I struggled about writing on this topic, but after talking to a some people about this issue, I was encouraged to write about it. I had one person say this issue really bothered them, but because it’s so pervasive, they thought maybe they were alone in it. The issue is about victim blaming as a form of spiritual abuse in the new age community.
If your not familiar with some of the new age philosophies, there’s some that believe that everything in life is preplanned by you before your born and that if something happens to you good or ill, it’s because you set it up that way and have agreements about the roles you play in each other’s lives.
This seems harmless enough on the surface. But as you can see by the example below, there’s some problems with it.
Recently I went to an event where a respected new age teacher was speaking. During the discussion a woman brought up how her daughter had been raped and the spiritual teacher responded by saying it must of been part of her life path, that she chose it and that she must have a Sacred contract with her attacker! I couldn’t believe that someone would say this to a person. In fact I almost got up and left at that point, and in hind sight I wonder if I maybe should of. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. It was a huge deal breaker for me. I never 100% believe anything a teacher says, I take what works and leave the rest. This though, broke my trust with this person.
I’d like to think I have developed a pretty well honed spiritual bullshit meter over the years, and this had all the lights flashing. It made me think of some Christians who respond to trauma by telling the victims it’s all part of “God’s plan”. At least with that idea you can blame it on a cruel and capricious god. There are also some sects of Christians that believe that if misfortune befalls you, wether it’s poverty, illness, or your house catches on fire, it’s because you are a sinner or you didn’t believe enough in God. If you had more faith that never would of happened to you. It’s somewhat close to the above New Age philosophy in that it makes you responsible for all the ills in your life. I think the New Age philosophy has some flaws though that make it particularly cruel.
1. It blames the victim
By saying they set it up before hand, it’s saying they caused it. They set it up, so it’s on them, they’re responsible. In fact there are some who even go on to say that they don’t believe there are any victims. That starving children in third world countries, victims of bombings and mass shootings, domestic abuse survivors etc are all in that situation because they chose it. I do not think that anybody chooses this. This is a thinly disguised victim blaming dressed up as spirituality. It makes people feel safe because they can tell themselves, it’s not going to happen to me. They chose that trauma, I didn’t so I’m okay.
2. It makes it sound like the perpetrator did them a favour
By saying that the victim had a Sacred contract with her assailant it takes responsibility off of perpetrator. It even makes it sound like the person did them a favour. I heard one story about a woman who had survived an abusive relationship, and she was told by others in the new age community that her abusive husband was her teacher and she should be grateful for the lessons he taught her. When it comes to abuse, the responsibility is 100% on the person that did it. People have free will and sometimes they choose to do shitty things. That’s their choice and the responsibility falls on them. They did not do their victims any favours.
3. It minimizes suffering.
Saying that the person caused it, doesn’t just blame the victim, it also minimizes the trauma. New Ager’s often talk about the lessons that need to be learned, or insist (as some Christians do) that the person needs to forgive their attacker. No one owes anyone else forgiveness. Telling someone they need to learn the lesson when they are recovering from loss and trauma, and just trying to put their life back together, is not helpful. Just when people need love and compassion most, they don’t need to be told that it’s their fault, or that they need to forgive and learn the lesson they supposedly set for themselves. It’s not helpful, and it’s not kind.
4. It encourages complacency.
If people chose to be in abusive situations, or starving, or living in a war zone, then I guess the rest of us are off the hook. They chose it, it’s their lesson, so there’s nothing we need to do about it. Everything is going as it should. This philosophy encourages people not to fight against injustice or work to rectify wrongs in the world. If others are suffering, it’s their lesson, and we don’t need to worry about it. We can go about our lives without worrying about others suffering. People who subscribe to this are often coming from a place of privilege where a philosophy like this makes them comfortable and encourages them to not put themselves in another persons shoes.
5. It assumes a moral superiority.
Have you ever notice that people who say this are not the ones going through the trauma themselves? It’s always someone else’s misfortune they’re talking about. They are often speaking from a place of never having experienced it, or if they did they insist they’ve learned all the lessons they need to learn and forgiven everyone. They often make a display about how spiritual they are and how if you were as spiritual as them you would just accept your misfortune as your creation. And if you were as spiritually advanced as they are, no misfortune would have happened to you in the first place.
I think this attitude is dangerous on a lot of levels. It encourages victim blaming and discourages people from talking about trauma in a way that is honest and real. Victim
Blaming especially in cases of sexual assault is a huge problem in our society, and we need spiritual communities of every stripe to be supportive of people that have been through this, not just add another layer of blame and guilt on them.
So if you sincerely believe that everything in life that happens to people, including traumatic things, is because of some pre arranged spiritual contract, I ask you to keep that to yourself when dealing with those who have experienced abuse. It’s not helpful. What people need is compassion, not more blame and shaming.