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There Are NO VICTIMS In Relationships
Written By: Mark Smith


Healing Toxic Shame Through Recovery
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Managing Abandonment  Issues Through Recovery
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I'm serving meat and taters today - a concept that is the heart and soul of everything that I believe about relationships and marriage. Marital problems don't cause divorces. Even horrible damge can be healed. The thing that causes divorces is when one or both partners settle into a victim mentality...

In our culture, I believe that there exists a very common misperception about individuals who seek help in therapy. Many times they are seen as weak, whining, blame-shifting, ungrateful people who get “relief” from some of their misery by dumping their load of venomous anger about their spouse, parents, children, boss, etc. at their therapist’s office. Actually, it has been my experience that this is how many people do begin their first session. They are hurting, and they believe and feel as if they have been victimized by someone or several someone’s in their adult lives. However, at Family Tree Counseling Associates they soon discover that they are in fact not victims, but rather that their own unhealthy choices, and their inability to set boundaries have caused the very situation that is causing them pain.

This perspective—that we do not believe in victims—strikes at the very heart of our therapeutic philosophy here at Family Tree Counseling Associates. I would like to share with you why we take this stance, and why we believe that this perspective is so vital to anyone who really wants to improve his life.

There is a story that illustrates this concept really well. A man was hiking in the mountains when he came across a frozen snake. The man felt sorry for the snake and he decided to try to save the snake’s life by warming him by a fire. Sure enough, after several minutes, the snake began to thaw out, and he was OK. The snake then crawled over to the man and promptly bit him. Since the snake was poisonous, the man knew that he was going to die. He said, “Mr. Snake, that hardly seems fair. I saved your life and now you have killed me.” Then the snake said, “Well mister, that is just what snakes do. It is our nature. Why did you pick me up?” Like the hiker, it is our decisions to invite or to allow the unhealthy and unsafe behaviors of others into our lives that result in our feelings of victimization.

We believe that for many people, no doubt, most of us, that there was a time when we were truly victimized—in childhood. Children are so innocent and so powerless. If they are subjected to abuse or neglect, they cannot help but grow up and carry those wounds into their adult relationships. And by abuse and neglect I don’t necessarily mean alcoholism or sexual abuse, or parental abandonment, as prevalent as those issues are. Most of our work here centers around some of the more subtle forms of parental abuse and neglect: the workaholic, emotionally unavailable father; the emotionally needy, overly controlling mother; the rigid, shaming, authoritarian addictively religious family; or the passive, materialistic parents who were unable to set effective disciplinarian boundaries for their children, etc.

Our focus is on healing these childhood wounds. For most people that process begins when the protective psychological walls that they have built in order to better survive the pain of their childhood are broken down by some painful situation in an adult relationship. Many times that is the point at which they seek therapy.

That brings us to a very important point. Psychological healing is not unlike physical healing. When you cut your finger, nature begins its healing work immediately by sending white blood cells to the scene. Nature is also constantly at work to help us heal our unresolved psychological issues. To help us unearth unhealed wounds from our childhood, we unconsciously are attracted to and choose to bring into our lives, individuals who have many of the very same unhealthy qualities that our parents did. Think about it. We seek them out in order to help us to finish our emotional business from childhood.

So, an overly controlling, raging spouse can be seen as a therapeutic growth opportunity rather than as “the bad guy” by someone who grew up in an authoritarian, angry home. The way we re-create our childhood issues in our adult relationships is almost like “Déjà vu”—feeling like I’ve already done this once before. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “déjà vu” as “already seen,” and as “something overly or unpleasantly familiar.” That is exactly what we discover when we put the pieces of an individual’s family history together as we study their family trees during assessment.

It is almost spooky, how many issues get repeated from one generation to the next. In explaining this somewhat irrational phenomenon, Hemfelt, Minirith and Meier wrote that “We all possess a primal need to recreate the familiar, the original family situation, even if the familiar, the situation, is destructive and painful.” Recovery is about finishing our business with previous generations, so that their influences deep within us do not continue to haunt us by causing unhealthy, addictive relationships and behavior in our adult lives.

This process of realization, of discovering the true roots of their problems, of experiencing deep and powerful insights into themselves and their families of origin is basically making an ideological shift from seeing oneself as a victim, and moving to a position of self-responsibility and recovery. I tell my clients that if I am feeling victimized I go stand in front of a mirror and ask myself what I did or didn’t do that allowed this situation to occur. This awareness is life changing. Suddenly, I am in control and no one has the power to victimize me. Victims do sound whiny. They tend to want to ventilate their hurt and anger at or on third parties as a way of “getting things off their chests.” Many times they come across as persecuting and bitter.

It isn’t clients in recovery therapy who sound and act like victims. They don’t ventilate their hurt and anger to third parties. They assertively set boundaries with whoever has the misfortune of attempting to violate them. They don’t sit around and whine and shift the blame. They take the responsibility for their lives with positive, affirming attitudes towards others, and they don’t run from and bury the painful childhood issues which for most people are actually unknowingly dictating their lives. They courageously face themselves and their childhood pain, which results in them gaining healthier, more manageable lives.

Far from being victims, during their sessions, these psychologically open individuals have the refreshing innocence of real, precious, healing children as they wipe the tears from their eyes from week to week. They ha
ve the guts to re-experience the childhood pain that is still searing their insides.

They assertively name what happened to them in childhood as they confront (but not attack) their parents. They then work through their pain and anger, they forgive their parents, and then they move on with their lives with much less baggage to dump on their own kids.

Many times, though, new referrals aren’t prepared to face their own issues. Their psychological walls are too thick. They are too shame-based and defensive. And many of them are too locked into positions of victims vs. persecutors, stuck on blaming their spouse/children/bosses, etc., to really look at themselves.

It is sad to sit and watch such individuals engage in mortal combat with the world, as they stay locked in their prison of victimization. Unfortunately, we, or anyone else for that matter, can’t really be of much help with people who aren’t quite ready to give up their roles as victims in order to embrace self-responsibility. Until they understand their own responsibility in making the choices they have made that have directly resulted in their current problems, these unhappy people will drag their bitternesses, their blameshifting, and their victim’s spirit around like a huge anchor—an anchor that slows down their abilities to learn from their mistakes and get on with their lives.

An autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson describes perfectly what I have been trying to share . . .
1) I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost . . . I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

3) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in . . . It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my responsibility.
I get out immediately.

4) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5) I walk down another street.

Recovery and self-responsibility started in the third chapter. I hope that this article will help you to gain insights into yourself as you confront whatever deep holes you have in your sidewalks.

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This article was authored by Family Tree Counseling Associates, a marriage, individual and family counseling center serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana. If you would like to contact us, please fill out a contact us form or call us at 317-844-2442.
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