Eliminating Our Own Victim Mind Set
By Sharon Strand Ellison
Victim Mind-Set Erases Choices
much would you strengthen your self-esteem, happiness, and creative productivity
if you were never in a "victim mind-set?"
Introduction — For All of Us:
I put the tip for all of us first, followed by tips for couples, parents, and professionals. I think it is valuable to read them in order as the information from one area can be generalized to another.
First I want
to make a clear distinction between being treated as a victim and having
a victim mentality. Its not like the old horse and carriage, we can have one without the other. For abusers actually to feel victimized
by the people they are hurting emotionally or even physically is a classic
scenario. On the other hand, we may be genuinely victimized by someone
and still not think or respond like a victim.
to think like a victim: Sojourner Truth, a strong African-American abolition activist
who had escaped slavery, delivered
a powerful "Ain't I a Woman?" speech at the
National Women's Suffrage Convention in Akron, Ohio. Only women were allowed
to speak, and her speech was so compelling that
opponents of the movement attempted to discredit her by humiliating her. She was
ordered to go to the women's room and bare her breast to prove that she
was a woman.
Truth was offered a choice between not speaking and being humiliated.
But she refused to stay in the confines of that "no-win" choice.
She refused to think like a victim. She chose to speak and as she
went to the womens room under the demand to "prove" she was a woman, she
said with power and grace, "It is to your shame, not mine, that I
The Problem: We slip easily into victim mentality when we we try to get exactly what we want in less than ideal circumstances. When we can't, we allow
ourselves to be trapped in no-win choices. Often, we aren't even willing
to consider any choice other than the ideal choice. When we are
in victim mentality, we dont see the range of choices we have and
we wallow in resentment. We feel helpless.
The Solution: In order to eliminate our victim mentality, we must:
by accepting the reality of the situation instead of trying to achieve
2. Find the best choice available within the reality of the circumstances,
3. Accept that choice instead of resenting it.
Following are 3 sets of tips for: Couples, Parents, & Professionals:
For Friends — You're Late, I Wait
Mind-Set: If I want to see my friend for tea
or coffee, and she is chronically late, I may feel victimized by the choice
between having to wait or not getting to see her. I wait and then feel
disconnected and irritated.
Mind-Set: If I dont want to be a victim I have many choices.
I can accept that my friend is always late and chose to:
1. Be late
Holiday Meal Variation, with Family &/or Friends — You're Late, We Wait
2. Take a good book and have a 15 minutes of quiet time,
3. Meet at a place near where I have other errands and let her know that
Ill wait ten minutes (or whatever suits me) and if shes not
there, Ill leave.
4. Meet her at my house so I can keep doing whatever I want till she gets
there, and if she doesnt arrive before my next appointment, she
wont get to see me.
Mind-Set: How many of you out there plan a holiday
meal and have certain relatives or friends who are always late. You hold
up dinner, the food either dries out being kept warm in the oven or gets cold on the
counter. You and the rest of the family and guests sit around pretending
that you are having fun instead of waiting, or openly complain or argue
about whether you should wait a few more minutes or go ahead and eat.
Here we have a whole room full of people feeling helpless and frustrated.
Mind-Set: You let the late-arrivers know ahead of time, "Were
gathering at 2:00 and well eat at 3:00. If you get there late, just
come on in and join the meal." Now, everyone can have fun, eat, and
not be so angry when the others do arrive. (Just make sure you dont
assign them to bring the turkey, pasta, ham, or whatever your main dish
is!) This sounds so simple. What stops us from doing it?
For Couples — Trying to Get What You Need from a Partner Who Is in a Bad Mood
Note: Ive made the names generic so either person
could be a man or a woman.
Mind-Set: Sandy asks Marty "Would you like to go to that movie
tonight that weve been wanting to see?" and Marty says passively,
"Whatever you want." Sandy snipes, sarcastically, "What
I want is for you to have some enthusiasm about having a date together
tonight!" Marty returns the fire, "Look, I said Id go.
Do you want me to do a dance?!" Their choice is now to go that movie,
slumped angrily in their seats, or stay home and be angry with each other.
Mind-Set: After getting a noncommittal response about going to the
movies, Sandy can ask:
Questions: "Would you like to have a date tonight
or would you rather not?," and/or, "Is
there anything youd like to do that you would feel enthusiastic
about?," and/or, "Are you withdrawn because youre upset
with me for some reason? If so, are you willing to talk about it and clear
the air so we can feel close tonight?"
does not respond in a way that meets Sandys need to be connected,
then its time to shift gears, perhaps saying:
Predictions: "I'd love and prefer to do something with you if we can be close
and have fun. If you arent wanting to connect with me tonight, I
think Ill ask a friend to see the movie with me rather than feel
depressed about it."
chose to create an enjoyable evening alone or with someone else. If Sandy
insists on spending the evening with Marty and can only be satisfied
if Marty is enthusiastic about their time together, Sandy will be victimized
by Martys attitude. Marshall Rosenburg said that when we depend
on having one other person meet our needs, we dont see the abundance
of choices available to us.
For Parents — Falling Victim to Being Seen as the "Bad Cop" Parent
Victim Mind-Set: Clare
and George have a teenage son, Mark, and Clare is upset because George
is too permissive with him. If Mark has been told to do chores or homework
before borrowing the car or playing computer games, all Mark has to do
is promise to do his work later and his gives in. When Clare refuses to
give him his privileges before he has done his work, Mark accuses, "Thats
not fair! Ill do my homework when I get home!! Ive got all
weekend!! Dad would let me go and do this later!! You just want to mess
up my life."
Clare tells George, "Im
trying to get Mark to be responsible, and I cant do it without your
support. He just thinks Im the crappy parent and youre the
good guy!" Clare becomes increasingly harsh with Mark and George,
and is increasingly seen by them as the one causing the problems.
Empowered Mind-Set: Clare
developed a victim mind-set, feeling helpless and angry when she couldnt
get support from her husband for her parenting approach. She took that
anger out on both of them. But Clare doesnt have to accept the role
of "Crappy Parent." She can continue to see her choices as
valid and present them as valid. She can establish her own position with
positive strength, saying perhaps:
Statement: Mark, your dad
does let you have your privileges before you do your work. When he is
the one deciding what you do, thats his choice. For me, requiring
that you to do your work before privileges is important to helping you
become a really competent person in this world. For me that is an act
of love, even though its hard on me when you are angry at me. Ill
continue to expect you to do your work first, and I think the day will come
when you will actually appreciate it.
For Professionals — Do What I Tell You — Even if It Causes Problems
Victim Mind-Set: A
new manager, William, was hired in Marios department. Mario, also
in a managerial position, was asked by William to implement a series of
changes. Mario tried to explain to William that three of these changes
involved procedures that had been tried before but caused some serious
problems. William seemed to take Marios comments as a challenge
to his authority, and dismissed them. Mario was frustrated, complained
to others, and rather sullenly said he would do as asked. He was worried
that in his own managerial role he would be held accountable for the problems
he knew would develop. He was afraid to complain to his new bosss
supervisor for fear of looking like sour grapes.
Empowered Mind-Set: Mario,
in this case, got some advice and decided to write an email to William
to clarify his position. It said:
Statement: I want to be clear
and respectful in telling you the specific problems we had when we previously
used the following three procedures you have asked me to implement over
the next few months. I am concerned about the impact on the company, and
about my own responsibility as a manager, given that I will be directing
my staff to put a process into effect that I know is going to cause problems.
Since you are my manager, I feel it is my duty to officially report these
issues to you.
Possible Predictions: If you
want to talk to me about other options, Id be glad to do so. If
you still want me to implement these procedures, I will do so as efficiently
as I can.
If you still want me to implement
these procedures, I want to have it on record that I reported these problems
so I am not held accountable for any resulting problems.
If you feel determined to implement
these procedures, Id like to ask that we meet together with your
supervisor to discuss it first, so she is aware of the problems we had
Sharon's Closing Thoughts on Victim Mind-Set
The world is not an ideal place.
When we look for ideal choices and ideal solutions, we find we have fewer
and fewer "choices." We think like victims, which usually involves
feeling both helpless and angry.
If we know that we are making choices
in situations that are not ideal and we accept that, then we will suddenly
see countless choices previously invisible to us. We will feel greater
freedom and take more responsibility for the choices we do make. Doing
so, I believe we can dramatically alter how we feel about ourselves and
the level of intimacy we have with others.
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