In 2020 researchers identified a personality construct they refer to as the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV) (Gabay, et al., 2020). The construct involves four dimensions: 1. a sense of moral elitism, 2. a lack of empathy, 3. the need for recognition (need to have one’s sense of victimhood acknowledged and empathised with), and 4. rumination over interpersonal offenses which includes aggressive reactivity and a desire for vengeance.
The TIV is centred in a personality type characterised by an ongoing feeling that the self is a victim, which they define as an enduring feeling of being a victim across different kinds of interpersonal relationships. Comparing the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood with features of grandiose narcissism, and not with vulnerable narcissism, the authors drew the following conclusion:
“We also posit that both narcissism and TIV are characterized by vulnerability to threats to the self, but that the content of these threats would be different. Narcissists present themselves to the world as strong, capable, and talented (and relatedly, differently from TIV, narcissism was found to be associated with extraversion; Stronge et al., 2016). Therefore, threats are related to anything undermining their grandiosity and superiority, such as extraordinary abilities, achievements or positive qualities. In contrast, the self-presentation of high-TIV individuals is that of a weak victim, who has been hurt and is therefore in need of protection; a considerate and conscientious person who must face a cruel and abusive world. Threats to high-TIV individuals are related to anything that can undermine their self-image of moral superiority; or elicit doubts from their environment as to whether the offense occurred, the intensity of the offense, or their exclusivity as victims. These, and additional hypotheses should be examined in future research.” (Gabay, et al., 2020)
The Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood appears to have much in common with vulnerable narcissism, although the authors of the paper do not address this obvious point—instead they compared features of TIV with grandiose narcissism alone. The authors’ conclusion that narcissism and TIV are distinct constructs is therefore not entirely convincing due to the omission of the vulnerable type. The Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood and vulnerable narcissism appear to be highly overlapping constructs as both report a sense of moral elitism, a need to have one’s sense of victimhood acknowledged and empathised with, and associated feelings of persecution, resentment and rumination.
In popular culture the exaggerated tendency to present oneself as victim is referred to as “damseling” (short for ‘damsel in distress’), which tends to occur when a woman is not receiving attention, conformity or admiration in line with her self-image. Professor Janice Fiamengo (2021) has identified the narcissistic grandstanding of damseling as a kind of ‘irresistible lure’ for those who would employ it, while also underlining the trepidation and resentment this tendency generates in many men:
“Women’s claims of victimhood take a great deal of time and energy away from many pressing issues, and create an uneven political playing field in which every man knows he can be wrong-footed, and every woman knows she can power trip if she wants to. The damsel option disinclines some women from whole-heartedly pursuing competence because they know they can deflect criticism or gain advancement by sorrowing eloquently, creating bad faith in many women, suspicion and resentment in many men.” (Fiamengo, 2021)
Fiamengo’s essay highlights the considerable social and interpersonal attention that can be garnered from a projection of victimhood. Whether the presenting damsel’s distress be real, exaggerated or wholly fabricated, it represents a kind of soft power that forces the surrounding environment to stop and take notice.
Source: This excerpt first published in the New Male Studies article Gynocentrism as A Narcissistic Pathology – Part 2.