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.
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).