Today I’m going to dig deep… although as you know, Reader, that’s not unusual for me as a sensitive, self-reflective enneagram type 4. The motive behind this post is a little different, however. Today I’m writing from the perspective of a flawed individual humbly admitting an error in judgement who isn’t just pouring out her soul for the sake of catharses, but rather in search of redemption.
Let’s begin with a 5 second clinical psychology lesson…
Have you ever heard the terms “victim complex” or “victim mentality”? If you have, you might have an adverse reaction to it like I do. When I hear the word “victim”, my conscious brain wants no association to it. I don’t want to play victim and I want to be recognized as a victim. But while I can articulate that desire clearly, in the last week I have had to come to terms with the harsh reality that my words don’t always align with my actions… Recently I was called out by a trusted friend in regards to my inconsistent ownership of my actions; my continual state of victimhood as I rationalize my shortcomings by blaming others who have hurt me in the past. So, if we actually look at the definition of “victim mentality”– a state of mind that describes a person who believes they are constantly the victim of the harmful actions of others, even when made aware of evidence to the contrary (Robert Longley)– you can see that while on the surface I strive to maintain a strong, forthcoming appearance, the reality is that I most always have a victim’s excuse for why I behave the way I do.
Some of you might be thinking that if you’ve experienced some form of trauma, then you have a right to toss blame in the direction of your abuser. They are responsible for your anxiety, the anxiety is responsible for your fear/appeared lack of compassion, your appeared lack of compassion is responsible for all those disintegrated friendships and we can continue to fall down this blame spiral all day if we choose to… Fellow survivors of abuse, I hear you loud and clear. I can so vividly describe that particularly ugly mental spiral because I myself have taken those exact same leaps from accusatory thought to accusatory thought almost on a daily basis–until (hopefully) now. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people who have been victims of physically abusive or manipulative relationships to fall prey to a universal victim mentality. Most people go through normal periods of simple self-pity, as part of the grieving process, for example. However, these episodes are temporary and minor compared to the perpetual feelings of helplessness, pessimism, guilt, shame, despair, and depression that consume the lives of persons afflicted with a victim complex. (Robert Longley) Speaking from personal experience, victim mentality only serves me in the moment when I want a convenient way out of a difficult decision, conversation, or interpersonal conflict. Long term, however, the repercussions of a passive victim mentality always always catch up to me in the way of burnt bridges or lost opportunities.
Now, it’s story time…
You can learn great things from your mistakes when you aren’t busy denying them.
Many of you already know from my previous posts that six months ago I endured an extremely difficult breakup that I now regard as one of my most positive transformative moments and greatest hidden blessing. But there’s an ugly side of the story too… To be candid, I was utterly blindsided. I didn’t react with grace or dignity. In fact, as my ex walked out the door, I sunk to the floor, dry-heaving. It was far from my finest moment when I compulsively called and texted a couple of trusted friends for help as a panic attack more aggressive than anything I had ever experienced seized control over my body. One of the friends that helped me that night actually came over to the house that I was living in with my ex just so he could stand there with me as I packed an overnight suitcase. We then drove to the apartment he shared with his husband and the three of us talked until the wee hours of the night as I stuffed my face with food from their pantry and eventually sort of fell asleep on their couch.
The next day was the first day that actually felt like fall in Nashville (Anyone that is familiar with Middle Tennessee weather understands that this is a rare blessing that only lasts about a week once a year…), and it felt like as good a day as any to start over. I like to highlight that next morning because that was when I recommitted my life to Christ after an almost two year detour. I like to highlight the apartment I moved into and the dog I adopted that same week. I like to highlight the radical lifestyle changes that I’ve made within the last six months I’ve spent in this confusing yet profoundly rewarding and eye-opening single season…
…but I neglected to share that before I took that leap into a healthier Kingdom-focused life, I had the crutch of those two friends to get me through that one awful night. I also neglected to explain that while I was transforming, I hit a lot of bumps along the way. It hasn’t been all sunshine, rainbows and positive manifestation. I’ve had many moments of doubt and bitter loneliness. Shifting from living life in the shadow of my ex-boyfriend to standing on my own two feet has been a tremendous test on my Mind Monsters (i.e. my anxiety). I’ll admit, I let mounting levels of social anxiety, the burden of PTSD, and the weight of having to explain my new relationship status win out when I canceled on plans time and time again– mostly with the two friends that I mentioned previously. Sure, there were times when I stood in my own greatness and conquered my fears head-on– times when I went deep in intentional conversation with others, exercised my ability to think for myself and embraced being by myself, but there were equally just as many times where I shut people out. Why? Because it felt momentarily comforting to lean into victimhood and less taxing to battle against my fear of rejection.
In a world where everyone is “so busy all the time” that we have to schedule phone dates just to ensure that we get 15 minutes of uninterrupted time with a person, it’s so easy for both ends of the phone to go silent. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own life as you work your 40 hour a week job and juggle obligations–and if time permits, self-care and pleasure–in your free time. It’s so easy to assume that you are the only one in the world that is busy or that you most certainly have the busiest schedule… As for my friends that fed me cereal and comforted me as I sat–snot mixed with tears running down my face–on their couch, I gave up when my phone sat silent. Instead of initiating communication and recognizing that sometimes silence isn’t personal, I started to place blame and make victim-like excuses.
- Excuse #1: “I’m no fun to be around now that I’m not in a couple. Our friendship won’t be like it used to be because we can’t go on double dates.”
- Excuse #2: “I don’t want a reminder of my past and I don’t want to be tempted to talk about the break-up.”
Here’s the truth about me in relationship with other people: when it becomes too awkward or too painful, I hide instead of truthfully confronting the issue. I do the classic technique of ghosting, unfollowing and secretly “testing” to see which people actually take the initiative to reach out and prove me wrong. (Fun fact: No one can pass a test that they don’t know they’re taking) In short: I fall into victim mentality. To be brutally honest, I would not be able to admit this about myself if it weren’t for the fact that one of those two friends I was referring to actually called me out on it. The words weren’t exchanged until I moved away from Nashville, so unfortunately the hurt feelings couldn’t be remedied with a face-to-face coffee date where we hashed out grievances… There is something about reading a text and not having the tone or the body language that accompanies it that makes me much more sensitive to the words. But while I recited those words he sent to me over and over again growing more and more bitter, it dawned on me that this wasn’t a fight I wanted to have. Instead of deleting the accusations that were clearly stirring something wounded inside of me, I was faced with the fact that this time, I was wrong. I had been a coward. I never expressed my disappointment that these friends never visited my new apartment before I moved. I never expressed my fear that I was being forgotten. I never expressed the sick grief I had in my heart that I had lost something valuable in the wreckage of that broken relationship– I may have lost my friends. I was scared to admit that I missed a part of my old life. I had to move forward and it was too risky to look back with any longing, because what if that led to a longing for him— the one who left me? And then there was that old victim’s mantra: “You were rejected before and now you’re being rejected again.”
But all of that is an excuse. Letting the enemy invade my thoughts and poison my view of reality is an excuse. I’m not perfect and I will sin again and I will make mistakes daily, but I need to start owning them. I’m far too wise to continue the cycle of continuously blaming past relationships or circumstances or even mental illness for my actions. We have a choice every day. Will we can be honest and walk in our truth or will we can turn away from that and in the process dishonor ourselves, our neighbors and our Creator?
As for me, I’m tired of giving into victim mentality. I’m going to choose to be brave and honest. I’m going to own when I was wrong and when even my best of intentions translate into pain for others, I will own that too. This old way of living clearly hasn’t been serving me well, so, what other choice is there?
“Reality is a sound, you have to tune in to it not just keep yelling.”
–Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red
Are you falling into a pattern of victim mentality?
Ask yourself these questions…
- Do you find it almost excruciating to express your needs and be assertive?
- Are you highly critical of others and lack long-lasting friendships?
- Are you persistently pessimistic? Always looking for the bad, even when those around you attempt to reveal possible solutions to a given situation?
- Is it hard for you to “move on” and forgive?
- Do you often feel helpless?
- Do you rationalize away blame and personal accountability?
If you can answer yes to the questions above, it’s okay. I do believe there is a way out of this. It’s an act of faith to believe that people– even ourselves with drive, motivation, and the most helpful resources– have the ability to change. But I believe that the God that turned water into wine is the same God that will turn my victimhood into ownership… and He’ll do the same for you. Step one is becoming aware enough to begin to do the work. It will take some time to ease yourself out of these toxic behavior patterns, but the best things in life always take a little bit of time, grit, and humility. You will find so much more strength and peace in ownership than you ever did in victimhood.