Confirmation of victimhood
The victim’s attitude consolidates the helplessness and the feeling of being at the mercy of others, which often occur in the aftermath of a trauma. Moreover, it lets the ‘victim’ look for someone to blame for his/her own misery. Trapped in the role of the victim, this misery becomes the source of identity and meaning for one’s reactive feelings.
“Those for whom destruction is always and only coming from the outside will never be able to acknowledge, or work with, the ethical demand imposed by nonviolence. That said, violence and nonviolence remain issues, that are at once socio-political and psychic, and the ethical reflection on the debate, therefore, must take place precisely at the threshold of the psychic and social worlds.“1
One of the characteristics of the victim’s attitude is the inability to take responsibility for one’s deeds. Therefore, what Marshall B. Rosenberg calls ‘official language’ also belongs to a form of victim attitude. Statements that were heard from Nazis such as Adolf Eichmann during the Nuremberg Trial, such as: ‘I had no choice’, ‘Orders from above’, ‘I had to do it’, testify to the attempts by high-ranking Nazi officials to assume any responsibility for theirs to evade actions.
“He said, ‘To be honest, it was very easy’. [The language made it easy for him]. He and the other officers spoke this language, and it made them feel that they were not responsible for their actions, they themselves gave this language this name: ‘Official language’.“2
A weakness for the weakness
What makes the transformation of the victim’s attitude even more difficult is that it is widely accepted and confirmed by society. According to the philosopher Robert Pfaller, the neoliberal ‘complaint mentality‘ actively supports the victim’s attitude. However, the real goal is not to care about the welfare of people, but to distract the citizens from the neo-liberal privatization of communal wealth and space. In such a climate, the victim attitude seems to be the most obvious and easiest to understand attitude after an injury.
“Yes, neoliberalism has a weakness for the weakness that complains. In neo-liberalism, those who complain are always right: because they insist on making the public space poorer by one dimension. And because the weak and harassed, as it seems obvious, deserve disproportionate protection, every complaint is responded to promptly and with drastic repressive measures. […] But [the right to complain] is also the only right. Individuals can now claim nothing else in relation to the public sphere.“3
The archetype of the victim
But it is not just since postmodernism that the suffering person has been confirmed in his/her ‘right‘ to feel like a victim.
“Indeed, the victim archetype is deeply rooted in all our lives; […] its influence on our collective consciousness is immense. Since time immemorial, we have been acting out our victimhood in all facets of our lives, convinced that it is a fundamental part of human existence.“4
Not only friends and acquaintances who want to comfort us, and confirm us in our role as victims but also the reporting in the mass media. Merely all news we read, heard, or see seems to unquestionably justify this attitude. Like any other attitude, the victim’s attitude is involved in certain ‘archetypal‘ narratives. These narratives determine our lives like a matrix until we become aware of them and search for new self-explanations.
“We need to be aware that we have unwittingly become ‘injustice collectors’. […] We are unconsciously programmed, to believe that ‘injustice collecting’ is ‘normal’. […] In contrast to this habitual pattern, which is destructive and weakening, the letting go technique frees us from keeping a close account of ‘wrongs’ made against us. Our time and attention are freed up to see the beauty and opportunity around us.“5
Neuroscientists have discovered that the so-called ‘Default Mode Network‘ is responsible for the integration of the experience into memory. It consists of a group of brain regions that are active when doing nothing and daydreaming. Whereas they are deactivated, while actively solving mental tasks.
“The entire construction of knowledge, from simple to complex forms, from non-linguistic imaginative activity to linguistic-literary production, is based on the ability to map what happens in and with our organism […] Telling stories, that is, registering what happens in the form of brain maps, is probably an obsession of the brain. […] Storytelling precedes language because it is a precondition of language.“6
In the daydream state, our brain processes experience into stories. These narratives are woven into the fabric of our identity by layering present and past experiences into each other. They can re-weight the past and thus shift our self-perception.
Linking the threads
“The reference fabric of human affairs [precedes] all individual actions and speech, so that both the revelation of the newcomer through speaking and the new beginning made by action are like threads that are twisted into an already woven pattern and thus change the fabric. […] Once the threads have been spun to the end, they result in clearly recognizable patterns or can be told as a life story. Although stories that can be told are the actual ‘products’ of acting and speaking, […], history lacks the author, as it were. Somebody started it, represented it in action, and suffered it, but nobody conceived it.“7
Even if our past is irrevocably over, and there is no possibility of undoing certain events, our memory (our interpretation of the past) is still alive. It is teeming with stories, perspectives, and concepts that can be changed.
Narrative configuration of memory
“We need to understand story because it is our default mode: it is intrinsic to who we are. Story is what we use to explain our world. Story is what we use to create identity. More than that, increasingly it seems apparent that the story we tell ourselves literally impacts our health.“8
Not only neuroscience has revealed the importance of narration for the constitution of individual and collective memory. For shamanic healers and medicine wo/men from all over the world, storytelling has always been one of their healing practices. The creative adaptation of inappropriate narratives can avoid or heal disturbances in the field of energy between the individuals and the community.
In the induced trance state the healer examines old stories with the disturbed individual and the community. New, more appropriate stories replace narratives that no longer correspond to the individual situation, or manifest as tension or illness. New stories can change interpretations of one’s own past, set new values and thus lead to a perspective of self-empowerment.
Leisure activates the sense of possibilities
The ‘unproductive’ state of daydreaming thus is essential not only for artists but for everyone. For here lies the potential for a transformation of the attitude towards life and thus for a more fulfilled life. From this half-awakened state new, more suitable life visions can emerge.
The diaries of Franz Kafka reveal the importance he attached to this twilight state. He described how, after work, he deliberately went into this state between waking and sleeping for at least one hour every day. Out of this mental twilight, his unmistakable tales rose like the sayings of an oracle. At a time when no time must be lost, this conscious approach to creative leisure is worthy of imitation.
Instrumentalization even of leisure
This does not mean, of course, that there is no daydreaming during times dedicated to productivity. However, it happens with a bad conscience and without appreciation. Unless leisure can be instrumentalized as ‘creative’ brainstorming for a project.
If, on the other hand, we give leisure and daydreaming a space in our lives or, like Kafka, even cultivate it consciously, we may be able to become aware of the moving stories that guide and influence our lives. We could thus ‘dream’ up new ways of living that are less overwhelming.
New stories, new beliefs
What role do these moving stories play in the processing of trauma? How can they help us to heal psychological wounds? Or, on the contrary, how are they deepening our wounds? The expectations implied in the stories are precisely those ‘sensing devices’ with which we are ‘reaching out’ to the people we meet, anticipating, and interpreting them. With our mental attitude, we choose what we encounter ‘fatefully’ and thus determine our further life.
“We always create our own reality according to our convictions. […] Our life is always a reflection of our convictions.“9
Even if we are usually not aware of it, certain attitudes, such as the victim’s attitude, attract certain events. The events resulting from this attitude confirm and cement the attitudes that triggered them. And so we move in a circle.
Tracking the Samskaras
But on the other hand, when we discover our beliefs and expectations, we can readjust the selection filters of our perception. By slowly changing our expectations in this way, we ‘attract’ other events, and can perceive other details of events that no longer confirm our role as victims.
Thus an event can either confirm or, on the contrary, invalidate our role simply by shifting perspective. In this way, the event can radically change its character for us. These differences in attitude also explain why people react very differently in one and the same situation. The same situation can traumatize one person, while another comes away unscathed.
Shifting the vanishing point of vision
If we succeed in changing our perspective more and more often, then gradually the entire reality we encounter changes. However, the shift in perception can change not only our present and future. Even past events can suddenly appear in a different light. This in turn has a decisive effect on our self-perception.
“We take control of our lives by interpreting them differently. This enables us to accept our past and to free ourselves from entanglement with other people. […] It is our perceptions and our interpretations that influence our feelings, not the event itself.”10
Friedrich Nietzsche was the first philosopher in history to recognize the transformative power of narrative for our thinking. With the godless prophet Zarathustra, Nietzsche created a figure, who introduced an ‘unbearable thought‘: the selective thought of the eternal return of the same. The ‘idea of eternal recurrence‘ is closely linked to the overcoming of (European) Nihilism.
“My teaching says: to live in such a way that you must wish to live again is the task – you will anyway!“11
Nihilism wants to make us believe: Suffering and transgressions are proof that life as such is meaningless and worthless. This attitude is to be overcome by the idea of eternal recurrence. But at first, the thought of eternal recurrence has the opposite effect: a completion of nihilism. Since, not only the happy highlights of life return but also all the pettiness, malice, as well as moments of powerlessness and humiliation. Eternal recurrence] is the most extreme form of nihilism: nothingness (the senseless) is eternal!
This is why the idea of eternal return in ‘Zarathustra‘ initially triggers reluctance and weariness. Namely, when he imagines what would return. But this is not the only and last way to think of the eternal return.
“On one side [of the crossroads] it [the thought of the eternal return] says: ‘everything is nothing’, ‘everything is equal’. On the other side: ‘everything returns’, ‘every moment counts’, ‘everything counts’: ‘everything is equal’. Overcoming this smallest gap is the most difficult overcoming in the thought of the eternal return of the same.“12
Here it becomes evident, how the ‘idea of eternal return‘ can overcome Nihilism. When every moment counts, life is upgraded and at the same time, the negative, reactive attitude of victimhood is overcome by an affirmative attitude. This ‘thought of thoughts‘ selects, chooses, eliminates the reactive forces, and, according to Gilles Deleuze in his interpretation of Nietzsche, makes ‘wanting’ ‘an act of creation’.
This view, that every moment counts, that everything is equally important and therefore worthy of attention, corresponds to an affirmation that elevates wo/man above him/herself. The ‘superhuman‘ in Nietzsche’s work stands for a new way of feeling, thinking, and evaluating, for a new sensitivity.
According to Nietzsche, humans are ‘essentially’ reactive, resentful and vindictive. However, s/he becomes ‘superhuman‘ in states in which s/he is affirmative, appreciative, and active. For s/he then overcomes the human condition: ressentiment.
From an active, affirmative point of view, suffering is not an objection to life, but a ‘lure for life‘. Zarathustra, the ‘Teacher of Eternal Return‘, is an advocate of the exaggerated life, which also means suffering:
“Into all abysses, I still carry […] my blessing ‘Yes’.”13
But for Nietzsche, ‘affirmative‘ never means to take on, to bear what already is. The principle of reality is connected with the instinct of self-preservation, which slows down self-exaltation. In Nietzsche’s view, affirmation rather means to make life lighter, to let go, to give birth, to forget, to invent new forms of life, to create.
By dancing, playing, and laughing, Zarathustra celebrates ‘becoming’, ‘chance’, and ‘suffering’. In this respect, the active, affirmative type is a counterweight to the negating Nihilist. The Nihilist is characterized precisely by his/her weakness in appreciating and independently interpreting existence.
“Becoming active consists solely of and in an affirmative will, just as becoming reactive only exists through and in the will to nothing. An activity that does not rise up to the yes-saying powers, that is only subject to the work of the negative, is inevitably doomed to failure.“14
The selective thought of eternal recurrence leads to an affirmation, transforming the reactive forces into active ones and ‘liberating’ us from the passive role of the victim and the fantasies of revenge that accompany this helpless attitude.
The superhuman, affirmative, active state is the goal and purpose of the test by the thought of eternal return. The question in everything the individual wants: ‘Is it so that I want to do it countless times?‘ has a selective effect, gives meaning, creates meaning, and forms new centers of strength.
In the existential-noematic (meaningful) event of the ‘revelation‘ of the eternal return, the affirming individual experiences that s/he had to go through all the ups and downs that determined his/her life in order to reach his/her present uniqueness. That s/he could only become who and how s/he is by realizing new possibilities of her/himself, that nothing was in vain or insignificant, and that everything has a meaning.
Wanting oneself as an accidental moment
“Eternal Return, a necessity that must be wanted: only the one who I am now can want this necessity of my return and the return of all events that have led to what I am now. So the only thing I can do is to want myself again, [...] as a random moment whose randomness itself contains the necessity of the whole sequence. But to want me again as an accidental moment means to renounce to be me once and for all.“15
The uniqueness of the individual (the ‘individual case‘) is higher for Nietzsche than the survival instinct of the genus ‘man‘. The ‘herd instinct‘ tempts the individual to identify with certain roles, to commit him-/herself to a certain identity ‘once and for all‘.
The resistance to which the ‘Satyagrahi‘ is exposed can only be countered by an affirmative, ‘purged‘ will through the test of eternal return. Thus s/he can hold on to the appreciative, affirmative attitude even when s/he is exposed to violent provocations.
“The more non-being [negative tension caused by the other] the living being can carry within itself, the more endangered it is and the more power it has if it is able to defy this danger […]. A life process is all the more powerful, the more non-being it can include in its self-affirmation without being destroyed by it.“16
The power of creativity
Artists can endure a great deal of adversity. This is one of the reasons why, for Nietzsche, the artist is the highest expression of the will to power. For, through his/her creation, the artist ‘puts’ something into being that was not there before.
“Art, in the broadest sense of the word, conceived as the creative, is the basic character of being. Accordingly, art in the narrower sense is that activity in which creation emerges and becomes most transparent, not only as one form of the ‘will to power’ but as the highest. […] The ‘will to power’ is the ground on which all value-setting is to be based in the future: the principle of the new value-setting in relation to the previous one.“17
With the ‘previous‘ value setting is meant Platonism, which sets the value of the supersensible (the Platonic world of ideas) higher than that of the sensual and thus devalues life: Nihilism as a devaluation of the sensual and as a consequence of the living par excellence.
Since the realm of art is always within the sensual, it is considered by Nietzsche (as the ‘will to appear’, to illusion, to deception) the ‘only superior counterforce against all will to negate life.‘
For Nietzsche, the highest art is tragic. In the tragic, the unity of the terrible and the beautiful is aesthetically affirmed. What Nietzsche also calls the ‘heroic‘ consists precisely in the affirmation of the togetherness of these two opposites.
“The tragic knowledge knows that ‘life itself’, […] torment, destruction, suffering, […] is no objection to live. […] The tragedy in Nietzsche’s sense is against resignation. […] [It] has nothing to do with the mere darkening of a self-destructive pessimism, but just as little with the blind stagger of an optimism lost in mere desires.“18
Author: Eva Pudill
Estimated reading time: 14 minutes