The Struggle To Be Both Victim and Perpetrator

By Paul Dunion | January 1, 2020

Is it an intractable rigidity, fashioned by fear, that seems to accompany our moral fixations? The heart seems to lose its suppleness and ability to reach toward the unknown when haunted by fear. Once we decide that males are perpetrators and females are victims, there is little hope of introducing a level of healing for both males and females, and less hope that gender reconciliation might be possible.

The cultural mandate is that real men are never victims , except as a casualty of war. Women, especially mothers, are exempt from being identified as perpetrators. Unfortunately, men are often content to be viewed as a cruel perpetrator, as it relieves them from the fear of being seen as a victim. When men are therapeutically exploring their childhoods, they are typically very willing to protect their mothers. They will often describe serious acts of maternal abuse or neglect with a smile, then describing their mothers as simply being moms with uncooperative sons.  When women are condemned to the social imperative of being a perfect mother, they are fine with the son who colludes with their perpetration of abuse or neglect.

When men are limited to being perpetrators of violence, abuse and assault, they cannot bring a much-needed medicine to a boy’s broken heart. These healing potions include the truth about what happened to them as boys, the permission to grieve the losses accompanying some abuse or neglect and the much needed compassion for the boy who endured the pain. Perpetration is typically the misguided acting-out of some wounding. However, if men bring attention to their injuries, their victimization, they run the risk of being viewed by themselves and others as less of a man.

When women are viewed only as victims, they are stripped of opportunity to bring healing to themselves as perpetrators of harm. Most men are raised by women. They were likely the recipient of kindness as well as abuse and/or neglect. This isn’t to suggest that males are not hurt by shaming fathers and unavailable dads. However, dads are not expected to be perfect, while mothers are. It hurts women to attempt to live up to an inhuman expectation.

What of the mother who is physically and emotionally abusive of her son? Is she responsible for that boy’s later mistreatment of females? Or, is the father or uncle who sexually abused the mother as a girl, responsible for the grandson’s nefarious behavior? These questions possibly suggest that we are all perpetrators and victims. If men are allowed to be victims of parental mistreatment, isn’t it more likely that their injuries would not morph into violence directed at women? Could mothers also bring more healing to themselves if they were given more permission to be imperfect, acknowledging how they have harmed their sons, and how the hurt they perpetrated was the result of having been hurt?

We hurt others because we were hurt. Unfortunately, it isn’t until we perpetrate some harm to others that we become conscious of how we have been harmed. It is certainly a time for accountability. But accountability without compassion and healing can simply keep us locked into our separate gender identities as male perpetrators and female victims. We go a long way toward supporting gender reconciliation when men can be victims as well as perpetrators and women can be perpetrators as well as victims.  Maybe then we can calm our moral proclamations about who’s bad and who’s good.

The ”Me Too” movement brought us more truth and more clarity about victims and perpetrators. However, the healing goal is not to bring us more punishment. We need more compassion, more accountability, more honesty about how a perpetrator was victimized and more commitment from perpetrators to address their emotional injuries. Imagine, if a Civil Suit was settled by not only some form of restitution, but also by Court ordered psychotherapy for the perpetrator. And possibly, a Restorative Justice gathering of friends and family of the victim and the perpetrator, with special emphasis upon how the perpetrator came to learn that abusing power is okay and how that psychological pattern is being therapeutically addressed.

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