The idea of victim can have a wide range of interpretations. It is a term widely used in the legal field. However, we are interested in verifying it from the perspective of psychology.
Many people tend to feel sorry for themselves. One way to avoid being confronted is to use the face of a constant victim. Likewise, in various interactions, the role of victim is often played in many everyday situations. In this regard, we develop this topic below.
Conceptualization of the victim construct
The term “victim” comes from the Greek word τàíερá , which defines the “offering for a sacrifice”. In addition, due to its Latin origin, victim, means the animal destined for sacrifice.
It is not known with certainty how the word victim came to Latin. Next to the term appear victus ‘food’ (as well as ‘defeated’ ) and vinctus ‘chained’. The role of the victim is to carry the sins of all , to be sacrificed (from sacrum facere ‘to do something sacred’) in order to free society from its guilt.
According to the Dictionary of Psychology by Umberto Galimberti (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2002) a victim is the individual or group who, without having violated agreed rules, is subjected to harassment, mistreatment and suffering of all kinds, often due to the effect of of that projective mechanism instituted by the scapegoat.
The condition of victim can also be an unjustified experience on the level of reality, or a form of simulation to obtain affection or advantages of some kind. In these cases we speak of victimizing behavior.
Victimology deals with the study of crime victims in the multiple stages of victimization. This discipline derives from criminology and defines the victim as any individual who suffers harm, recognized by another and of which he or she is not always aware. The notion of victim is always linked to the damage caused to a subject by external agents.
For Mendelsohn, the victim is not a person in himself , but the personality of the subject or of the community, insofar as he is affected by the social consequences of his suffering, caused by several factors: physical, psychological, economic, political, social, natural and technical. [See: Mendelsohn, B. (1981), “Victimology and trends in contemporary society”, Llanud Magazine, San José, Costa Rica, year 4, April.]
Consequently, it could be affirmed that the notion of “victim” embraces the following criteria:
- Individual: the victim can be a person as such or a legal person. People or groups of them.
- Subdued: the situation implies the existence of “oppression on someone” that causes their restriction and suffering.
- Damage: every victim is subject to some type of harm.
- Recognized: underlying requirement because the victim needs their distinction as such.
- Another: the statement “I am a victim” is not necessary or sufficient for it to be considered as such, the recognition of the “other” is decisive.
- Not always aware: the notion of victim is not subject to the awareness of being so because it would leave many victims on the sidelines.
- Undifferentiated harmful agent: regularly the damage inflicted is from a person or groups of people to a natural or legal person or vice versa; However, the damage may come from natural agents, such as a hurricane, an earthquake or any other natural cause that is not foreseeable and cannot be attributed to another. In this case, we are talking about the population or people affected.
- In criminology, crimes without a victim are recognized: crimes against the state, legal entities, financial crime, among other forms of crimes. In other words, the concept of victim is broad and diversified.
These lines are dedicated to the concept of victim from Psychology, so the important thing is to highlight the victim as a natural subject, in his individual and collective manifestation.
There are also collective victims
Collective victims include those situations in which the consequences are experienced by large human groups and, therefore, can only be addressed together and not in a personalized way.
The psychological consequences of victimization consist of behavioral disorders , depression, phobia, among other pathologies; what is called “ Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders ”.
However, they do not only appear due to a specific traumatic situation. Also, they can be the consequence of continued stress . For example, communities that are abused by racism or xenophobia. Also, school-age students suffer from bullying.
- Characteristics of the victim and victimization
Victimization occurs at the behavioral level and summarizes the victim’s corollaries. From a psychological perspective, the general consequences of victimization can be described in the following terms:
- The feeling of anguish.
- Permanence for long periods of that anguish.
- The victim suffers a shock that prevents him from reacting in the offending situation.
- The victim feels fear at the moment of the injury, particularly in assault situations.
- Anger appears alongside fear and is greater in cases of assault. Likewise, it can remain long after the traumatic event.
- The initial reactions described above are regularly followed by emotional disturbances, manifested through psychiatric symptoms . It all depends on the circumstances and the type of injury.
As expected, individuals react differently to each situation that poses a danger to their physical integrity. That is, the notion of victim is subjective.
Consequences of the notion of victim
The psychological consequences of victimization not only depend on the different manifestations of individuality and the scenarios (use of weapons, nature of the aggression, exposure time, etc.), but also on the crime perpetrated. The type of aggression is very important for a characterization of victimization.
In the case of a burglary, studies conclude that anger is the first and strongest of emotions , followed by shock, emotional disorders such as confusion and crying, surprise and disbelief plus fear.
Now, those emotions would not have much importance if with the passage of time they lost strength.
However, the consequences in the case of burglary vary: from total indifference to paranoia (although it is not common), through protective and investigative actions, etc.
Over the weeks, the victims can take the necessary actions to find those responsible . On the other hand, they tend to strengthen, as far as possible, the security conditions of their homes. A not inconsiderable percentage state that they are still scared, cautious when entering their home and having started taking anxiolytics. It can also affect people’s physical health.
A very different case when it comes to women who are victims of rape . Victimization extends over time. Studies have classified the disorders into a) behavioral changes; b) interpersonal relationships; c) physical symptoms; and d) emotional responses.
As we can see, the subject of the victim is something doubly subjective. Both on the side of the causes that make a person a victim; as for the consequences. It must be remembered that the study of the notion of victim is included in the parameters of behavioral psychology .
Behavioral changes linked to the victim
Regarding behavioral changes, they do not usually disappear with the passage of time. Immediately after the assault or traumatic event , there is a significant change in the person’s behavior, ranging from severe to moderate and can worsen over the months.
Regarding the affectation of interpersonal relationships , although immediately after the event that causes the victim’s behavior, they would not be greatly affected, after months the person may experience greater difficulty in relating to others.
Physical symptoms remain high, over 50% / 100, after several months. Fear, tension, negative emotions , which are manifested in a very high degree. Unfortunately, they are attitudes and thoughts that are largely preserved over the months.
Other considerations on the subject of victimization
Victimization can result, in cases of profound emotional impact , in suicide. In addition, when the victims of sexual crimes are minors or adolescents, they can become aggressors.
The incidence of cases of sexual crimes by adults who suffered sexual abuse in their childhood stage is high enough to ensure it. The various studies corroborate this in percentages ranging from 22% to 82%. [See: Knopp, FH (1984), Retraining adult sex offenders: Methods and models , Orwel, VT .: Safer Society.]
The foregoing, too, is compared with groups that have suffered constant discrimination. They are usually communities that have deep-rooted victimization. For this reason, they always ask for demands . Likewise, they are usually quite susceptible in acts in which individuals feel minimized.
The victims could eventually receive legal attention that does justice in each case, but the psychological consequences, expressed in alterations in interpersonal relationships, behavioral changes or emotional reactions, are in most cases more decisive, traumatic and prolonged in time than the physical consequences.
The psychological consequences are not a reason for particular attention for judicial decisions.
The aforementioned sequelae constitute the symptoms of post- traumatic stress and, in any case, their redundancy, importance and permanence, as symptoms of victimization, will depend on the type of crime or its cause.
The agents that generate the condition of victim
In the previous section, the natural element was distinguished as part of the factors that cause harm to people. They are non-attributable harmful agents insofar as they are not human in nature (although indirectly the human factor could intervene).
In most cases, they cannot be prevented, but their harmful consequences can be mitigated. Human intervention in natural areas may be a factor responsible for certain natural disasters, such as the intervention of natural tributaries of rivers.
Understanding the catastrophe as an aggressor agent, it is also the motive and potential agent of psycho-trauma in individuals .
The aggression that causes a catastrophe implies important consequences to the extent that the subject experiences an event that escapes their understanding and psycho-emotional tolerance . The person is traumatized by the suffering that it produces.
The catastrophe is a traumatic event that can occur in the life of an individual or society. This, as an aggressor agent, will subject the individual to different reactions that will translate into a cognitive-behavioral process.
The individual, based on their intellectual, physical, psychic, emotional, material and self-protective possibilities , will be able to respond in a more or less adapted way to the catastrophic event. Trauma consists in the inaction of the psyche to the offending agent.
The Psychology of Psychic Trauma
In this sense, in psychology, psychic trauma is the transfer of an impact of an external nature on the psyche, causing psychopathological changes.
The victim could suffer from traumatic neurosis , which is characterized by the repetition of the original traumatic events (Repetition Syndrome), with particular symptoms and psychosomatic disorders.
Victims of major disasters (tsunami, earthquakes, etc.) are subject to this syndrome, due to the overflow of their psychic defenses against uncontrollable stimuli. It is part of post-traumatic stress disorders.
We thus have a field of study that studies the victims from the psychological point of view. Something different from victimology, which as we said before comes from criminology. Psychic trauma allows us to understand the ways in which the mind, emotions and behavior align in a person considered as a victim.
Various ways of studying the phenomenon of the “victim”
When the field of the victim , product of a catastrophe, is approached from the psychological point of view, the nomenclature highlights, as has been said, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders. Basically, these are the indicators that reveal the existence of victimization. If a person does not have these disorders, then they do not fit the profile of a victim.
These disorders are delayed or extended responses to a stressful situation that causes symptoms of psychological distress. But, also, other Psychotraumatic Syndromes have been specified with other clinical manifestations without the presence of structured traumatic neurosis.
In effect, they are syndromes that could include repeat episodes, anxiety and particular phobias , but do not include personality modification. In addition, the subject states that he does not suffer from repetitive episodes, although he does suffer from discomfort extended over time.
Another aspect is the loss of interest in others and things, revealing irritability and self-absorption. A certain tendency to isolation reflects a certain shame on the part of the person to accept their status as a victim. However, this necessarily means that people overcome the circumstance. Many times, it means that there is no disposition to face it.
The psychology and therapeutic treatment of the victim
Psychology plays a fundamental role in the therapeutic treatment of the victims of each of the possible variables by which an individual or a group is subjected to damage (sexual assault, assault, discrimination, catastrophes, etc.) The victim-patient has a repertoire of psychotherapies.
However, the theoretical and methodological tools that facilitate the exact identification and conceptualization of the psychological disorders that the aggressor actors or elements (especially catastrophes) can produce in the victims in the short, medium and long term, in the short, medium and long term, are not yet available. the various socio-cultural contexts.
The existence of traumatic events that negatively affect a large number of people is recognized . Some victims are unable to overcome them. Others, after a strong psychological response, are able to readjust to the context and take care of their most pressing needs. The rest even undertake new renovation projects in the future.
Are there people resistant to being victims?
Stress-resistant people are not immune to victimization and trauma, but are able to cope with ordinary life and rejoin positive experiences. Common traits are emotional control , adequate self-esteem, a rewarding social life, a positive attitude, a balanced life , etc.
On the contrary, vulnerable people are prone to trauma and victimization processes. They are agglutinating and enabling factors: a low level of intelligence, emotional instability, fatalism, exaggerated perception of events, etc.
In general, individuals lack confidence in their own abilities, of a psychological nature, to achieve control of the situation. In the histories of sexual abuse at an early age, emotional fragility is accentuated over time. Also, a family psychiatric history makes psychological trauma more prone.
Finally, we see that there are no 100% decisive factors on this issue. Some people can become victims after an event . Others, faced with the same event, do not become victims. This makes it a variable theme, dependent on the personality of the people.
It remains to say that psychology has recently delved into this subject . We have already said that criminology has been the one that makes the first studies in this regard
Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.