THE LITERATURE OF VICTIMHOOD

Updated: May 24


Nancy Grossman


What if I don't feel like a victim? I've had my traumas--a couple of them substantial--but they are not the impetus of my writing. Camus argued that suffering is a part of life, and any true idea of happiness includes it. No one gets off. Some have more than others, certainly. In the Iliad, Homer describes two jugs the gods pour into our lives. One is a mix of suffering and happiness, the other pure suffering. Who gets which seems arbitrary and sometimes petty. Nevertheless, I claim the right to NOT write about it just as I claim the right to write about it. When I do write about trauma these days I try to make it larger than myself. Just as in life, I can't go around blaming others and not be stuck in an endless hell loop. True compassion means stepping out of the loop and reaching out to others.


I joked with a therapist once that certain kinds of suffering are a "market" in the healing professions. One year this, another that. He laughed. I joked with someone else there are twelve-step groups for people who had a happy childhood--they feel left out because they have no one or nothing to blame.


I remember in the eighties and early nineties how fashionable anger was. People in my area could be seen in coffee shops, on the street, in the doctor's waiting room, reading books with anger in the title. This led to the spontaneous expression of anger at anyone we felt had harmed us. We are now a little wiser about how destructive anger is as a modus operandi.


We grow, we stop blaming, or we stay stuck in a loop which often includes an element of self-hatred.


I think "trigger warnings" are a sign of the times. There is always something to be triggered and teachers are constrained to tip-toe around any subject matter that may offend, or cause someone anxiety. Discussions do not include the idea that we own our triggers and are responsible for the behaviors they may cause. Nor is there any discussion about the problem that life itself is triggering. Or that while we are self-absorbed with our own triggers, other countries are being bombed, are starving, oppressed by dictators, or clobbered with natural disasters that are as arbitrary as those sent by Homer's gods. ALL of this is triggering. If we are not triggered, we have no compassion. Being triggered is a condition of being human, and not something to blame others for.


Am I scoffing at human suffering? Of course not. I have written hundreds of pages about it. I'm just concerned to get it out of "me" and "mine" and take my place in the world shoulder to shoulder with fellow sufferers. When I says "I", I mean you too.


[Excellent article in Atlantic Monthly on some of these issues: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/]


48 views0 comments