Victim, Victor, Transformer: Part I: The Victim State Of Mind

An important part of becoming transformational is the journey through the roles of victim, to victor, to transformer. Let’s look at each of these in turn:

What are the essential characteristics of a victim?

When one is a victim, they feel at the mercy of events, outer factors or other people. What this means is that they feel like other things or other people are ‘causes’ in their life. Another way of saying this is that they feel like a little piece of wood being dashed around by waves in a big ocean, unable to do much more than passively suffer as each new wave hits. This is the total opposite of living a transformative life; a life where you are an active influence on yourself and the in the world that you live in. In this column we will take a closer look at how people take on the role of being a victim.

There are three parts to becoming a victim at the hands of others. First, there is the action that is perpetrated upon us by others. Then there is the way that we view that action, also known as the ‘frame.’ Finally, there is what we do in response to that action. Action, frame, response. Sometimes the response is a way of dealing with what has just happened to us, sometimes the response is a plan for the future if it happens again. While we can’t always control what happens to us, we do control how we view it (i.e. the ‘frame’). We also control our response to it. For this reason, a big chunk of being a victim is actually a function of our perspective on others, what they do to us, and what we do in response. In other words, a large part of victimhood resides in the mind.

(Note: This does not apply to children. For a child, being a victim is not simply a state of mind. Children are much less powerful and have much fewer tools than adults. They are also unable to function independently without help from adults. For this reason children are in many ways at the mercy of those around them, for better or for worse. This is one major reason why adults are responsible for children – because (by nature, and unlike adults) children are unable to be fully responsible for themselves. A large part of becoming an adult is learning to move from being one who is ‘acted upon’ to an ‘actor’ who has the ability to affect what is around them (as well as their own state of mind).

When a person has a ‘victim state of mind,’ they feel powerless to prevent or protect themselves from bad things that come their way. They tend to react in a way that is either fearful, sad or angry (or a combination of all three). They also live in a continuous state of fearful anticipation of that action happening again. This cycle keeps them in a negative state. Their mind revolves around the following thoughts, “The world is bad, people are bad, bad things are going to happen to me and I am powerless to prevent this.” All of these ways of thinking put a person firmly in the role that is called ‘victim.’ When someone inhabits the role of victim, their energy is spent in negative thinking about the past, present or future, and in fearful (and often ineffective) attempts at self-protection or self-defense. They live in a scary and negative world, in a semi-powerless state. This is a far cry from living a transformational life.

Before a person can become transformative, they first have to free themselves from being in the role of victim and begin to feel instead like a victor (the opposite of a victim). How does one move from the role of victim to the role of victor? First and foremost one needs to become aware of how they perceive others, especially people that are treating them badly. Do they see others as powerful and malevolent beings that are bent on causing intentional harm? Seeing some people as ‘bad’ and intentionally out to cause harm splits the world into categories of ‘good people’ and ‘bad people.’ Each time they are mistreated at the hands of one of the ‘bad people,’ this will be looked at as proof that ‘bad people’ (that guy in the store, my nasty boss, my awful mother) have power that ‘good people’ (or at least oneself ) do not, and they, being powerless, will inevitably continue to be hurt by the ‘bad people.’

There are alternatives to this way of thinking about others. Let’s look some of these alternative ways of thinking. We will do this starting from the most common and benign to the least common and most difficult or dangerous:

The first thing that one can do is to let go of thinking that other people are ‘bad’ and out to cause intentional harm. Most people do not possess perfect tools for dealing with others. Most people are just trying to get around in life as best they can, using tools that they were taught that are not very effective. They may lack the ability to interact gracefully with others. They may use hurtful words when there are other ways of expressing themselves. They may simply be trying to get what they want or express their needs or discomfort, but don’t know a better way to do so. These people are not malicious by nature. They are just not in possession of the right tools, or the knowledge of how it might be to their benefit to use those tools.

Other people are simply not paying attention. They did not see that they cut you off on the highway. They were not aware that they bumped into you on the street. They were not paying attention to their tone of voice, or their expression or body language. They were not thinking about you at all. Should they think more about others? Of course they should (see the earlier column – ‘The Root of All Evil’). But they weren’t. They didn’t mean you intentional harm. They just didn’t notice you or your needs. This ‘not noticing’ is true of all of us from time to time, even the most ethical and considerate among us. It is simply not possible to notice everything and everyone all of the time. We are human beings, not gods.

Then there are people who, even when they notice the needs of others, just do not care. They look at other people as simply not important to them. They see most people as obstacles that are standing in the way of getting what they want, or inconveniences to be dealt with. These people are not out to purposefully harm anyone, but they will not help them either. Why are they so uncaring? Perhaps they were not cared about? Perhaps they were dealt with harshly. Perhaps no one ever taught them to care. Perhaps they innately lack the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others. Who knows? Whatever it is, it is not about you.

Lastly, there are those who do seem to be intentionally malicious or harmful. Some of these people are acting out of fear. Some of these people are acting out of anger. Some of these people are acting out of pain. Some of them have become accustomed to using or exploiting others to meet their needs (a thief, for example). A very tiny subset of this group actually enjoys causing discomfort to others. With people like this, it is not necessary to spend time and energy thinking about whether or not their actions are meant against us personally. If we were not in the picture, they would probably be hurtful to someone else. These people are like biting dogs. Is a biting dog ‘bad’? I don’t know. Perhaps it is just the nature of certain dogs to be aggressive and to bite. Is it useful to curse a biting dog? To feel victimized by it? To explore whether or not the dog meant anything against us personally? To look at the deeper motivation and psychology of the dog (when we are not its trainer)? Most people would rather simply conclude that it is in the nature of some dogs to bite, and it is a better use of one’s time and energy simply keeping a safe distance from aggressive dogs. Am I a helpless victim if I forgot (or was not aware) and walked too close to a biting dog and got bitten? No, I am just someone who needs to be more aware in the future. I am a powerful person who simply needs to use the best tools, strategy and awareness in dealing with people who are likely to hurt me (or others, as it is rarely just about ‘me’).

This transition away from a sad, angry, fearful state of mind about people and the world at large is what marks the departure from being a victim. What is it that now takes us into the role of ‘victor’?

More on that in the next column: The Victor State of Mind

Miriam E. Mendelson, PhD, is the Director of the Center for Transformative Development, Counseling, Consulting and Mediation in NYC and is available for speaking engagements, individual and family counseling and business consultation. Click here for a complete list of all Miriam Mendelson’s articles. Column feedback and questions are welcome:
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