The Dog Ate My Homework (Or: The Victim Role Revisited)

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March 2015

—Student: “Ms. D, I don’t have my homework today”.

—Teacher: “That’s not good. You should do your homework every day. I am giving you an F”.

—Student: “But Ms. D, it wasn’t my fault! The dog ate my homework! Besides, I had a  terrible  headache yesterday, and the power was out! I am very upset about this, cant you see that? (Sobbing). Why are you punishing me? There was nothing I could do!“

—Teacher: “Oh, okay. I fully understand. Don’t cry. I will give you an A.”

 _________________________________________________Dog for blog

Wouldn’t that be great?

We might wish sometimes that someone would see things from our perspective, and just give us a break. After all, why should the student from the vignette pay the price for the dog’s behavior, the power outage, or a terrible headache? These were not the child’s fault, and s/he has suffered enough. It is not fair to blame the victim, right?

Well… right…. But also wrong.

This is not how it works in the real world. In most cases, the student would not be able to get out of trouble that easily, no matter how valid the excuse.

In the real world, getting into the victim role strips us of the power to control the outcome. We depend on the offenders to make it up to us. If they don’t, we blame them. However, we are the ones stuck with the consequences.

For example: My boss is a jerk, the demands are unreasonable, but I end up losing my job.

Or: Another driver caused a car accident, and now I am stuck with a physical injury.

While anger and frustration are normal in these situations, they do not provide a long-term solution. Hanging on to the anger can sometimes prevent us from accepting the new reality. We focus on what happened, why it happened, and how unfair it was. Many people experience the need for revenge. However, even when justice is achieved, the damage has already been done and cannot be undone.

How can we regain power when someone victimizes us?

I think the answer lies in the difference between responsibility and fault. Even if someone else is at fault, meaning they caused the situation, the responsibility is ours. It is up to us to make things better for ourselves. Therefore, we should allow ourselves to take charge.

Here are a few examples from my practice:

  • “It is not my fault I have ADD. It is my responsibility to work harder than others so I can achieve my goals despite my difficulties”.
  • “It is not my fault that my spouse cheated on me and keeps yelling at me. It is my responsibility to do what I can and work on my marriage, if I want it to be saved”.
  • “It is not my fault that my child was born with a disability. It is my responsibility to do everything I can to help her have the best life possible”.
  • “It is not my fault that my house burned down to the ground. It is my responsibility to restore my life, if I want to be happy again”.

Unlike fault, responsibility to overcome victimization is not associated with blame or judgment. It is a choice we make. It brings back some of the lost power and restores a sense of control because it allows us to make a decision regarding the next step. We stop being passive recipients of circumstances.

Moving on does not mean the people who hurt us are absolved or forgiven. It doesn’t mean that they were right and we were wrong. They are still at fault. However, they don’t hold that power over us anymore. What was done was done. It is up to us where to go from here.


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