God and Victimization: the shields people don’t want you to take from them

Sadaf
5 min readDec 24, 2023

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If you’ve seen Oh My God (the first one) — there’s a scene where Mithun’s character says that “agar tum logon se unka bhagwan cheenoge, toh woh tumhe apna bhagwan bana lenge” — If you take away people’s God/religion, they’ll make a God out of you. This speaks to the dire need we have for a shield from perhaps our darkness and emptiness that religion provides. Unlike other characters on the religion side in the movie, Mithun’s character has no illusions about what he’s doing. He is not under a spell of righteousness or self-justification. He is clear that he is doing what he does for money, to feel grand and to have fun. While OMG was needed in its own way, its characters did not have this kind of nuance.

I have also been thinking with the events unfolding in India, Palestine and other parts of the world and also of course, the mini-versions of that which unfold in the clinic — there’s another psychological shield we use which is as strong as that of religion/god, and that is of victimization.

What I mean by victimization is not the real process where one is hurt/disaplaced/abused — like is happening with the people of Manipur and Gaza right now, but the psychological process that takes place after the real events, or perhaps generations later. It is actually a result of whether or not the real victimization got a chance to be processed, grieved and worked through or not. Because if not, it crystallizes like an old cake going crusty and creates some hardened structures that are hard to work around.

The biggest implication of this is of course, what we do to others from our “justified” place as victims, what majority communities in India and Pakistan do to the minorities or how justified Israel feels in what it is doing. Our 100% belief in the idea that we were wronged gives us a strange sort of power and makes us feel above acts of reflection and sympathy and makes us see others as lesser than us, those who have harmed us or “could” harm us in some vague future and anything and everything done to ward that off feels justified.

Freud had said in one of his important papers on defenses is that they’re very needed but also that they run out of use and cannot be used forever. Therefore, there’s a time for justified anger/revenge/protection and once that time is over, you need to do other things with your hurt in order to not pass it on in a game of intergenerational ping pong. For example, men who don’t work through the victimization they had at the hands of their fathers and patriarchy in general oppress their wives and if the wives don’t work through what they’ve been put through, it comes out on the kids in the form of guilt, control and punishment.

Victimization as a hardened, justified shield also has other implications — it can make us perpetuate painful patterns in our thoughts, feelings and relationships — all the while asking the rhetorical question “why is this happening to me?” without seeking an actual answer by taking a cold, hard look at what we are doing.

One of the ways we could be stuck could be — finding people who will dominate us/hurt us, submitting to them out of older fears and alternatively hating them for doing this to us, but when asked to take action to be have differently, hiding behind victimization and saying, “I am already suffering, don’t ask of more from me”. But the action in this case, can actually help reduce the suffering and end the victimization. Besides, the desire to change doesn’t arise when one is completely dependent on the problems in the context and when we know the only way to cope is to comply. Its when we know something else is possible — but will change us — is when we feel the push and pull.

This begs the question — do we hold on to victimization only because it gives us power/superiority/relief from having to change? In his lecture series, “Opening the closed heart” for the Fay Series, in the 3rd lecture, Donald Kalsched talks about how revenge seeking can become an addiction and has neurobiological bases.

The reason why this is so confusing is that there is always some truth in it, some real history, which is what keeps us hooked. But the way we start to relate to that history over time does not leave space for other responses apart from licking the wounds, revenge seeking and staying in a self-made shell.

So yes, while that is a big motivation because power is a food we love and the brain would work away from change rather than towards it, I feel the bigger issue is of self-concept.

Long term victimization makes us forget who we are — and to see it on the horizon, that we could be someone other than our wounds and what others have done to us — is both scary and liberating. As existential psychologists would say, freedom is perhaps more scary than liberating. Because it comes with responsibility. This time around our choices are just ours then. No one to blame — we need to feel fully human including the full gamut of guilt/shame and bad feelings without any hooks to hang the coats on, hooks called “she/he/they made me do it”.

But the good news is, leaning into the fear actually helps us know it better over time. The more we sit with it, the more we realise its like the initial few minutes of entering a cold water body where it feels like “I NEED TO BE OUT RIGHT NOW!” but when you persist anyway, you find that there’s an enjoyment in the coldness of the water, you actually can move in the water and you also can get out any time you want, should it get tiring.

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Sadaf

Love psychology, economics, art, music, books, poetry, blogs, cooking and select sports.A jack of all trades, perhaps master of none. Psychologist.