Recently, there have been hyper-focused discussions on whether modern Western society has adopted a “Victim Culture” with everchanging power dynamics where silenced voices are now finding megaphones.
There is a high probability that many of us can say we've gone through an event that has been painful, harmful, and traumatic. Such events can shape our perspectives of the world around us, how we perceive the people in it, and how we see ourselves.
Being a victim of harm or a crime is a reality for many people, yet identifying as a victim is not so universal. A victim is defined as a person harmed, injured, or killed because of a crime, accident, or other event or action. In contrast, victimhood is the state of being a victim as well as identifying as a victim.
Recently, there have been hyper-focused discussions on whether modern Western society has adopted a "Victim Culture." This rhetoric suggests that everyone seems to identify as a victim now and that victimhood is often used as leverage or a power play. This conclusion can be seductive when trying to grapple with everchanging power dynamics in our society, where silenced voices now finding megaphones.
It is critical to be able to distinguish legitimate victimization versus the use of victimhood to avoid self-responsibility and accountability. This becomes problematic when arguments about the rise of victimhood are used to silence the voices of historically marginalized groups.
For business leaders, being able to recognize when someone is using victimhood to disrupt company culture, peace, is becoming increasingly important to maintain a positive company culture and avoid the virus of victimhood to weave into the fabric of the culture.
Using terms like "victim culture" truly misses the mark in getting to the root issues that victimhood can cause because somebody can be a victim of an event and still not identify with victimhood.
Victim mentality is defined as an acquired personality trait in which a person believes that only negative actions from others happen to them, despite contrary evidence of that being a reality, and a key to understanding the negative impact of victimhood is to focus on the lack of evidence that supports the perpetuation of the victim state.
We are exposed to many conflicting messages of victimization and victimhood through social media platforms, which is why it's extremely beneficial to understand "victim signaling," which is defined as a public and intentional expression of one's disadvantages, suffering, and oppression or personal limitations.
There are pros and cons to every type of system. Regarding victimhood, it has been argued that Western democracies are the perfect environments for victim signalers to intentionally use their victimhood to gain benefits usually afforded to victims. These benefits include but are not limited to justice, truth, economic compensation, independence, political representation, and martyrdom, among others.
By being perceived as virtuous, the victim obtains a higher moral standard than the perpetrator. For example, people will most likely feel more sympathy for an elderly woman who was shot while working at a homeless shelter than they will for a man who was shot because he belonged to a gang.
In a second scenario, the concept of Virtuous Victim Signaling would rob him of the sympathy of others because of the implicit and explicit biases of people who participate in gang activity.
Virtuous victim signaling presents a slippery slope of deciphering what is deemed morally favorable for others and therefore deserving of sympathy or other material reprisals. When we label someone as a victim, we typically refer to the classic definition of someone who has been harmed, injured, or killed because of a crime, accident, or another action or event. Where there is a victim, there must be a perpetrator of said harm.
As victimologists Kieran McEvoy and Kirsten McConnachie have pointed out, this simple definition rejects the complexity of scenarios we observe where a victim can also be a perpetrator of the same act or something completely unrelated.
A common argument regarding victimhood is that because Western societies tend to prioritize egalitarian values, differences in outcomes among people or groups are considered illegitimate, leading to increased victimhood.
This argument seems to fit well in a society where victimhood is confused for systemic victimization because there is an undertone of collective fear that many individuals who have never been victimized purposefully identify as victims and deceive others for personal gain.
If you act like a victim, you are likely to be treated as one.
While it can be confusing to discern victim from victimhood from many, especially in a world where many exploit and deceive others utilizing victim signaling, psychologists in Israel have recently coined a behavioral predisposition referred to as Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV) to better understand the attributes of victimhood iteself.
While actual trauma and victimization often have detrimental psychological consequences, research suggests that developing a victimhood mindset can also be dependent on other variables such as context, socialization, and attachment style.
Specifically, the anxious attachment style has been shown to be positively linked with TIV, which is defined as "an enduring feeling that the self is a victim across different kinds of interpersonal relationships."
Initial studies conducted by Gabay and her colleagues established TIV as a consistent and stable trait that involves four dimensions: moral elitism, a lack of empathy, the need for recognition, and rumination.
Victimhood can be highly detrimental to company culture, team dynamics, and productivity by distorting constructs such as individual accountability and integrity. If a co-worker is exhibiting victimhood, addressing it from the beginning is a proactive approach and will prevent deeper-rooted issues in the future.
Studies have shown that job status doesn't significantly influence perceived victimization. In fact, it is often seen across all levels of management within a company. Researchers Aquino and Bradfield found that highly aggressive employees perceived themselves as being victimized more than those who are less aggressive.
If you find that the characteristics above resonate with a current co-worker, there are ways to address and resolve this disturbance in a professional manner.
The following strategies are intended for those in management positions.
It is also important to note that when a co-worker approaches you claiming that something is wrong, you must assume they are right until it is has been demonstrated not to be the case.
As someone in a management role, your job is to enable your team members to perform well in their respective roles. You are not expected to be a therapist, and your strategy must revolve around clear and effective performance management.
“Defeat is a state of mind; No one is ever defeated until defeat has been accepted as a reality.
Victim labeling continues to walk the thin line of subjectivity and personal bias. As we continue to gain more research behind behavioral phenomena like the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood, we can better address the misuse of victimization.
In addition, we must question why certain topics are being publicly discussed and who benefits from discovering explanatory behavioral tendencies like the TIV.
Is there enough evidence to suggest the TIV is causing massive disruptions to our society, and are these disruptions only perceived as negative for groups who currently possess majority power?
Please take a moment to self-reflect on the ways victimhood can show up in your behavior before attempting to discover it in someone else.