People love being a victim. I'm NOT talking about being a victim of a crime or an accident. I'm also not saying that people aren't victims, because crimes happen, accidents happen, and bad things do happen. In those moments, when the car crashes, when someone gets robbed, or abused, or when something awful happens... in that moment we are a victim, by definition.
What I am talking about is what happens AFTER that. Once an event or incident has passed and is over, once it is no longer happening, after it happens, the only place we are still a victim is in the story, in the words we use to remember, think about, and talk about what happened.
One of the pitfalls of being human is that we combine what happened with the story we tell about what happened. It happens so fast, it's hard sometimes to separate the two. We think of them as one and the same. The story we tell becomes THE WAY THAT IT IS, the reality that we know. This limits what's possible – and robs us of a lot of joy and effectiveness in life.
After the event happens, we create a story, a pretense called “Victim.”
Victim is something we pretend to be. It's not the truth. It's the story we tell ourselves about what happened to us. In other words, it's a lie we tell ourselves.
Being a victim, having a victim mentality, is something we all do. It's easy to become a victim because it happens automatically – without us even thinking about it.
We stub our toe and immediately we make ourselves a victim of the chair. We create a story about what happened, almost immediately, and we then believe that the story is the truth; we believe the story IS what happened. The trouble is when the pain is worse than a stubbed toe, or when it's emotional pain, we can get really stuck here – really stuck, and often for years.
How do we get unstuck?
Our minds don't naturally make a distinction between what happens and the memory of what happens. The memory is not the event. The memory is not what happened; the memory is only the story or the interpretation of the event. It is a description of what happened, not what happened itself.
Just as a map of your city is NOT the city itself, it's a description of, or an interpretation of, the city. Our stories, too, are NOT what happened, they are just a description of what happened.
And here's the thing: We are never upset about what happened. We are upset about our story.
Let me show you what I mean. Let's take a look at a thunderstorm.
I love thunderstorms; I think they are great! The harder it rains, the more I like it. The more thunder and lightening the happier I am. On the other hand, my dog hates thunderstorms. She's trembling, drooling, and pacing around. She is panicking. When they happen at night, she jumps on the bed and stands over me, shaking, panting, and dripping saliva onto my head. It's ridiculous how terrified she is. Nothing I do will comfort her either.
Now, what' going on here? It's the same thunderstorm, right? How can we both have such different reactions? Well, in my experience the thunderstorm is great, and in her experience, the thunderstorm is terrible. But the objective truth is the thunderstorm JUST IS. It's not good or bad; it just is.
The thunderstorm is what happened. My story is that it's great; my dog's story is that it's terrifying! So you can see, it can't be the thunderstorm itself that's upsetting. The story or the interpretation that it is scary is what's upsetting.
We all do it to one degree or another. We all have stories.
Stories are how our minds make sense of what's happening; we can not get rid of our stories. One thing we can do instead is to distinguish them. Let's bring them from the background into the foreground and take them from our blind spot and make them visible. Let's take away their power to upset and burden us. This is what I teach my clients exactly how to do.
The first step to getting unstuck is to admit there's a difference between what happened and what you say happened – and then notice that what you say happened is what's upsetting to you.
When we can separate what happened from our story and our interpretation, and tell the truth about what happened, something opens up for us and we are no longer limited by the binary set of options that is available to us from survival mode. We recognize at that point that we may have stories, but our stories don't have us.
Caren Field (MA) is a professional individual and couples counselor and the author of 7 Steps on the Path to Partnership, a free eBook. She teaches people exactly how human nature and going into survival mode kills relationships. Her on-line, self-study course, 50 Days on the Path to Partnership Bootcamp is designed to show people how to get out of their own way so they can create healthy and happy partnerships with the people that matter most to them.