What is the relationship between the victim and the victimizer in ourselves? When we ask what their relationship is in others, our answer tends to be that people often victimize others out of the blue, in order to get something, to control, or to be on top. Yet when we ask about the relationship of victim and victimizer in ourselves, our answer tends to be the opposite: We only adopt the stance of victimizer when we are forced into it through being a victim ourselves. We, in other words, never attack first. We always intend to restrain our hand. But eventually, successive waves of attack on us cause the pressure to build within until, against our best intentions, the steam can be contained no longer and bursts forth from any available pressure valve.
A Course in Miracles has a different story to offer, a story so different that we might find it quite challenging, even disturbing, yet this same difference can ultimately be liberating. I will approach it through a series of four possible versions of the relationship between the victim and the victimizer within ourselves.
Option 1: The victimizer is forced on us by the experience of being the victim
This is the option already described above. This says, “I was made a victim and that justifies me being a victimizer. My past experience of being victimized makes my own victimizing innocent, even righteous. The victimizer stance, therefore, is not my choice. I was forced into it by being victimized by others.” In this account, all causation lies in the hands of those who attack us. Their attack causes us to be a victim, and that same attack then causes us to become a victimizer.
I think most of us suspect, upon reflection, that there is more to the story than this. The Course describes this option as “the face of innocence”:
This aspect never makes the first attack. But every day a hundred little things make small assaults upon its innocence, provoking it to irritation, and at last to open insult and abuse. (T-31.V.3:3-4)
Calling this a “face” of innocence suggests that the innocence is not so genuine; it is just a façade. And this is not that hard to see. Life experience teaches us that victims can feel shockingly entitled to the role of victimizer, to the point where we wonder exactly what is going on here.
Option 2: The victimizer is a voluntary choice
This option weakens the strict causal relationship between victim and victimizer. It says, “True, I was a victim, and that does put pressure on me to victimize in return. But actually becoming a victimizer was my choice. Nothing forced me to make that choice.”
I think this option is not too far from our awareness, and this explains why even while we may believe we are quite justified in righteously retaliating, we still feel inexplicably guilty. Why? We realize we had a choice; we didn’t have to become the very thing we hate.
This is clearly a step in the right direction, yet this is still not the Course’s option.
Option 3: The victim was our own choice; the victimizer is thus without basis
This option says, “I may have seemed like a victim, but I really chose that experience myself, through how I interpreted what was done to me. This fact undermines my entire justification for becoming a victimizer. That stance now has no basis whatsoever.”
While the first two options simply assume that we have in fact been victimized, this one denies that, saying instead that we chose our experience of victimhood. This seems like a big step, yet it simply carries forward the trend already begun in the previous option. Option 2 said that we have a choice in relation to being the victimizer. Wouldn’t it be natural, then, to ask whether we have a choice in relation to being the victim?
This doesn’t refer to a choice to physically place ourselves in harm’s way and refuse to reasonably protect ourselves. Rather, it refers to a choice to mentally interpret what happened in a way that causes hurt to us. The underlying theory is that events do not directly cause feelings in us. They only do so once we interpret those events, once we choose a meaning for them. In the Course’s teachings, the events themselves in reality do not have a hurtful meaning. Only our own interpretation gives them that meaning. If this is so, then can we actually say that we have been victimized? Lesson 31 answer this question for us: “I am not the victim of the world I see.”
This seems to be the Course’s own option and certainly does reflect the Course’s teaching. However, there are a number of important passages in the Course that take this whole issue one final step further.
Just as Option 3 carried forward implications that were already present in Option 2, so Option 4 teases out possibilities already implicit in Option 3. Option 3 said that we chose to experience ourselves as the victim. But it didn’t say why.
To answer that crucial question “why,” we now turn to those Course passages I alluded to above. The first is not from the Course itself, but from personal guidance for Bill Thetford that came in the context of what is now Chapter 3. This guidance dealt with Bill’s belief that his parents had deeply hurt him by seeing him as having little worth. Jesus, as we would expect, says that the perceptions of Bill’s parents did not have direct emotional effect on him. Rather, those perceptions only hurt Bill’s feelings when he elected to accept them for himself.
This raises the crucial question of why Bill would want to do that. Why make their perceptions his own when this can only yield devastating emotional consequences? Jesus draws the natural inference:
There must be some acute problem of his own that would make him so eager to accept their misperception of his own worth.
Obviously. But what is this “acute problem”? Why would Bill be “so eager” to internalize their demeaning perceptions of him? Jesus’ answer is stunning:
This tendency can always be regarded as punitive.
When Jesus says “punitive,” he clearly means that Bill wants to punish his parents. So here we have the victimizer at the heart of-and indeed as the root cause of-the victimizer. Rather than trying to explain this passage more fully here, let’s go on and allow it to be clarified by subsequent passages.
Later, in the same piece of guidance, Jesus makes a very similar point. He is again commenting on Bill’s willingness to yield to his parents’ uncharitable view of him. “There are times,” he says, “when this strange lack of real courtesy appears to be a form of humility.” We probably know what he means, in that it may indeed seem humble to bow to someone’s negative perception of us. Jesus, however, thinks otherwise: “Actually,” he says, “it is never more than simple spite.” Another stunning statement.
In these two statements, we see the victimizer actually conjuring the illusion of being a victim. But why? Why would the tendency to be “punitive” and the emotion of “spite” lead us to take into ourselves someone’s hurtful opinion of us? The answer is clearly stated in this passage from Chapter 16 in the Text:
In looking at the special relationship, it is necessary first to realize that it involves a great amount of pain. Anxiety, despair, guilt and attack all enter into it, broken into by periods in which they seem to be gone. All these must be understood for what they are. Whatever form they take, they are always an attack on the self to make the other guilty. (T-16.V.1:1-4)
There it is. If we internalize another’s loveless picture of us, we produce the illusion that they have hurt us. We have now made them appear guilty of our (self-inflicted) injuries. We have framed them for a crime they did not commit. We have climbed in our neighbors’ car and driven it through the front of our own house, simply to hang the destruction around their necks. We have mounted “an attack on the self to make the other guilty.”
There are other passages that describe this exact same dynamic. But the section that discusses it most fully is “The Picture of Crucifixion” in Chapter 27. In these powerful selections from that section, we can see the exact same dynamic described above, presented in almost stomach-turning vividness:
Whenever you consent to suffer pain, to be deprived, unfairly treated or in need of anything, you but accuse your brother of attack upon God’s Son. You hold a picture of your crucifixion before his eyes, that he may see his sins are writ in Heaven in your blood and death, and go before him, closing off the gate and damning him to hell. (T-27.I.3:1-2)
A sick and suffering you but represents your brother’s guilt; the witness that you send lest he forget the injuries he gave, from which you swear he never will escape. This sick and sorry picture you accept, if only it can serve to punish him. The sick are merciless to everyone, and in contagion do they seek to kill. Death seems an easy price, if they can say, “Behold me, brother, at your hand I die.” (T-27.I.4:3-6)
As you can see, this is the exact same idea that we saw earlier: We hurt ourselves in order to make it appear that our brother has hurt us. This self-inflicted pain is a small price to pay, “if only it can serve to punish him.” Again, it is the “attack on the self to make the other guilty.”
This is the end of our journey-the final option. For this reverses the original account of cause and effect entirely. Option 1 said that my brother forced me to be a victim, which in turn forced me to be a victimizer. Option 2 said that while my brother forced me to be a victim, I made a voluntary choice to be a victimizer. Option 3 said that I chose to be a victim, which made my subsequent choice to be a victimizer completely groundless. Option 4 now says that I chose to be a victim in order to justify my preexisting desire to victimize.
This, as I said, completely turns around the surface picture we all carry (Option 1). There, the victim is the real story; the victimizer is pure effect. The victimizer is not a real part of us, but rather was artificially placed in us when victimhood was thrust upon us. Here in Option 4, however, the victimizer is the whole story, and the victim is what is not actually part of us. The victim is a mere illusion, a mask, a pose, conjured up to further the ends of the victimizer within. It is part of an elaborate con, designed to justify what the victimizer wanted to do all along. There is no victim; there is only the victimizer.
If we are really willing to consider these words, they have to be among the most unsettling that we could ever hear: “There is no victim; there is only the victimizer.” Yet those same words can have a tremendously liberating effect on us. For the role of victimizer is not actually our nature. Instead, it is inherently at odds with the real nature of our minds. According to the Course, our minds are innately loving. They are so loving that it’s not technically accurate to speak of them as merely having love; rather, they are love. And being made of pure, unconditional love, they can justifiably be described as inherently holy.
How can a holy mind accept into itself an impulse to victimize that has no real provocation and therefore no justification whatsoever? How can a mind as holy as the Mind of God accept into itself an impulse to do evil? The answer is: It can’t and it won’t. It can only do so by disguising that impulse, by making its attack seem justified, even righteous. It will only adopt the role of murderer if that murderer can first be knighted, so that its killing is labeled heroic. Only if the attack can be presented to us as innocent and righteous will its presence in us be tolerated. The victimizer within, then, absolutely needs to wear the mask of the victim. Without that mask, we will take one look at the face of evil and instantly decide it has no place in God’s holy temple.
That is the point of this article: to take off the mask so that we are left alone with the face of evil, and can simply say, “I have no use for this. This does not fit.” To heighten this effect, please pick someone you have seen as hurting you, perhaps very deeply, and holding this person in mind, repeat the following exercise to yourself (which is based on lines from the guidance about Bill’s parents, along with the following passages: T-16.V.1:4, T-27.I.3:1, T-27.I.4:6, T-15.VII.3:6, M-17.9:9, W-pII.316.1:2, and W-pI.219.1:5). Try to make each line go in, at least a little bit, before moving on to the next. See if you don’t feel set free from a victimizer who, all along, has been hurting you.
I was never hurt in this relationship, not once.
Instead, there is some acute problem of my own that makes me so eager to accept [name’s] misperceptions of my worth.
This appears to be humility on my part, but actually it is never more than simple spite.
I have attacked myself to make [name] guilty.
I have consented to suffer pain in order to accuse him of attack upon God’s Son.
Death has seemed an easy price if I can say, “Behold me, [name], at your hand I die.”
Ugliness such as this belongs not in my holy mind.
God’s mercy would remove this withering and poisoned thinking from my loving mind.
Let this grim sword be taken from me now,
and leave no shadow on the holy mind my Father loves forever as His Son.