Of all the problematic mindsets I’ve identified in myself and focused energy on managing, victim mentality was – and continues to be – by far one of the trickiest. What was particularly tricky for me, and what trips many others up as well, is that we tend to associate victim mentality with people who are whiny, dour, and filled with self-pity they feel duty-bound to share with those around them.
Do those sound like qualities you want to associate with yourself? I didn’t think so.
The truth is that, while self-pity is indeed a part of victim mentality, self-pity is merely a drop of water mixed into the strong current that victim mentality affects us with – a current that leads us in the wrong direction. While victim mentality can be a pervasively debilitating problem in a person’s, group’s, community’s life, it can also intermittently afflict even the most stable, well-balanced, relatively happy person. The only condition, really, that makes you susceptible to falling into the rut of victim mentality is the simple fact that you’re a human being.
You are human, right? If not, the following may not apply to you. 😉
Why Victim Mentality Is So Debilitating
What I mean to describe when I say “victim mentality” is a debilitating headspace wherein a person perceives him or herself to be the powerless victim of an unpleasant, difficult or painful circumstance(s). Or, perhaps more to the point, it’s when you’re stuck in a shitty situation and you believe there’s no way out of it. This could be a single, recurring situation, like a relationship between a boss and an employee, or a romantic relationship between two people (or three?); or it could be a larger circumstance, like a person’s relationship with her community, society, or government.
A person stuck in victim mentality perceives himself to be persistently caught in a power struggle with a person or situation that victimizes him – a power struggle that he loses, time and time again. While there are of course situations where a person is genuinely getting the shitty end of the stick, it’s also true that – with more chronic examples of victim mentality – a person’s victimization can be imagined, either in part or entirely.
Perhaps the worst part about victim mentality is that it holds you in place – it traps you.
So long as you remain a victim of your circumstances, you are prevented from moving forward to a place where you feel more in control, and happier as a result. Victim mentality can quickly transform into a self-fulfilling prophecy: you’re miserable because you’re a victim, and you’re a victim because you’re miserable.
Now curl up into a ball and let life pass you by.
The Uncomfortable Reality Victim Mentality Protects You From
This was the second aspect of victim mentality that really tripped me up: Feeling victimized, and remaining within that feeling of victimization, is ultimately your mind’s way of trying to protect you. It’s confusing, I know – but hang tight while I explain.
Consider that there are countless ways our minds seek to protect us from harm. While this includes all manner of physical harm, it also includes mental harm. Our mind is an operating system tirelessly working to protect us from painful memories, experiences that could leave us feeling hurt, and uncomfortable realities that “threaten” to change our perception of the world around us.
The one thing that remaining stuck in a victim mentality protects you from facing is an uncomfortable reality about life that terrifies many of us. Namely, that the only person who can truly get us out of a miserable situation is the one, the only, that extra special person you look at in the mirror every morning. Yes, friends, I’m referring to your self.
Being a victim of shitty circumstance means you can assign blame away from yourself onto someone else.
What I don’t mean to say is that it’s your fault you’re in the shitty situation, or that other people or society at large doesn’t have a measure of responsibility to provide you with choices. It is indeed true that some people are assholes and that the world sticks it to ya sometimes.
While those things are true – and that sucks – the fact remains that many of us unknowingly make the choice to remain in situations that cause us to feel miserable.
What up with that, my fellow humans?
Never Underestimate the Power of Familiar Situations
We always say that misery loves company, but what seems more on point to me is that misery loves familiarity. No matter how miserable a situation can make us, we sometimes choose to remain in it because it is familiar to us – it’s what we know. It’s why a horse runs back into the burning barn you just pulled it out of. But unlike the horse, our brains are more developed, which enables us to consider things: like the degree to which our choices are being made because we’re afraid to step out of familiarity into the terrifying land of unknowns.
Never underestimate your mind’s preference for the safety of familiar situations, no matter how miserable those situations make you feel. 9 times out of 10, your mind will try to convince you to stick with what’s familiar.
Be a Hero, Not a Victim: How to Escape Victim Mentality
What areas of your life do you feel powerless in? Go to those situations, sit inside them for a moment, and look around at the walls caging you in. Then ask yourself this simple, straightforward question:
What am I going to do about it?
Within any situation, regardless of how debilitating it is, there is always a choice to be made. For some people and some situations the choices are much more limited – but that does not negate the fact that a choice is available.
Both the hero and the victim might feel frustrated by the walls caging them in, or worried that they won’t be able to find a way out, or afraid of what might happen if they just get up and leave. But the difference lies in how they respond to the walls. Whereas a victim simply accepts the he’s stuck in place, the hero responds by taking action.
Ask yourself again: What am I going to do about it?
By asking yourself this question you are automatically taking an action-oriented approach to the situation – and your mind will follow suit. Making the choice to take action over sitting idly by is a way of returning some of the power you feel you’ve lost to its rightful place: in your hands.
Life Is a Series of Choices, and the Hero Knows This
Of course there’s no guarantee that taking an action-oriented approach means you’ll make the right choice or even find a way out of your shitty situations. But the very act of switching your focus towards options and choices – minuscule as they may be – is an empowering act. We sometimes fall into the trap of understanding our existence as a series of obligations, ones we don’t have much choice in.
But even getting out of bed in the morning is a choice if you think about it.
When you start to shift your perspective and focus to the options and choices available, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities. Keep this question (What am I going to do about it?) in your back pocket and return to it anytime you feel the familiarity of powerlessness creeping up behind you.
Being a hero doesn’t always mean that you have the answer to the question, either: heroes educate themselves, they ask others for guidance, and they’re patient with themselves as they try to find ways to feel more in control of their destiny. Remember that practice makes perfect, and soon the question – What am I going to do about it? – will float up to the surface of your mind without you having to consciously consider it.
When it does? Pat yourself on the back because you’ve just won half the battle you’re fighting.