It’s a sad fact of reality that other people are going to hurt us in life.
We can’t control the actions and words of other people, therefore we are – from time to time – going to encounter behaviours that cause us pain, anguish, fears and doubts.
But it is how we choose to respond in those crucial times of injustice that often ends up defining who we will become: to both ourselves, and to others.
There are of course ways to limit our vulnerability to the impact of other people’s ill-motivated ambitions. We can be assertive, sceptical, prudent… but sooner or later, someone will hit us where it hurts.
That can feel disempowerring, as if we’ve lost the freedom of our own destiny. As if we’ve incurred some punishment owed to another, or as if we’re being held hostage to a situation we did not invite or design.
However, it is in the miserable heat of these injustices that we have the opportunity to prove to ourselves what we are made of, and the manner in which we respond forms the backbone of our future resilience to the same abuses.
Injustice is always overwhelming. It breeds negativity and pessimism, reminding us that life is unpredictable and that we are never truly protected from the volatile and chaotic nature of human interaction.
We ask ourselves questions in search of resolutions. We naturally try to reason with our circumstances in the hopes of getting a grasp on our situation. We try to gather back what power we can. We seek to regain control.
The instinctive self-questions we ask in these circumstances are explored in this article, and these are in themselves good questions to ask. But within the answering of these questions there lay traps – negative thought-patterns which can potentially give rise to reactions that will not serve us well.
This is often the first question we ponder to ourselves when someone hurts us… or at least – it should be.
What did I do to deserve this?
In order to calculate whether we have truly been wronged, we must first assess the contribution (or lack thereof) we ourselves have made to our current situation.
However, once we’ve determined that we are faultless, (or at least, that our punishment was excessive in consideration of our crimes) we can fall into the first dangerous victim mentality trap:
Seeking a form revenge or retribution
The motivation for revenge is a petty one.
A desire for revenge masks the mistaken belief that another party has defeated us in some meaningful way, that our value has somehow been reduced or depleted by them.
The Revenge Trap tempts us to believe that in order to recoup our lost value – we should, by force, steal back from our aggressor the power which was robbed from us.
Of course, in truth, no-one can truly affect our self-value but ourselves. Our value is determined by how effective and important we perceive our contributions to be to the world. We are worth what we are worth – based on what and who we decide to be and no-one external to us can decide that on our behalf.
We tell life who we are and life listens, trustingly.
Donald Trump is a good example of this. Oozing high self-value and confidence, he appears to fully trust in his abilities to preside over his nation, rightly or wrongly. It is this high self-value which convinced his followers to vote for him, rather than his more competent and experienced (but less confident and charismatic) republican political opponents.
Our value is determined by ourselves and ourselves alone, in the long-term, through our words and our actions.
When someone does something to wound us – it will hurt, yes. However, to seek revenge is to convince ourselves that we are a loser in a contest that never really existed. It is objectively fruitless and personally damaging.
Instead, we can direct our energies towards vindication. We can endeavour to prove to ourselves and our perpetrators that we are in control of our own value.
The best way to accomplish that is to ensure that our response personifies the core qualities of high-value behaviour:
These qualities can protect our self-value by ensuring that our behaviours do not cross the line into the murky waters of retaliation. For example, if a husband commits an act of infidelity, his wife may choose to do the same in retribution – a common pattern in many relationships, sadly.
But since the wife believes that infidelity is not a fair or permissible behaviour, then her propriety and consistency should remind her that this behaviour is not acceptable for her either – and should prevent her from performing her own act of cheating.
Instead, she can keep her self-value by retaining her virtues, whether she leaves him or stays with him. She can know that she did not stoop to the behaviours that she condemned in him.
Another revenge-fuelled reaction would see her engage in violence, throwing crockery or blows at him upon discovering his affair.
However this leads into the same retribution goal, whereby she claims a jealous victim’s privilege to perform otherwise unacceptable deeds.
This is the degradation of our self-respect. When we give in to the victim mentality, we allow ourselves to become the thing we hate, and we subconsciously prove to ourselves that we are no better than our perpetrators – while disguising our weakness as a justified response.
And it is here that our self-respect erodes. We can tell ourselves that we are happy with our actions, or that we deserve the pleasures of revenge – but in truth, it is a shortcut to false vindication that does not yield any benefit. I say ‘false vindication’ because our self-value is in fact reduced by the perceived ‘temporary’ abandonment of our pre-existing morality.
The wish for revenge in any form only encourages us to pity ourselves in the present and grants us permission to attack our aggressors in future instances. We become ready for revenge. We become vengeful. It creates a dynamic in our mind that we are only as valuable as our aggressors allow… prompting us to try to turn the tables hoping that the aggressors will then prove only as valuable as we allow them to be. It is a false economy.
Vindication is a far more elegant and appropriate response. It encourages us to remember to value our behaviour in a consistent and dignified way – which builds good habits in self-respect and self-control.
It is far better for the wife to either negotiate and talk with her husband or to leave the relationship if she feels she can’t tolerate his actions. To get revenge only defines her in the same bad light as her cheating husband. She does level the scores, but by pulling her score down to meet his.
We are accountable for our actions and we must remember them, and whether we feel we can justify a revenge or not – we should always first try to resolve or dissolve the matter in a manner consistent with our original value systems – to preserve our identity and any moral upper hand.
Revenge is a dish best not served at all.
There are always other options to explore which will not encourage an individual to see themselves as the sufferer of their circumstance, but rather the shaper of their character and future-self.
Another question we are likely to ask:
How could they do this to me?
This is usually the second question that comes to mind in times of injustice.
Most of us instinctively try to understand what is happening around us, what drives the motives of others and how we can relate to the actions of those who can affect us personably, professionally or emotionally.
We like to believe that everyone thinks the same way that we ourselves do, with similar priorities and reflective logic. So when something happens that conflicts with that belief – we are forced to reassess our understanding of what motivates other people in their behaviours.
Unfortunately, we rarely have sufficient information about the experiences of others to gain a comprehensive insight into their motives.
As we all experience life so independently and differently, of course we are going to gain different perspectives and ethical guidelines for ourselves. If we don’t recognise this at the formation of our relationships with each other – we can mistakenly assume that we can rely upon others to reflect our own moral compass.
And herein lays the second victim mentality trap:
Relying on other people to make us happy
The Dependence Trap is all about relying on others for things we can give to ourselves, and blaming others for things we could have avoided. This is the central theme of the victim mentality.
When we don’t take responsibility for our own happiness – we invariably trust, hope or expect that others will instil happiness within us. We don’t place the attention and emphasis we should on properly assessing the people we let into our lives, and we even forget to take responsibility for letting those people into our lives.
If we are to take responsibility for our own happiness, we must first accept that others are not responsible for making us happy. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are always fully responsible for our own sadness.
Taking responsibility encourages a healthy habit of being more careful about who we trust, and not allowing others to control our emotional states easily.
It also means that we can accept the flaws and mistakes of others more readily and fairly, as we won’t any longer have our unrealistic expectations or hopeful assumptions to placate.
Taking responsibility for our own happiness is the most important step we can take to overcoming the victim mentality.
As long as we put our happiness into the hands of others, we impose upon others the burden of our aspirations and impose upon ourselves the restrictive and limiting belief that we cannot be held accountable for our fulfilment in life.
Often this is synonymous with a lack of faith in one’s own ability. Many people feel that it is their job to make other people happy and expect the same in return: another false economy.
It is a lonely fact that we must not expect or rely on others for our happines – but with independence comes freedom and this freedom can liberate a person from their dependence on others and the victim mentality prison.
Why do these things always happen to me?
The last of our questions is actually quite proactive in nature. It is an attempt to understand a trend in our lives, to better our future circumstances and avoid the same negative outcomes.
Doesn’t that question imply that the person is taking responsibility? Not always, and the trap lays right ahead for those that do not:
Believing it is possible to avoid injustice completely.
As I said at the beginning of this article, we cannot control the behaviours of others. Unless we are to live in a world where we do not love anyone and separate ourselves from all around us – there will be people with the power to hurt us.
The best thing we can do is evaluate honestly and realistically which people are deserving of that power. We must determine the people whom reflect our own priorities and values, and whom we feel do (or at least, feel could) earn our trust.
But even these people will hurt us sometimes, and even people who are not supposed to be able to hurt us will, on occasion, get you down. Our children can hurt us – hell, even our workplace subordinates can do it. It’s a part of life that one must accept in order to avoid the victim mentality.
We all know this fact of life, we have all experienced it – but the self-appointed victim lies to themselves that only they (and perhaps other ‘rare unfortunate souls like them’) endure such hardships.
Our insecurities drive the limiting belief that for the rest of the world – life is fair, but for some reason the universe has conspired to single us out for a tougher ride. Of course, this is not true but it allows us to trick ourselves into the victim mindset.
And this is the Victim Trap, which gives us permission to accept powerlessness over our emotions and to become responsive rather than proactive.
Logic and reason are opportunistically twisted to create an alternative reality to suit our fragile egos. Our insecurities are being fed by the very devices which flare them – leading ultimately to the acceptance of the behaviours that hurt us.
Why does this always happen to us? Because we invite these injustices to reinforce the idea that we are not to blame for our failures at large.
It is a lack of self responsibility – but more than that, this time we welcome the idea that life won’t let us be happy, that life has restricted our experiences to negative ones (when it suits us, of course).
We need to stay realistic, otherwise we will fall into the trap of wanting to be the victim, even feeling comfortable in the victim role. At that point, we’ll consciously and subconsciously fashion opportunities to take up that role in all the walks of our life because it will become ingrained in our identity – especially if others get used to us acting that way.
If we can stay realistic and just be strong enough to accept that everyone encounters unpleasant experiences, we will feel less likely to expect the pity party we do when we are in the victim mindset – and more likely to get on with life, to get through the bad times in order to find the good times.
Ultimately, it all boils down to the same thing: the lies we tell ourselves and others do us no favours. If we aren’t honest with ourselves, we can’t expect to have honest experiences with others.
When we chose to be a victim, we are trying to execute a strategy to win what we want by foul means, but we only end up becoming our own enemy, and the victim of ourselves.