How to Avoid Labeling Yourself—or Letting Others Label You—as a Victim

Gary McClain, PhD, is a faculty member in the School of Health Sciences and therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

Victim. We seem to hear that word a lot lately. “Victim” is often used to describe individuals who are living with challenges that are not of their own choosing, that came about randomly, or were perpetrated upon them by others. Furthermore, victim also implies that other people have to step in and take care of you, because you can’t take care of yourself.

“Victim” is also sometimes used as a derogatory term, to describe people who refuse to take responsibility for themselves and instead look to others to take care of them. We have a very complicated relationship with that word, for sure.

If you’re living with a chronic condition, I suspect that what you have read so far has already pushed a button or two, or brought up some unpleasant memories.

Health and victimhood

My clients often talk to me about their own perceptions of, and experiences with, the word “victim.” Here are a few examples:

“I didn’t ask to live with a chronic condition. It’s the last thing I would have chosen. So while I don’t want to be referred to as a victim, let’s face it, I kind of am.”

“I was just venting with a friend about some issues I was having lately with managing my chronic condition. She said to me, ‘Do you think it’s healthy for you to play the victim role?’ I was so angry and hurt. All I needed was for her to listen, not judge.”

“My wife worries about me, and I appreciate that. But sometimes she does things for me before I have a chance to do them for myself. I have tried to explain to her that when she does that, she makes me feel like I am some kind of victim. And I’m not!”

To me, these comments bring home the complicated feelings that individuals living with chronic conditions have in regard to the victim word.

When I hear the victim word applied directly to someone as a result of a health condition, it is generally referring to a diagnosis of a more catastrophic nature. I guess that’s why, for example, we often hear of someone described as a “cancer victim.”

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