The lifestyle of a victim or martyr does not allow for the serene enjoyment of well-being.
David Richo, Shadow Dance.
You may not consider yourself a victim, or a martyr, but if you find that you:
- Consistently focus on what is wrong in the world
- Move from one drama or crisis to another
- Blame, complain and criticise more often than not
- Are a passive observer rather than an active participant in your life
- Believe that you have little to feel grateful for
- Look to other people for validation of your self
it’s likely that your psyche’s been hijacked, to some extent, by victim mentality. If you can honestly say that you’re happy, or at least contented, with your life then you need read no further.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself constantly envying others, or wishing ‘If only…’ then it’s probable that you’re stuck in a victim story. I know quite a bit about those, having been the archetypal victim for most of my life.
Of course, when we’re children we don’t have much say about what happens to us; most of us endure unpleasant experiences. If we’ve had adequate nurturing, we might mature sufficiently to process those experiences so that they don’t impact negatively on our adult lives. But what if, as was certainly the case for me, our emotional development is thwarted by the circumstances we are forced to endure as children? We then grow up to look like adults, but the wounded-child part of our psyche loiters in our subconscious, slyly directing our actions so that things never quite work out as we wish. Even if, on the face of it, our lives appear to be satisfactory, constantly comparing our lot unfavourably with that of others suggests that there’s room for improvement.
As Karen Casey, in Timeless Wisdom, points out: When we were young, our parents and siblings served as our teachers, but they weren’t always good ones. We may have learned habits that haunt us still… We can come to believe those teachers did their best. They passed on to us what they had been taught… [we can] discard behaviours that serve us no more and cultivate ones that do.
A good place to start is with some honest, neutral self-reflection (impartiality is essential – beating yourself up will get you nowhere). Socrates claimed that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’: it’s safe to say that after suffering what my local Women’s Refuge deemed to be ‘dangerous’ levels of abuse during six weeks on the run with a psychopath, I needed to take a long, enquiring look at my life. I’d been desperate to be rescued during those six weeks, but ultimately I had to save myself. The story of my ordeal and recovery is too vast to fit into one blog post; it’s been an epic quest for which I’m still writing the ending.
Personal (and post-traumatic) growth has been instrumental in helping me reclaim my life. I’ve learned to recognise when I’m sliding back into victim consciousness and can now take steps to empower myself when that happens.
Caroline Myss, in Sacred Contracts, claims that we all possess a ‘Victim archetype’. It is triggered when we are in situations where we feel inferior and its role is to help us to develop self-worth. A question Myss suggests asking when your victim archetype is triggered is: ‘I am committed to my own empowerment. What choices can I make here that will serve my own empowerment?’
Another way of challenging victim mentality is put forward by life coach Martha Beck. If you find yourself asking ‘Why is this happening to me?’ an objective, inquiring approach is more constructive than a self-pitying one. Because the effects of the challenges in our lives are largely determined by how we respond to them.
In Unexpected Miracles: The Gift of Synchronicity and How to Open It, David Richo asserts that asking what you did to deserve misfortune is less effective than telling yourself ‘This is not about what I did. This is about what I am called to be’. I’m inclined to agree with him. I’m called to be all that I’m capable of being; how about you?