Lisbeth Salander and the Difference Between Being a Victim and Being Victimized

Picture of Lisbeth Salander

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander

Several years ago, during a coffee break in a particularly boring meeting, a co-worker of mine told me I reminded her of Lisbeth Salander. I thanked her and said she wasn’t the first to say I looked like Noomi Rapace. At 5’2” with very short, dark hair, I’d often been compared to the actress.

She scowled a bit and said, “No. I mean the way you are reminds me of Lisbeth Salander, the character.”

Her words caught me off guard, but I recovered quickly and thanked her. It was the polite thing to do. In truth, I was rather disturbed. Lisbeth was a very damaged character. It made me wonder exactly what she saw.

I didn’t pursue such a personal topic that hit way too close to home for comfort. I just got my coffee and left. A few weeks ago, as I watched the Millenium Trilogy again, I realized what a compliment she’d actually paid me.

I saw that Lisbeth Salander – while depicted as an anti-hero – is in reality an example of not letting life turn you into a victim. This character was brutalized from a young age, manipulated by “the system,” raped by a man who was supposed to be her caregiver, and her own father attempted to murder her.

However, she never allowed this to turn her into a victim. By the end of the series, she has paid back every single individual who harmed her while at the same time championing others. Because so many of her actions are classified as crimes she is an anti-hero rather than a hero, but I don’t see her that way. I see her as a champion and as an example to women everywhere.

Now, for the record, I’m not advocating for any form of vigilantism. What I’m attempting to express is that there is being a victim and there is being victimized. In the former, that is a mind-state, the latter is an act and can be addressed.

I have been victimized in my life. I also allowed myself to be a victim. I recently realized there is a huge difference. By allowing myself to be a victim, I have repeated a vicious pattern throughout my life. Everything happened to me and I wasn’t responsible for anything.

The danger of this mentality is that you have no control and no ability to affect anything. Are there victims in this world? Absolutely, I’ll never say there aren’t, but not everyone is a victim just because they’ve been victimized.

Think of it like this: A woman walks down an empty street and she is robbed at gun point. As a result, she never goes anywhere alone ever again. She cringes and cowers in the presence of strange men. This woman has become a victim. Her mentality has changed. The event has taken on larger than life proportions in her mind.

If this woman had realized that she was not a victim, even though she’d been victimized, she’d be more likely to respond by accepting the fact that shitty things happen. Arm herself with martial training, pepper spray, or other things for protecting herself. She’d be aware of her surroundings and do her best to avoid dangerous situations.

Before any of you think I’m talking out the side of my neck and have no right to say these things:

  1. My sister was attacked and held hostage by a man in her house for hours before her husband returned and rescued her.
  2. I’ve been stalked by both an ex-boyfriend and a man I worked with.
  3. My sister-in-law was raped by a stranger
  4. My good friend was date raped in high school
  5. I spent 13 of 20 years being beaten by my partner
  6. My cousin was shot and killed by her boyfriend

Violence and victimization have shaped my life in some fashion since I was a young child. This is exactly why I’m writing this. Instead of understanding that awful things happen and you can be victimized in this life, I saw myself as a victim. I went through my life feeling powerless and helpless to affect my own life.

I now understand that I have been victimized in life, but I’m only a victim if I allow myself to be because I have the ability to change my circumstance and I always did.

7 thoughts on “Lisbeth Salander and the Difference Between Being a Victim and Being Victimized

  1. This is a hard-hitting post. I like the way you tease apart the idea of being victimized from being a victim – passive or active stance. We write our stories, page by page by page – making a choice to not be plagued by victim mentality is a pretty great chapter.

  2. I would definitely take it as a compliment, though I have only read the first book. A lot of what you said makes sense to me– I have been victimized in multiple ways across multiple years and I certainly let myself fall into that victim mindset. I even believed that I attracted abuse somehow, that perhaps I deserved it or it was an integral part of my identity. Um… eff that. No, just no. Never again.

  3. Pingback: Living for the Exception | Elene Sallinger

  4. Wow, you share an amazing story of courage and overcoming terrible odds. Thank you for allowing others to draw strength from your personal experiences, and sharing the insights those experiences taught you. We can all learn something from you.

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