I don’t have much time for reading in this season of my life. I’m a full time professor for a doctoral psychology training program. I have a wife and three kiddos that I spend time with any chance I get. I enjoy seeing clients and supervising pre-licensed clinicians one evening a week. All told, there’s not a lot of wiggle room in my schedule. So I don’t read books. I listen (grateful shout out to my library apps: Libby and Hoopla!).
“12 Rules for Life”
During my commute a couple weeks ago I was listening to a book by a Canadian psychologist and professor named Jordan Peterson called 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Dr. Peterson is considered a bit of a controversial figure by many. He has been involved in some political mix ups in recent years, but that’s not what I’m interested in writing about. While I know that many folks out there disagree with some of his political stances, theories about society, etc., I have to admire that he tends to say exactly what he believes to be true.
In an age where being politically correct at the expense of personal honesty and integrity is commonplace, Dr. Peterson says what he is thinking…backlash be damned. In 12 Rules for Life, Dr. Peterson digs into (among many other issues) the concept of standing up for yourself against bullies. More specifically, he says, “It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully even if that bully is oneself” (p. 59).
Enemies, Foreign and Domestic
This statement reminds me of the “Oath of Enlistment” taken upon joining a branch of the United States armed forces. In this oath, a pledge is made to “…defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This oath is not taken lightly, and much sacrifice is required of them who make it.
Let’s consider Dr. Peterson’s quote in light of the above pledge. To accept victimization from a bully is to, in a way, validate the purpose and message of that bully. To not stand and fight is to acknowledge one’s own inferiority or powerlessness. It perpetuates the negative message you tell yourself and the world. Many of us would sooner stand up against a stranger for the mistreatment of a stray dog than we would stand up against an acquaintance for mistreating ourselves. What does that say about us? Are we not more important than dogs? (I know some of you may disagree with me and say “Dogs are people too.” That’s fine and I know you get a lot out of your relationships with your animals. I just would caution you against replacing higher order, mutually challenging human attachment relationships with animal relationships).
Standing Up is Risky!
That said, to stand and fight also involves risk. Not only physical risk, but emotional and social risk as well. What if you lose the fight? What if you end up getting hurt or looking foolish? A thousand things can go wrong. But some things, important things, may go right.
This concept would be a great discussion for another article, but the real thing I want to focus on here is not bullying by an outsider (foreign). I want us to consider self-bullying (domestic). How many times do we hear a message from someone else, some terrible assessment of our character, our identity, perhaps our very existence (“The world would be better off without you!”), only to turn around and internalize that message? How often do we absorb criticism from others and then levy that same criticism against ourselves?
There is nothing “virtuous” about self-hate, self-loathing, and self-pity. They aren’t helpful. They don’t fix your problems, your relationships, or your mood. Sure, they may garner you some attention, but probably not the kind you really want. Being self-deprecating can be funny. Many a professional comedian has made a living with self-hating jokes. But you’re probably not a professional comedian. And many of them aren’t that happy despite having a socially acceptable outlet for their self-bullying.
All self-victimization will likely bring you is depression and awkward relationships in which your loved ones take pity on you, but do not enjoy your company as much as they could if you were healthier. Staying in a terrible relationship without setting some boundaries and speaking up for your desires and needs does nobody any good. Neither of you grows. At least not in a positive direction.
Both Parties Should Be Strong
Relationships tend to be healthier when all parties involved are strong. But all elements of the relationship need not be equitable at all times for a relationship to remain strong. What matters is that there is an understanding that each party may go through seasons of greater than usual need, and the other picks up the slack. When this season extends beyond what was originally intended, however, the relationship terms may need to be discussed and possibly renegotiated to ensure a greater degree of equality in support of each party, even if that support looks different than it used to.
Exceptions to the Rule
Accommodations may need to be made for serious injuries, illnesses, sudden changes in employment, particularly busy seasons at work, birth of a new child, hospice care for a parent, etc. All of these things, however, should never result in the benefit of one party through victimization of the other. Successful relationships involve mutual decision-making, gratitude, sacrifice, challenge, tension, and growth.
There is no place for self-victimization in a healthy relationship. If you find yourself in this place in a relationship, it’s time to have some hard conversations with yourself, your friends, your partner, your parents, your boss, and maybe a therapist.
Take stock. Assess whether in each of your relationships you are valued appropriately. Ensure that anywhere you are not appropriately valued and treated that you are not playing a role in your own mistreatment. To the degree that you are, it’s time to do something different.
Will YOU Stand Up For YOU?
I can’t tell you exactly what your next step is because I don’t know your exact situation, the social, physical, and legal risks involved, etc. What I can tell you is that while depression sometimes resolves on its own, failing relationships and self-victimization seldom do. For something to be different, somebody needs to do something different. Maybe that someone is you! What or who is your next step?
Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 949-478-0665 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.
Mirror photo credit: Min An