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Collision with Reality: What Depth Psychology Can Tell us About Victimhood Culture

When Carl Jung was a 12-year-old schoolboy, he was shoved to the ground by another child, hitting his head on the pavement, and nearly losing consciousness. Instantly, he grasped the opportunities created by this attack.

At the moment I felt the blow, the thought flashed through my mind: “Now you won’t have to go to school anymore.” I was only half unconscious, but I remained lying there a few moments longer than was strictly necessary, chiefly in order to avenge myself on my assailant….

From this point forward, Jung began having fainting spells whenever he returned to class or attempted homework. For six months, he did not attend school. His worried parents consulted doctors, and sent him away to convalesce. Jung described this period as “a picnic.” Beneath the giddiness, however, he sensed something was amiss.

I frittered away my time with loafing, collecting, reading, and playing. But I did not feel any happier for it; I had the obscure feeling that I was fleeing from myself.

Eventually, Jung forgot how his infirmity arose. His invalid status was taken for granted, and he didn’t question it or concern himself with a remedy, until he overheard a conversation that shook him into awareness.

Then one day a friend called on my father. They were sitting in the garden and I hid behind a shrub, for I was possessed of an insatiable curiosity. I heard the visitor saying to my father, “And how is your son?” “Ah, that’s a sad business,” my father replied. “The doctors no longer know what is wrong with him. They think it might be epilepsy. It would be dreadful if he were incurable. I have lost what little I had, and what will become of the boy if he cannot earn his own living?”

I was thunderstruck. This was the collision with reality.

“Why, then, I must get to work!” I thought suddenly.

At that moment, Jung became a “serious child.” He went straight to his father’s study and began working intensely on his Latin grammar.

After ten minutes of this I had the finest of fainting fits. I almost fell off the chair, but after a few minutes, I felt better and went on working. “Devil take it, I’m not going to faint,” I told myself, and persisted on purpose. This time it took about fifteen minutes before the second attack came. That, too, passed like the first. “And now you must really get to work!” I stuck it out, and after an hour came the third attack. Still I did not give up, and worked for another hour, until I had the feeling that I had overcome the attacks. Suddenly I felt better than I had in all the months before. And in fact the attacks did not recur. From that day on I worked over my grammar and other schoolbooks every day. A few weeks later I returned to school, and never suffered another attack, even there. The whole bag of tricks was over and done with! That was when I learned what a neurosis is.1

An awkward and aggressive boy who was not well-liked by classmates or teachers, Jung must have welcomed the opportunity to escape from school. At childhood’s twilight hour, faced with the looming demands of adolescence, Jung withdrew from the world. For a while, his fate hung in the balance, as he drifted towards the possibility of permanent, self-imposed marginalization and infirmity.

In my therapeutic work with mothers of teens and tweens, I am a frequent second-hand witness to children who, seeking to avoid the developmental demands of approaching independence, cling to their frailties in much the same way 12-year-old Jung did. Negotiating such an impasse as a parent can be particularly difficult, as current cultural trends offer unwitting support for young people to claim oppression and illness.

Personal or collective attitudes that create an invitation to victimhood and infirmity can alter what we expect for ourselves. Embracing a status of oppression or affliction can be helpful, as it marshals needed care. However, when held onto too long, it can invite disengagement from life, and an avoidance of one’s fate. Worryingly, it also has negative implications for personal mental health, as it may foster a sense of helplessness.

Locus of Control

Thinking of ourselves as oppressed or infirm may inadvertently cultivate what psychologists call an external locus of control. Locus of control is a psychological concept articulated in the 1950s by Julian Rotter. Those with an internal locus of control experience themselves as able to influence outcomes that affect them. Those with an external locus of control feel that most of what happens to them is beyond their ability to affect.

Though both external and internal loci of control confer advantages and disadvantages, research has shown that having an internal locus of control is associated with less stress and better health, whereas having an external locus of control is correlated with anxiety disorders. Importantly, an internal locus of control appears to be a decisive factor in determining whether one will be psychologically resilient. As a society, therefore, it is in our interest to cultivate an internal locus of control, and indeed, the popular notions of grit and mindset are undergirded by locus of control theory. However, some environments are fostering its opposite.

Victimhood Culture

A mother in my practice recently shared that her child’s seventh grade year began with the teacher having students share their preferred pronouns. Immediately afterwards, this mother’s 12-year-old daughter began identifying as genderfluid and became preoccupied with her new status as a member of an oppressed minority. Though the teacher undoubtedly meant to communicate tolerance and acceptance, she inadvertently created an inducement to victimhood.

Some current cultural trends award increased social status to those perceived as victims. Sociologists have posited that a new moral culture of victimhood is developing on college campuses. In such a culture, being a victim raises one’s standing and confers virtue, in part because it mobilizes protection and support from powerful third parties. The increased status of victimhood may account for the rise in “digital self-harm” that researchers have identified when teens cyber-bully themselves.

Victimhood culture rewards us when we are aggrieved, helpless, and weak. It therefore encourages us to experience ourselves as being at the mercy of external forces beyond our control, which, as we have seen, may have negative consequences for mental well-being.

Embracing Illness

In addition to a moral culture of victimhood, a related tendency encourages us to think of ourselves as unwell. A recent piece entitled “Turning Childhood into a Mental Illness” in Spiked Online notes the trend to medicalize childhood by assigning diagnoses to ordinary distress, which encourages children to perceive themselves as ill:

The relationship between this new narrative of illness and its impact on young people is a dialectical one. The narrative doesn’t only frame the way children are expected to experience everyday problems – it also acts as an invitation to infirmity.

Just as young Carl derived moral and practical gain from his infirmity, in certain subcultures today, having a mental health diagnosis brings with it perceived advantages. On Tumblr, there are communities of those who have diagnosed themselves with dissociative identity disorder. Many Tumblr users proudly list their mental health conditions in their profiles, including anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, and PTSD. Author Angela Nagle has named this Tumblr phenomenon “the cult of suffering, weakness, and vulnerability.” In addition to a moral culture of victimhood, a related tendency encourages us to think of ourselves as unwell.

The tendency towards self-diagnosis on Tumblr mirrors currents in the wider culture as the number of mental health disorders have proliferated. In the late ‘70s, the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual contained roughly two dozen diagnostic categories. The most recent revision to this catalogue of modern maladies lists 265.

A diagnosis carries with it a sense of absolution. It isn’t our fault that we have anxiety or depression. Forces beyond our control have conspired against us. Psychiatric diagnosis has myriad practical benefits. It can contextualize and normalize distress, reduce stigma, and point the way toward intervention and treatment. However, when our diagnosis becomes an important part of who we are, we are encouraged to abdicate responsibility for our plight. We are adrift on life’s turbulent currents, without blame, but also without agency. This fosters a sense of helplessness, which in turn can lead to increased anxiety.

Anxiety

An October 2017 New York Times article entitled “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Extreme Anxiety?” looked at the rising tide of teen anxiety in the United States. Increasing academic pressures, the advent of smart phones, and ubiquitous social media use were explored as potential contributors to increasing teen anxiety, but the article implicated another factor as well – school cultures that enable young people to avoid those things that make them uncomfortable. Special educational 504 plans address student anxieties by allowing kids to leave class early, use special entrances, and seek out safe spaces when they are feeling overwhelmed. A therapist interviewed for the Times article worries that these kinds of “avoidance-based” accommodations only make anxiety worse by sending the message to kids that they are too fragile to handle things that make them uncomfortable.

Essentially, such adaptations to anxiety cultivate an external locus of control, teaching young people that they are not capable of handling challenge, and encouraging them to believe that the world around them ought to be altered to meet their needs. This primes people to expect life to conform to their expectations, and to feel crushed or outraged when it doesn’t. It promotes fragility, as young people wait helplessly to be acted upon.

The Times article profiles a New Jersey high school that has developed a dedicated program to meet the needs of anxious students. It relates an encounter between Paul Critelli, one of the program’s teachers, and a withdrawn, anxious student who claimed he had nothing to do.

Critelli looked at him incredulously. “Dude, you’re failing physics,” Critelli said. “What do you mean you don’t have anything to do?”

“There’s nothing I can do — I’m going to fail,” the student mumbled.

Critelli’s student evidences an extreme external locus of control. He has collapsed utterly into victimhood, to the point that he is not able to imagine a way to advocate for himself or affect the outcome of his grade.

Avoiding Our Fate

If anxiety is our chief malady, avoidance is its coddling nurse, always ready to assure us we need not risk confrontation with that which makes us uncomfortable. When we heed our fear, we stay safe, but we also stay out of life. Jung never forgot about the dangers of avoidance. Some 25 years after his period of school refusal, Jung wrote the following:

Life calls us forth to independence, and anyone who does not heed this call because of childhood laziness or timidity is threatened with neurosis. And once this has broken out, it becomes an increasingly valid reason for running away from life and remaining forever in the morally poisonous atmosphere of infancy.3

I’ve seen the adults that teens who withdraw from the life’s arena become. In my consulting room, they speak of lives unlived, and suffering unredeemed. It isn’t just that the world misses out on their talents and productive capacity. (Though that is no small loss – imagine if 12-year-old Carl hadn’t overhead his father’s conversation that day.) It’s that the story they came into the world to tell doesn’t get told.

The Times piece profiled an appealing teen who, like Jung, struggled with school avoidance. Unlike Jung, however, this teen eventually dropped out of school after failing to overcome her anxiety. According to the Times, she spends most of her days at home alone texting friends, relieved never to have to set foot in a high school again. The issue here isn’t just about kids who can’t get to class. The stakes are higher, and have to do with a life of meaning and purpose on its way to being forfeited.

Jung noted that “a neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”4 His childhood fainting spells served as a substitute for the very legitimate suffering of finding his way into adolescence and facing his fate as a poor clergyman’s son who would need to establish a profession and make a living. The word “suffer” comes from a Latin word meaning to bear, to carry, or to endure. When we suffer our fate rather than avoiding it, we become actors in our own drama. Suffering becomes part of our personal story, that with which we must wrestle. In the words of Rilke, it is a “harsh hand that kneads us,” changing us and leaving us “proud and strengthened,” even in defeat. When, on the other hand, we externalize and medicalize our pain, we run the risk of becoming its hapless victim.

The Hero’s Task

Thousands of years before anyone spoke of an “internal locus of control,” the poets and bards of earlier epochs knew the decisive importance of walking toward one’s fate. The one who did this was known as the hero. Whoever daily confronts uncertainty and fear, no matter how mundane the gesture, is heroic in the psychological sense. “We each have an appointment with ourselves, though most of us never show up for it,” writes Jungian analyst James Hollis. “Showing up, and dealing with whatever must be faced in the chasms of fear and self-doubt, that is the hero’s task.”5

In contrast to the avoidant teens profiled in the Times, consider the words of Marcus Aurelius. During a military campaign against Barbarian invaders, the emperor and stoic philosopher wrote the following lines to himself nearly two thousand years ago:

At first day’s light have in readiness, against disinclination to leave your bed, the thought that, “I am rising for the work of man.” Must I grumble at setting out to do what I was born for, and for the sake of which I have been brought into the world? Is this the purpose of my creation, to lie here under the blankets and keep myself warm?6

Creating a society in which we are encouraged to confront anxiety and face difficult realities matters not just for the mental health of individuals, but also for our collective well-being. In the world that soon awaits us, humankind will desperately need those individuals willing to rise from their beds. The challenges that loom ahead will require us to set aside timidity, weakness, and victimhood and claim instead agency and boldness, no matter how grim the odds.

 

Lisa Marchiano is a clinical social worker and Jungian analyst in private practice in Philadelphia, PA. Her writing on parenting issues can be found at motherhoodtransformation.com. Follow her on Twitter @lisamarchiano

References

1 Jung, C. G., & Jaffe, A. (1989). Memories, dreams, reflections. New York: Vintage Books, pp. 30-32.

3 Jung, C. G. (1970). Symbols of transformation: an analysis of the prelude to a case of schizophrenia. 2nd ed. transl. by R.F.C. hull. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, para. 461.

4 Jung, C. G. (1973). Psychology and religion: west and east. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, para. 129.

5 Hollis, J. (2004). Mythologems: incarnations of the invisible world. Toronto: Inner City Books, p. 62.

6 Antoninus, M. A., & Staniforth, M. (1986). Meditations. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, p. 77.

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78 Comments

  1. “Beneath the his giddiness, however, he sensed something was amiss.” Something is amiss.

  2. burnside says

    “…he didn’t question it or concern himself with a remedy, until he *overhead* a conversation…”

  3. Debbie says

    Passivity and it’s discontents…? Berger comes to mind.

  4. Robert Darby says

    The curious thing is that many these life-avoiding youngsters have grown up reading the Harry Potter stories, which present a world in which children embrace risk and rise to daunting challenges. Hogwarts is the polar opposite of a safe space, with dangerous sports like Quidditch, monsters in the basement, a ferociously demanding academic workload – not to mention Bertie Bots Every Flavour Beans – ” a risk in every mouthful”. And then there are the resourceful, proactive children in Pullman’s Dark Materials – the brilliant tactician Lyra and young Will, whose name represents his tenacious nature. So why have these figures not become the role models for today’s youngsters?

    • Excellent points. Jung called this compensation. The psyche is self-regulating, and will be drawn to what it lacks when it is out of balance. This explains the enormous recent popularity of the Marvel superhero movies as well. Collectively, we have become too one-sided in the direction of avoidance, so the compensatory ingredient becomes the focus in popular culture.

      • I mark the beginning of all this to the early 1990s when the Social Security Administration began awarding childhood SSI benefits based on poor performance in school, special eduction individual education plans (IEPs) and solemn assurances from counselors and therapists that the child’s problems met the criteria of one or another of the diagnoses in the ever expanding DSM and was of listing level severity. In Louisiana, the SSI benefits were called “crazy checks” and all the kids wanted them.

        The children were not mentally ill but they were changing schools once or twice a year. They often didn’t enroll until October in the Fall and February in the Winter. Nevertheless, they were often the highest functioning member of their household.

        We now have a full generation that has been raised to expect financial compensation and special consideration based on alleged mental disabilities.

    • Well, as we grew up we could see, rightly, that Rowling’s politics are terrible. I mean, Harry ends up owning a slave, some role model… This thing about ‘victimhood’ is just not true, it’s the older generation not understanding.

      • Jonathan says

        What a bizarre and utterly wrong comment about Harry Potter owning a slave. Meanwhile, this article is excellent.

        The world is full of victims now whereas when I was a kid there were way fewer. Not everyone is playing a victim because they are encouraged by society, some today are the same as those when we were kids: they have real issues and need real help. It’s the ones that wouldn’t have become victims 40 years ago, when I was 13, that we need to save from themselves now.

      • Marcus says

        You are dead wrong, dude! The older generation understands very well. We had to battle the same monsters you do, everyone had, has, and will have for all eternity – this is the real life! It is the abysmal, impotent reaction of your generation to life’s challenges that is so profoundly sad. Wake up, get up, stop feeling sorry for yourself, get off all those medications you may be on, stop pitying yourself, stop feeling “offended” at everything others say about you, accept and face your responsibilities and get to work! In a word – GROW-UP!

      • Francis says

        Agree Leo to the point as I read this piece it reminded me also of the elders who have concluded they cannot do this, that or something else because their doctor or someone said they “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” etc. so they are confined to others who are paid to wait on them in facilities where they then become overly medicated and confined in attempts to “control” their behavior and on and on it goes with some being paid to do what???? but to provide a continuing a perpetual state of doing nothing – – actually praying and having faith in God to give us meaningful activity would be the “best medicine” I’ve lately been viewing some YouTubes of Father Larry Richards who often says of his conversations with young students in his charge when offering their “reasons” for this or that behavior or lack of self discipline etc., his response is “get over it” and “move on”!

    • namtrah says

      On one hand i think it’s the same as with people fleeing into books, series and movies with stories and how it can deliver emotio which is a surrogate for creating our own stories. It is without obstacles and reality and we risk none. That way we ‘experience’ travelling, stories and adventures while laying on a couch..

      And for the ‘self-esteem’ and feeling victorious, many put aside the real tasks and challenges, and instead play computergames to get an instant (but meaningless) ‘forfillment and sense of achievement.
      This i see as a huge co-creator of the lack of selfworth, drive and resilience.

      Its the fake substitutes for this that help them to never need to be heroic in real life, because you can simply escape to the digital one.
      Same for social life and social status.

    • You do realize that’s fantasy? Reality, as mentioned in the headline, is what the problem is.

    • George Theodoridis says

      Because fiction is a substitute for that which we do not expeeience and that which we dare not experience. Living it would make reading about it uninteresting.

    • “many these life-avoiding youngsters have grown up reading the Harry Potter stories, which present a world in which children embrace risk and rise to daunting challenges. Hogwarts is the polar opposite of a safe space,”
      I too have noticed this.

  5. “The challenges that loom ahead will require us to set aside timidity, weakness, and victimhood and claim instead agency and boldness, no matter how grim the odds.“

    So perfectly said . Thank you.

  6. defmn says

    //Creating a society in which we are encouraged to confront anxiety and face difficult realities matters not just for the mental health of individuals, but also for our collective well-being.//

    We had such a society. I believe it is derisively referred to these days as ‘the patriarchy’.

    And there is no doubt that this is the role many men understood to be theirs within the family – ensuring that the sons were strong enough to march forward regardless of whatever misfortunes life might throw at them.

    I will leave it to others to reflect upon how this view of fatherhood became anachronistic and what replaced it.

    • Cranky says

      I agree. I am raising my son to be a man. A real man. Not a bully but a caring strong person who can fight and stick up for his beliefs. We live in Asia now and I’ve thought about moving back to the west for his education, but this new-age leftism and anti-man feminism is destroying boys in the west. I only hope for a quick death to all this nonsense.

      • may I throw in Kipling’s “If”?
        This decribes a real man.

        • Lori Johnson says

          Just encountered that Kipling piece this week, and read it to my husband. We were both encouraged.

      • Patrick says

        …this new-age leftism and anti-man feminism is destroying boys in the west…

        Meahwhile, China is hiring more men as elementary-school teachers, and teaching boys to, “protect women, do your duty, and fight for what’s right”.

        • Lori Johnson says

          Patrick, that may have more to do with the consequences of China’s “one child” policy than anything else.

          • I don’t believe it was a societal accident that the Chinese preferred the boys who could go on to be useful in the military and to the do the hard and necessary work that causes most deaths.

            It was a choice by their patriarchy to prefer militant men over women who required protection.

            I was doing business in China during the 80s only a decade after it was opened to trade by Nixon.

            More than 95% were peasants. Life was very hard and men stood a better chance of survival, so the limit of one child became a preference for boys.

      • Andrea says

        Why, oh why, to insightful articles such as this the answer is always to go back to traditionalist crap that landed us here on the first place? Can’t we refine or tune our dumb prejudices, at the very least for the sake of originality? Take the advice from the article: deal with it, instead of running back to the comfort of your stupidity. The world has changed. Accept it and deal with it.

        • Andrew says

          The world has changed but people haven’t really. I think the article says that people aren’t really dealing with anything. Maybe something that is broken could at least be replaced with something tangible rather than wind. Should apply to all people.

        • George Theodoridis says

          Agree. I don’t want us to move back to move forward. Would be happy to live in a civil society where women or men don’t need protection from others.

    • Peter Kriens says

      Any stats that this is more necessary for boys than girls?

    • Andrea says

      Seems like you forgot 50% of the population on that little “society” you mention.

  7. It is my hope that every parent reads this article. I’ve known too many who’ve medicalized “quitterdom” and led sad, shortened lives as a consequence. Life in no small part is a world of pain, but winners get past it; whiners depend on happy pills and become parasites.

    Choose life. Run it; don’t let it run you.

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  9. Markus WN says

    A great explication of the “work of man”. There’s a boulder to roll uphill again; get on with it then.

  10. Howard Ellis says

    I get the feeling that a lot of college boys don’t want to grow up to be men. Many of them are seeking emotional counseling and one subset of those have put on skirts and call themselves “zir” and “zim.”

    • Andrea says

      It’s the only way they can feel relevant in a society that doesn’t center them anymore.

  11. Magda says

    The Peter Pan syndrome seems to be the favorite for many, many, men. If our founding fathers had taken the lazy road to manhood, there will not be a United States of America. Parents need to raise boys to be Men and girls to be Women. Men need to stop blaming women for not letting them be Men.

  12. Victor Rivera says

    It’s pretty weird that everyone just COMPLETELY AGREES with this article. Too over-simplistic for me.

    • Yes, I agree — pretty weird. Every child needs emotional nourishment in their own way. I have two children who could not be more different. My daughter (now 18 and attending college) had crippling panic attacks after being bullied by the school nurse in 6th grade. Getting her to attend school became a nightmare. Switching schools didn’t help. Online school became a godsend — she got straight A’s and graduated with honors. Therapy, meds, diet — all helped, and are still a part of her daily routine. Now she’s out in the world and is coping well, making friends, getting good grades, even working.

      My 12yo son, OTOH, is a hardy, stout, social child. Nothing stops this kid. He’s never had a panic attack and he’s part of a ‘friend group’ as he calls it, full of funny boys who are all active and social. My job really is to give him boundaries and support him lovingly, reigning him in when I see he needs it.

      I’m no psychologist, so I certainly don’t presume to say this therapist is wrong. My only comments on the article is that as a parent, we must do what we feel is right for our kids individually. Each human child is complicated and requires loving, individualized attention.

      • I was bullied at school. Never fought back and certainly felt like a victim. My save was that I was intelligent, good at school and I knew that I only had to endure it for some 2 more years. But I was really scared every day and prayed for God to keep me safe every day at school.

        Later I realized that my being a victim was a big part of the problem. I was sending all the signals that I am weak and an easy target. So I decided to not be the victim any more. The mental power you get from that is incredible. Even though I was bullied again doing military service, I never felt weak and helpless again. I just thought about it as unfair. But I never even thought about quitting. I just swam through the river of excrement and came out stronger.

        It really is important to run your own life. I hope your daughter has learned that even though her path has not been as easy as her brother’s.

  13. Betamax says

    And what about those of us who are 99th %ile in trait Neuroticism / Negative Emotionality (per the Big Five)? To what standard should we hold ourselves?

    I’ve pushed myself- hard- toward things I believed were part of destiny. I embraced the attendant suffering along the path. Eventually, my unconscious crept up on me and I found myself at the brink of self-destruction. I had to retreat.

    I doubt this advice should be applied universally. Those of us who can easily push ourselves right in to self destruction may need to respect those parts of us which will emerge and destroy us if we do not honor them.

    Also: was Patton right to slap that guy? If not, then where does one draw the line?

    • Betamax says

      also: Is the whole “Highly Sensitive Person” thing a beckoning Oedipal mother? Or is it a compassionate urging to embrace your nature and take care of yourself for goodness’ sake?

  14. The smartphones are in fact prosthetics. They drastically facilitate interaction with the world when there’s no need in it.

    Helplessness and victimhood are the logical results of the situation when there are Not-Going-Away-Helpers between you and the world. And from the very early age.

  15. This is an excellent article. I was surprised, though, that the author didn’t mention the anti-bullying education that children receive in schools as soon as they enter pre-school. They are taught that no one is allowed to do anything to them that they don’t like; that if they are getting picked on repeatedly it has nothing to do with them but is the fault of the bullies; that they are incapable of handling their bullies on their own because the bullies are too powerful; and that they must tell the school authorities when they are bullied so that the authorities can make their bullies leave them alone.

    It is also important to realize that “bullying” today is not what it used to be–extortion of lunch money, beating up kids for the heck of it. Those are criminal behaviors for which perpetrators deserve to be punished. Today bullying refers to all negative behaviors, the ordinary kinds of negative things that kids do in all social groups–insults, rumors, social exclusion, gestures, pushing that doesn’t cause any damage. The anti-bullying education is trying to protect children from ordinary life. It is probably the number one factor in raising our generation of fragile children.

    • Jennifer K. says

      I agree. I think a major cause of the type of anti-bullying education you describe was a reaction to Columbine.

  16. Yep, this is music to my immigrant ears. Not running away from challenge is vital but on the other hand as most folks are not ‘high achievers’ many get dissuaded in a world that mostly values this. Perhaps if ‘mediocre’ wasn’t such such a dirty word avoidance wouldn’t be such an issue. The ‘why’ certainly needs to be explored further including a reassessment of our values to affect positive change.

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  19. Marcus Montalvo says

    This is interesting, I never took crap from no bullies, scared and intimidated I fought back or I got my big brothers, they did the fighting when I couldn’t.

  20. Lisa, you put into words, much of how I feel about intersectionality, depth psychology, and victimhood culture. You strike a proper balance of taking intersectionality seriously, but showing the real dangers its excess poses to mental health and living well.

    As a fan of Joseph Campbell, I can also deeply appreciate your discussion of the hero’s task. It seems we have many shared interests: https://erraticus.co/

    Kudos! And, keep on writing.

  21. “The whole issue was faculty-driven!”

    That was the radio comment made by Michael Campbell, Financial Analyst and host of Money Talks, Dec 23, a Canadian weekly program on investing. Campbell provides financial advice within the larger societal context and had even accorded his Person of the Year, 2017, nomination to Lindsay Shepherd, a Teaching Assistant in Communications, for her stand on free speech in universities. Briefly, she had been brought before a 3-staff committee to answer for contributing to a toxic atmosphere on campus regarding transgender pronouns and had shown a 5 min TV clip of JBPeterson on the topic. The committee maintained that a student (or “many”) had complained. An independent inquiry found that NO students had complained. For the nuances on this issue I refer you to a previous Quillette post by Uri Harris, Dec 9 ’17 — “White Women Tears”—Critical Theory on Lindsay Shepherd — http://quillette.com/2017/12/09/white-women-tears-wilfrid-laurier-critical-theory/

    That’s a long preamble to the point I wish to make. I would like to bring forward that the matter of proliferating victimhood, so well-analyzed here by Lisa Marchiano, could also qualify as being “faculty-driven”. Just how many public universities in North America do NOT prescribe, somewhere in their humanities courses, the text book: Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire?

    What is planted in the universities on a consistent basis does find its way into the larger community!

  22. Jachin says

    Disclaimer: I have never been a fan of Jung.

    I agree with the essay.There is an encouragement of the victim culture from those who are outside of it, and consequently, it is a difficult culture to escape. However, I don’t know if the anecdotal accounts or the quotations from Jung offer strong enough evidence for the point that is being made. Psychoanalysis, as well as most of the field of psychology, does not rely on rigorous proof of its claims. This can be seen in the essay, because it relies on stories instead of statistics. There is nothing wrong with relying on a story to demonstrate the point, but not one statistical category is appealed to anywhere, leaving the reader to wonder: A) is the victimhood culture is the cause or the result of “coddling”? B) how much a psychological handicap can be challenged (i.e. can you ask a person who has down syndrome to learn differential geometry by the time they are 18?) or C) whether it is possible to actually do harm to a child because they are exposed to an environment that is unfriendly to them (i.e. you wouldn’t put your kid in the jungles of Africa unattended, though this is quite a challenge).

    Other than the lack of specific evidence, I enjoyed the paper.

  23. I like this nuanced essay. Yes, there is legitimate suffering that builds resilience – especially in teens. All too often, we rely on medical treatments – e.g., pharmaceuticals dispensed too easily for anxiety and depression – rather than working through difficult experiences and self-destructive false beliefs. This is also in-line with our instant gratification culture.
    It is much easier to be a social justice warrior and to virtue signal your morality as a fight for the oppressed than it is to take the time to introspectively evaluate the origin of your mental health issues and beliefs.
    I think that for many kids, after a period of self-discovery and introspection (and sometimes suffering), that kids can find the motivation to make a positive plan for the future to make the world a better place in the most positive way that they can – not by pointing the finger, but by creating new opportunities and progressing our understanding of the world and of each other.

  24. Frustrated Despondent Parent says

    Brilliant essay Lisa, thank you.
    Yet another well written, concise, intelligent, insightful, relevant piece from Quillette. Three cheers for Claire Lehmann – this young Quillette is fast becoming one of my favourite sources of quality thinking, for many others too I’m sure.
    The issue of teen victimhood and (lack of) resilience is rather pertinent for me, as I’ve come to realise it’s a big part of my son cutting me out of his life aged 15. He’s 19 now, recently moved away to start university. So your essay is very helpful too.
    With hindsight, it’s clear my son had become moody, unhappy, anxious, tricky, uncommunicative for a couple of years before the break. He lived with his mum five minutes up the road, but I got to see him regularly despite his mother’s on-going interference and reluctance to allow me a full role in parenting our son.
    I always feared we’d fail to prepare our children for independence – his older sister had been through a similar phase. For both of them, everyday challenges/set-backs were catastrophised. Despite trying to encourage a resilient ‘pick yourself up and dust yourself down, you live to fight another day’ attitude, we ended up pandering to their sensitivities way too much. We inadvertently propped-up, even encouraged, their sense of victimhood. I say ‘we’, but of course I mean mainly their mum (yes yes yes, I know that sounds typically adversarial and misogynist, but you should meet her!)
    So.
    Your article has most definitely helped me better understand what my son and daughter have been through – how they’ve become the way they are.
    How soon will you publish the second part: how to raise your children to avoid victimhood?
    And part three: how to fix relations with your children who grew up with victimhood, and cut you out of their lives?
    Thanks again Lisa.
    Frustrated Despondent Parent, Brighton UK.

    • Omar M says

      Hi Frustrated Despondent Parent from Brighton (my hometown). I’m very sorry to hear about all the pain you have been going through with your kids and ex. As someone who left Brighton eight years ago, I feel that getting away from that town will be really good for your kids. The atmosphere of Brighton, while great in many ways, is too soft and self-indulgent for good character formation (for the majority). Let them go on their journey, and be a constant presence in their lives as much as possible in the way you feel is best, and just give them time. It took me until my mid-thirties to finally get myself together and stop blaming society/parents/etc for my life not being the way I wanted. I feel that if you manifest your truth as fully you can, and live with integrity, that they will eventually see the light of day as their mother’s unhelpful ‘narrative’ slowly fades away with time, distance, and their own coming of age. Everything is going to be OK!

      • Frustrated Despondent Parent says

        Hey Omar, very kind supportive encouraging words, thank you.
        I share the same view/hope: that time and distance will help my son find his way, and he’ll be back in touch soon – I’ve seen a similar ‘maturing’ in my daughter with whom things are getting much better, positive (involves me having to bite my tongue in the presence of her incoherent identify-politics take on everything – gold star for dad!)
        One aspect I realised long ago, which I’ve heard a number of wise folk reiterate, is that parents simply don’t have as much influence as we’d wish in how our kids turn out.
        So I’m certainly not beating myself up about my situation. In fact I don’t blame myself much at all.
        And, despite my ‘joking’, I don’t blame my ex either … erm … no, I don’t.
        It is what it is.
        I focus on not making things worse.
        I’m pretty sure my son knows I love him dearly.
        And that I’m here, always, for when he’s ready.
        Thanks again Omar.
        And Happy New Year.

  25. Marshall Gill says

    You missed an excellent example of victimhood mentality with Terry Crews. Here is a man who is physically strong enough to pretty much resist any type of unwanted sexual advances. He certainly seems like he would be physically strong enough to endure having his crotch grabbed through his pants. He almost certainly could have knocked out the offender but instead did nothing and now parades his victimhood for the world to see. Talk about neurosis!!

    But you don’t get attention and are not elevated if you stand up for yourself. In much of what passes for “school” today, the person who stands up for themselves are reduced to the level of their aggressors. If you defend yourself you are punished for “fighting”. If you do nothing and are victimized you are held up as heroic.

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  32. Thoroughly enjoyed this article. My son, like many young, wondered what the future would bring.

    As a young boy age four, like his sisters before him, my son was required to choose a hobby each year.

    The only rule was that once selected, he could not quit until the following year at which time he could select something else. Mom and dad would help him through the struggle of practice because drive is sometimes innate, but often learned as a skill.

    He selected a form of karate. Each year, growing in confidence, he chose to again take karate until he earned his junior black belt.

    His favorite saying when he started was “Daddy, practice makes practice”, a mistaken understanding of my reminder that “practice makes perfect”. I never corrected him because he was also correct.

    When he graduated, I asked him what he’d learned, and I’ll have to paraphrase it, but it was basically, “I learned that I can do whatever I want as long as I work hard.”

    That’s not far from what I told him regularly, and still remind him today, “Your success is predicated upon your efforts.”

    He was often wished luck, and told that by luck I meant those things we do to increase opportunities for ourselves.”

    He feels as though the future is his. He realizes that he cannot control events, but how he reacts to them.

    What more can a parent wish for their child?

    I told all three kids the same thing: In life, there is no fairness fairy. When asked to work, never say “that’s not my job”. Pitch in, lead the way if necessary. Go, make your way.

    I think too many politicians on the left push policies that incentivize destructive behavior that increases misery, and they are doing us all, a terrible disservice.

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  36. Justin says

    such an incredibly prescient piece. civilisations pivot on such matters. thank you, Lisa, and Claire for providing a platform that is becoming my intellectual home.

  37. Graham says

    Just an excellent and most insightful article. Is Jung having a renaissance I wonder? It also fits with Jordan Petersen’s ideas on suffering as well.

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