“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr
I have noticed I have become a bit of a complainer in my middle age! Grumbling about the grey weather; the traffic congestion; the parking charges; the rising cost of things; higher interest rates; the unstable political and economic situation nationally and globally and the worldwide humanitarian, animal welfare and environmental crises. It seems that darker times are looming… and it is giving me a lot to moan about!
We all know that our response to any situation, good or bad, is our choice. We are the only ones causing our negative reaction, and we are the only ones who can change it. In situations we perceive as challenging though, it is easy to feel powerless and unable to do anything about our reactions. This belief in our powerlessness is a ‘victim’ mindset which we can fall into, almost without realising.
Given that business and life throws us endless circumstances where we have a choice to be powerful or powerless, I thought it would be helpful to clarify the ‘symptoms’ of the victim mentality so that we can watch out for it arising in our psyches. For it is from this victimhood that much of our stress, angst and mental ill health originates:
- Complaining… without taking significant action. As I shared in my example, it is easy to judge, to criticise, to object. Rarely are we willing to take worthwhile action to rectify the problem. Of course, as the Serenity Prayer quoted above admonishes, there are times when we must accept situations. Moreover, there are many things we nitpick about that could be improved through meaningful communication or principled action.
- Avoiding problems. Burying our heads in the sand and refusing to look at our challenges head on leads to stress. Also, using an assortment of techniques to numb ourselves from our problems – drinking, taking recreational drugs, being endlessly busy, shopping, internet surfing and, to quote my two favourites, eating chocolate and watching box sets on TV – supports the victim strategy of avoidance.
- Blaming others. Our ego loves to apportion blame. The other person is always at fault. We are the kind person who has nothing to do with the cause of the problem. At no point in our condemnation do we stop to consider what part we may have played in contributing to the issue. Our mindset is too closed to consider ‘what did I do wrong here?’ and ‘what could I do to move beyond this?’
- Making situations ‘all about us’. As a victim, we view our life experiences through the narrowly focused lens of how specifically they affect us. We personalise people’s behaviour towards us and make it purely about us. We perceive every aspect of our journey with an awareness of its negative or positive effect on us…even when, mostly, it is not about us at all!
- Acting with passive aggression. Rather than owning our negative emotional responses, we hide them, often pretending to be kind, supportive people. Under this facade, we very subtly act against the person or situation with small demonstrations of our contempt: angry looks, shutting down, sarcastic comments, delay tactics and an overall unwillingness to carry out the other’s wishes. In short, we are in covert resistance.
The only way out of these patterns of behaviour is bringing mindful awareness to them. To allow what is happening, rather than resisting it in the recognition that, typically, it is not personal. The child in us reacts based on its subjective likes and dislikes which are rooted in our particular history and our belief systems. In contrast, the adult in us steps out of wishful thinking, accepts the facts of the situation and considers ‘how can I best move forward?’
I suggest that you begin to observe when you slip into the symptoms of the victim mindset highlighted above. Remember that being powerful necessitates being mature in your responses. It requires that you look clearly at the facts in front of you and from there, react in a calm and centred way, taking action where necessary. It entails, too, letting go of your old responses and embracing the real power of your consciousness to make inspired choices. Often, we need help with this: I am working with clients frequently who are in ‘unwanted’ situations who value my support in enabling them to see from an emboldened perspective and take mindful action. (If that is something I can help you with, please do get in touch)
So should there be darker times ahead, be willing to question and evolve your actions and reactions so you act from an adult place, accepting what you can’t change and purposefully taking action to improve what you can. From here, you can move onward and upwards towards a brighter future.