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Stages of Victim Development

(Left Behind Spouse Stages)

Adapted from Olga Botcharova's Seven Steps Toward Forgiveness1

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

    Bomb Drop
    Panic & Anxiety
    Denial Throughout
  1. Shock
  2. Bargaining
  3. Hopelessness
  4. Realization of Loss
    Denial Continues
    Becoming a Victim
  5. Suppression: I'm not going to deal with this right now.
  6. Anger
    1. Self-Pity Anger: Why me?
    2. Guilt, Shame, Humiliation
    3. Self-Righteous Anger: blames spouse
    4. I'm Done.
    5. Due to either anger or helplessness, may be fleeting
  7. Justice & Revenge--the need to destroy
    • Fantasies of revenge
    • Occasionally small scale pranks
    Hell hath no fury...
    Becoming the Scorned Woman (Second Inner Circle)
  8. Rewrite Story: define heroes & villains
    • Reinforce Innocence
    • Deny Responsibility
    • Dehumanize Spouse
  9. Justified Aggression
    • Roles Change: Victim to Aggressor

Most betrayed spouses step off the victim cycle during step 5 or 6 and transition to the outer circle towards reconciliation. If they do not, their anger becomes rage; giving credence to the phrase hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Injury--Bomb Drop
There is a numbness; panic yields paralysis as sudden fear overrides emotions and self-help becomes limited. Shock paralyzes; it is a freezing of motion, an inability to move for fear of loss. Denial, though encouraging emotional suppression, allows for basic functioning, slowing the rate of pain absorption. Bomb drop was not an isolated incident, but the beginning of an ongoing traumatic process.

Realization of Loss
Loss overwhelms. It is the fear of bleak unwanted reality settling into one's depths. The future is a wasteland, unknown, feared for what it lacks and for its mysteries. The fear is both for the unknown that lies ahead as well as the previous known future that is no more.

At this point there are two paths: Suppression or Expression of grief and fears. To express is to break away from the cycle of revenge toward reconciliatory healing. Suppression continues toward revenge. It is important to note that one can break free from this cycle at any point and accept grief.

Steps Toward Revenge--Becoming a Victim
Suppression of Grief & Fears

Denial continues to increase throughout the cycle--suppression is impossible without it, cycling from emotional paralysis to manic outbursts. The realities of survival exacerbate this--life continues regardless of personal trauma. Life intrudes, creating the need to stifle grief and emotion for public survival--the mask of the persona. The needs of children, work, finances etc. do not lie dormant. Additional trauma continues through continued injury--MLCer tantrums, threats, legal action...

But there is an irony in stifling grief--deal with life now and grief later. In living and surviving for the well-being of others, you are digging yourself a martyr's grave. Suppression does not eliminate grief; it conceals it away in dark places to fester and multiply like a cancer.

Anger: "Why me?"
Anger and Grief are both valid emotions in need of release. To suppress grief is to intensify anger toward unhealthy rage directed at the betrayer and associates and possibly bystanders. The roots of becoming a victim grow with Why Me?

Justice & Revenge--The Need to Destroy
Rage survives on destruction. There is a misconception among victims that revenge will heal--instead, it yields self-perpetuating rage. Neither Justice nor Revenge will restore to previous conditions. The source of pain lies within each individual, and thus healing also lies within. Failure to heal is inevitable when a person seeks to destroy pain through external means. Revenge yields greater victim-trauma as the victim yields to and subsequently recognizes the Monster Within--she becomes even; this is the unexpected by-product of revenge.

Steps Toward Revenge--The Scorned
Rewrite Story

Stop for a moment. Until this point, I have been showing you the path you as the Betrayed may be taking toward Revenge and Victimhood--I will return to that briefly. Look now toward your MLCer. You have experienced rewritten history--you had a bad marriage; he has been unhappy for five years, ten years, since a year before your wedding; he was coerced into marrying you, but chose to stayed married and seemed happy for 20 years; it is all your fault. Step six is about rewriting history. Look back for a moment and overlay the preceding steps on the journey your MLCer has taken thus far. Step 1 represents the trigger 12-36 months pre-Bomb. He suppressed his grief, and became caught in the cycle leading toward Revenge and Victimhood.

Your trigger point and cycle began later at Bomb Drop. Initially you may have believed his projections of blame. But this is not your fault. You were neither perfect nor were you a Monster--he has demonized you. Since you are not worthy of humanization, hurting you is acceptable--justifiable, and thus he is innocent rather than responsible.

How many of you reading this are (or were) married to Shithead, Nutcase, Peabrain--pick an insult? Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself Have I become even?

Rewriting history is about mythologizing your story to create heroes and villains from fallible humans.

Justified Aggression
The victim justifies aggression, labeling the recipient a demon. She has now become the aggressor--become even. It becomes a dance of interchanging roles.

________________________________________

Forgiveness is a personal journey, a process rather than a cognitive decision--which is merely an initial step in the process. It recognizes the failings of others as a reflection of shared humanity--empathy. It restores harmony and balance if not externally, then internally. It releases control, taking personal responsibility for Self and allowing others to choose or deny Forgiveness on their own. It creates a safe place for repentance and confession without judgment--though these may not happen.

Sources

  1. Botcharova, Olga.: (2001). Implication of Track two Diplomacy. In Helmick, R.G. and Peterson, R.L. (Eds.), Forgiveness and Reconciliation (pp 279-304). Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.
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