During lockdown we have asked staff, family & friends to share any experience that they wish to write about…………………..
“Life is suffering.” A bleak opener, I know – but if the last year has proved anything, it’s that the old Buddhist phrase rings true to at least some extent.
COVID and the subsequent pandemic has been a microcosm of this saying. Mainly because, like life, it’s been indiscriminate – everyone has suffered in some way.
Whether it’s to the extreme of having lost a loved one, being made redundant, the loneliness that has come with self-isolating, or the more trivial issues – even (deluded) COVID deniers have had to deal with closures of bars and pubs.
Nobody is loving life in lockdown… except, perhaps, PPE suppliers – I’ll give you that.
So, everyone is struggling in some form due to circumstances which aren’t entirely within their control. Therefore we all, in a way, seem to be victims of circumstance.
This can make it very easy to spiral into a negative mindset – on a bad day, you may find yourself thinking: “Why is this happening?” “I don’t deserve this.” “This isn’t fair.”
This is essentially a victim mentality – a belief that bad things continue to happen to you even though you don’t deserve it, and that wallowing in self-pity is all you can do.
It’s a thought process I’ve been caught up in many times; and not just in lockdown.
When you feel like life’s not treating you well, it’s very easy to slip into a victim mentality without realising it. It’s far harder, though, to transcend it.
Why the victim mentality is a problem
The impact of victim mentality, in my experience, is subtle, yet vast. I become withdrawn from those close to me, who in my eyes “can’t understand” what I’m going through.
I struggle to focus on anyone else’s problems/feelings but my own – it’s very difficult to find room for other people in your thoughts when you’re dwelling so deeply on yourself.
If you’re lucky enough, like I am, to have great people in your life, this is lose-lose: they can’t help you because you won’t let them; and you can’t be there for them properly because you can’t get out of your own head long enough to take in their thoughts and feelings.
Subsequently, I’m left feeling isolated, frustrated, overwhelmed and guilty.
There is, however, a sense of comfort in a victim frame of mind – you may feel helpless, but you don’t have to take responsibility for that – there’s nothing you can do about it.
You tell yourself your mental state is entirely based on external factors.
It’s very hard to recognise you’re stuck in a victim mentality.
And once you do, it’s even harder to admit it to yourself and do something about it.
Overcoming a victim mentality
Motivation moguls like Tony Robbins churn out phrases like: “Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.” Or there’s the classic “carpe diem”.
While these can be inspiring and uplifting, they’re also not going to be much use to you in times of true hardship.
After all, you’re unlikely to want to “seize the day” when it’s a day where something genuinely tragic has happened to you or someone you love.
When that happens (as it inevitably does), it’s certainly not happening “for you” either.
I think a more accurate expression, while not as appealing on the surface, is: “Life doesn’t happen to you… it just happens.”
This applies to everything in our lives that we have no control over; good and bad. Life itself is erratic – it won’t take into account who you are or what you “deserve”. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: life isn’t fair.
That’s why you’re never a victim of life; because there are no targets.
I find that by accepting that fact; by acknowledging in my most challenging moments that nothing is happening to me, that how I feel isn’t more significant than how anyone else feels, the fog begins to clear.
I feel calmer, I see things from new perspectives and I am more present for those I care about.
If this sounds like a lecture, then it’s one that I’m giving myself as much as anyone who may be reading this. It’s all well and good acknowledging
I’m not a victim on a good day – but when times get tough, I can fall right back into that mindset in the blink of an eye.
Every time I’m hit by bad news, I have to climb out of that victim pitfall all over again.
Practice will hopefully make perfect – in the meantime though, simply admitting to myself on a regular basis that I have to overcome the victim mentality sets me on the right path.
A small disclaimer
Ditching a victim mentality won’t solve all your problems. Life is full of ups and downs, irrespective of your thoughts and feelings.
However, it will make you equipped to deal with the downs more effectively, instead of amplifying negative emotions.
None of this is to say you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel upset by something, or angry with someone who’s done you wrong – but by refusing to see yourself as a victim, you can take those problems at face value.
Here’s a fantastic lecture by Jordan Peterson which introduced me to some of the ideas I’ve shared in this post: https://youtu.be/wLvd_ZbX1w0