The Pseudoscience of Victim Blaming: The Shift of Control

Step one in the disempowerment of self-empowerment is the removal of external influences. The world is a big, scary place, full of bad people, disease, unfortunate circumstances, and the ever-lingering probability that something awful will happen to you. If pretending this isn’t the case is what a particular pseudoscience requires, then we’re in the business of denial.

People have a variety of different ways of dealing with stress, grief, anxiety and pain, and though we may try to pretend we’re okay with the things that hurt us, to deny that they’re affecting us, or to try and downplay their impacts, much of the way we deal with these things depends on accepting that bad things are happening, have happened or are likely to happen. Part of being human (unfortunately) is understanding that some things are just out of our control, especially when it comes to things that cause us pain. Sure, it’s easy to console yourself by thinking that no one would die unless they wanted to, but as we grow up and learn to deal with the fact that death is a part of life, we can begin to accept that it’s okay to feel screwed up sometimes, and learn to externalize blame that is, well, external.

Through the shift of control, we are taught to internalize all external influences. By putting the individual in the driver’s seat for the universe, cultures of belief such as those promoted by The Secret through it’s magical self-help advice, Spirit Science through its flawed attempt to understand the universe by accepting whatever makes us feel like we’re more important than a blip in time, and Theta Healing through its anti-science sentiment that just a thought can grow back a leg, teach victims that they only have themselves to blame for the way the world has treated them.

That’s a big weight to have on your shoulders, but it makes sense that people would willingly take it upon themselves. People at their lowest can be desperate for help. As a personal aside, I often found myself when I was younger, putting the blame on myself for being bullied for being a bad person, because it didn’t make sense that something so hurtful would happen without good reason. The more desperate someone is, the more they look for solutions. In the same way that someone with a terminal illness might start taking experimental and unproven treatments for their condition in the absence of anything grounded in solid evidence, someone so down that they can’t see a way out might start trying to find other ways of understanding what’s happening to them.

But not only is this putting the blame on the victim, it’s taking advantage of those at their most vulnerable. By selling ideas through books, bogus treatments or even simply bad advice, this is trading ‘it gets better’ for ‘it would be better if you wanted it to be, and I can help you want that’. Although that might sound like help, it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It ignores the external issues that bring people into dark places. Instead of raising issues of bullying and abuse, and it tells people that they shouldn’t have let themselves be abused. And in the cases where this works, the credit should not be given to the peddlers of the victim blaming, but to the victims themselves, who despite being scrutinized for being broken by factors out of their control, managed to regain control of their lives through their own means, whether they gave themselves credit for that or not.

[image from Surly Amy at Skepchick]

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Cat Strickson

Cat Strickson

Cat, or Elly, or Eddy, or whatever name they're going by these days, is a British palaeontologist and fantasy author. It's a pretty awesome skill set, but it doesn't pay much right now. They enjoy science, history, vidyagames and all things SFF.

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