My years in court helped me to become well acquainted with victims. Those who were sued in court, the defendants, always felt like victims. Even those bringing lawsuits, the Plaintiffs, felt like victims because they had been "wronged" by the defendants. I was literally immersed in a society of victims.
As I gained experience in representing clients, I began to see that many people, not just those involved in court actions, have a distinctive "victim mentality." Quoting from Wikipedia, Victim mentality,
Victim mentality is an acquired (learned) personality trait in which a person tends to regard themselves as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to behave as if this were the case even in the lack of clear evidence of such circumstances. Victim mentality depends on habitual thought processes and attribution. In some cases, those with a victim mentality have in fact been the victim of wrongdoing by others or have otherwise suffered misfortune through no fault of their own; however, such misfortune does not necessarily imply that one will respond by developing a pervasive and universal victim mentality where one frequently or constantly believes oneself to be a victim.Genealogists are part of our larger society and so many of the genealogists I now work with also evidence symptoms of victim mentality. How does this victim mentality manifest itself in a genealogical context?
The term is also used in reference to the tendency for blaming one's misfortunes on somebody else's misdeeds, which is also referred to as victimism.
One of the most common manifestations for me is the reaction people have to changes made by others in the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. Aside from the problem of assumed ownership, the people who see changes made to "their family" exhibit many of the symptoms of "victim mentality." Here is a list of some of the common reactions suffered by those who see themselves as victims:
- Ascribing non-existent negative intentions to other people
- Negative, with a general tendency to focus on bad rather than good aspects of a situation.
- Self-absorbed: unable or reluctant to consider a situation from the point of view of other people or to "walk a mile in their shoes"
- Exhibiting learned helplessness: underestimating one's ability or influence in a given situation; feeling powerless
- Stubborn: tending to reject suggestions or constructive criticism from others who listen and care; unable or reluctant to implement the suggestions of others for one's own benefit
Some genealogists I have talked to are possessive to point of refusing to allow even family members to view "their" work. Let me illustrate with a hypothetical situation.
Genealogist A who is 84 years old has been working on researching her family for most of her lifetime. When her family members show interest in her research, she becomes defensive and says that her work isn't done and she would rather they wait until she has everything in an acceptable condition. She is persuaded by one of her younger relatives to take a look at the FamilySearch.org Family Tree. When she is shown the Family Tree she immediately begins criticizing the content. She states that she is not interested in seeing anything more. Since this is my hypothetical, I could have it end the way I want. In the most common real life situation, when A dies, all of her work is lost because no one wants it and no one appreciates what she has done.
Here is another hypothetical. Genealogist B is a meticulous researcher. He is certified by one of the major genealogical certification organizations and has exhaustive support for all his conclusions. As in the first hypothetical, he is persuaded to view the Family Tree and is immediately angry. He cannot believe that anyone would make such obvious errors and he immediately starts correcting everything he considers to be wrongly entered. The next time he goes into to view the Family Tree, he sees that someone has recopied all of the "wrong" data back into "his" Family Tree. Rather than make the corrections again or try and contact the person making the changes, he dismisses the program as "broken" and determines that he will simply ignore it.
Some of the people I have worked with over the past few years on the Family Tree have reached the point where they say they are going to give up doing family history at all because "they" will not stop making irrational changes. These are actually real situations and are a composite of a lot of the people I deal with almost every day. I am not sure that there is a cure for victim mentality once it takes hold. If you sympathize, they feel justified. If you try to talk them out of their single-minded opinions, they reject any suggestion that they can take charge of the situation and resolve the problems.
I have always had a tendency to believe that education was the answer. Once in while, if I explain how and why the Family Tree works, the person becomes pacified, but often they just dismiss everything I say and refuse to follow any of my suggestions.
We are not victims of the Family Tree. We will all need to adjust to the instant collaborative environment and realize that not everyone is a professional level genealogist and that many people need to be cut some slack. Most of all, we need to stop thinking we are victims and start being proactive by adding sources, notes and collaborating with those making entries in our portion of the Family Tree.