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How to Stop Being a Victim

stop being a victimChallenging negative voices is the way to overcome a victimized orientation.

Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.
~
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

One of the principle ways that people mismanage their anger is by playing the role of victim. In a previous blog, “Don’t Play the Victim Game,” I described the characteristics of individuals who, because they feel uncomfortable with their own anger, become trapped in a victimized orientation toward life. In response to readers’ questions, I’ve asked Joyce Catlett, my co-author (The Ethics of Interpersonal Relationships),to delineate several “remedial measures” that people can take in order to avoid playing the victim game.

To reiterate the underlying dynamics of this problem, I explained that many people adopt the victim role, albeit unintentionally, because they are afraid of their anger, deny its existence in themselves, project it onto other people, and anticipate aggression or harm from them. With this expectation and a high sensitivity to anger in others, they may even distort other people’s facial expressions, imagining that they have malicious intentions. The anger that they would have experienced in response to frustration or stress is transformed into fear and distrust of others and into feelings of being hurt or wounded.

People who become mired down in feeling victimized tend to view events in their lives as happening to them and feel ineffective and overwhelmed. They also operate on the basic assumption that the world should be fair, which is a child’s way of thinking. They tend to project the circumstances of their early childhood, where they were indeed helpless, onto present-day situations and relationships, and fail to recognize that, as adults, they have far more power than they had as children.

There are ways to shift from the victimized stance, characterized by passivity and behaviors based on negative power, to a more adult stance characterized by active coping and personal power.  People can become aware of and identify specific destructive thoughts – critical inner voices – that promote victimized feelings; and they can take steps to develop more constructive approaches to dealing with their anger.

Identifying Critical Inner Voices that Promote a Victimized Orientation to Life  

To move out of the victimized posture, it is important to identify critical inner voices that focus on injustices, such as “It’s not fair. This shouldn’t be happening to you. What did you ever do to deserve such treatment?” These destructive thoughts encourage passivity and helplessness while discouraging actions that could change an unhappy or untenable situation.

Low-grade anger and distrust are aroused in people whenever they are “listening” to voices telling them that others dislike them or do not care about them or their interests. “They never take your feelings into consideration. Who do they think they are?”  “People just don’t give a damn.

In the work setting, many people have resentful attitudes based on voices telling them that they are being exploited: “Your boss is a real jerk! Nobody sees how much you contribute.” “No one appreciates you.” “Why do they always get all the breaks? Similarly, voices that advise individuals that they are victims of mistreatment by others contribute to feelings of being disrespected or persecuted, for example, “They’re going to make a fool of you. They don’t respect you.” The feelings generated by these ruminations lead to inward brooding, righteous indignation, and a desire for revenge. Recognizing and challenging negative voices is the major way to overcome a victimized orientation.

Constructive Approaches for Dealing with Anger. 

First, it is important to emphasize that anger is a simple, irrational emotional response to frustration and does not require any justification; it is O.K to just feel whatever one feels. The degree of anger is proportional to the degree of frustration rather than to the logic or rationality of the circumstances.  When people attempt to rationalize their anger and then feel victimized, they get stuck in the angry feelings in a way that leads to an unpleasant kind of brooding that alienates others and is dysfunctional.

Therefore, in terms of action, people need to drop certain words from their vocabulary that they may be using to justify their anger, words like “fair,” “should,” “right,” and “wrong.” In a relationship, the term “should” often implies obligation. For example, someone who says, “Because we’re together (married), my partner ‘should’ love me, ‘should’ take care of me, ‘should’ make love to me” is operating from a victimized position. When people tie their feelings of frustration to the expectation that someone is obliged to satisfy them, victimized, paranoid feelings inevitably arise.

By challenging these habitual ways of speaking, individuals will discover a different form of communication that involves taking full responsibility for their feelings and actions and yet leaves them free to explore alternatives.  In an intimate relationship, partners can learn to talk about their anger in a non-dramatic tone and admit any feelings of being victimized. This type of communication is less likely to arouse counter-aggression and enables people to deal with their anger in a way that causes the least amount of pain to one another.

It would be constructive for people who typically express their anger in righteous indignation or victimized brooding to relinquish the basic assumption that they are innocent victims of fate. It would also be important for them to give up a sense of entitlement and to recognize that they do not inherently deserve to receive anything in the way of good treatment from others. It is more adaptive to accept the idea that the world does not owe them anything—neither a living or happiness or nice surroundings. Taking the victimized position that one is entitled to something better contributes to feelings of being cheated that, in turn, exacerbate a sense of helplessness and impotent rage.

Taking action to change situations with which one is unhappy directly challenges a victimized orientation. For example, if one feels stuck in a bad relationship or a seemingly untenable work situation, one can explore oneself to determine if one’s passivity has had more to do with the situation than one thought, and then strive to be more proactive and self-assertive. It is also wise to avoid complaining about these unfavorable situations to others in a style that “dumps” the problem on the listener. In one’s interactions, it is crucial to become more aware of the distinction between sympathy and empathy, and to stop asking for or giving sympathy. Expressing sympathy as well as trying to elicit sympathetic responses from another person are damaging in that both reinforce victimized thinking.

In accepting angry emotions in oneself, one is less likely to act them out destructively or to adopt the role of victim.  Ideally, rather than suppress or deny the emotion of anger, one would acknowledge angry responses while clearly distinguishing between feelings and actions.  As people give up victimized attitudes and acknowledge anger as a basic part of their nature, they are able to choose how to express angry feelings in ways that are constructive, ethical, and aligned with their best interests and goals. The self‑limiting, victimized perspective no longer controls them or their lives.

2 comments

  1. I wanted to share that I have read this article and wanted to share my opinion. I do believe that it is healthy to have expectations for how one wants to be treated (professionally, ethically, and respectfully) in the workplace. I have personally experienced people that I care about being “mistreated” in the form of malicious slander and rather than take the stance that they do not deserve anything from others, I took the view that they did deserve a certain basic level of respect. I did not feel victimized, rather empowered to speak up, to change policy, to try to change a culture. I myself have also experienced malicious slander. In the beginning, I let it roll off my shoulder as unimportant, because those speaking it were not significant to me, however this type of slander is “hurtful” and “harmful” not in a victim mentality, however, it can influence others and change other’s perception of who you are. This can have harmful effects on a professional level, which I experienced with my colleagues who were slandered. One can lose a business or their position when this occurs. I learned from this experience the opposite of what you wrote that I (and others) do deserve a certain respect from others. When I empowered myself to file formal documentation and to complain, it resulted in disciplinary actions towards those involved and I believe the message was clear, “Treat others in this manner again and you will be fired.” I also empowered myself to be a voice for others and again this resulted in a person with mal intentions toward a colleague losing a false slander case. Why? Because I didn’t accept that this is how people should be treated. It was not “right.” This resulted in the colleague being saved hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions. I beleive that we show others how we want to be treated by how we treat ourselves and others. When I treat myself with dignity and respect, when I am good to myself, I teach others that that is my standard. If I had a choice to work in a healthy environment or a dysfunctional and toxic one, I would choose the healthy one. Why? Because I do feel that I deserve to work in an environment that treats others the way that I do…with dignity and respect. When employers get focused on the “victim” mentality of those who are mistreated, I believe that it could also open up the door to lawsuits. If an employer was to tell his employee who complained of ill treatment that they were a victim, rather than document and correct the situation, this could actually create a liability for them; I don’t think it would “look good” in a court of law. In sum, I do believe that we should have a basic level of expectation in the workplace that meets our basic human need for safety and health (physical and emotional). I have seen many people develop illness as a result of toxic work environments. We can all do our part to change a culture by empowering ourselves, having a voice, speaking up for ourselves and others, documenting what occurs, and modeling and showing others how we treat ourselves and expect others to treat us. I think that each of us have our own different experiences and choose how to respond in those. Through much reflection I can only speak for myself in that I feel empowered when I feel a certain level of anger towards injustice and when I choose to do something about it. I like this quote from William Shenstone : “Anger is a great force. If you control it, it can be transmitted into a power which can move the whole world.” For others, they may find more empowerment in accepting that others do not owe them anything. I just wanted to respectfully share my opinion. I believe in using our “powers for good.” Mahatma Gandhi : “We must become the change we want to see.” Mahatma Gandhi : “You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result.” Respectfully-Jackie Zaldua

  2. I agree on every point and support the stance that slander is a dangerous destructive act against us. I used to ignore it. I had felt that I could not waste my time and energy to change every negative opinion about me. Eventually I learned that silence in reponse slander was a wrong approach. I wrongly adhered to the adage a “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference” but decades later realized that when others are NOT just onlookers or just passing by, such as those we live or work with, then we need to protect our reputation since its an asset and slander unchecked is damage most of us can not afford. Though the moral of the story is that basically taking a possitive stance against things that impact us with negative emotional response is difficult to do or even to understand when we are conditioned to being on the defence whether its being a victim of slander or other behavior typical of insecure or jealous people we can instead outwit them by NOT feeding into the role they are thrusting us into.

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