Blaming the Victim, Ignoring the System

I just finished reading the Book of Job. One thing that struck me was howJob’s “friends” insisted that he must have done something terrible to justify his suffering. Thousands of years later, their rationale for the presence of suffering is still alive and well. The Book of Job might be one of the first recorded episodes of blaming the victim, and we certainly haven’t seen the last.

Although the word “victim” is problematic, for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use it to refer to one who has been wronged or hurt by circumstances outside or much greater than his or her control. I don’t like blaming the victim, but I understand it. We’re all afraid that something terrible will happen to us, and we all want to believe that as long as we behave a certain way, we’ll avoid misfortune or pain. As a child, I had first-hand experience of how victim-blaming deepens an existing wound when the principal of my school blamed me for the bullying I endured for a year. As an adult, I’ve finally forgiven him because I now understand how much easier it is to blame one child than to take on an entire oppressive system.

Those of us who attempt to take on the oppressive facets of Catholicism have probably all encountered a variation of the following beliefs:

  • You just want the rules to change so you can feel OK about your sins / nonconformity.
  • You don’t really understand Catholicism.
  • You aren’t really Catholic.
  • You’ve been tainted by the “ways of the world.”
  • You have an inability to see “the truth.”

In other words, you hurt within the Church because you’re doing or thinking something wrong. Change the way you think, and you’ll stop hurting. Stop calling oppression by its name, and it will stop happening to you.

But history has shown us that the opposite is true. When we remain silent, oppression both continues and grows. And when someone else suffers from spiritual or physical violence, rather than exacting judgment, we must devote ourselves to healing the hurt. We must devote ourselves to love of one another and of God.  And sometimes, love means challenging something much bigger than us.


6 thoughts on “Blaming the Victim, Ignoring the System

  1. Lacey, this is spot on. We often want to pin point what the other person did ‘wrong’ so appease ourselves and think we can control whether bad things happen to us too. Its easier for us to keep things in a nice box rather than feel the feelings of fear for the unknown, fear of not being able to control our situation. I gave myself permission awhile back to believe that things are often simply random. I try to let go of that idea that my suffering is punishment somehow or good things are my reward. I know it wouldnt work for everyone but it works for me.

  2. I definitely hear how believing things are often “random” can be beneficial for your sanity! When I was younger, every time I did something “bad,” (even if it was just thinking an unkind thought!) I felt certain that something bad would happen to me as punishment. On the flip side, I thought that things would go smoothly if I just went to church enough, was selfless, etc. Of course, I was able to find lots of situations that fit my worldview at the time, but it wasn’t a very healthy worldview; it had me obsessing way too much over my own actions (which is really a self-centered way to live) and caused so much unnecessary anxiety. Now, I know there certainly ARE outcomes that are tied to behavior; if I don’t pay my rent for two months, I will face the possibility of eviction, and if I eat healthy, my body is likely to feel better. But there are so many other things that we have NO control over, and I’m better at accepting that now. I’m not sure whether I believe it’s all random, but sometimes trying to hard to make sense of it can lead me right back to square one!

  3. When I came across the idea that everything is random, it was just so helpful to me that now I am reluctant to admit when something seems to be ‘meant to be’.

    • Sometimes for me, believing things are “meant to be” is the only way to give me the kick in the pants I need to make a decision! I think that, in the big picture of our lives, there’s probably a little of everything — fated moments, random chance, and results we brought on ourselves. Perhaps whenever we get too attached to one particular explanation or worldview is when we risk seeing the world with blinders on.

  4. Sometimes bad things just happen and it is up to us to deal with it in a positive way. Keeping ourselves stuck in victim mode doesn’t do anyone any good. Remember, God will ensure ALL things turn out for the good for those who love Him, but we have to allow Him to do His work in us for that good to come. Coal goes through a tremendous amount of bad things before it becomes a diamond. We also must embrace hardships and bad things in our lives as opportunities to grow spiritually and emotionally and be transformed into diamonds.

    Personally, I am not inspired to look within myself, make changes and grow when things are going great. When my addicted husband has a relapse or my teen acts out and I sink into depression once again – it is there that I learn how to dig myself out once again. I have the choice to allow each episode make me weaker or stronger.

    Since I started choosing to take my bad things and use them as tools to build myself up, I have learned that I have more control over these bad things than I thought. I’ve learned that I teach people how to treat me and I am strong enough to stand up and say ENOUGH. I can’t manipulate them into the exact person I want them to be, but I can stop allowing them to manipulate me.

    So no, we should not blame the victims for the bad things that happen to them. However, as victims we should stop crawling on our bellies waiting for the next kick in the gut. We should take control of our lives and stop allowing ourselves to be victims.

  5. I always say I don’t think the bad thing happened for a reason but I believe that God will do something with it! In other words, I don’t think God caused the “bad” thing to happen but because God is a God of resurrection, God will work with me to do something with the situation. A make lemonade kind of idea I guess. A little Pollyanna of me I suppose!

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