Marks of a pretend victim versus a true victim
Abusers usually portray themselves as victims, as most of our readers as well aware. Are there any distinguishing marks of a pretend victim as opposed to a true victim of domestic abuse?
I began thinking about this because of a comment that one of our readers, Nyssa, made in another post. Here’s what she said:
In my own writings about the abuse I’ve experienced from friends and from ex’s, I go into a lot of detail, get angry, and do a lot of research into such things as abuse and personality disorders. … I don’t normally mention Personality Disorders when talking to most people. But when I write about abusive experiences in memoir, I pour everything in, all the details I can think of, along with trying to figure out what drives a person to act like that, quotes from my research which describe common abusive behaviors, to help others recognize for themselves what is abuse and what is normal.
I have a strong will and don’t just figure I deserved what I got; I get very angry when I get abused. I believe that’s why my abusive ex finally left, because I refused to just accept that I deserved it. But when I speak about being abused, I’m not making it up, I’m not the actual abuser slandering the victim, I’m opening up about what really happened and how it makes me feel. I hope that these comments/blogs are not saying that if you’re angry, if you’ve done a lot of research into personality disorders and do know family history and have good reason to think disorders are at play, that it automatically labels you as the abuser playing the victim. In my case, the anger is part of the detachment/healing process and a natural response to being abused, and learning about Personality Disorders has reassured me that I did not deserve what I got.
I found Nysssa’s comments quite thought provoking. Here are my reflections so far.
When a person says “I’ve been abused, and I’m angry about having been abused!” that is not necessarily a sign that they are falsely playing the victim. Like Nyssa, I believe that anger is part of the detachment/healing process. When a victim gets in touch with their anger and channels it to assist their recovery or to raise community awareness about abuse and so help with prevention, that is a good and healthy sign. It shows the victim is making an excellent recovery, in my opinion.
Perhaps we need to further refine our articulation of the marks of abuserese versus the language of genuine victims. I guess that for me, one way I can distinguish between a perpetrator playing the victim, and a genuine victim recounting their story, is as follows.
A genuine victim initially expresses lots of confusion and self-doubt: “Am I the one at fault?” – “What is going on here?” – “I don’t think my spouse is abusing me.” – “I’ve tried everything I can to improve my marriage, but I must be missing something because nothing I’ve tried seems to work.” – etc.
This bewilderment gradually shifts into “I think that maybe I am being abused.” Sometimes this shift is precipitated by the victim reading a good definition of what constitutes abuse. The information switches on the light-bulb for the victim.
At this stage, many victims do an intensive search to learn more about abuse, trying to understand WHY the abuser behaves the way he/she does. It’s no accident that Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He DO That? asks this very question in its title. Bancroft knew the foremost question in victims’ minds. Sometimes, the research process may lead the survivor to literature about personality disorders, as it did with Nyssa.
As this research quest leads to material that labels the abuse as the problem (rather than blaming the victim), the victim begins to express more anger and outrage. This is a good sign of progress in recovery. Recovery isn’t simply about becoming angry, but when self-blame and shame are dispelled, healthy anger can come to the surface because anger is an appropriate response to injustice. Such healthy anger can then be channeled into social change and advocacy for other victims.
That’s what I’ve observed in the typical language of genuine victims as they move from the fog into recovery and healing.
Now I’ll outline what I see as the typical language of perpetrators who claim to be victims.
They don’t express the initial bewilderment and fog stage while the marriage is intact. They only start to talk about problems in the marriage when their spouse (their victim) institutes separation. Then the wail goes up: “My wife just walked out on me with no notice! I’m devastated!” The guy from Amazon who Jeff quoted in the post that Nyssa was commenting on seemed to fit that type: “My wife read that book and then called it quits on our marriage!”
I submit that the complainant’s supposed shock at the marriage suddenly ending is a mark that the complainant was an abuser. In abusive marriages the suffering (true victim) spouse will have tried over and over to explain his or her unhappiness to their partner in an attempt to improve the marriage. But abusers brush off all these attempts and/or twist them back so as to blame the victim and exonerate themselves.
So if I’m right, distinguishing mark #1 of a false claim is the suddenness of the complaint that is made when the other spouse takes drastic action to try to put a wall up against the abuse:
“My spouse ended our marriage and I had no idea there was anything wrong with it!”
And conversely, distinguishing mark #1 of a true claim is that the genuine victim takes some drastic action of boundary-setting after having expressed fog-like bewilderment over a period of time, and given hints and waved “help” flags signalling that the marriage was in strife. Along with this, the true victim may read things to try to understand why their abuser acts the way he (or she) acts. This research process will not have been limited to so-called Fathers’ Rights Groups sites. It will probably range widely across materials that deal with abuse from various perspectives.
So what is distinguishing mark #2 ?
- It isn’t the sheer fact that the complainant expresses anger. True victims express anger when they are well on the road to recovery. Both real victims and pretend victims can express anger.
- Nor is it the fact that the complainant talks about their partner having a mental health problem. Some victims (such as Nyssa) and counselors talk about abusers having personality disorders like narcissism or sociopathy. And readers here know that many abusers claim their spouse is ‘crazy’ or has a personality disorder (borderline personality disorder is the most common label they seem to slap on their victims).
Are there some other marks by which we can tell the claims of a true victim from the claims of a pretend victim?