A friend brought to my attention a post on a related website asserting that “when we become romantically involved with a sociopath we PARTICIPATE, in one way or another, in our own exploitation.”
I take issue with this idea that we participated in our victimization. I feel it takes a victim-blaming stance, even if the author didn’t intend it.
The author states that we ‘participate’ because we “believe what we want to believe,” such as “everyone is good inside” or “everybody just wants to be loved” or “with love, anything is possible.”
I consider the beliefs mentioned above to be normal. Having had these very common and normal beliefs does not mean you participated in your own exploitation, and this post explains why.
One thing psychopaths take advantage of are our subconscious cognitive biases, which are automatic shortcuts our brains take to make life easier but that in reality have the potential to put us at risk. The beliefs stated above are perfect examples of a cognitive bias we all have, which is called the Assumed Similarity Bias: This mental shortcut leads us to the unconscious assumption that others share the same or similar values, thoughts and beliefs. In other words, we believe that others are just like us — for example, if we are an honest, loving and kind person with a conscience, we believe most everyone else is the same way. We don’t consider (or aren’t even aware) that some people exist who have drastically different values and motivations (now we know that all too well!).
I think the correct description is that the psychopath took advantage of this bias, and we believed what we were manipulated to believe — which is that he or she WAS just like us, and valued the same things we did. After all, if we knew the truth things would have turned out very differently.
The problem isn’t your beliefs or your cognitive biases or your vulnerabilities — the problem is that there are predators who are skilled manipulators.
Those of you who are familiar with this blog know I am all for learning about what happened, learning what we were dealing with, and finding out what we might do to avoid being re-victimized. But I have never conveyed the message that we ‘participated’ in our own exploitation. Why? Because it’s counterproductive. If we believe we were somehow at fault because there was something wrong with our (very normal) beliefs, or for whatever else that was normal but that has now seemingly become some fatal flaw that made us complicit in the victimization, it precludes a real understanding of what happened and why. That’s significant, because this understanding is vital to healing and to protecting us from future victimization.
Our society has absorbed, en masse, some very harmful myths from the ‘new-age’ school of thought. Here are a few of them:
There are no victims.
It happened for a reason.
Nobody can hurt you without your consent.
I wonder why you created this illness (or experience).
There are no accidents.
There are no mistakes.
These myths all have one thing in common: They presume the victim has colluded (participated) in some way in whatever the awful event is in their lives… even if it’s only by virtue of the “law of attraction” or in some other subconscious way.
These myths become so embedded in people’s psyches that they aren’t questioned. And if someone dissents when told “there are no victims,” they stand ready to accuse the unfortunate person of “not accepting responsibility.”
Ironically, they tell us that “accepting responsibility” is the only way to see a situation realistically, so as to avoid it in the future. It’s ironic because in healing from psychopathic abuse, ‘taking responsibility’ is the kiss of death to recovery. It’s exactly what the psychopath wanted — to make the victim believe they were responsible for the psychopath’s deplorable behavior, that they somehow deserved what they got because of their vulnerabilities (emotions, biases, and desires). When a victim does that, it means that he or she is FAR from any real understanding of what actually occurred and why, and therefore remains at risk of further abuse in the future, as well as suffering from ongoing damage to self-worth and confidence, with life-altering consequences.
the action of taking part in something.
Participation implies active involvement. In the case of a person involved with a psychopath, that implies knowledge of what was going on but forging ahead anyway.
But in truth what causes us to become involved is a LACK of knowledge of what is really happening, brought about by ignorance of psychopaths and by their psychological manipulation.
“Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics.”
How can we participate in something we don’t even know is happening? How do we participate in our own exploitation if we are not aware of it?
And why the hell would we?
The blog author also said, “And if we believed in listening to ourselves, we may be more willing to pay attention when our intuition is warning us to get away from someone.”
Intuition? You mean that thing psychopaths are so adept at disarming, just when we need it most?
Mary Ellen O’Toole, PhD, the author of “Dangerous Instincts,” a former senior FBI analyst who now teaches FBI agents and law enforcement about psychopaths, says that they are able to disarm our intuition — and that’s precisely what makes them so dangerous, and so effective.
The view that victims participated in their own exploitation is deeply harmful. It perpetuates ignorance about how predators operate, and it perpetuates shame and victim-blaming. This attitude will do nothing to help someone heal, and everything to continue the abuse long after the perpetrator is gone.
We did not try to turn a frog into a prince, as this author implies — It was the prince who turned into a frog, after all.
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