PTSD, defeat and the victim identity

When I was a med student, I studied animal models for human stress and depression. The best animal model of what a psychopath does to others is that of the rodent resident-intruder paradigm. In this model, males are introduced into the home territory of other males, they experience social defeat and are removed before they are injured. Repeated exposure to this situation produces a defeated animal who is chronically submissive and gives up without a fight whenever he encounters other males. Below is the posture of a defeated mouse.

defeated mouse

Defeated mouse. (Photo copyright Stefan Reber. Used by permission.)

The physiology of this defeated rodent resembles human depression very closely. The defeat state can be reversed with antidepressants. Defeat is associated with elevated stress hormones, immune dysfunction and learned helplessness.

I think it is important to know that the potential to develop the defeat mentality exists within us. In humans this mentality takes on a more sophisticated form. When defeated many people become enveloped by what I call “the victim identity.”

Identity or self concept means how you think about yourself and how you think others perceive you. Identity and self concept always includes some component of how dominant or socially potent we consider ourselves to be. Social status is another related part of the self concept.

An encounter with a sociopath/psychopath often leaves a person defeated in every sphere of life. The status, reputation, career, finances that took a lifetime to build vanish. The victim is left in limbo, not knowing how to put the pieces together.

It is in this limbo that the victim identity develops. A person who used to be financially well off and productive having lost everything now adjusts to that loss by defining him/herself as “victim”. This victim identity is further supported by the constant pain and anxiety the person feels. Why do I hurt? Why have I lost? Why am I defeated? I experience all these things because I am a victim.

The minute I say, “I am a victim.” That word victim becomes part of my self definition. There is a certain comfort in the victim identity. It helps a person explain and cope with their external reality and internal symptoms.

The danger in the victim identity is that it will come to be the totality of a person’s self-definition. Once this happens, the victim stops living, and is like the defeated mouse, assuming the posture at every challenge.

I challenge you today to consider the place your identity as a victim has in terms of your total self-definition. Is the trauma the first thing you think of when you think of yourself? Are you being fair to yourself when you identify with your victim status? Perhaps you have a good deal more living to do than your victim identity will allow?

It is important to be whole. That means the part of you who is/was a victim gets integrated with the other parts. “Victim” has to become just a piece of the puzzle that is you.

I confess that I am aware of my victim identity most in the company I choose to keep. I feel most comfortable relating to other people who understand psychopaths and what they do. If that also describes you realize that is a sign of victim identity. It is important to acknowledge these tendencies and balance them by having friends who are not victims or family members of psychopaths/sociopaths.

It is especially important to spend time with functional families/couples who love and care for each other.

Try never to take pride in your status as a victim or use it as an excuse for dysfunction. If you experience symptoms of PTSD, that is a challenge to overcome not a curse you are condemned to live with.

Ask yourself today if you really want to be like that poor defeated mouse.

For another opinion and further discussion of the victim identity see The Line between Victims and Abusers (although I do not agree with all Dr. Stosny says here).

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164 Comments on "PTSD, defeat and the victim identity"

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Dear Henry,

I am “ashamed of you” throwing your faithful possom killin’ weiner dogs out of bed for some hot sexy santa! What a BEAST you are! I take back all the good things I said about you! LOL ROTFLMAO

Sorry your weather is worse than mine, but actually, now that I think about it, glad it is you and not me.! I had to go to the barn this mornig as son C got a late start and didn’t have time to do animal care before he left for work, so pulled on my rubber “bib over-hauls” I hadn’t worn in a couple of years and realized they fit like a SPANDEX suit! Barely shoehorned by tub of lard butt into them, so guess what my New Year’s resolution is going to be now that I have quit smoking–2010 is the year of the SLIMMER me! Gotta BE! Hey that rhymes!

It is pouring buckets here, but is 53 out today but going to turn below freezing tonight when the cold front passes over you and comes here, so we may get a “wintry mix” tonight but tomorrow is supposed to be 40 in the day time, but with 25-30 MPH winds, so won’t be a day to play outside for sure.

Thank goodness I don’t have to go over the hills and through the woods to the egg donor’s house! Not even in a sleigh!


I am writing an old friend and telling him what has been happening in the last year, and one of those things is the spath. Two lines stand out about her:

‘She is a sociopath. She created a whole life for half a dozen people on two continents ”“ wildly creative and crazy as batshit.’


‘It is like being shot in the head and receiving a brain injury.’

GREAT visual!!!!
The old truck, the peacock hat and the spandex body condom in black with a bucket of feed in her hand and goat chasing around her for the feed…..or the feather!!!!!


MUSIC!!! “I nightmaring of a whiiiiiiiite Chistmas! Just like the ones we usta hav—-with the temps in the min-us and the winds in the doub-ellllll dig-ettttts, with the four-wheeeeel drivers skidddin, all ohhh0ver the roaddddd. and the tree tops fallll’in ann the power lines burning, as the housesss go darkkkk, ”

And guess what IT’S TRUE!!!! I must have beeeen aaah baaaaad girl this year! Every time we get one of them sentimental “white crummuses” that they sing about up north with all them sleigh bells ringing, no body seems to think about the poor farmers trudging out in that nasty mess to try to get hay to his pore critters in the freaking blizzard!


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