My friend Susan always puts herself last. She’s a single mom with a demanding job who supports three kids and her elderly mother. She recently confided in me that she’d love to switch to a position that offers her some more flexibility and allows her to have some personal time to do the things she loves, but she doesn’t have the confidence to make a change.
“The kids are getting older, and I dream of having time to meditate, write, and pursue my interests. My job makes me miserable, but it pays the bills, and everyone depends on me. I guess I’m lucky to have it – I’d better not make waves.”
At first glance, Susan’s approach might seem like one any responsible adult might take, but it’s taking a big toll on her. I can feel how depleted she is energetically, and I’ve noticed that our conversations have become more and more negative.
My gut tells me Susan’s choice to remain in a job that is unfulfilling, and not carving out time for the self-care she needs are symptoms of a victim mentality.
She and I had a long talk, and I asked a few questions that helped confirm that instead of taking responsibility for her own happiness, Susan was choosing to be a victim.
Are you a victim?
Check any of these statements that you feel apply to your life most of the time.
- No matter what I do, things never going to change for me.
- I feel it’s my job to put everyone else first- but no one seems to make my needs a priority.
- The people in my life don’t support my goals and dreams, so I guess those things are not in the cards for me.
- When something goes wrong, I tend to blame myself.
- I feel like a better, more fulfilling life is just out of reach.
- My life has been difficult since I was a child – I think I’ve just gotten used to it.
- I often talk to my friends about how hard my life is and how frustrated I am that nothing ever changes.
- Other people just seem to be luckier and get more breaks than I do.
- When people offer advice, it’s never helpful, since they can’t possibly know how difficult my situation really is.
- I spend a fair amount of my time dwelling on past failures and mistakes.
- I’m always so busy with work and the things I need to do to survive that I just don’t have time to do things I want to do for myself.
How did you score? If you checked more than a couple of these boxes, you might be stuck in a victim mentality.
If you scored high on the “victim scale” don’t beat yourself up! That’s not an insult, and more importantly, it’s not a life sentence. You might feel you’re shackled to your past, your marriage, or your job – but guess what?
Victimhood is an illusion. Hanging on to a victimhood mentality is like staying locked in a cage when you have the key in your pocket!
Here are three steps to break those patterns of victimhood and turn your life around.
1. Recognize the signs of victimhood and really examine your behavior. Consider what payoff you receive from being a martyr. Do you crave the approval that comes from others, who say things like “I don’t know what we’d do without you?” Or are you repeating some time worn pattern of your own making, fulfilling a childhood need to be the people pleaser or “good girl or good boy.”
Is it possible that taking a pessimistic approach where you blame others for not pursuing your dreams means that you never have to take a risk or hold yourself accountable?
When you take a hard look at your own behaviors, you’ll see which ones are holding you back. You’ll also realize the benefits you are getting from victimhood. But are those benefits worth the sacrifice?
2. Want to stop playing the victim? Snap out of it – literally! Some people have a word or some way to signal themselves when they’re going down that same old victim path – like snapping a rubber band that they wear around the wrist. Next time you find yourself saying “Yes” when you mean “No” or telling yourself you’re not good enough or you don’t deserve to have what you want, use this tool to make you aware of your behavior. And you don’t have to use a rubber band. A word of phrase will do just as well. I suggest “I am worthy!” or “I’m in control of me!”
3. Turn your thoughts around. They have a lot of power! Instead of thinking about what you don’t have or beating yourself up for what you didn’t do, make gratitude for what you DO have a habit. Every morning and every evening, spend some time sitting quietly, focusing on your breathing, and set an intention to be responsible for your own happiness. Keep moving toward the person you want to be, and reinforce that you are capable, strong, and what you want matters!
Taking Responsibility and Breaking the Chains of Victimhood
A few weeks after Susan and I had our talk, she called me up. “James, I was so mad at you for calling me a victim! I didn’t think I had a choice, but what you said kind of stuck in my head. I thought and thought about it and I realized no one was going to fix my life except for me. I signed up for a yoga class and I’m getting up 20 minutes early every day to meditate. I feel better already. And guess what, I have a job interview tomorrow!”
Martyrdom is an easy habit to fall into. The problem is, the moment you decide to play the victim, you’re giving away all your power and putting it in the hands of someone else. And chances are, you won’t like where that approach takes you.
Your thoughts and beliefs become magnets for your reality. Only you are responsible for the thoughts you think, the decisions you make and the actions you take. When you realize this, you’re handing yourself the “keys” to running your own life. It might be scary, but trust me, it will put you in touch with yourself, your soul, and help you achieve your true destiny.
A Surprise Encounter With Susan
Taking time for yoga and meditation was just the first step for Susan! A couple of months after our last telephone conversation, I ran into her pushing a cart down the aisle at Target, and was delighted to hear how she had turned her life around. After making a conscious decision to take responsibility for her own happiness, she interviewed for several jobs and landed one that not only paid more, but gave her the opportunity to work from home three days a week. With the time she saved commuting, she was able to exercise, work on her writing, and spend time with her family – on her terms. Best of all, her mother, children and even her ex-husband were supportive of her efforts, and were helping her. Susan no longer feels like Atlas, with the weight of the world on her shoulders – and is optimistic about what the future holds.