“You can either be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure.

It all depends on how you view your life.”

-Paulo Coelho

How often do you say things out loud or to yourself like:

  • “He makes me feel stupid!”
  • “I’m depressed because she’s always criticizing me.”
  • “I’d be happy if my partner would only treat me better.”
  • “He/she won’t let me do that… think that…feel that…”?

Behind these statements is the same negative belief: I can’t be happy or change because of someone else.

What is a Victim Story?

If you believe that your self-esteem or happiness, or lack thereof, are caused by how your current or past family members treat you then you are falling into the role of “the victim” whether you like to think that way of yourself or not. Any time we blame someone else for our problems, we’re telling ourselves a victim story.

Don’t be afraid to admit it. We all tend to do this sometimes, but some people seem to do it constantly. The problem is that once we get lost in this hopeless narrative, we become more depressed, angry and fearful. If someone else can readily manipulate your mood state then you are like a puppet on a string. Someone else is in control. Pause to think about this for a moment: Who have you allowed to become your puppeteer?

Having a Victim Story vs. Being a Real Victim

Of course, there are times when a person really is victim. There are numerous websites and blogs to describe the psychological effects and treatment of victims of domestic violence, child abuse, rape or assault, embezzlement or theft, not to speak of the aftermath of war, terrorism, or poverty.

This blog is not attempting to address recovery from trauma  (a very big subject with countless books on it) but to examine how the mindset of being a victim can plague you long after the trauma has ended.

It’s certainly true that people who’ve been the victims of trauma often struggle with this problem more than those who’ve had less childhood adversity but sometimes the reverse is true.

Some of the most empowered individuals are people who’ve faced trauma early on but fought to become survivors and thrive rather than becoming victims. No longer victims, they made themselves the heroes in their life stories. This is called post-traumatic growth

How to Break a Victim Mindset

The first step in changing from victim to hero is to notice whenever you are blaming someone or something else for your current negative feelings. Say to yourself, “I’m choosing to allow the other person’s words, actions or thoughts to make me feel bad. I can choose to feel differently about myself.”

The moment you realize that you have a choice in the matter, you’re no longer a victim. If you choose to agree with the other person’s opinion of you, then you have become a willing co-conspirator instead.

Or you can take another step out of your victim story and not take what the other person says so personally. When trapped in a blaming cycle, much of what another accuses us of is really about that other person— not about you.

Our partner could be angry or mean to us for many reasons that have nothing to do with us–he could be sick, tired, frustrated with something else in his life, or merely projecting his unhappiness onto those closest. Haven’t we all done the same?

Set Clear Firm Boundaries

What often is helpful when trying to break free of victim-like thinking is to examine where you need to set clearer boundaries. One mark of a healthy relationship is the ability to maintain boundaries that are neither too rigid nor too flimsy.

When our boundaries are too rigid, we tend to close ourselves off from our own or others’ feelings, creating an impenetrable wall of “I don’t care what you feel.” This stance does not allow for enough closeness.

When boundaries are too soft, we worry so much about what the other person feels that we fail to stand up for what we think, want and feel. If anyone in your life is “making you” feel inferior, think about how to create a better boundary.

This can be done by communicating (“please don’t speak to me that way”), by choosing to spend less time or by spending your time together differently, but having certain topics you won’t discuss.

You can also create an internal boundary. Silently remind yourself that you don’t have to believe everything you hear. Remember the childhood comeback: “Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me!”

Become the Hero in Your Life Story

The victim mindset dilutes the human potential. By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them.
― Steve Maraboli

When you take back control of those puppet strings, you can begin to believe that you—and only you—have the power to change your view of yourself and your behavior as you see fit. Although every hero confronts obstacles along the way, she also learns valuable lessons from mistakes and hardship.

Heroes persevere against the odds, find friends and allies to lean on, and build on their own strength and resources to achieve their goals. It may sound like a tall order if you feel disempowered and alone, but breaking free from your victim story is the first step of the journey.

Are you up for the adventure?