Understanding True Self-Compassion

Understanding True Self-Compassion

“Dear Dr. Hanson,

Can self-compassion be linked to seeing oneself as a victim?”

There is a very useful distinction between two different meanings, or connotations, of the word “victim.”

In the first and simplest sense, a “victim” is just someone, anyone, who has been assaulted, attacked, or otherwise mistreated. Someone walking in a crosswalk with a green light who is struck by a drunk driver is a victim. There is no shame in being a victim. In fact we should honor victims in this sense! When one has been mistreated – when one has been victimized in the simple factual objective sense – for sure it is appropriate to have compassion for oneself much as we would have compassion for anyone else who had been mistreated – who had in fact been victimized – in the same ways. For most people, the accurate recognition of how they’ve been mistreated along with self-compassion leads to adaptive coping and action, not to helpless immobilization.

In the second and actually uncommon sense, in some quarters the word “victim” or related terms such as “victim consciousness” carry the context of a kind of indulgence in or usage of the “victim role” to extract sympathy or other things inappropriately from others, or to sort of “wallow” in inappropriate self-indulgent “poor me, woe is me” forms of helplessness. In this particular sense of the word “victim,” self-compassion might get exploited or co-opted in the service of these kinds of inappropriate behaviors.

Frankly I have rarely seen the mis-use of the sense of being mistreated, victimized, or being a victim described in the second sense. The greater problem I have observed is people who really were victimized being dismissive toward themselves or putting up with others being dismissive of them, including others who are prone to reducing and distorting and dismissing actual mistreatment by waving the “oh shame on you, don’t be such a victim” card.

This blog post comes from a question submitted to Rick Hanson. To see more answers to great questions like this one, please visit our FAQ page.



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