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

As we discussed in the previous column, being a victim (at least for adults) is largely a state of mind. A victim sees themselves as being on the receiving end of people that are out to purposely hurt them. They see themselves as helpless to defend themselves or avoid harm. Lastly, when people hurt them, they see it as a personal targeting of themselves in particular. This perspective is particularly destructive because it tends to reinforce itself. The more one sees oneself as a victim, the more one tends to act like one and invite further poor treatment. It’s kind of like walking around with a bullseye painted on one’s back. The less one learns how to protect and defend oneself, the more people tend to take advantage of one’s vulnerability. This convinces the person that their view is correct; that they really are a victim and are at the mercy of a host of ‘bad characters.’ A vicious cycle is created.  How does one break this cycle?

Before one can change one’s actions and stop being a victim, they need to change their thinking. When people treat them poorly, here are some perspectives to try on: People are doing the best they can. Many people have not been taught how to get what they want in a way that is gentle towards others. Many people think that in order for them to gain, other people have to lose. This is not their fault – it is what they were taught. Some people are burdened with extremely sensitive and volatile temperaments. It is easy for them to feel threatened by others. This is not their fault. They were likely born this way, and no one has taught them how to understand, cope with or manage their highly sensitive personality. Many people have not had the gift of being raised by people who trained them to notice the feelings and needs of others. It is not their fault that they go through life not noticing or responding to the needs of those around them. Some people have learned that aggression towards others is the most useful tool for their own (real or imagined) survival in a rough and cruel world. None of these people are personally out for your destruction. They just don’t know any better. If they are actually out to get you, they are probably so biased and corrupt in the way that they think about other human beings that if it were not you that they were targeting, they would surely find someone else. Like someone who is mentally deficient, these predatory human beings are born (or raised) to be lacking basic human compassion and ability to care for others. Like someone who is lacking a limb, they are totally lacking in a fundamental part of what makes us human beings. So, none of these cases has anything to do with you. Another way of saying it is, the fact that you are being targeted does not mean that you are bad or inferior (or that the people targeting you are bad or inferior), it just means that you (because of some vulnerability) are an easier person to target. Or you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Okay, so we’ve fixed our perspective. We now see people as simply doing the best they can with the tools that they have (as the rather useful saying goes).  The next most important thing that we need to do is to let go of the idea that we are going to change people so that they don’t treat us badly. Why do we need to let go of this idea? There are several reasons:

1)  It is an ultimately impossible task. If people were capable of changing others, there would be no need for divorce. No need to leave bad jobs with horrible bosses. Jails would be empty. All friendships and relationships would be harmonious. It’s not that it is always impossible to request that another person change their behavior, it is a wonderful thing when another person goes out of their way (out of their own free will) to modify themselves to benefit us and to please us. But it is not a common occurrence and certainly not something we should rely on as a regular strategy for dealing with the unpleasantness of others. When requests don’t work, forcing others to change for us is just as useless (if not more so). When people feel that someone is forcing them to do something, it brings even more resistance out of them and makes the prospect that they will follow our will even more remote.

2)  When we rely on wishing or hoping that some strategy of ours is going to change another person, we stay locked in a cycle of helplessness, in this case the helplessness of trying and failing to change someone to suit our needs. This keeps us feeling like a victim because if the other person does not change, we are stuck with their bad treatment. We are dependent on their changes to feel safe, comfortable, secure, and not mistreated. This is not much of an improvement on our original feelings of being victimized by others.  Ironically, in some ways it is worse because when other people mistreat us, we know we are helpless victims. But, when we think that if we could only figure out how to change someone then we would be okay, we are stuck being the vulnerable victim while holding on to the illusion that we can change our circumstances by changing the other person – if we could just figure out how to do so successfully. We think we are powerful, except that all our attempts fail, and we continue to be mistreated.

3)  Last but not least, giving up on changing others as a solution puts the power and choices where they belong – in our hands. When we are no longer focused on others, we can focus on ourselves and what options are in our hands to improve our situation. Ideally these are options that do not depend on the good-will (or our coercion) of others, but rather are all about our strategies and choices for ourselves. When we start to develop these strategies and approaches, we see that they are applicable to many situations and types of people. Some of them are so simple as to be almost laughable. But we won’t see them at all if we are locked into the addictive desire to change others and the world to be the way that we want and treat us well. When we start to exercise our own power and choices, we exit the role of victim entirely and step into the role of a Victor – someone who the world has a much, much, harder time mistreating or taking advantage of. Someone who, even when they cannot escape bad occurrences or people, will have a much stronger ability to adapt and rise above difficulties. They become a person who will bounce back, find creative ways to ‘heal and deal’ and who will always use negative occurrences as a source of useful lessons for the future.

Okay, it sounds good, but so far this is all theoretical. What does this look like in actual practice? More on this in the next column!

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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