Transactional analysis distinguishes real victims from those who adopt the role in bad faith, ignoring their own capacities to improve their situation.Among the predictable interpersonal “games” psychiatrist Eric Berne identified as common among by victim-players are “Look How Hard I’ve Tried” and “Wooden Leg”.
R. D. Laing considered that “it will be difficult in practice to determine whether or to what extent a relationship is collusive” – when “the one person is predominantly the passive ‘victim'”, and when they are merely playing the victim. The problem is intensified once a pattern of victimization has been internalised, perhaps in the form of a double bind.
Object relations theory has explored the way possession by a false self can create a permanent sense of victimisation – a sense of always being in the hands of an external fate.
To break the hold of the negative complex, and to escape the passivity of victimhood, requires taking responsibility for one’s own desires and long-term actions.
Some people who take on the role of victim might seem to enjoy blaming others for problems they cause, lashing out and making others feel guilty, or manipulating others for sympathy and attention. But, Botnick suggests, toxic behavior like this may be more often associated with narcissistic personality disorder.
Manipulators often play the victim role (“woe is me”) by portraying themselves as victims of circumstances or someone else’s behavior in order to gain pity or sympathy or to evoke compassion and thereby get something from someone. Caring and conscientious people cannot stand to see anyone suffering, and the manipulator often finds it easy and rewarding to play on sympathy to get cooperation.
While portraying oneself as a victim can be highly successful in obtaining goals over the short-term, this method tends to be less successful over time:Victims’ talent for high drama draws people to them like moths to a flame. Their permanent dire state brings out the altruistic motives in others. It is difficult to ignore constant cries for help. In most instances, however, the help given is of short duration. And like moths in a flame, helpers quickly get burned; nothing seems to work to alleviate the victims’ miserable situation; there is no movement for the better. Any efforts rescuers make are ignored, belittled, or met with hostility. No wonder that the rescuers become increasingly frustrated — and walk away.
Victim playing by abusers is either:
It is common for abusers to engage in victim playing. This serves two purposes:
- Justification, to themselves, in transactional analysis known as existential validation, as a way of dealing with the cognitive dissonance that results from inconsistencies between the way they treat others and what they believe about themselves.
- Justification to others as a strategy of evading or deflecting harsh judgment or condemnation they may fear from others.
Manipulators often play the victim role (“woe is me”) by portraying themselves as victimsof circumstances or someone else’s behavior in order to gain pity or sympathy or to evoke compassion and thereby get something from someone.