I’m about to admit something extremely uncomfortable; something that I honestly barely admit to myself.
I can sometimes have a victim mentality. Let me explain.
I don’t see the world as black and white; I used to—but then I grew up.
I realized that there are many shades of grey and splashes of color, and that pretty much everything in life isn’t “right” or “wrong” or “this” or “that.” Instead, our world is made up of emotions (which, by the way, are never wrong, even if they aren’t desirable) and people (who are, obviously, complicated) and situations (which, as the saying goes, always have more than two sides—your version, my version and the truth).
This said, I find myself grouping people into two categories: those who choose to live their lives as victims—and those who don’t.
Yet here’s what’s so uncomfortable about my earlier statement: I don’t want to be a victim—and this, I believe, is step one into moving towards empowerment.
In order to change and grow and, essentially, evolve as people we have to, well, want to evolve and grow and change. To do this, we must—must—be open to seeing our flaws.
So I choose to recognize that I’m prone to having a victim mentality.
A victim mentality belongs to someone who blames others and sees how situations and people affect their lives and personalities rather than taking responsibility—and power.
Example: a victim would say, “You make me so mad,” whereas a non-victim would say, “I feel mad.”
Sure, people can affect our moods and life circumstances, but we actually retain power—and the ability to change the course of our lives and characters—when we refuse to let another shoulder the blame.
And once I accept that, yes, my temper is brought on by another person, but only I have the power of choice in between the event and my reaction, I then give myself the ability to change my reaction.
Because it’s self-sabotaging to live our lives as victims.
It’s nearly impossible to stop reacting angrily—to continue this example—if I’m always blaming others for making me mad.
However, if I’m able to see that I was the sole person in charge of my reaction—regardless of how I was treated by others—then I retain the ability to move in a different direction. In short, I become capable of empowerment.
In my experience this takes real work effort and, sometimes, professional counseling (I am, after all, only writing this from personal experience and observation, not as a licensed therapist). Still, I’m fairly certain that no one would argue the challenge of learning to change our reactions.
It doesn’t matter if we learned to display anger from our parents or if it’s inborn within us (that old nature-versus-nurture debate) because, at the end of the day, it’s still hard to change.
Yet one thing that I keep coming back to—one thing that I continually check-in with—after a situation that disturbed me, like an argument or having hurt feelings, is this: did I act as the victim—or no?
And, if the answer isn’t no, then I reign it in and apologize and try, again and again, to be powerful—to take full responsibility for my actions.
Taking responsibility for the things that we think, do and say gives us the absolute capability of making ourselves better—and it gives us the capacity to feel better too.
We can say, “This person always instigates a response of anger in me and I continually allow myself to act badly in their presence—maybe I should choose to not spend time with this person, or maybe I can look at what it is that tends to trigger this response.”
Because people really are mirrors for what we do and don’t want to see about ourselves, and when we give ourselves permission to look at the ugly and not label it as “bad,” we also give ourselves the intelligence that facilitates self-acceptance.
But, as a friend recently reminded me, self-acceptance is not self-love.
No, self-acceptance is the start of self-love because we’re beginning to see ourselves for who we are, and to accept who we are, rather than to judge and critique—but it’s not the same as love.
Love is something that’s less analytical—even if the analysis is not passing judgment.
Nevertheless, offering ourselves the freedom to move away from this despairing victim mentality—and towards empowerment and acceptance for our choices and our reactions—is the dawn of living our lives as the people we want to be; it’s the birth of self-love.
And I do want to accept myself, even when I’m angry or hurt.
I do want to grant myself forgiveness when I react in a way that hurts another person or myself.
More, these qualities—forgiveness and acceptance—are some of the key components of love.
So when we’re able to see, as uncomfortable as the admission is, that we are living our lives as victims and martyrs, we become prepared to welcome a life without suffering.
But suffering isn’t entirely bad—some, including myself, would argue that it’s necessary in order to fully recognize and feel things like joy and contentment.
Still, suffering unnecessarily and at our own hands is problematic because it feeds a cycle of illness within our being and our life.
So, as I decide to own—and honor—my tendency towards self-created injury, I move closer and closer towards the outcomes that I actually prefer: peace, comfort and joy.
I move away from being a victim—and closer to love.