Monday, September 23, 2013

Hello, My Name is Victim

Are you a victim?  Did someone hurt you?  Did someone take advantage of you?  Did someone betray you?  Use you?  Lie to you?  Trick you?  Or better... do you find that people are often just cold and thoughtless of how their actions make life more difficult, lonely, and painful for you?

Well, welcome to the human race. You are a victim, and so am I.  And so are those people who victimized you.  In fact, if there is one thing certain, as certain as death and taxes, it is that all of us will be a victim at some point.

And many of us camp on this.  We use our victim status as a sort of crutch.  We blame others for our unhappiness as a way to refuse to take some responsibility for our lives, our choices, our potential, our goals, and our focus.  We get used to being a victim.  It's almost as though we like it in some sick way.  It becomes a familiar friend, a way to rage against the world that let us down by wallowing in self-pity and destroying ourselves.  Good one.  You're really teaching them a lesson *wink*.

But there is another response to life's pains and betrayals that is equally disastrous and cruel to ourselves, just in a different way.  It goes like this... "I'm never going to let them hurt me again.  Ever.  I need to never let anyone take advantage of me or get the better of me ever again.  I need to never put myself in a position where I can get hurt.  I need to be stronger, smarter, and more vigilant than all of them.  I'm never going to let myself be tricked, and I'm always going to stand up and put a stop to anybody who tries to pull one over on me.  @#$&!!, I need to get away from all those people!"

This kind of hyper-vigilance can border on paranoia.  This kind of ultra "take responsibility for my own life by making sure I'm awesome enough to never get hurt again" thing puts you always on the defensive, always on guard, always in performance-mode, always feeling like you need to control this and prevent that, and really... it sucks.  It is exhausting.  It leads to more misery, frustration, and disappointment with life.  Why?  Here are two huge reasons:

1. Even the best of us, and even the most seasoned and experienced, get betrayed, used, tricked, lied to, and hurt.  If someone really wants to do that to you, there is very little you can do about it except build a cabin in the woods and avoid people altogether or place all the people you have emotional investment in into a cage.  Good luck with that.  Think about it.  Think about someone right now that you are close to and care about deeply.  If they simply decided they wanted to hurt you or trick you, right now, at this moment, they could very easily, in spite of all of your hyper-vigilance.  There are few things more self-destructive than placing yourself into an impossible position that can never achieve what you intend through all of your exhausting effort.  Control is an illusion, my friend.

2. You are basically blaming yourself.  See, what ultimately comes out of that attitude is, "It's my fault.  I should have been smarter, more vigilant, more aware, more manly, more whatever."  And the next time someone gets the better of you, you take the blame on yourself even harder, "I'm so stupid!  I should have been more this or that way."  Guess what?  No, it is not your fault when someone betrays you, it isn't your fault when it happens again, and it does absolutely nothing but cause you more misery when you blame yourself like that.  It is taking the blame on yourself instead of sitting is squarely on the offender.

I came face-to-face with this recently when I realized that I was duped into taking on a responsibility that should have not been mine.  There was an item that someone was giving back to me, and originally I thought they were going to bring it over to me.  Although this other person wanted this item out of their home, and apparently wanted it out badly, suddenly I found myself going over there to pick it up for them and bring it back to my place because they were too "busy."  Huh?!  What just happened?  I had no idea.  It was like a switch-a-roo right before my eyes.  I had already agreed to go pick it up, but after I realized what had just happened, I began to get angry and feel stupid at the same time.

"Man, I'm so stupid.  They manipulated the situation and tricked me... again!  What a dope!"  I started to ruminate... "Oh, they probably don't even know they are doing it because they are so trained to act that way.  It is just natural."  My negative emotions were not even mostly about being tricked.  They were mostly negative emotions against myself for being a "stupid patsy again."  I was beating myself up.

Thankfully, by the time I got to their house reality kicked in... Why am I punishing myself?  Why am I feeling stupid?  And why am I only adding to my stress by ruminating about this?  I didn't do anything wrong.  They did.  They should feel stupid.  They should feel badly, not me.  There is zero reason to put this on me.  None.

This is not to say that we should naively continue to place ourselves in situations and relationships that are abusive or manipulative.  Of course we shouldn't.  That goes without saying.  But ultimately we have to recognize that, despite our best intentions, we cannot be bullet-proof and we cannot beat the system.  The illusion of control only makes us miserable, and blaming and punishing ourselves for being victimized only compounds that misery.  Why should I suffer from my own hand for what someone else has done?  Why take the world's side against myself?  I vote for giving myself a break and having a little realistic compassion on myself, something the "tough" refuse to do.

So, there are three ways you can respond as a "victim" in this world.  You can be a poor little victim who is always seeking sympathy, wallowing in misery, and blaming others for how your life didn't go as you wanted.  You can become a "tough guy" who will allegedly stop people from victimizing him, living in a constant and exhausting state of hyper-vigilance, frustration, and self-blame when it doesn't actually protect you.  Is it really any wonder why these first two approaches leave us hard and bitter?  Or you can be realistic and non-punishing toward yourself, taking reasonable steps to avoid destructive people and situations but treating yourself with compassion in acceptance of the fact that you aren't going to somehow be the first person in the history of human civilization to figure out how to conclusively beat the system.

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