Who Started It? — Toward a Theory of the Pseudo-victim

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between aggression and self-defense. Especially as a parent of 6-year-old boy-girl twins, I’m constantly having to figure out “who started it”. But this problem is not restricted to the disputes of childish children. Plenty of childish adults also struggle to figure out “who started it”. It would appear that people only hate to be victims until they’ve been accused of acting aggressively. Apparently, being accused of acting aggressively is much, much worse than being known as the victim of someone else’s aggression. It really seems to me that most interpersonal conflicts boil down to a struggle for victim status — a contest for the “prize” of “being the victim”. Few interpersonal conflicts cannot be paraphrased as follows:

A: I am the victim here.

B: No way, I am the victim.

A: Hah! You think so, eh? Well, I say I am the victim because you did Z!

B: Because I did Z? What are you talking about? I only did Z because you did Y. Thus, I am the victim. I am the victim of your unprovoked aggression!

A: Whoa! “Unprovoked”? Are you kidding me? I’m the victim!Β You’re the aggressor! The only reason I did Y was because you had done X! What else was I supposed to do after you did X?

B: But I was entitled to do X! That was my right, because of the way you had so callously done W! If you didn’t want anyone to do X then you never should have done W…etc., so forth, ad infinitum,…

Crazy, right? I never know what to think about this situation. Clearly they can’t both be the victim. Or can they? Hmmm. Now, there’s a thought. But it’s an unusual thought, perhaps worth thinking about. But in the meantime, if we just go with the normal way of understanding these situations, then just one of the pretenders-to-the-title-of-victim can be the real victim. The other pretender is just, well, pretending. He or she is a pseudo-victim — someone who is just trying to look like a victim, no doubt to benefit from the sympathy that the rest of us all tend to feel for real victims; and of course the consequent time, attention and other resources we donate toward helping them. The pseudo-victim is a kind of cheater, or malingerer.


Image Credit: Pixabay


  1. I think both can become the victim in a lot of conflicts. Which is probably why it is repeated by parents, peers etc to not be the aggressor. To not stoop to their level, walk away etc. But in self-defense people can stoop to the same level, two wrongs don’t make a right I do believe that, but the problem is emotions can out way logic a lot. Like you said it can be hard to think about or know who is the aggressor or the victim. Another thing I never thought about was it can be harder to be told you are the aggressor than made the victim.

    Liked by 2 people


    1. Thank you for that thoughtful feedback. Yeah, I didn’t pursue this idea that both can be the victim, but I’m definitely going to mull it over some more. If you end up writing a post about it, please call it to my attention by posting the link here. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 2 people


  2. I enjoyed this a lot! I see this dynamic being played out on Twitter frequently (or rather, I should say that I *saw* it, because that’s one of the reasons I spend hardly any time on Twitter anymore) 😊. Great post! πŸ‘πŸΌπŸ‘πŸΌπŸ’–

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Israel and Palestine come to mind. When Action “A,” which precipitated all the subsequent Actions, was taken generations ago, and possibly cannot even be identified, do we consider both sides to be perpetual victims, or do we take other things into account, such as an imbalance of power?

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Nice point. Thanks for making it. I have often wondered if that would make a good heuristic for confused outsiders. Something like, If you arrive late to a dispute and have no idea who to root for, choose the obvious underdog. It’s just really hard to be both powerful and good. Something like that. πŸ™‚



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