We tend to think of victim mentality with a flare of the dramatic… “Oh, poor me!” But it’s considerably more subtle and elusive. Anytime we feel powerless, we are feeling the effects of being a victim of circumstance. While we can’t change some circumstances, we can always adjust our mentality. Well, almost always. Let’s take a brief look at mental illness…
While mental illness has many complexities, which I am not qualified to discuss, their are 2 main categories to be aware of for our purposes: cognitive and physical. With a cognitive disorder, wrong thinking creates physical change (anxiety caused by thoughts can increase heat rate), and the person can benefit greatly from cognitive therapy, where they can learn coping skills. With a physical disorder, physical changes cause wrong thinking (like Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia), where cognitive therapy is of little use, because the physical brain no longer functions fully. The point is, if you have a relative with both Alzheimer’s and victim mentality, they lack the ability to change their thinking, so compassion is all we can offer. For the rest of us… mind your mind.
Victim mentality creeps into our thoughts and words in the form of excuses; all the reasons we have for not being happy, or not doing what we want with our lives. For every solution, there’s a problem. To be empowered means we have to completely accept our situation, then act where you can to change it. It is a mixture of old teachings and new… Buddhism tells us to just accept what is, and New Agers tell us to actively create our reality. Empowerment requires both. Fully accepting where you are, without resistance, removes fear and expense of energy on struggle. Then taking action, no matter how small, to change your situation activates your free will, which is like the power switch of the Universe.
Something to watch (listen) for is using victim language as currency. Caroline Myss has written about people using illness as social currency. Really listen to what people are using as currency… always telling you how broke they are, or how hard life is, or any number of stories. I’m not talking about sharing parts of their life in a general conversation. I’m talking about those people who have A TOPIC, that you know will come up, and will be discussed at length. Like your Great Aunt who always has to itemize her illnesses, medications, and procedures, and is offended if you don’t ask about her health.
This isn’t a judgement, just an awareness. Just be aware of the words people use to identify themselves, and their unwillingness to change. Ever though they ask for help solving their problems, no solution is ever good enough. They don’t want a solution, they want a problem. A solution would require change, and generally, suffering is preferable to change. Suffering is a known factor, while change requires faith and a willingness to explore the Mystery.
Now, turn that all inward. Listen to your own self-talk. Do you make excuses for your unhappiness? Replace “I would do this, BUT…” with “I would do this, BUT I am choosing to be a victim of circumstance.” How does that change the excuse? It is no longer a justification, but a choice. When you are ready, you can make a different choice.
Enablers are yet another aspect of this situation. Victim mentality, like so much, is just an addiction. And like any addiction, it requires a supplier. So while you may think you are just being compassionate company, you may actually be feeding an addiction. On one hand it’s a win-win, because Great Aunt Lulu gets to feel loved for her aches and pains, while the niece gets to feel useful by listening and making appropriate sympathetic noises, but no one is growing. At an ego level, being an enabler can be rewarding… but at what cost? Again, just be aware of the energy exchange, and how it propagates the issue.
As with so much, just the awareness of the dynamic will allow it to shift. You might easily change a few thought patterns, then really get stuck on one. That’s okay. Just sit with it, and accept where you are. Letting go of the struggle allows things to move. As you work this out inside yourself, you will begin to become more aware of the language others speak. Who are you surrounded by? What kind of stories do they replay? Remember, we become who we spend time with. Look at your 5 closest friends to see who you are becoming.
Most of all, mind your mind.