This is not going to be to the post you expect it to be. With a title like ‘the race to victimization,’ you’re probably expecting some sort of politicized rant about how such and such a group of people are claiming to be victimized by something.
Nope. This is a daddy blog, not a politics blog — no matter how much I sometimes wish otherwise. So today, we’re going to talk about the benefits of playing the victim. (Also, this post is pretty short, in part because my computer died and I’m working from my laptop, which sucks to work on.)
We had a meeting with Giovanni’s teachers last Friday, because Giovanni — as I’ve mentioned — is a completely different person at school than he is at home. We talked about a bunch of different options for trying to get his attention and keep him under control, and one of the things I mentioned that works well at home is pouting at him.
The teacher was stunned, and I suddenly found myself saying something that I had been thinking for a while now, but never put into words — something that my struggles with my innate reaction of yelling at my son has taught me. “The thing about getting angry at him,” I said, “Is that it makes him the victim. If you get sad at him, it makes you the victim.”
The power of that simple switch is amazing. My wife has been experimenting lately with addressing my son’s bad moments by hugging him and telling him that he’s OK (based on the theory that his behavior is anxiety-based). I’ve been getting more and more into this whole pouting thing, because of the victimization insight.
Both seem to be working in their own way. But it’s obvious to me that the ‘standard’ response of “NO!” is accomplishing one significant, unintended side effect that I think is remarkably commonplace world-wide: it makes the aggressor look like an ass, and the victim…well, a victim. Everyone, including victims, feels bad for victims (which is why it’s such a popular thing to do).
However, if you pre-empt the kid’s feelings of being victimized by turning yourself into the victim (‘It hurts my feelings when you that.’) they can’t turn it back around. They don’t have the skill set to respond other than to say ‘sorry’ — and once they’ve apologized, if they don’t stop the behavior, it only reinforces the idea that they’re abusing you.
It’s manipulative and devious and insanely effective. Less so against adults, who can and will look at you like you’re nuts and inform you that you’re an idiot if you think you’re the victim here. (Though it does work wonders when you’re talking to customer service.) At least for five-year-olds, when you’re upset by something they’re doing, it pays to remember that ‘upset’ doesn’t have to mean ‘angry.‘ Racing to victimization and getting there before they do is a tool that every parent should have in their toolbox.
Unfortunately, I’ve already taken the anger tool and put it in the back of the toolbox because I over-used it. When everything looks like a nail, you reach the point where you’ve done literally everything a hammer can do, and you have to pick another tool or be useless and frustrated. Now, I just have to be careful not to over-use the victim card or I’ll end up in the same place a year later. At least this time I’m ready for it.