A member of the Integrally alive community was asking recently: “How can one differentiate between doing something with a victim mentality and dealing with pain in a healthy way?”
Pain, big or small, comes and go in our life. Pretending it doesn’t is not only ineffective, it makes it a bigger problem.
So, the first thing to do to deal with it is to acknowledge it is there.
It is happening to (poor) me, says the victim
Typically, in any given situation, the victim mentality will consider that it is happening to her/him, and there is little, if anything, to be done.
This way of dealing with pain stops pretty much at acknowledging it. Doing so, it gives the pain a great importance, often going into plenty of details. Did you ever asked questions like: “Why me?”, “Oh no, not again! Why is this always happening to me?”. Then you’ll know exactly what I am talking about.
Investigating the circumstances can be a way to understand how we ended up there. But for the victim mentality, it is more often than not a way to make excuses, and to explain that s/he could not have done things differently, hence s/he is not so much to blame: “I had to… I had no choice… I couldn’t…”.
While s/he thinks about all this, two things happen:
S/he gains importance
It is in human nature to want to help, and to feel sorry for someone in trouble. So being a victim is an easy way to gain attention, validation, and ultimately, sympathy. This is why we see some persons even becoming identified with their problem; can you see the difference between: “I have depression.” and “I am depressed.”
S/he puts no energy into changing anything
Actually, the more s/he think about the problem, the less there seem to be a way out. S/he will eventually even come up with a “Yes… But” objection, to any try for finding a solution, explaining why it is all beyond their control (and back to 1: s/he gains importance).
The power, in that situation, comes from outside
The victim is totally not responsible for her/his life, she needs help. The more powerless s/he is, the more s/he puts him/herself down, the more sympathy s/he expects. Which is pretty wicked: finding the source of power in the fact s/he has none!?
Victim mentality comes with a lot of self-bashing, and low self-esteem. And it is by definition stuck in the past, with no will for things to really change (as much as the person might say the contrary), which would require to honestly face and go through the pain.
Dealing with pain in a healthy way
Dealing with pain in a healthy way begins by acknowledging it… and moving on.
Here we inquire, but to look for solutions, projecting into the future rather than the past: something shows up in my life, that is limiting me, and I want to find a way to turn it around. With this intention in mind, there is no way I am going to identify myself to the problem.
This is not about making the problem smaller either, rather taking responsibility over our life… In a few steps:
First step: facing the situation realistically
It all begins with acknowledgment, the sooner the better. Trying to avoid the pain only allows it to grow, until it is so big that we can’t avoid to see it… That day, it is so much bigger than it was before, making it so much more difficult to deal with.
So, the first step is facing it: “I have a problem.”
Sometimes it is all it takes for the situation to change dramatically: see Sidney’s incredible story in this episode of the podcast, where she went to contemplate suicide, to realize she had depression and changed her mindset in an instant.
Second step: having the willingness to go through the pain
Now that we see that there is a pain, we need to know it better.
This inquiry is very different than the victim mentality’s thinking about it again and again, playing this little movie inside our head, imagining what we should have done better and / or finding why we couldnt’ act differently.
Is this problem, THE problem, or a symptom of something deeper?
Looking at the roots of the pain is helpful for two main reasons:
If we understand how we got there, we will be able to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
And we will address it in the best way. If you have a broken leg, while taking painkillers might help in the moment, you will need a different strategy in the long term.
Did I contribute to it showing up? In what ways? What is my responsibility?
This is when we begin to take responsibility for the situation. This step is crucial, as it is the requirement for action, hence change.
But while our actions have consequences, it doesn’t mean that we are guilty of everything that happens in our life. There is power in being responsible, while feeling guilty and sorry for yourself is typically a victim’s attitude.
Third step: looking for a solution
Now we can look into the future. We need to know that the solution might not be the one we like, and be ready to get creative. Taking different points of view helps here.
We all have stories about moments where everything seemed to go wrong, before a sudden change that made the outcome better than the previous one. Like just a few days ago, when looking for a room for my next trip, I faced incredibly high prices and few options and had resigned to take a place costing almost the double than my budget… before being offered a deal that I didn’t even think was possible at that point. All it took was me asking a different question when contacting the hosts.
Fourth step: taking action to create your life
Finally, with clarity on the situation and the possibilities, we can be committed to take action as soon as we identify a possible solution. As stated in the previous step, the only way to find out if a solution really works is to try.
This is where we begin to see changes, and actively create our life, instead of waiting for it to happen.
Real power comes from within
The big difference between the two attitudes, is in where the power is: In the second case, it comes from within. And the more we go through the steps, the more we are empowered.
This is a key point of resilience: What’s important is not living in a fairy tale, rather knowing how to deal with pain if and when it comes, and knowing that even if we might not know how right now, we can and will find a solution and overcome whatever situation happens.
And that, is how we deal with pain, while avoiding to transform it into suffering.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kwarz/14296826765