How do we know when we have been in the victim role too long?
- Feeling ‘stuck’
- Isolating from support or noticing your support pulling away
- Focusing mostly on what’s wrong or negative
- Predicting or expecting bad things will happen
- “Yes, but…”
- Telling the same story over and over again
- Holding on to Anger and Resentment
Here are some ways to help move you out of the victim role.
Tap into your strengths: When we are dealing with struggles and challenges in life, our focus tends to shift. We start to only see what is wrong, what’s not working, or other challenges we face. We can lose sight of the strengths, support and positive experiences that are happening as well. Practice ‘finding the rainbow’. Record and acknowledge at least one positive experience or message each day. It can be anything. You may have to start small. Increase this task each day. Have fun with it. Use your humor and detective skills as you search for positive messages and experiences throughout the day.
Positive support: We sometimes stay in the victim role because we may not be getting the support we need or deserve. If no one acknowledges and validates our thoughts and feelings, we tend to hold onto them. We start voicing them louder and more frequently until we get the validation and understanding we need. Take a look at your support system and identify at least one person you know you can trust, who will validate and support you. Counseling may be a good option if you determine you currently have limited positive support.
Dispel the myth of being strong: As I previously mentioned, we have the tendency to view being victimized as a weakness. These myths of ‘being strong’ and ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ perpetuate the victim cycle. These ideas or ways of being are not so easy to practice when we are faced with loss, challenges or mistreated by others. If we gave ourselves, and others, permission to grieve and acknowledge our hurt and pain, we would receive messages of support and encouragement instead of shame and weakness. When we are in the victim role, we tend to believe we are not ‘strong enough’ or ‘doing it right’. Consequently, we feel like we have failed.
Find ways to provide compassion and understanding rather than judgment and criticism. Examples of compassionate self-talk: “You didn’t deserve this.” “You have the right to feel this way.” “You are courageous by facing this challenge/ loss.” Rely on your spiritual faith and/or positive quotes to provide messages of compassion and understanding. Imagine how you would respond to a friend, dealing with his/her own loss or mistreatment. What words would you use to provide support and validation?
Rely on past challenges: At a time of loss or struggle, sometimes it seems like we will never get through it. Our world seems dark and we feel helpless and hopeless. We can’t see any way out. However, if we take time and reflect, we can probably think of past times we have thought and felt this way before. We can start to look at what or who helped us in these prior experiences. What gave us hope at a time we thought there was none? What worked in a prior experience to help us get ‘unstuck”?
Reach out: I mentioned checking to make sure you are receiving positive support within your network. Once you identify those people, make sure you reach out and ask for help or support. When we are feeling victimized, we tend to isolate and withdraw. We feel like no one understands what we are going through. Your family and friends can’t understand exactly what you are going through but they can provide an opportunity for you to describe and express your feelings and experience. You don’t have to do this alone. When we share our experiences and feelings, we feel more relaxed, connected and understood. Try connecting to an individual or group that may be dealing with a similar issue as yours. The biggest benefit people report when they attend a support group is, “I don’t feel so alone”.
Another way to reach out is to offer help and support to others. Helping others gets us away from the negative thinking attached to the victim role mentality - "Why me?". When we see others in distress, we realize we are not the only ones struggling and others can have it worse than us. The more we love and care for others, the more we can accept love and care for ourselves.
Change your story: When we have an experience, we attach a story to it in order to describe and share with others. If you find yourself telling the same story over and over again, noticing anger, resentment, and negativity increasing, you may want to consider 're-writing' your story. Example: "No one likes me. Every one of my friends takes advantage of me. No one is ever there for me when I need it" Re-write example: "I feel like my friends take advantage of me. If I learn to say “no”, I wonder if things will change." OR, "I need to meet more friends. I want to be treated the way I treat my friends." Use the image of a kaleidoscope as a way to remind yourself that turning the kaleidoscope changes the design. We experience similar results when we do the same. When we change the way we look at something; our perspective changes.
Feel in Control: When we feel victimized, we feel helpless and out of control. Bring awareness and take note of things you do/don’t have control of in a situation.
Example: I lost my job due to recent cutbacks. I will never find another job because of my age and lack of experience.
Don’t have control of: Do have control of:
-Being fired -Experience
Find ways to let go of the ‘Don’t’s and use the 'Do's to help build a plan of action. Start taking responsibility for what you do have control over.
Forgiveness: We don't necessarily have to condone or accept what someone has done to us. However, finding a way to forgive can set one free. Make sure to include self-forgiveness as a part of this step. Many times, when we are victimized, we think we caused or deserved it. If we hold on to this belief, we hold onto the victim role.
"When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free." - Katherine Ponder