Does being a victim really get you what you want?

I was talking with an associate recently who as a child lived in a highly performance-oriented environment. Study, effort, fortitude and mind-based achievements were the family focus. She became a very high achiever academically. However, her parents both had mental health frailties, and could be demanding, harshly unforgiving and unpredictable. She developed a victim mentality to cope with the pressure and lack of emotional support. Victims get the attention, sympathy and care they need. As a child this works. As an adult, not so much. If you’re a victim of circumstances, you’re acknowledging that you have no power. You are helpless. Helplessness is intensely demoralising, leading to disempowerment, despair and even depression. Helplessness plays out over time as weakness and sickness in the body and mind.

8 steps to stop being a victim

If you’re in the victim dynamic and want to change, here’s how in 8 steps. Last year I got hit by a car when cycling and spent 3 months in hospital. Let’s use this as a working example.
  1. Take responsibility for yourself

    Approach life with the attitude that YOU have the power over your life and you’re not going to give that power away to another person. Look for how much power you have over your life, not how little.

    This accident does not define me. It happened to me. I experienced injuries and limitations, but these don’t express WHO I am.
  2. Carefully inspect an issue that triggers victim mode for you

    Look at what happened, just the plain facts that anyone would agree on, stripping out all your opinions, beliefs and the story you tell yourself about it. Write down the simple fact as one sentence.

    I had a collision with a car and sustained many injuries requiring hospitalisation.

    Now look at your story, your thoughts about what happened. Write down your thoughts. Observe how they re-enforce your powerlessness, how they tell you that ‘bad’ things have happened to you AGAIN and someone else is to blame.

    The guy wasn’t looking, he drove right in to me. Was he drunk? Why didn’t he call an ambulance?
  3. Recognise that the circumstances of your life are neither good nor bad

    All circumstances are neutral. That doesn’t mean that life is fair, it means that life happens to everyone. Some events we label good, some events we label bad. Somebody else’s good might be our bad, and vice versa. Events become good or bad by the way we think about them.

    I got hit by a car. Many people get hit by cars. It’s not targeted at me.
  4. Don’t maximise misery with your thinking

    If we believe that our lives are full of misery and ‘bad things always happen to us’, our brains will forever look for evidence to support this. Our brains don’t like to be wrong. We won’t notice the positives, but will look for (actually create) misery with our thinking. At extremes, this might appear as depression.

    Why did this happen to me? I thought I was safe at that time in the morning. Cars are so dangerous. This is going to be bad. I won’t be able to work. How will I pay the bills? I might lose my home. I may not walk again. Even if I do, I’ll get arthritis.
  5. Don’t wait to be rescued

    Ask yourself if that will feel good? Or will you feel weaker and more helpless? Let go the victimhood that does not serve you. Ignore your negativity bias – it’s just your brain looking for threats, and this may not serve you right now either. Look for your potency. Teach your brain that you’re going to act from your conscious mind, tap your inner resources and support yourself.

    I’ve found my way out of a lot of scrapes before this, I’ll rest up and figure it out as I go.
  6. How would you prefer to think?

    You can decide how you want to think about events that happen in your life, in order to feel better and more empowered, given that you can’t change what has already happened. Don’t wait for life to be fair – adverse things happen in every life. Think outside the box, learn how to think in a way that delivers you back your power.

    It was just a simple accident. The driver is not a bad guy. He didn’t do it on purpose. He is probably more traumatised than me, seeing me come through his windscreen. I will heal. I’m very good at recovering from adversity. I’m strong and otherwise healthy. I’ve got a great support team who will help me. This accident will teach me to accept their support. I’m learning that I don’t have to do life on my own, I can give up the fight.
  7. Forgive

    Forgiveness is a selfish act. Do it for you. No-one else will be affected, but you. If you are harbouring anger, resentment, bitterness or desire for revenge, such ill-will is toxic energy that will eat away at your resources, your mind and body. It’s like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. Consider that circumstances are neutral and other people are sick and suffering beings like us, who may have behaved in harmful ways out of their suffering.

    I forgive this man this simple accident. He’s had enough trauma already, seeing me come through his windscreen. I would rather be me than him, suffering that on his conscience.
  8. Create self-confidence and resilience

    Teach yourself that you CAN manage your life. Look for evidence that you have done this in the past. Look for new ways to do this in the future. If you crave attention and support, take this as a cue that you know how to support and care for yourself, when you become open to this. Humans are naturally resilient, reclaim the skill. Acknowledge any time you have success with this, and add it to your list of assets and talents.

    I will do what exercises I can, lying in my hospital bed, so that eventually I can learn to walk again. I will take the prescribed pain medication so I can sleep and keep my strength and morale up. I will be receptive to the care, kindness and encouragement of the staff, who are helping me heal.

Photo by Zhen Hu on Unsplash

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