“Every test in our life makes us bitter or better, every problem comes to break us or make us. The choice is ours whether we become victim or victor.” ~ Unknown
I will never argue that some people have been dealt really ugly hands in life.
For some of us, the circumstances of those ugly hands last our entire lives, and for others, they are one-off events that happen as we travel the road of life.
But one fact remains universal: we have all at one time or another felt like a victim.
We have most likely screamed to anyone who would listen, “This is so unfair! Why is this happening to me?”
Yep, I’ve been there. I know how to play the victim card with the best of them. Life has thrown me some truly sh*tty cards on occasion and then challenged me to make the most out of the hand I was dealt.
Luckily, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best therapists, coaches, spiritual teachers and kick-me-in-the ass friends who have shown me the way out of victim-hood and into the game of empowerment no matter what hand I’ve been dealt.
There is no situation we can’t re-frame so we’re not the victim. Throw me the biggest curve ball of your life, and I’ll bat that right back to you and show you how to make it into a home run. I’ve had to learn how to swing the bat differently just like everyone else…but now that I know what to do, I can get myself to first base, at least, with the lamest of pitches.
Maybe we were laid off from our job. Maybe a friend stole money from us or a family member continues to mistreat or hurt us. Maybe our wife had an affair and left us for someone else or we’re bitter because we believe somebody who hurt us got away with it, are showing no remorse, and seem happy.
Maybe we’re in an abusive relationship or one where we feel powerless. Maybe we’re burdened with all of the responsibility of parenting because our spouse works all of the time or is simply emotionally unavailable.
Maybe we feel that we’re the one at the office who does all the work and gets none of the recognition.
It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. If we’re in a situation where we feel powerless, stuck, or oppressed, these are some things that stop us from making ourselves victims and breaking through to the other side:
1. Boundaries are everything. Many of us hesitate to set clear boundaries with people and stick to them.
Boundaries tell others that you have the highest degree of love and respect for yourself. They say, “Hey, I honor how you feel but this is how I feel and this is my boundary.” The catch is, setting the boundary itself is not enough. You have to honor the boundary you’ve set and never allow it to be crossed.
Mark Groves says it so well when he talks about the consequences of not upholding boundaries with people: “The more chances you give someone, the less respect they’ll start to give you. They will begin to ignore the standards you’ve set because they will expect another chance being given.”
Want to feel empowered instead of powerless? Create boundaries and stick to them.
2. We all have the gift of “choice.” We choose everything in our lives. When people tell me, “I don’t have a choice in this,” I call bullsh*t on that. We always have a choice to find solutions that alleviate the pressure of a situation, make things easier on ourselves, or choose a path that will bring us less pain.
For example, “I can’t leave this job that I absolutely hate because I’m the breadwinner of the family and I make all the money.”
Yep…I get that. I’m not suggesting that you quit your job. I do suggest that you look for another one that would give you more of what you’re looking for—better hours, better working conditions, a boss you may actually like working for, doing something you’re truly passionate about instead of something you hate. What I find is that people are not willing to make any compromises to have something different.
To have all of this, we may have to take a job making less money. We may have to cut our expenses or downsize our home. I see more people refuse to do this and then play the victim for years at a job that sucks the life out of them rather than simply downsize their lifestyle. And all of them will insist, “I don’t have a choice.”
3. Ask yourself the question, “What is my part in this?” This one applies more to relationships whether they be with lovers, spouses, family members, or friends. There are two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle, there’s the truth. Everyone has their own perspective on what’s going on.
And the truth is: there are always two sides to a story. If one person is feeling bullied or taken advantage of, I can guarantee the other person doesn’t see their behavior that way. If one person decides to leave the marriage or relationship because they aren’t happy, the other person typically feels differently and will make themselves the victim of the other person’s abandonment.
Relationships become strained, broken, and end because of both parties. There are two people in the dynamic which means both people have to take some degree of accountability for what went wrong. So rather than feeling abandoned, rejected, dismissed, or disrespected ask yourself, “What was my part in this?” Because there is always some small part that we play.
4. Ask yourself, “What is the lesson?” Everything that happens in our life is a lesson. I don’t consider anything that doesn’t turn out the way we envision a failure. It’s a growth opportunity.
You know that old saying, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” If you want to get yourself out of the victim mentality, hold onto this gem of wisdom, because it does. Whatever is kicking your ass and causing turmoil and pain is really a lesson teaching us what not to do next time.
Maybe it’s being more responsible with our money. Maybe it’s not being so trusting of people before we really know them. Maybe it’s recognizing the red flags in a relationship sooner and not burying our heads in the sand. Maybe it’s trusting our intuition and inner voice when it’s telling us that something doesn’t seem right.
No matter what it is, there’s a powerful life lesson in the experience if we dig deep enough.
5. Have compassion. When I say have compassion, I mean both for ourselves and for the other people involved. As mentioned earlier, there are two sides to every story. When we are able to step outside ourselves and our own pain, sadness, anger, or frustration and try to put ourselves into the shoes of another person, it’s a lot easier to not feel like a victim of what’s happening.
Other times, it’s just having compassion for ourselves and where we’re at. Maybe in the moment, we feel betrayed by life. Maybe we feel that a particular thing keeps happening to us over and over again. Maybe we feel like we’ll never have what we truly want.
Whatever the case may be, if we can hold compassion for what we’re feeling and then go back to number two, which is the belief that “we all have the gift of choice,” we can then choose to see our circumstances differently—where we are empowered. Where there is an opportunity for something better than what we already have. And where we trust that the universe is giving us this experience to teach us something and push our souls to grow.
We’re not victims. We’re warriors. We can transcend anything life throws our way. We may have to dig deep to get there but we’re all capable of it. My favorite spiritual teacher once said to me, “If you couldn’t handle it, it wouldn’t have been given to you.”
Remember you’re not what’s happened to you. You are what you choose to become. Take the pen and finish writing your own story.
Author: Dina Strada
Image: Harlow Heslop/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman