Vilifying the Victim: Manipulating You by Making You Feel Like the Bad Guy

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Neurotics hate to think of themselves as the injuring party and would rather carry the burden of abuse than see themselves as an abuser. Disturbed characters know this well. So, when they want to take advantage, a good one-two punch is to play the victim and then vilify the real victim.

I’ve been posting a series of articles on behaviors commonly displayed by persons with disturbances of character. These behaviors often serve to reinforce the disturbed character’s resistance to accepting social norms and responsibility, as well as serving as vehicles of manipulation and impression-management. In a prior post, I explained the tactic of “Playing the Victim.” (See “Playing the Victim”.) A related tactic sometimes used in combination with the tactic of playing the victim is the tactic of vilifying the victim.

Sometimes it takes a lot of nerve for a good “neurotic” to confront a disturbed character’s behavior. (See “Disturbances of Character” and the series that follows.) One reason it takes so much nerve is that usually the neurotic individual has an intuitive sense of the disturbed character’s innate forcefulness, resolve, and capacity to stand ground when challenged. Another reason is that neurotic individuals are among the most conscientious and the least aggressive of individuals, so they are naturally uncomfortable in the role of confronter. (See “Matters of Conscience”.)

Neurotics, being who they are, are very vulnerable to the ploy of vilifying the victim. When a neurotic individual finally gets up enough nerve to confront a disturbed character about their behavior, within minutes the disturbed character is generally able to turn the tables and cast the victim of the hurtful behavior in a bad light. In my book, In Sheep’s Clothing, I give an example of a mother who finally had to confront her aggressive child’s increasingly disruptive behavior. When she did, the child launched a verbal barrage that included: “You’re always saying bad things about me” and “You act like you hate me.” As conscientious as the mother was, she then began to wonder if she actually hadn’t become too critical lately and if indeed her behavior might truly look to her child like she hated the child. She never stopped to think that if the child actually believed that she never had a good thing to say and that she actually hated her, then there would be absolutely no point in the child’s pointing out those things, because such words would have absolutely no impact on a woman with a heart of stone. It never occurred to her that the child must instinctively and deeply know that she actually cared quite a bit and that her conscientiousness was her biggest vulnerability. In other words, it never occurred to her that her child knew exactly what to say and do to manipulate her. It also didn’t occur to her that by allowing the child to continually use those tactics to manipulate her, she was helping to ensure that the child would continue resisting accepting the principles of responsible conduct she was trying to instill in her.

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Over the years I have encountered literally thousands of examples of disturbed characters making their victims feel like the bad guy whenever they get called on their malicious behavior. The tactic works because neurotics hate to think of themselves as the injuring party. They would rather carry the burden of abuse than see themselves as an abuser. Disturbed characters know this well. So, when they want to gain advantage over you in any encounter, a good one-two punch is playing the victim and then vilifying the real victim.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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