Thank You, Lord, for the insight).

That’s significant. Why? Because I believe a lot of people, but especially people with disabilities, are suffering from the victim mentality. The one that says, “I’m disabled, so I’ll never be able to do what others can.” The one that says, “I’m disabled, so I’m not worth anything.” The one that says, “I’m disabled, so I’m not meant to do or be anything or anyone significant.”

That part of victim mentality, I’m well-acquainted with. Why? Because I’ve lived it. Unconsciously, but yes. I’m also familiar with it because often, this part of victim mentality is thrust upon people with disabilities. That is, others tell us we’re not worth anything, and won’t be anything, or show it by their actions. And because, if you hear something enough times, it becomes true, we believe it. In that situation, we don’t make ourselves the victims. We absorb what we’re around, and if that’s condescension or cruelty, we’re going to notice. As Beth Moore says in her book Get Out of that Pit, you can get thrown in. Someone can throw you into a pit without your having done anything to deserve it. And don’t try telling me that kind of pit is any easier to get out of just because it’s “not your fault.”

I’m going to keep borrowing from Beth, because I think her pit analogy does such a great job of explaining what I want to say. (Beth, if you’re reading this, thanks so much. I have such appreciation for you, your knowledge, and yes, your tough love).

So, as we know, often, people with disabilities get thrown into the pit of being a victim. But sometimes, we slip in. We knew it was there. We tried to avoid it. Or maybe we misstepped, and all of a sudden, we were down there without knowing or remembering how we let the situation go this far. We didn’t mean to become or act like victims. But maybe–like me–we just listened to the lies too long and accepted that role. Maybe we trusted someone we thought was a friend or ally, and they made us feel like a victim by being “nicey-nice.” You know–that person who constantly points out what we can’t do, will never be able to do, and are incompetent at–all while smiling and patting our shoulders. The person who does things for us we can do for ourselves, but we give in to them because it’s easier to give in than argue. (Parents, guardians, therapists…I’m looking at you. Do you have a person with a disability in your life, who you know can do certain things, but you do it for them, anyway? Heads up–you are victimizing them).

Or, as Beth also says, you can jump into the pit. You know it’s there, you know it’s a bad idea, but, with full knowledge and deliberate consent (the Catholic church’s descriptor for mortal sin, which I think also works here), you jump in. Maybe it starts off innocently. Maybe it’s the kid raised to believe and say, “I can’t; I’m special” (see December’s archives for more on the ICISS syndrome). Maybe it’s the adult with a disability who has this attitude: “I have a disability. Therefore, I am entitled to privileges, services, and breaks others don’t get.” Note here that I am NOT talking about services people legitimately need, like transportation, modifications at school, or even exemptions from things that could be dangerous or are just not possible, at that moment, for that person to do. I AM talking about the kid who says, “I’ll use my disability to make people feel sorry for me so I won’t have to do my schoolwork.” The teenager who says, “I don’t really need this modification, but I’ll insist on it anyway.” And–Lord help us–the adult who says, “If I don’t get everything I want, when and how I want it, I’ll claim disability discrimination and sue everybody’s stinking pants off!” Those people are the ones who jumped.

I went for a checkup yesterday (down 16 pounds, ticker’s great, and generally healthy, though I’m still hopelessly short). I told my doctor about my recent work with disability issues, and he told me a story. A friend of his has a very agile cat. It does everything a cat would normally do. But, the cat has three legs. My doctor looked at his friend and commented on this, and his friend said, “Oh, that’s not a three-legged cat. That’s a cat with three legs.”

See the difference?

My doctor explained something I think is important when considering the victim mentality. “Cats don’t get any benefits from having three legs,” he said. “Humans get benefits from having disabilities, and sometimes that’s a very bad thing.” Why is that a bad thing? Because some of us are using the victim mentality to get out of living real life.

In John chapter five, Jesus comes across a man at the pool of Bethesda. This man had been unable to walk from birth, and had been sitting for years, waiting for someone to carry him to the pool when the angel of the Lord stirred the waters, so that he could be healed. Well, Jesus shows up, and he asks this guy, “Do you want to get well?”

That probably seems like a “duh” question. If it were any of us, we think, we’d say, “Sure! Heal me, please!” But it’s been pointed out, by more than one Biblical scholar, that this guy had been riding the victim train for a long time. Why else do you think he was waiting to be carried down to the pool? Or why he hadn’t asked to be carried down sooner? Believe me, I’m sure many people around him would’ve done it. But maybe he was comfortable being a victim. So until Jesus actually asked, “do you want healing,” he hadn’t needed to face that realtiy, and face the challenge to change.

The challenge to change is always hard. Anything, even the victim mentality, can get comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that we–including yours truly–wonder what we’d do without it. Would people still love us, care for us, and pay us any attention if we weren’t victims? Can we live as anything else? I know how that feels. I also know that, if you’ve been thrown into the victim mentality because of what others have done or said, or not done or said, it can be twice as difficult to shake. You might make up your mind to quit being the victim, but those people are still around. You may need to stand up to them. They may still have some control over you (this is especially true for children struggling against the attitudes of parents, guardians, teachers, therapists, doctors, or peers. Children may need extra help breaking the victim mold because they don’t have the same options for physically “getting out” that adults have).

Let me give a few cautions at this point. Let’s lay down what being a victim is, and what it’s not.

BEING A VICTIM IS NOT:

  1. Accepting services or modifications you actually need, even if that means staying in a self-contained classroom or other “sheltered” environment. Sometimes, that is honestly a person’s choice, and in that case, it should be respected.
  2. Having days or moments where you say or think, “Having a disability sucks” or where you doubt your worth because of it. If we never had bad days, we’d all be God, and that would be frightening.
  3. Asking for help with something you cannot do
  4. Expressing frustration, sadness, anger or regret through tears, yelling, etc.
  5. Accepting that there are some things you’re not able to do (such as a person who’s blind and skydiving)–YET

BEING A VICTIM IS:

  1. Using your disability to manipulate others, capitalize on sevices or modifications you don’t need, or get pity
  2. Staying in a mode that says, “My disability makes me unworthy of anything, including significance and a real life”
  3. Bringing up your disability every chance you get and talking incessantly about how awful and unfair it is
  4. Demanding, either vocally or otherwise, that people do things for you that you can do yourself
  5. Allowing yourself to be controlled, railroaded, or bullied because it’s easier to give in than argue, EVEN IF the other person is not actually acting like a bully (this includes letting someone do something you can do, allowing yourself or a person with a disability close to you to be “placed” somewhere you don’t want to be, allowing others to tell you what you can and can’t do when you know better). That other person might honestly think he or she is doing what’s best for you, but that’s when it’s time to be loving, but firm, and say, “No. That’s not your call.”

(Special Note: If the person succumbing to victim mentality in your life is a child, again, they need extra help. Be as patient, loving, and encouraging as possible while helping them shake the mentality. Yelling, shaming, etc. will not do anything, except drive the victim mentality in deeper. Actually, that goes for teenagers and adults, too).

Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?” Jesus is a gentleman. He won’t force what you don’t want. But today, even if you’re not a Christian, consider His question in light of disability issues. “Do you want to get well?” And then be brave enough to say yes.

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