Victimhood

 

Morton Deutsch

E.L. Thorndike Professor and Director Emeritus of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Teachers College, Columbia University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003


This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

The other thing I mentioned is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Where you act in such a way that generates a reaction that sustains your initial belief. Another thing I often refer to is unwitting commitments. You get committed to your notion that you're a victim, that the other is treating you unfairly. You develop defenses, you develop attitudes that are difficult to give up because a lot of your subsequent relationship may be based upon those attitudes and roles and views of the other, which you have become invested in. I've had to work individually with some patients who simply had grudges that they felt they could not give up for fear that it would be changing something deeply within them. Including changing something about themselves, like being a victim, that they no longer have to conceive of themselves as a victim. If something happened in the past, that doesn't mean that you have to maintain this orientation. In therapy, a lot of what you have to do with people in these entrenched attitudes and roles is help people face the anxiety of changing. Because changing is to them, something maybe unknown, something that you're not familiar with, not experienced with. And you have to help people acquire a sense of confidence and skill that they can change.

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It was not necessarily the best outcome, but it was an outcome that both could live with, even though it may have given them less income for other purposes. It then enormously dropped the acrimony and enabled them to live together even though there were some basic differences. Here's where being a psychoanalyst and understanding the inner psychic processes that are involved is important, why people make that kind of choice. I mean, the woman had some investment in feeling like a victim because she was not confident whether she would be successful in her career. So if she had a husband who created a lot of obstacles that, in a sense, gave her an excuse against the possibility of failure. A man, who had troubles in intimate relations, having a wife who was somewhat bitter towards him, enabled him to keep his distance, and to feel not like he really had to open himself up, which would have been very difficult for him personally. You had to work with those elements individually so that those would not hinder, even though they were not completely eliminated.