Prof. Vaknin on Victimization and Victim Identity Movements


Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin (YouTubeTwitterInstagramFacebookAmazonLinkedInGoogle Scholar) is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited (Amazon) and After the Rain: How the West Lost the East (Amazon) as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction. He was Senior Business Correspondent for United Press International (February, 2001 – April, 2003), CEO of Narcissus Publications (April, 1997 – April 2013), Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician (January, 2011 -), a columnist for PopMatters, eBookWeb, Bellaonline, and Central Europe Review, an editor for The Open Directory and Suite101 (Categories: Mental Health and Central East Europe), and a contributor to Middle East Times, a contributing writer to The American Chronicle Media Group, Columnist and Analyst for Nova MakedonijaFokus, and Kapital, Founding Analyst of The Analyst Network, former president of the Israeli chapter of the Unification Church‘s Professors for World Peace Academy, and served in the Israeli Defense Forces (1979-1982). He has been awarded Israel’s Council of Culture and Art Prize for Maiden Prose (1997), The Rotary Club Award for Social Studies (1976), and the Bilateral Relations Studies Award of the American Embassy in Israel (1978), among other awards. He is Visiting Professor of Psychology, Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don, Russia (September, 2017 to present), Professor of Finance and Psychology in SIAS-CIAPS (Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies) (April, 2012 to present), a Senior Correspondent for New York Daily Sun (January, 2015 – Present), and Columnist for Allied Newspapers Group (January, 2015 – Present). He lives in Skopje, North Macedonia with his wife, Lidija Rangelovska. Here we talk about victimization, victims, and victim identity movements.

*Previous interviews listed chronologically after interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What defines victimization? What defines a real victim in contrast to a fake victim?

Prof. Shmuel “Sam” Vaknin: Victimization involves the denial of the self-determination, identity, self-actualization, rights, and boundaries of a person without their express consent and collaboration.

Jacobsen: What makes victim identity movements, in fact, movements?

Vaknin: When victimhood becomes an organizing and explanatory (hermeneutic) principle, a determinant of the victim’s identity, and a socially binding force centred around grievances; prosocial or communal grandiosity; entitlement; conspiracism (paranoid or persecutory delusions); aggressive engagement or, on the other end of the spectrum, schizoid withdrawal; dysempathy; defiance (reactance); and contumaciousness (rejection of expertise and authority) – we have on our hands a victim identity movement.

No one is a victim. We may end up being victimized – but it doesn’t render us victims for life, it doesn’t brand us.

Jacobsen: Some studies in British Columbia, as you have noted, found some victimhood movements have been hijacked by narcissists and psychopaths. How does this muddy the waters of the real justice movements and make them ineffectual?

VakninThis was not the only study to have unearthed this very disconcerting undertow. We are beginning to wake up to the reality of what Gabay et al. call (2020) Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood, TIV). “professional” or “career” victims with emphasized narcissistic and psychopathic tendencies find new homes (“pathological narcissistic spaces”) in these social justice upswells.

It makes it difficult to tell apart legitimate evidence-based grievances from entitlement-fueled manipulative and counterfactual claims.

One helpful way to distinguish the two is by noting that narcissists and psychopaths are destructive, not solutions-oriented. They thrive on negative affects such as anger and envy and are loth to invest in the routine and tedious chores attendant upon rectifying wrongs and building a better world.

More here: Victimhood Movements Hijacked by Narcissists and Psychopaths

Jacobsen: What have been extreme historical cases of this going awry, as this phenomenon has been historically cyclical, including one close to ‘home’ in 2004?

VakninNazism is a victimhood movement gone awful. And, to a lesser degree the white man’s grievance movement implausibly headed by Trump is a more recent example of such subversive dynamics.

Jacobsen: What is the typical arc of development of victim movements?

Vaknin: The sociologist Bradley Campbell suggested that we have transitioned from a culture centred around dignity to one based on victimhood.

Learn more by reading Habermas, Fukuyama, and Foucault. All justice-seeking movements start with grievances (injustices). They decry and seek to remedy and reverse individual transgressions (eg, the narcissistic abuse online movement) or societal and cultural biases (implicit and explicit), discrimination, and suppression.

The victims organize themselves around exclusionary identity politics and intersectionality and this orientation results in grandiosity and entitlement, in other words: in growing narcissism. Increasingly more aggressive, these movements often become psychopathic (defiant and contumacious) and demonize the Other.

Left-leaning victimhood movements centre around entitlement and reparations claims on the majority, on social institutions, and on history. Right-wing movements are conspiracy-minded and avoidant, but also more violent.

Narcissists and psychopaths gravitate to such movements in order to obtain narcissistic supply, money, power, and sex. They become the public faces and the media darlings on these hapless victims, having hijacked their legitimate complaints and demands.

Jacobsen: How much of the online content on narcissism and psychopathy is garbage (worthless or worse) now?

VakninAbout 90%. It is not only worthless (wrong), it is dangerously misleading and entrenches a lifelong self-defeating and self-aggrandizing victimhood stance even as it demonizes and mythologizes abusers.

Jacobsen: What is the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV)?

Vaknin: A series of two studies by Israeli scholar Gabay and others, published in 2020. The authors provided this abstract:

“In the present research, we introduce a conceptualization of the Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood (TIV), which we define as an enduring feeling that the self is a victim across different kinds of interpersonal relationships. Then, in a comprehensive set of eight studies, we develop a measure for this novel personality trait, TIV, and examine its correlates, as well as its affective, cognitive, and behavioral consequences. In Part 1 (Studies 1A-1C) we establish the construct of TIV, with its four dimensions; i.e., need for recognition, moral elitism, lack of empathy, and rumination, and then assess TIV’s internal consistency, stability over time, and its effect on the interpretation of ambiguous situations. In Part 2 (Studies 2A-2C) we examine TIV’s convergent and discriminant validities, using several personality dimensions, and the role of attachment styles as conceptual antecedents. In Part 3 (Studies 3–4) we explore the cognitive and behavioral consequences of TIV. Specifically, we examine the relationships between TIV, negative attribution and recall biases, and the desire for revenge (Study 3), and the effects of TIV on behavioral revenge (Study 4). The findings highlight the importance of understanding, conceptualizing, and empirically testing TIV, and suggest that victimhood is a stable and meaningful personality tendency.”

Read an analysis of these studies here: “The Tendency for Interpersonal Victimhood: The Personality Construct and its Consequences” (

Another interesting study:

“New research provides evidence that narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism — maladaptive personality traits known as the “Dark Triad” — are associated with overt displays of virtue and victimhood. The study suggests that people with dark personalities use these signals of “virtuous victimhood” to deceptively extract resources from others.”

(“Signaling Virtuous Victimhood as Indicators of Dark Triad Personalities“, was authored by Ekin Ok, Yi Qian, Brendan Strejcek, and Karl Aquino, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, American Psychological Association, May 2020).

Jacobsen: What are the primary signifiers of narcissists and psychopaths who have or might hijack legitimate victimhood or justice movements looking for money, power, and sex?

Vaknin: Ironically, these usually are prosocial or communal narcissists. They often “control from the bottom” (emotionally blackmail by being self-sacrificial). So, the infestation of victimhood activism by narcissists and psychopaths is the tip of a submerged iceberg of ersatz altruism.

Some narcissists are ostentatiously generous: they dedicate time and other resources to social justice movements and to activism, they donate to charity, lavish gifts on their closest, abundantly provide for their nearest and dearest, and, in general, are open-handed and unstintingly benevolent. It is a form of virtue signalling. How can this be reconciled with the pronounced lack of empathy and with the pernicious self-preoccupation that is so typical of narcissists?

The act of giving enhances the narcissist’s sense of omnipotence, his fantastic grandiosity, and the contempt he holds for others. It is easy to feel superior to the supplicating recipients of one’s largesse. Narcissistic altruism is about exerting control and maintaining it by fostering dependence in the beneficiaries.

But narcissists give for other reasons as well.

The narcissist flaunts his charitable nature as a bait. He impresses others with his selflessness and kindness and thus lures them into his lair, entraps them, and manipulates and brainwashes them into subservient compliance and obsequious collaboration. People are attracted to the narcissist’s larger than life posture – only to discover his true personality traits when it is far too late. “Give a little to take a lot” – is the narcissist’s creed.

This does not prevent the narcissist from assuming the role of the exploited victim. Narcissists always complain that life and people are unfair to them and that they invest far more than their “share of the profit”. The narcissist feels that he is the sacrificial lamb, the scapegoat, and that his relationships are asymmetric and imbalanced. “She gets out of our marriage far more than I do” – is a common refrain. Or: “I do all the work around here – and they get all the perks and benefits!”

Some narcissists are compulsive givers.

To all appearances, the compulsive giver is an altruistic, empathic, and caring person. Actually, he or she is a people-pleaser and a codependent. The compulsive giver is trapped in a narrative of his own confabulation: how his nearest and dearest need him because they are poor, young, inexperienced, lacking in intelligence or good looks, and are otherwise inferior to him. Compulsive giving, therefore, involves pathological narcissism. In reality, it is the compulsive giver who coerces, cajoles, and tempts people around him to avail themselves of his services or money. He forces himself on the recipients of his ostentatious largesse and the beneficiaries of his generosity or magnanimity. He is unable to deny anyone their wishes or a requests, even when these are not explicit or expressed and are mere figments of his own neediness and grandiose imagination.

Some narcissists are ostentatiously generous — they donate to charity, lavish gifts on their closest, abundantly provide for their nearest and dearest, and, in general, are open-handed and unstintingly benevolent. How can this be reconciled with the pronounced lack of empathy and with the pernicious self-preoccupation that is so typical of narcissists? The act of giving enhances the narcissist’s sense of omnipotence, his fantastic grandiosity, and the contempt he holds for others. It is easy to feel superior to the supplicating recipients of one’s largesse. Narcissistic altruism is about exerting control and maintaining it by fostering dependence in the beneficiaries.

The People-pleasers

People-pleasers dread conflicts and wish to avoid them (they are conflict-averse) – hence their need to believe that they are universally liked. Always pleasant, well-mannered, and civil, the conflict-averse people-pleaser is also evasive and vague, hard to pin down, sometimes obsequious and, generally, a spineless “non-entity”. These qualities are self-defeating as they tend to antagonize people rather than please them.

But conflict-aversion is only one of several psychodynamic backgrounds for the behavior known as “people-pleasing”:

1.     Some people-pleasers cater to the needs and demands of others as a form of penance, or self-sacrifice;

2.     Many people-pleasers are codependents and strive to gratify their nearest and dearest in order to allay their own abandonment anxiety and the ensuing intense – and, at times, life-threatening – dysphoria (“if I am nice to him, he won’t break up with me”, “if I cater to her needs, she won’t leave me”);

3.     A few people-pleasers are narcissistic: pleasing people enhances their sense of omnipotence (grandiosity). They seek to control and disempower their “charges” (“she so depends on and looks up to me”). Even their pity is a form of self-aggrandizement (“only I can make her life so much better, she needs me, without me her life would be hell.”). They are misanthropic altruists and compulsive givers.

All people-pleasers use these common coping strategies:

1.     Dishonesty (to avoid conflicts and unpleasant situations);

2.     Manipulation (to ensure desired outcomes, such as an intimate partner’s continued presence);

3.     Fostering dependence: codependent people-pleasers leverage their ostentatious helplessness and manifest weaknesses to elicit the kind of behaviours and solicit the benefits that they angle for, while narcissistic people-pleasers aim to habituate their targets by bribing them with gifts, monopolizing their time, and isolating them socially;

4.     Infantilization: displaying childish behaviours to gratify the emotional needs of over-protective, possessive, paranoid, narcissistic, and codependent individuals in the people-pleaser’s milieu;

5.     Self-punishment, self-defeat, and self-sacrifice to signal self-annulment in the pursuit of people-pleasing.

Jacobsen: What, historically speaking, can be done to combat these Cluster B bad behaviours connected to some social movements?

Vaknin: As the grievances of these movements are addressed, they become a part of the establishment. This is when the hard work begins: the labors of writing laws, regulatory oversight, politics, negotiations and compromise, and the tedium of perseverance and routine.

These newfangled demands on the psychological and logistical resources of the movement and its adherents drive narcissists and psychopaths away: they are unaccustomed to and reject the hard slog and the often Sisyphean undertakings of public policy.

Shoshanim: Thanks so much for the time and opportunity, Prof. V.

Shoshanim’s Shoshanim: V for Victim or V for Vaknin? Just kidding. Thank you for suffering me yet again!

Previous Electronic ‘Print’ Interviews (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Narcissism in General

(News Intervention: January 28, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Cold Therapy (New Treatment Modality)

(News Intervention: January 30, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Giftedness and IQ

(News Intervention: February 2, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Religion

(News Intervention: February 11, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Science and Reality

(News Intervention: April 30, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on the Gender Wars

(News Intervention: May 21, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Psychological Growth

(News Intervention: May 24, 2022)

Prof. Sam Vaknin on Structure, Function, Society, and Survival

(News Intervention: May 26, 2022)

Prof. Vaknin on Chronon Field Theory and Time Asymmetry

(News Intervention: May 28, 2022)

Prof. Vaknin on Genius and Insanity

(News Intervention: June 1, 2022)

Prof. Vaknin on Freedom of Expression

(News Intervention: June 10, 2022)

Prof. Vaknin on Misogyny and Misandry

(News Intervention: June 20, 2022)

Previous Interviews Read by Prof. Vaknin (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)

How to Become the REAL YOU (Interview, News Intervention)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 26, 2022)

Insider View on Narcissism: What Makes Narcissist Tick (News Intervention)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 29, 2022)

Curing Your Narcissist (News Intervention Interview)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: January 31, 2022)

Genius or Gifted? IQ and Beyond (News Intervention Interview)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: February 3, 2022)

Thrive: Your Future Path to Growth and Change (News Intervention Interview)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: May 25, 2022)

Previous Interviews Interpreted by Prof. Vaknin (Hyperlinks Active for Titles)

Your Narcissist: Madman or Genius? (Based on News Intervention Interview)

(Prof. Sam Vaknin: June 3, 2022)

Image Credit: Sam Vaknin. 


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