If you’ve been attacked, injured, cheated, or harmed by someone or something else, then you are, by definition, a victim. The truth is, we’re all victims now and again. While it’s okay to feel angry, feeling like a victim too much of the time is not good for us.
Even perpetrators are victims
And if you are facing legal charges or relationship trouble for domestic violence, you can probably add a whole new layer of inequities. If I had a dollar for every time I thought something was unfair after my arrest, I could have retired. While I accepted that I needed to face consequences for my bad behavior, I experienced injustices that went beyond legitimate repercussions.
Society generally sees domestic violence offenders as bad people, which totally ignores your good qualities. The legal system is flawed and might not treat you or your case fairly. Your friends, family, and partner are probably going to maintain the conflict and issues are all your fault, even though that’s seldom accurate.
Danger of feeling like a victim too often
It’s okay and appropriate to feel angry when we’ve been disrespected or treated unjustly. There is a danger, however, if we are feeling like a victim too much of the time. In fact, it may signal that we need to fix our mindset.
Feeling like a victim too much of the time may signal that we need to fix our mindset.
Internalizing this feeling leads to brooding, indignation, and depression. The more we think about it, the more it intensifies our pain. You and I end up making ourselves needlessly miserable when we sulk.
We may also see our circumstances as externally caused—in other words—someone else’s fault. That can lead us into trying to change them (which doesn’t work) or seeking vengeance. Becoming aggressive or even passive-aggressive toward others just harms our relationship and deepens our problems.
The worst part of feeling like a victim is it keeps us stuck. By focusing on what happened, we don’t have our eyes on opportunities to move forward. Our life doesn’t get better when we are passive and wait for someone else to fix the problem.
How to break free from victim mentality
As I was working to stop my violent and abusive behaviors, I often caught myself living in Victimville. I can tell you, whatever time I spent there was wasted. It slowed down my efforts to change and have a better life.
I also learned some ways to break free from this self-limiting mentality. Dr. Robert Firestone calls these appropriate adaptive responses to the times when we are feeling like a victim. It’s a good term, and I’d like to share some of those strategies with you.
Challenging distorted thoughts
Often it’s our inner voice that is the source of us feeling like a victim. Thoughts that say, “The world should be fair” or “My partner should love and respect me” are good examples. Absolute words like should, must, have to, never, or always are thought-shaping words that lead us to becoming a victim.
Often it’s our inner voice that is the source of us feeling like a victim.
The problem with absolute words is that they are seldom true. Recognize these as distorted thoughts, then challenge them. Finding the exception frees us from feeling like we have to change or correct many situations.
We can make a good challenge by looking for examples where these absolute words are not true. The world sometimes isn’t fair. Our partner may like or love us but still occasionally act like they don’t. There’s no need to right the wrong or pressure our lover into behaving differently right now.
Accept, then get on with life
Another fault with feeling like a victim is it also leaves us feeling powerless. When that happens, we miss opportunities to make things better. The key is not whether we have been victimized, but what course of action we choose when we are.
The key is not whether we have been victimized, but what course of action we choose when we are.
Acknowledge that injustices exist. You are not the only one they happen to, either. The cosmos and other people are not out to get you. This may sound harsh, but I say it to help. None of us are entitled to anything in this world. Get over it and get on with your life.
Often, it’s more work to stop the injustice than to just move on. We all have a limited amount of energy to fight battles, so we might as well fight the ones we can win. All the time we spend focusing on the unfairness of something distracts us from our mission to heal and grow.
Instead, accept that you feel angry, but then act on your values. Choose to do constructive, ethical things rather than ones that will limit you. Focus on becoming the best version of you that you can be.
Write a list of the ways that you can change whatever bad situation you face—ways that don’t involve controlling anyone else. When we are feeling like a victim, we convince ourselves that we are powerless over our circumstances. That’s almost never true, so brainstorm how you can improve the situation and get busy implementing your plan.
Unexpected roads out of victimhood
The suggestions above are pretty straightforward ways to stop feeling like a victim. But there are also a few counter-intuitive ones to consider.
One is to help other people or causes. When we’re in victim mentality, we hyper-focus on ourselves, which just amplifies our pain. By volunteering, we break the “poor me” cycle and can feel good about ourselves for our generosity.
Another way is to practice gratitude. Similar to helping others, gratitude flips our concern about our suffering to the good things that we enjoy. Often, we’re surprised at how many blessings we have once we turn our attention there. Feeling blessed and grateful gives us energy and motivation to pursue those constructive acts that make our life better.
Still another way—and this one stretches me—is to practice empathic listening. When listening to other people, step into their shoes and see if you can relate to what they’re saying. If you lived their life and experienced what they have, would you think and feel what they’re feeling? This is particularly hard to do when that person is someone you feel wronged you, but it is still worth trying.
Finally, choose to forgive. Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Feeling like a victim keeps us stuck, and we are the only ones who suffer.
Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Life is not much fun in Victimville. With awareness, a decision to change, and these new strategies, we can break out of that mentality. When we stop feeling like a victim, our growth returns and our life gets better.
Feeling like a victim was an obstacle for me, but my relationship with God helped me get past it. God does not promise us that life will be easy or fair on this side of heaven. We know, however, that he is a just God and that everyone will ultimately have to answer to him.
That frees me up to live as I’m meant to live and to become the best person I can be. Now, injustice, discrimination, and inequity no longer need to be my concern. I do not have to feel so wounded by wrongs that are inflicted on me, or to seek justice myself, because God has it covered.
God wants us to have the best life possible and he knows what we need to do to get it. The principles of service, gratitude, empathy, and forgiveness are ones that Jesus demonstrated and that we’re called to follow. God does not want us to feel like a victim, but rather overcome injustice to live a full and abundant life.