We’ve all come across them—those people who seem to live their lives seeking advice about their suffering.
Moving from confidante to confidante, they share their troubles, ask for counsel, and then fail to heed our guidance.
We offer them compassion, comfort them, and then watch them take another dive into the bitter waters of victimization. Yes, their pain is real, regardless of their inability to get out of their own way. Still, it’s frustrating to watch.
But what about those who simply like to play around the edges of the pool, or perhaps wade into its shallow end from time to time?
In my meditation and mindfulness practice, I’ve tried to focus on becoming radically responsible for my actions, rather than blaming others for the pain or troubles I face along my journey. It’s uncomfortable to admit, but it isn’t always an easy thing. The temptation to look outward for someone or something to blame for my discomfort is as compelling as it is subtle.
If I’m late for an appointment, I’m tempted blame the people in front of me in traffic for my delay.
If I’m hurt by someone’s careless words or mistreatment, I’m tempted to think they don’t appreciate me.
If I’m frustrated at work because something is taking too long, I’m tempted to be irritated and cast judgment on another’s intentions or abilities.
I’m not proud of any of those thoughts. But I’d guess most of us deal with them, if we’re being honest. These seemingly innocuous thoughts can be difficult to identify, because they seem much like the soundtrack of daily living. We don’t really hear the music—it’s just there.
The source of acute pain is often easy to identify. Having raised two children, I can attest to having stepped barefooted onto Legos, jacks, and other mislaid items. When I did, I knew exactly the source of the pain. But chronic pain in the form of seeing yourself as a victim—suffering, if you will—is much more nefarious. It takes time, energy, money, and often, countless trips to the doctor to identify its cause.
So what must we do? What must I do?
First, pay attention to the times you are feeling emotional pain. Emotional pain is a pretty good indicator of our own expectations of the universe and those with whom we share it. Let the pain point you to its cause, rather than just paying attention to the symptom. Just as you would with a good friend, offer yourself some comfort and compassion. (It hurts to step on a Lego!)
Second, look inside the pain and discomfort and ask yourself what it was you expected. Did you hope traffic would magically disappear? Are you judging someone’s intentions for their apparent mistreatment? Are you holding people responsible for your happiness? Invite yourself to step down from the throne of your own judgment.
Third, confront yourself with the possibility you are wading into the waters of being a victim. It’s entirely possible you’re actually a victim of circumstance, ill-intention, or otherwise. (Obviously, sexual and emotional abuse fall into these categories.) But dwelling in the emotional mire that it creates isn’t useful. Try offering people your compassion and understanding, realizing that you really don’t know their motivations, the pain they may in fact be suffering from, or whatever else might be the cause of their behavior. It could be fear, pain, or just a misunderstanding.
Most of us know that diving into shallow waters can permanently disable us. And diving into the deep end can drown us if we don’t swim well. But diving into either end of the victim’s pool can be just as dangerous. Doing so leads us into living with a pervasive sense of pessimism, an attitude that things don’t ever seem to work out for us, and that we’re only getting partial satisfaction out of the universe.
As for me, I’ve tried to put up some signs that warn me to stay away from the dangerous waters. Sometimes, I wander past them unwittingly. But the more I practice radical responsibility, the more I stay out of the water—and the happier I am.
I hope you will be too.
Bonus: 5 Mindful Things to Do Each Morning
Author: Jim Owens
Image: Max Pixel
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina