Does feeling like a victim make you selfish?

In Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – Vol 97, Issue 5:

Three experiments demonstrated that feeling wronged leads to a sense of entitlement and to selfish behavior. In Experiment 1, participants instructed to recall a time when their lives were unfair were more likely to refuse to help the experimenter with a supplementary task than were participants who recalled a time when they were bored. In Experiment 2, the same manipulation increased intentions to engage in a number of selfish behaviors, and this effect was mediated by self-reported entitlement to obtain positive (and avoid negative) outcomes. In Experiment 3, participants who lost at a computer game for an unfair reason (a glitch in the program) requested a more selfish money allocation for a future task than did participants who lost the game for a fair reason, and this effect was again mediated by entitlement.

(via Eric Barker)

I wonder if this is related to the way some folks love a good lost cause. I know converts to Orthodox Christianity who, though not remotely Greek in ethnicity or culture, feel a sense of victimhood and anger over the loss of Constantinople 500 years ago to the Turks. Oddly enough, they’re often the same people who champion monarchism – be it the return of the Romanov Tsars or carrying a torch for the Stuart kings – and who grumble that the South got a raw deal in the War Between the States, that something was tragically lost when Arthur and the noble Celts were overwhelmed by the barbaric Saxons, and again when the free, Orthodox Saxons were conquered by the evil Catholic Normans under William the Bastard. (Disclaimer: I’m not making this up…)

In fact it makes me wonder if there are not a few people who are Orthodox because it’s obscure; you get the sense of being an insider and you can argue online from a place of serene superiority based on your Vast Patristic Heritage. Just guessing.

Meanwhile a victim state of mind is an ugly thing in any case. If I believe the world owes me and mine for what we’ve suffered, that does not equip me to be much of a servant to anybody. We Christians ought to be wary of any sentiment that boils down to “I deserve better.”

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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2 Comments

  1. O. M. G. *I* carry a torch for the Stuarts! (Being relatives, I rather like them.)
    I weep and mourn the fall of King Author, and await his return.
    I can still grumble about William the Bastard.
    And, as a Celtic Catholic, I can also gnash my teeth over St. Augustine the Butcher.

    And yet I know I am missing all the joy of this, because I know what it looks like when all of the above are turned into genuine victim-hood instead of a quirky, humorous, and yet serious historical awareness.

    What really scare me are those Christians here in America who talk about how badly they are persecuted. It was talking about such twits that prompted us at St. Ita’s to add the Martyrs of Uganda to our litany of saints every Sunday. “Ha! You think you’re persecuted. Check out these guys.”

    “People like to be victims! There’s a certain unassailable moral superiority about it.” — Jeff Smith, _Bone_

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  2. Isn’t it strange – ironic – that there is power in perceiving ourselves as “the persecuted”? We huddle together with like minds and lick our wounds and dream up all sorts of eschatological endings in our favor because we sincerely believe that we are in the right and the “other” – that wicked majority – is in the wrong. This happens whether you’re democrat or republican, orthodox or mormon, pentecostal or jehovah witness, etc. This attitude toward the world becomes the walls that keep us together and protect us from the rest of the world. It helps us define “who’s in” and “who’s out”. It justifies our triumphalism or defeatism. Meanwhile, it also gives us a sense of entitlement! We deserve our place and voice in the world, and more than that, we deserve that room be made for us! As such, we never allow ourselves to be seen as part of the “mainstream” of humanity but always a little a part from it so that we can pronounce judgment upon the “them” of the mainstream. It also prevents us, sadly, from fully entering into the world’s brokenness and serving it.

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