Victim Olympics: Go for the Gold?

August 3, 2021 Updated: August 13, 2021


Normally, I don’t like victim Olympics.

I don’t like hearing people compete to make their suffering sound worse than others. But now the game has changed. People are saying that the suffering of your ancestors gets encoded into your genes. That means my ancestors’ story could win me a lot of victim points. Hear my story and see if you think I should enter the victim Olympics.

My ancestors were slaves. My grandparents were from Sicily, Italy, and most Sicilians were slaves during the Roman Empire. The island was the breadbasket of Rome, with big wheat farms worked by slave labor.

Sicily was invaded by Arabs in the ninth century, when Moslems took over Spain and the Holy Land. I have a lot of Arab genes, according to my genetics test. Do you think my distant grandmothers were wined and dined by Arabs during the invasion, or do I qualify for me-too points?

In the Middle Ages, Sicily was conquered by Spain and is thus “Hispanic.”

More points.

In modern times, the Mafia took over Sicily. Mafiosi won support by presenting themselves as protector of the little guy. I am shocked to hear people making excuses for the Mafia despite the massive theft and violence they inflict on the little guy.

People hate to admit that they are submitting to bullies to save their own skin, so they harbor illusions. My grandparents grew up with a culture that glorified the violence inflicted by people of their own ethnicity. They disrespected the rule of law.

Do I get victim points for that?

It’s useful to know how poor Sicily was when my grandfather left in 1910, because today, people are considered “disadvantaged” if they can’t afford the latest sneakers.

Sicilian children grew up illiterate and barefoot, with dirt floors and no plumbing. This was the norm for most of humanity until recent times, but Sicily modernized rather late. U.S. aid flooded in after the Second World War, but the Mafia stole much of it.

I went to Sicily in the 1970s, and I saw toilet bowls being sold on the side of the road. I didn’t realize this was because indoor plumbing was a new thing. I appreciate my life when I know how harsh life was in the past. But I won’t score any victim points that way. I have to keep looking for suffering.

The heroin trade finally brought wealth to Sicily in the 1980s. My grandfather’s town was mentioned in a Fodor’s travel guide as a center of drug trafficking. But by the ‘80s, I was already categorized as “privileged” because I stayed in school until I got a PhD.

None of my grandparents went beyond middle school. Children were expected to work to help support their family. I worked as a teenager, starting at $1.60 an hour, but I got to keep the money instead of handing it over to my parents.

Thus, I considered myself very lucky.

No one told me I was a victim of injustice because I had to work for money instead of having access to a free-money spigot. I was especially happy with my waitressing jobs because I got to exercise while I worked, so I had more time left to study. And the pay was so high that I felt rich.

Whenever I felt good, my mother was there to make me feel bad.

She had grown up with severe abuse and neglect and was emotionally unstable.

She was not proud of me because in her culture it was shameful for a daughter to leave home without being married. Instead of teaching me to go out and take on the world, she wanted me to stay home and take care of her.

Today it’s assumed that you must be “nurtured” with every step to become a functioning adult. So I qualify for more victim points here.

I went to a school where most of the kids were Jewish. They had more money and they were allowed out of the house more than I was.

My mother actually told me they wouldn’t like me.

She saw them as above her and thus blamed them for looking down on her.

Fortunately, my teachers did not buy into such beliefs. They treated everyone the same instead of giving me victim points. Thus, I had to manage my social anxiety instead of blaming it on society.

It took me decades to learn social skills, but I finally realized that everyone starts out with social anxiety and everyone takes decades to learn social skills. Nevertheless, big victim points are awarded if you “feel different” at school, especially when your classmates are deemed “privileged.”

I only learned decades later that many of these people were related to Holocaust victims, and that their ancestors were as poor as mine.

I used to think my grandparents were “just off the boat” because they lived near the docks in Brooklyn. Then, I found their marriage certificate online and was shocked to see that they married in Ohio. Ohio?!? I never heard of anyone in my family going west of the Hudson River.

What were they doing there? At the Museum of Italian-American history, I learned that Ohio coal mines paid ship’s passage in exchange for a two-year work commitment. I knew my grandfather had immigrated at age 16, with only his 18 year-old brother. I often hear that today’s young people have it harder than ever. This makes no sense to me at all. No victim points for you.

The past was never talked about when I was growing up, and there was little contact with relatives.

I had no cultural heritage except for thinking eggplant parmigiana is a staple food. So I focused on carving my own path instead of following a herd.

But I stumbled on amazing information about my cultural heritage in Booker T. Washington’s book, “The Man Farthest Down.”

He saw immigrants streaming into the southern states in 1905, and wondered what they were running from. He made it his mission to tour the European countries they came from to find the worst place of all. That was Sicily, in his opinion. He said a Sicilian’s life was far worse than any black person in the U.S. South.

His descriptions of Sicily are remarkable. He reports women chained to each other while they harvest crops and then herded back to hilltop villages at night. He observes people sleeping in huts with their animals and using farm tools of Biblical origin. He went underground with child miners in Sicily, and he’d been a child miner himself after his stepfather took him out of school. His descriptions of the other European countries in 1905 are equally fascinating.

How can this information help me win the victim Olympics?

I could “empathize” with all this suffering. I can suffer so much from this superior empathy that I have to self-medicate. The resulting self-destructive behavior will truly win me the gold.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Loretta Breuning
Loretta Breuning
Loretta G. Breuning, Ph.D., is founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and Professor Emerita of Management at California State University, East Bay. She is the author of many personal development books, including “Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels" and "How I Escaped Political Correctness, And You Can Too.” Dr. Breuning’s work has been translated into eight languages and is cited in major media. Before teaching, she worked for the United Nations in Africa. She is a graduate of Cornell University and Tufts. Her website is