Whenever you’ve heard someone say to somebody else, “Don’t be a victim”, or, “Stop acting like a victim”, what picture comes to mind?
If you’re like me, you’ve initially pictured someone who is being sort of whiney or complaining, or perhaps someone who is being passive or indecisive to the extreme.
But I want to tell you about a totally different picture of ‘victimhood’, one that might surprise you both because it may not be what you’re picturing at all, AND because the way I’m going to describe it would make it even more common than you might have initially thought.
In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb right here and tell you that, at times, I myself act like this type of victim and, very likely, so do you.
Acting like a victim the way I’m talking about here involves four fundamental characteristics which feed off of one another:
1) it’s blaming others instead of taking personal responsibility
2) it’s chronic anger and negativity
3) it’s being defensive
4) it’s ugly
First of all, acting like a victim is ‘ugly’ because it drives people away from us. It makes us somewhat repulsive to others and not someone who they want to be around very often or very much. And when someone is chronically angry, always defensive, and constantly blaming others, it doesn’t take much imagination for us to see why this would be the case.
Secondly, it’s ‘defensive’ because when we’re acting like victims we take everything like a criticism and we get defensive about it. We are unable or unwilling to try to see if there is any truth to whatever is being said, or, if nothing else, to just let it go. With our defensiveness comes anger and blaming.
Thirdly, being a victim is being ‘chronically angry and negative’ about everything. When we’re constantly feeling that the world and its people are unfair to us or have it in for us; that every circumstance has a reason why it won’t work out well for us and that every person is an enemy in disguise, THEN we remain chronically angry. The word UNFAIR becomes our battle cry. When we can’t stop and be satisfied or happy and at peace for even an hour or a few minutes at a time, we are chronically angry and negative. We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop; never at ease or light of heart or relaxed, even for a little while.
And finally, when we immediately ‘blame others‘ for what they are ‘making us feel’ or what they are ‘making us do’, then we are, again, acting like victims.
So, you see, acting like a victim is not necessarily a passive, whiney, sort of pathetic stance or attitude like we might have previously thought.
No! On the contrary, when we’re acting like victims we can be quite active and offensive, and we can often stir up great amounts of anger, fear, anxiety, chaos, and resentment in those around us, including and perhaps especially our loved ones.
Well, now that we’ve defined the problem, how do we fix it?
Here are three simple rules to follow in order to quickly ‘pull the plug’ on victimhood in your life:
1) accept responsibility for what you can control, and let go of the rest
2) don’t blame or attack others
3) be kind to others and to yourself; you’re not perfect and are not expected to be
Whenever you are tempted to be defensive, to blame, to be angry again, or to push others away somehow, step back, count to ten, and go through the above steps to determine where the problem is and how you can correct it quickly and move on. A sense of humor, both towards yourself and the situation at hand, can be a great ally here by the way.
The problem with carrying ourselves through life as victims the way I’m describing it is at least twofold: First, we push others away and hurt them, and second, we begin to dislike ourselves and treat ourselves badly with bad habits or lack of self-care.
In all my years (so far) of practice, from posh suburbia to community clinics to correctional facilities, I have only met two people who I would consider fundamentally ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ (both happened to also be murderers).
The rest of us, my friends, are fundamentally good people who carry a heavy load in our lives.
This load might be obvious or it might be quite subtle.
It might involve past traumas, or maybe mostly current situations or problems, or both.
Whatever the case may be, take it from me that when we are acting like victims the way I’m describing it here, we are acting like we are wounded and we are bleeding all over the place.
That’s literally what it looks like and feels like to those around us. They see it. They feel it. And it’s toxic to them.
So, let’s stop ‘bleeding’ all over everybody around us and making it more messy and worse off for ourselves.
Instead, let’s put some salve on the wound, or maybe a tourniquet, and let’s learn to move on from there today, starting with our behaviors.
Then, let’s do the same thing tomorrow.
All the best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First)